The United States isn’t known for it’s public transportation. Besides, we are a country of car travel. And while I’d first recommend renting a car if you’re planning on traveling my home state of California, I understand that might not be feasible for everyone.
Fret not, there are ways to travel the Golden State without having to drive yourself or joining an organized tour. California by bus or train is totally doable, and here’s how you can make it work.
California by bus or train
Now they aren’t the most time efficient or widespread, but the bus and train routes are good enough to do the trick for most of the state. Traveling California by bus or train has a few benefits too. For one, you won’t have to worry about directions. Secondly, and probably the best benefit of all, you’ll never have to deal with the infamous grid-lock of Los Angeles and San Fransisco.
Along Southern California, the train would be the preferred route. You’ll hug the coast from San Diego until San Luis Obispo in the central coast. And although more expensive than the bus, you won’t have to worry about traffic while enjoying seaside views. From the central coast, it’s your preference whether to take the train or the bus. Both routes will end up traveling through the central valley instead of the coastline to reach San Fransisco. This can be a pretty boring trip, void of much scenery besides expansive farmland or dry rolling hills. For this reason, it’s not a bad option to look for overnight trains or buses. Not only will this save you a nights’ stay in a hotel, but you’ll be saving time without missing any scenery.
Which option to choose
Deciding to travel by bus or train is really up to your budget and travel desires. Which one you chose will depend on a huge amount of variables. Put generally though, traveling by bus will be cheaper, due to low cost bus companies like Megabus and Greyhound. Sometimes, Megabus has fares for as low as $1! (Of course, wanting a particular seat and not booking in advance will cost you more.)
Overall, traveling by train will be more expensive but more comfortable. Often times, depending on the route, it will also be more scenic. Unfortunately though, train stations are not as frequent around the state and you won’t have as much flexibility as with the bus. Still, there are some scenic and themed train routes to get you to some of California’s special attractions. Amtrak offers a train to the wine region of Napa Valley, along with one that reaches Yosemite National Park from the Central Valley.
To compare both options, Goticket.io can search for routes by both methods, showing you the prices and travel time.
Where to go
For a first timer here using public transportation, there are a few must-visit stops if visiting California by bus or train. Both options will stop in these cities, and each warrants a few days of independent exploration.
My hometown and place of beaches, craft beer and Mexican food. San Diego definitely deserves a couple of days to explore. With the trolley and an extensive (but extremely slow) bus system, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue to get around. Regardless, staying in a central area such as downtown San Diego or in Ocean or Pacific Beach will be helpful. Luckily, there’s always the ever-convenient uber too.
Recommended spots: Torrey Pines State Park for hiking, La Jolla Cove for kayaking, Old Town for eating, North Park for brunching, one of the hundreds of breweries for drinking.
Sprawling and crowded, Los Angeles is a city of contrasts. Most people love it or hate it, but either way it has to be seen. It’ll be to your benefit if you don’t expect it to be like the TV or movies.
Los Angeles has public transpiration and even an underground system, but it’ll take some research or advice from your hotel or hostel to get it down.
Recommended spots: Venice for people watching, Malibu for beaching, Hollywood for bucket list checking, Koreatown for eating, Angeles National Forest for hiking.
Possibly the prettiest town on the coast, you’ll get your fill of idealistic Southern California here. Beautiful beaches, tall palm trees and tons of shopping make for the perfect place to vacation.
Recommended spots: State Street for shopping, the Funk Zone’s breweries and wineries for drinking, Hendry’s for sunset viewing and Leadbetter beach for relaxing.
The United States’ most charming and European city, San Fransisco has an atmosphere of its own. Fortunately, it also happens to have the best public transportation in the state. Get anywhere you please by using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the bus or the iconic Cable Car.
Recommended spots: Baker Beach for bridge photographing, Polk Street for drinking, Golden Gate Park for sunbathing, Chinatown for eating.
After San Fransisco, you can head to the wine country or head east to the Sierras and visit Yosemite. From California, the train system can take you as far as you’d like to go. While you’d need ample time, you can easily cross the entire country by train, hopping off in cities of interest.