Santa Barbara to San Francisco by Train

By on May 11, 2015

By Bonnie Carroll–
Sensational scenery with City Adventures and Pleasurable Plates
I recently took the Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Santa Barbara to San Jose where I transferred to a CalTrain for Palo Alto to meet my daughter, who was visiting from Canada to attend a conference at the Sheraton Hotel. Early the next day we took a forty-five minute CalTrain to San Francisco to enjoy our own unique walking tour of ‘the city by the bay’ and savored some memorable sights and sensational cuisine in this award-winning tourism location.
The ride from Santa Barbara to San Jose on the Amtrak was comfortable, and the views amazing. I ventured into the dining car for lunch, and was pleasantly surprised by the attentive service and nice presentation of a variety of lunch items including a good meatball plate that included potatoes, green beans and a roll with butter. The lunch and dinner menu both offer several entree items, including a vegetarian dish, along with salads, burgers and desserts. If you are traveling alone you may be seated with other dining guests, however, I was seated with three very nice people and enjoyed travel conversation with them over lunch. Conductors take reservations for meals in advance, and an announcement is made to alert travelers that meals are being served in the dining car.
The observation car on this train is a lovely place to relax read a book, do work, have a wine or coffee and watch the beautiful world go by before or after dinner. At one point on this ride you can actually see the train traveling before you as it winds around the countryside. It is a pleasant change from driving because you have time to see the beautiful scenic details of your California route. Keep in mind that Amtrak travel is experiencing a renewed popularity, and because it is a pleasant way to travel, especially for seniors and families, advance reservations are strongly recommended, especially during holiday periods.
DSC06673 (2)The San Jose Amtrak Station (Diridon Station) on Cahill Street, which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its Italian Renaissance Style and historic significance, is a where travelers can transfer to the CalTrain to continue their journey. Display cases in the historic station are filled with photos and memorabilia telling the story of this great train destination since its opening in 1935, and it is obvious the city locals are proud of their railroad history. A kiosk in the station offers coffee and snacks to travelers connecting to the CalTrain in the transportation hub that goes to San Francisco and has several stops along the way. The San Jose Station offers travel friendly access from the same platform while continuing on your journey.
The CalTrain is excellent and transports thousands of commuters, including workers, students and tourists, annually. Seniors can travel on this train at a discounted rate, and each station has easy to use machines for purchasing tickets with cash or credit cards. The back cars are best for people with bikes or carrying luggage. We traveled on this train from Palo Alto to San Francisco and back. The station in San Francisco drops travelers a block from the delightful ocean front walk that leads to the SF Pier and so many great city attractions. If you are not into walking you will find taxi’s waiting at the station exit, as well as local buses to take you to your destination.
DSC06690 (2)(1)The Port of San Francisco Pier, established in 1915, is filled with food and gift vendors, as well as the wonderful Hog Island Oyster Co. restaurant where patrons delight in oysters served in a variety of ways with great cocktails and brews. The combo oyster plate is so good! The patio seating offers views of the Ferry boats taking tourists to fun destinations like Alcatraz, and the inside dining area offers views of the chefs at work. Be prepared to stand in line (not for long) because the place is always packed, and take no reservations. Visit
A few block down from the pier, traveling through the farmer’s market, is the Asian Art Museum, located across the street from the Civic Center. They have an outstanding collection of Asian art that includes very rare art pieces. The gift shop is filled with artistic gifts to take home to friends and family, and the motto at this museum is “come for the art and stay for the tea” so don’t forget to stop at the Cafe Asia and enjoy one of the exceptional tea choices on their menu. The attractive outdoor patio restaurant is overseen by Chef Melinda Quirino, who is proud to use only fresh local produce in her unique recipes, many of which are inspired by current exhibitions. For museum hours and exhibits visit
A short taxi or bus ride will take you to Chinatown, where the atmosphere is buzzing with the activity of workers, shoppers and tourists who are all moving to the natural rhythm of this renowned San Francisco neighborhood. Blocks of gift shops offer an endless variety of jewelry and gift items to take home. Historic churches and architecture provides a milieu of photo opportunities for amateur or professional photographers. Countless family owned restaurants provide visitors a choice of Asian culinary flavors to savor in Chinatown.DSC06723 (2)
Finding Z & Y family restaurant at 655 Jackson Street was a complete accident, but one we are grateful for. Zagat has given many accolades to this establishment in the past, and the food here is considered the “king of heat” with red peppers crowning their signature dishes. The fried crab specialty and a fantastic Szechuan style eggplant dish with rice for dinner was outstanding. The restaurant interior is simple, warm, and the servers are efficient. Visit:
After dinner we made our way back to the CalTrain for our return to the Sheraton Palo Alto (the train stop is one-half block from the hotel) feeling happy that our day trip adventure in San Francisco had been a complete cornucopia of wonderful sights and delicious tastings of the unique menus and experiences that continue to make this award winning destination so attractive. This one day visit was just a tiny sampler of exciting city attractions, but it’s comforting to know there are countless additional San Francisco city sights waiting to be experienced on a future magical adventure to ‘the city by the bay.’ For trip planning visit and
Bonnie Carroll is founder & Editor-in-Chief of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News. She can be contacted at [email protected]


About Bonnie Carroll

Bonnie Carroll has been a food/travel/lifestyle writer since 1983. She is the founder & publisher of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News, does travel and food reporting on KZSB1290 radio, and contributes to a variety of national and international travel/lifestyle publications. Her first children's book C.C. Charles was published in 2002 and she is currently working on a second book. Her first great grandchild is expected this summer. Contact her at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Santa Barbara to San Francisco by Train