San Diego’s Coaster train runs daily between its southern terminus in Downtown San Diego and its northern terminus in Oceanside. The trip from one end to the other takes just over an hour with eight stops including its northern and southern points; Sorrento Valley is the only utilitarian stop not suitable for tourism. A ride up the coast is a relaxing way to visit many of San Diego’s coastal communities. Simply riding from one end to the other and back is worth the experience; at times the Coaster rides right along the shoreline with unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Fe Depot
Santa Fe Depot, also known as San Diego Union Station, is a destination in itself, so those readying to take the Coaster’s northbound route to Oceanside should come early and have a look around. The 1915 Spanish Baroque depot is the centerpiece of the station complex, which has been restored to include American Plaza and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. The Depot’s restoration to its former grandeur includes gabled ceilings and bronze chandeliers. Outside, the landscaped plaza has palms, plants, ample seating, and a fountain. Rows of palm trees along the tracks send riders off in style.
Old Town San Diego
The first stop on the Coaster’s northbound route is Old Town San Diego. Across the street from the station, you’ll find Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the most visited state park in California. Guided tours by docents in period dress are available. Over one hundred specialty stores, thirty restaurants, twelve art galleries, and twenty-five historic sites and buildings make up Old Town. Behind this park and up the hill is Presidio Park. It offers one of the best panoramic views of the city. Other highlights include Whaley House – the most haunted house in America, The Cosmo, and Old Town Mexican Café.
Across Lomas Santa Fe Drive from the Solana Beach station, you’ll see Cedros Avenue Design District; it’s 2.5 blocks of over 85 one-of-a-kind design, furniture, and accessory shops, restaurants, live music, and activities. Fletcher Cove Beach & Park across Highway 101 is the community’s newly renovated recreational area; it’s great for swimming, surfing, and kayaking. It also has a children’s playground. Tide Beach Park is a little farther down the beach and perfect for tidepooling and surf fishing. Other highlights include a vibrant dining and brewpub scene along Highway 101, Belly Up Tavern with premier live music, and Carruth Cellars urban winery.
Encinitas is a classic surf town with a throwback vibe. There is a thriving art scene as evidenced by the Encinitas Streetscape banners, Off Track Gallery San Dieguito Art Guild, and weekend Seaside Bazaar. The La Paloma Theater, built in 1928, hosts live entertainment events and screens classic movies. Other highlights include San Diego Botanic Garden with tours and nature walks, Self-Realization Fellowship Gardens (Swami’s), and two shopping/dining complexes – Pacific Station and Lumberyard Shopping Center. Moonlight Beach is the best public beach for swimming and also hosts summer concerts. Encinitas was named one of the Top 12 Surf Towns in the World by National Geographic Traveler.
The Coaster makes two stops in Carlsbad, California. The first is on the southern end at Carlsbad Poinsettia. From here you’ll find Carlsbad Premium Outlets between Palomar Airport Road and Cannon Road with outlet stores for brands like Nike, Calvin Klein, Coach, and many others. Behind the outlet stores are The Flower Fields offering seasonal activities for the whole family, and behind those, LEGOLAND California offers year-round family fun. The Crossings at Carlsbad is located behind LEGOLAND and provides a premier golf experience. On the other side of Interstate 5 is an epic shoreline walking path and beach from Cannon Road to Carlsbad Village.
As far as San Diego beaches go, Carlsbad Village has one of the best at Tamarack Beach, a four-mile sandy stretch of family-friendly fun in the sun. Parking is limited and expensive, so arriving by Coaster is perfect since the beach is a short walk from the Coaster station. State Street Farmers’ Market is a popular event every Wednesday evening year-round, as are seasonal busker musicians on Friday Night Live. The Village has an amazing mix of boutique clothing stores and interesting shops. Cafés, bars, and restaurants are abundant, and many have outdoor spaces. Carlsbad Village is an upscale casual destination.
The last stop on the Coaster’s northbound route is Oceanside, home to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, This seaside community is part surf town, part military town. Oceanside Pier is a great place to fish, watch surfers, or catch a sunset. The adjacent Junior Seau Amphitheater hosts music and community events. Oceanside Harbor Village is a quaint shopping and dining mecca; you can also catch deep-sea fishing excursions there. You’ll find an expansive beach and boat and RV parking between the harbor and the Pacific Ocean. Other highlights include a vibrant microbrewery/restaurant scene, the California Surf Museum, and Shapers’ Alley where you can order a custom surfboard.
Each oceanfront community has its own personality. You’re not likely to be able to explore them all in one day, but the Coaster makes it easy to visit them all eventually and find your favorite.