Featured, LA, Thoughts, Travel
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Riding the Pacific Surfliner

This past weekend I rode Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego & back. Here’s a diary entry-style post about my experience:

Through industrial neighborhoods to the ocean, journeying on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego takes you through some of California’s distinct landscapes.

Leaving from Union Station in downtown LA, the first views from the train are what I’d describe as hyper-industrial: cement trucks, train cars, wires, fences, and giant warehouses that are either overwhelmingly grey, or dotted with colorful graffiti. It’s dirt, metal, and cement for miles. The illicit art on buildings and walls – ranging from indecipherable messages to exceptional works of art – interrupt the monochromatic dominance of the landscape.

Oddly enough, I think there’s something particularly beautiful about Los Angeles’ industrial and warehouse districts. The area isn’t at all glamorous, but the beauty is in its history and scope. Downtown LA is home to global industries and distribution centers. It’s where clothes are made and shipped internationally, and produce is organized and distributed across North America. Downtown is a hub of commerce, engineering, and production, and I can’t help but be entranced by the magnitude of what happens there. I also simply find beauty in these parts of town – the industrial outskirts – where stark, oversized buildings, steel train tracks, and the quietness of an area mostly uninhabited somehow reminds me of the Southern Arizona desert.

After riding through downtown and South LA, the train heads to suburbs beyond Los Angeles County, stopping in Fullerton, Anaheim, and Irvine. These are areas of Southern California that I’m less familiar with, but from a surface level judgment I’d describe them as “so-cal suburban.” These cities are quite different from Los Angeles, with more parking, more Walmarts (I’ve actually never seen a Walmart in LA), and probably more affordable housing. These areas remind me of many Phoenix suburbs that work exceptionally hard to be “nice,” and as a result seem to lack the type of character that I value most in a neighborhood or community.

Further south the train ventures past farm land, military facilities, rows of houses, and eventually meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s just north of San Diego, in cities such as San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, and Solana Beach, where the train hits the water and suddenly rushes past cliff-side mansions. As the train veers towards the coast, extreme wealth suddenly becomes palpable. But what I appreciate most about California beaches (beyond their immense beauty) is that they’re accessible to all, regardless of income (read: Public’s right to beach access gets state support).

Shortly after passing through Solana Beach we made our way into downtown San Diego. While I’ve done the drive from Los Angeles to San Diego a few times, I much prefer taking the Surfliner. On the train you can read, work on your laptop, listen to music, and enjoy the scenery. During this particular trip, I took pleasure in the opportunity to observe the changing Southern California landscape from an interesting vantage point. Trains often go through areas that people may not otherwise traverse; from the backs of warehouses to quiet canyons. And as a result, from my train seat I can observe the intricacies and details of California’s urban and organic landscapes…a view that I quite enjoy.

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