San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, September 2000
Day 0 - Train ride up from Irvine to San Luis Obispo
A couple of weeks ago I had the idea to take the train from Southern
California to San Luis Obispo on my non-working Friday and spend the rest of the
weekend riding home along the coast.
The Pacific Surfliner Amtrak trains (formerly called the San Diegans) run
between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. Each passenger car can fit three bikes,
so there's no need to put the bike in a box or do anything silly like that. It's
a do-it-yourself operation to put the bike on the rack.
When I arrived at the train station in Irvine, I was told they had an
equipment problem with the train and they had a bus to take everyone to Los
Angeles, where another train going to San Luis Obispo was arranged. Not many
passengers had baggage, so there was no problem putting the bike in the luggage
compartment in the bottom of the bus.
Arrival at LA Union Station was uneventful, and me and my bike got in line
with the other passengers behind the rope in the terminal waiting for the
go-ahead to board. A half hour later we got the go-ahead to board, and when the
staff person saw the bike, he indicated that train was "standard
equipment" (meaning a normal Amtrak train with no bike racks) and that I
would have to go upstairs to the baggage department to have them load it on the
train. (Unfortunately, there was no way to sneak by him, go to the train, and
just hand the bike to the baggage car attendant, as we have done previously with
the tandem bike on this route - except we didn't have to sneak by anyone to do
So I went upstairs to the location he described. The location was familiar -
it wasn't really baggage, it was the Amtrak package shipping department (we
previously shipped our tandem bike back to LA, and that was where we had picked
it up). They told me they wouldn't be able to get it on the train in time - not
too surprising since the train would have probably left by now. They said they
could get it on the next train to SLO, which was 24 hours later, but that was
too late for me, so I decided to cancel the trip and take the train back to
The train back to Irvine was supposed to have the bike racks, but the ticket
agent said I could just take the bike up to the "baggage" area and
they would load it on the train for me. Not wanting to worry about equipment
again, I did just that.
While waiting for the train back to Irvine, I saw one of the other passengers
that was supposed to be heading north to SLO. Apparently the replacement train
wasn't big enough, so they had to turn away people at the train.
After arriving in Irvine, I went over to the baggage car to get my bike - the
baggage car was locked and no one would open it, since Irvine was a one man
station and was not a baggage stop! Nothing I could do but talk to the agent at
the Irvine station.
The Irvine station attendant was very helpful. She called ahead a description
of my bike to the attendant in Oceanside, where the train would stop next. After
calling around, she found out that my bike never left LA because it didn't have
a baggage tag on it - the LA shipping department had only put the $5 bike fee
receipt on it!
The agent in Irvine arranged to have it on the next train to Santa Ana
(nearest station with baggage service) and at 1130 PM I finally got the bike
back - even with the pump taped to the rear rack so that it wouldn't get knocked
Moral of the story - when there's a "special" train line like the
Pacific Surfliner, the agents at the smaller stations tend to know the rules
about bikes better than the larger stations....
So here I am, two weeks later, on my next off-Friday from work, writing this
while on the train to SLO (with bike) to try the tour again.
Day 1 - San Luis Obispo, CA to Lompoc, CA
74 total riding miles
The train arrived in SLO at 8:30 PM. The youth hostel in SLO was conveniently
located only a block from the train station. It was also conveniently located
near student housing - luckily I was tired enough to sleep, despite the party
I had two choices to get from SLO to Pismo Beach the more inland route
suggested by the Adventure Cycling map, and the route parallel to US 101
indicated by the "Bicycling the Pacific Coast" book and the Pacific
Coast bike route signs. I chose the latter route based on the 2-1 vote!
Had a nice ride through Pismo Beach and the other beach cities. Due to my
late (for me) start and a longer than expected breakfast, my mileage was lower
than I had hoped, so I spent a little less time at the Pismo sand dunes than
originally planned. Pretty neat, though.
