Archive for the ‘Trains, trains, trains’ Category

Spring break Rail Trip: LA-San Antonio-New Orleans-Chicago-LA

March 27, 2019



2 adults, 2 kids

13 days, 13 nights

5 nights on a train

4 nights in chain hotels in San Antonio and New Orleans

4 nights in a cozy attic suite near Logan Square in Chicago

Cost for train travel only: $788 (full disclosure: we used guest award points for 1 leg, which saved about $300)

Cost for train travel + lodging: $1,469.14 (full disclosure: we used award points for 2 hotel nights)

And here we go…



Car-less with a kid in Santa Barbara

August 25, 2008

Dolphins, cool sea breezes, Julia Child-blessed tacos, and no car keys to misplace. Those were a few of the highlights of our 3-day jaunt to Santa Barbara this month. I thought Jack’s best memory would be the ride on the 2nd level of the Pacific Surfliner, but he seemed to delight in everything. Not having a car turned out to be easier than I thought. We stayed at the Fess Parker Doubletree, which is directly across the street from the beach and a half-mile from the action of State Street. Whenever we wanted to go into town, we walked or took the 25 cent trolley that runs up and down Cabrillo Blvd. Our one splurge was renting a stroller for $45 from the Santa Barbara Baby Co. (they deliver), which turned out to be a great idea.

Here are some highlights from our child-centric weekend:

–Visited the Santa Barbara Zoo, a small but adequate zoo a block from Fess Parker. There’s a small train ride for the kids that’s an extra $2 or so.

–Stopped by Kid Zone, an old-fashioned playground (think lots of wood) near State Street. It was packed but a nice change from the usual plastic offerings.

–Ate on the patio at Super-Rica Taqueria, which was well worth the 20-30 minute wait. Best pozole I’ve ever had, plus handmade tortillas that are made to order. Jack ate every crumb of his chicken and cheese taco, then demanded some of our pork adobado and guacamole. Fun fact: Julia Child used to eat here when she lived in SB.

–Took a small boat called Lil’ Toot from the pier through the harbor. They let the kids take a turn steering for a few minutes. It’s a short ride, but good for small children. Cost: $4 adults, $1 kids.

–Had brunch on the beach at the East Beach Grill. Service was lousy (it was Sun. morning though), but the blueberry pancakes and oatmeal were better than average.

Tips for the train: Buy tickets at least 3 days early and you’ll be able to get a AAA discount. We intended to leave from Union Station, then found out you can park for free for 72 hours at Glendale station (which is closer to us anyway), so we just caught the train there. The only catch is you’ll have fewer seating choices (we ended up sitting across from the bathroom). Also, bring LOTS of snacks. There’s a cafe but the selection is mediocre.

Sierre Madre (backtracking)

March 30, 2008

Sierre Madre is a small town east of Pasadena with a pretty walkable main street. Last week, we headed over there, figuring it would be a low-key activity that wouldn’t require much brain power (yes, we’re still struggling through the twin bed transition).

We parked on the main street for free, then I picked up some coffee at Beantown and we walked a couple of blocks to Memorial Park off Hermosa Avenue. There’s a playground there that’s ideal for the 2-5 age group — no swings or slides, but a big sandbox and lots of little vehicles (rockets, tractors, train) to climb in and around. Best of all, it’s shaded by huge old orange and magnolia trees.

A couple of other highlights: There’s a kids’ store with an nice Thomas the Train setup near the corner of Baldwin and Sierra Madre Avenues.  If Jack had his way, we would have spent the rest of the day there. A few blocks’ north of the main street is a small citrus farm and canning factory called E. Waldo Ward. Much of the farm is gone, but there’s a tiny gift shop that sells things like pickled kumquats and orange marmalade.

The town itself has plenty of independent restaurants, none of which I’m dying to try. But it would be easy to spend half a day here shopping, eating, and soaking up the mountain views.


Citrus land

March 8, 2008


The plan was to drive up past Valencia to buy a crateload of oranges. As it turns out, the area is also a treasure trove of easy things to do with kids. Next door to our orange supplier ($5 for 40 pounds!) is a state-run fish hatchery, one of a dozen or so in California, and it is well worth a quick stop. There are about 5 long rows of troughs filled with fattened-up trout. It’s perfect for small kids because they can see the fish easily without having to be picked up, and you can buy fish food for a quarter and let them throw it in themselves. If you time your arrival between 11 and 12 or between 1 and 2, you might get to witness the jumping spectacle that is feeding time.


After eating lunch in the shadows of the hatchery’s kitsch-y 70s posters,  we drove 5 minutes to the town of Fillmore, where I knew there was a train station somewhere. Jack spotted it long before I would have. “Look, it’s a caboose!” he shrieked. “Mama, let’s go take a look of it.” The old trains weren’t running, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm one bit. There’s a winery right next to the train tracks that serves gourmet sandwiches. I made a note to return sometime with a friend in the hopes that the views of the trains will keep him still long enough to allow me to take more than two bites.

So we returned home with a trunk full of citrus and a 3-year-old bubbling with memories of coupling hooks, turntables, and jumping fish.