If you read this column very often, you are aware that I am a dyed-in-the-wool rail fan. I have traveled hundreds of miles to ride on a particular train.
I’m not suggesting you do this, but there are several “fun” trains in California that may interest you.
First, you need to get to California. You might consider taking the train from Flagstaff for an overnight run to Los Angeles. Once there, you can connect with one of the best trains operating in America, the “Coast Starlight” which will give you a coastal view for part of the trip to San Francisco. The train runs 130 miles along the Pacific Ocean and believe me, it is beautiful. The balance of the mileage is also fascinating and colorful.
Or drive you own car to San Francisco, which is also a scenic experience.
Once in San Francisco, you will definitely need an automobile. San Francisco is known to many as the City by the Bay. Here, there is so much to see and do. There are the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, China Town, Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill and the old Ferry Building, which now houses a mall loaded with shops and restaurants.
San Francisco is also known for its fine zoo, parks, theatres, opera and concert houses, seafood restaurants and more. The city is usually cooler than many, which makes it great for walking.
Next, cross one of the bay bridges and venture into Sausalito for lunch at Sally Stanford’s famous restaurant, then onward to Napa Valley — known the world over for its fine wine production. Here you will find the Napa Valley Wine Train. On board you’ll enjoy an elegant 3-course lunch. Sit back and relax as you pass many of the region’s notable vineyards and wineries. Later, drive to Santa Rosa, the largest city in California’s wine country for a restful overnight.
Be sure to take in Railroad Square, containing the old Northwestern Pacific Railroad depot and the former Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad depot.
You can walk among these notable buildings that are now home to a lively shopping and dining district. You can also visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the artist who created Charlie Brown and the Peanuts comic strip. You can see the workshop where Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, Lucy and the rest of these lovable characters came to life. From there, drive over to the Korbel Winery and take in a Champagne Cellar Tour. You’ll be able to see where the world-famous Korbel Champagnes were first made more than 100 years ago. Afterward, travel along Highway 1 and spend overnight in the coastal town of Fort Bragg.
In the morning, begin your journey into the Redwoods, criss-crossing the Noyo River and into the Coastal Mountain Range on the historic Skunk Train. Built in 1885 as a logging railroad, the Skunk line began as a means of moving massive redwood logs to the sawmills on the coast. Steam passenger service started in 1904, but was discontinued 20 years later when the self-powered, yellow “Skunk” rail cars were inaugurated. The little trains were quickly nicknamed for their original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, “you can smell ’em before you can see ’em.” The train moves at a leisurely pace and there is plenty of time for photos of the exhilarating scenery.
Then it’s on to the California capital, Sacramento, a former Gold Rush town. Here you can overnight in Old Sacramento and stay in the Delta King, a twin to the old paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River, Delta Queen. In Old Sacramento you can spend a morning in the California Railroad Museum which is probably the finest of its kind in the United States.
You can also see the capital building complex, the Governor’s Mansion and the city itself, which is quite interesting.
Take in the “Sacramento Rivertrain” and relive the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In addition to Western-themed characters, the train will stop for a delicious barbecue followed by old-fashioned gun fighting along the shores of the Sacramento River. You will also travel through scenic countryside, past farms and fields. A highlight of the trip is when you pass over the Fremont Trestle. This 8,000-foot-long bridge is the longest wooden bridge in the west.
If you are visiting the area before late fall, be sure to travel to Yosemite National Park. This is one of America’s first wilderness areas. Located in Central California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite National Park encompasses an incredible 1,170 square miles of breathtaking natural splendor. Here is a great location to just relax for a day or two.
Now, head over to California’s picturesque coast for a visit in Carmel, a popular retreat for writers, artists and celebrities. A highlight will be the journey down spectacular 17-mile-drive to Monterey, with views of Cypress Point and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. While in Monterey be sure to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row — made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel — and the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. The shops and galleries are always interesting and this may be a good place to purchase some gifts for the upcoming holidays.
Now its time for a journey on the Roaring Camp Railroad and the 100-year old steam train. You will be traveling over trestles, through redwood groves, and up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain. Upon arrival at Roaring Camp there is time to explore the old-fashioned general store, the opera house, depot and covered bridge. Later, return to San Francisco for an overnight stay.
There are several ways to return home. Perhaps via Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas to Arizona or you can select other interesting highways home. You’ll remember the choo choos, the scenery and great food experience. All aboard!