At one point I had two choices to get up a big hill - stay on Highway 1, or
take the signed "alternate route" which was shorter, but steeper.
The problem with the marked alternate route is that it doesn't tell you how to
rejoin the main route, so I had some unplanned "bonus" mileage
The "alternate" route...
After leaving the beach areas, the only places to get food would be
Guadalupe and Lompoc. Guadalupe is a farming community on Highway 1. The only
cuisine in town is Mexican. So I went into a Mexican restaurant and was
surprised at first to see a white guy behind the counter take my order. But
then he turned to his wife who was cooking and rattled off my order in fluent
Spanish (although obviously with an accent).
A few minutes later a group of four Hispanic men came in to the restaurant.
They guy behind the counter went over to help them, and one of the four spoke
to him in English. He replied back in English, and then followed up with
something in Spanish. Instantly an argument in Spanish ensued, and the counter
guy called his wife over to join the argument. Even with my rudimentary
knowledge of Spanish I could tell that the jist of the argument was that the
four men felt slighted that the counter guy replied to them in English, not
Top of Harris Grade Rd., ready to descend into Lompoc
The original plan was to ride from SLO to Gaviota State Beach on Saturday,
and onto Oxnard on Sunday - about 75 miles each day. When I made it to Lompoc,
I had done about 62 miles - I would have had another 23 hilly miles to make to
Gaviota around dusk, An older gentleman was kind enough to tell me the
location of the city hiker/biker site, so I decided to stay here instead of
continuing on tonight.
Will have to reevaluate tomorrow's plans, but it looks like 55 miles to
Santa Barbara where I can catch the train home, with the option riding another
10 miles to Carpinteria, where I can also catch the train.
Day 2 - Lompoc, CA to Santa Barbara, CA
56 riding miles
The hiker-biker site was in a different location last night, as there was a
large group of geology students who were on a road trip for school. They were
pretty loud that night after their work was done, but it wasn't a problem at all
for me to sleep, thanks to being tired and having a good set of earplugs.
My touring bike ... packed and ready to ride!
I could have taken a more inland route yesterday afternoon, stopping in
Buellton/Solvang and heading up over the mountain to Santa Barbara. But I had
done that route by car and/or bike before, and I had never taken Highway 1 south
of Lompoc before.
Highway 1 climbs about 15 miles to an elevation of about 1000 feet, then it's
a screaming downhill to US 101. After a few miles, 101 returns to the coast.
US 101 is a moderately busy freeway, but it has good wide shoulders, so it's
actually pretty safe. The worst part about it is the traffic noise and the
boredom! There is one bridge between Gaviota and Refugio that had no shoulders -
I just had to time the crossing when there was no approaching traffic.
I exited the freeway at Refugio State Beach. For a change of pace I took the
two mile bike trail connecting Refugio with El Capitan State Beach. Then it was
back on the freeway again.
After 22 miles of freeway, I approached the outskirts of the Santa Barbara
area, so this was where cyclists must exit the freeway. Hollister Avenue is a
direct east/west route across town - and it was even conveniently marked as an
official "cross-town bike route". They also had other signs for a
coastal route, foothill route, and a UCSB (Univ. of Cal. Santa Barbara) route.
Santa Barbara has made an effort to be a "bike friendly" city.
Downtown Santa Barbara was pretty happening, especially with everyone in town
weekend and the pleasant weather. The busy State St. had a good number of bikes on
it, and with the amount of traffic on it I was going as fast as or even faster
than the car traffic.
I had a choice of catching the 2 PM or the 6 PM train - unfortunately,
there's no 4 PM train on the weekends. I've been to Santa Barbara before, so I
really didn't *need* to stop downtown. I wanted to catch the 2 PM train, so I
headed straight over to the train station, with 15 minutes to spare.
I had hoped to make it all the way to Oxnard in the past couple of days, but
now I've come up with an alternate plan to ride the rest of the southern coast.
Looks like a future Santa Barbara to LA ride to take care of that....