Let’s be honest, California isn’t exactly known for its public transportation. However, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, which runs oceanside for 350 miles, finds a way to make the journey enjoyable. The train serves all of Southern California, with a total of 27 stops in convenient locations such as Irvine, Simi Valley and Santa Barbara. It’s one of the most practical ways to get home if you’re from anywhere between San Diego and my hometown of San Luis Obispo. But, most students seem to forget about Amtrak, and after being inundated with L.A.’s car-culture, the idea of taking a train can come to sound bizarre.
In fact, when my parents first suggested that I take the train home rather than drive to San Luis Obispo, I almost laughed out loud. Instead of taking me four hours, it was going to take me at least seven. Instead of being able to stop wherever I wanted — and by that I mean making a Sprinkles run — I was going to have to make do with what I was sure would be some repulsive prepackaged-meal from the train cafe. However, because arguing with my mother is a pointless endeavor, I grudgingly packed my suitcase and downloaded an entire season of “One Tree Hill,” positive that I was going to be bored out of my mind. Instead I spent the whole trip gazing out of the window, laptop untouched, as the coastline that I thought I knew so well whizzed by me in a form that I had never seen before, or perhaps just never taken the time to appreciate.
The sunset was the shade of sherbet-orange reserved in my mind for the photoshopped calendars of exotic locales that hang in cramped office buildings. Never once had I seen such a perfect manifestation of the “California dream.” The palm trees were tall, dark shadows against the sky, and the waves leisurely rolled out from behind them. With the gorgeous view, it was easy to forget that I wasn’t a surfer-girl lying out on the beach with sand squishing between my toes and the scent of sunscreen on my skin. Instead, I was sitting with my nose pressed up against the glass in the air-conditioned comfort of an Amtrak train.
If you get a chance, whether you’re going home or just looking for a weekend getaway with your friends, the Amtrak is an amazing way to start your trip off right. Rather than spending the entire ride staring at a computer screen or with your head in a textbook, take some time to just sit by the window and watch the coastline pass by. The view is beautiful, and after a long week of studying, extracurriculars and social obligations, there is a Zen-like feeling to spending a few hours doing nothing but taking in all the scenery. Getting to the station is free and convenient, with USC buses leaving from the JEP House for Union Station every half an hour, Monday-Friday. Once you’re there, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner can take you to your final destination.
When the conductor announced that we’d almost reached our last stop, I glanced at my phone and laughed.
Although taking the train might not be the most efficient way to travel, I honestly can’t think of a more relaxing way to have started my weekend. If you ever feel like you need a moment to just hit pause, ditch the freeway traffic and buy yourself an Amtrak ticket. Trust me, California has never looked more beautiful than it does on that picturesque stretch of railroad track.