We explored parts of the California coast by train and tandem bicycle. We arrived via Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, which travels an otherwise inaccessible part of the coastline north of Santa Barbara and has room on board for bicycles.
The bike slots are sized for “half-bikes” (that’s how we tandem riders often refer to normal bicycles), but our foldable KHS travel tandem fit just perfectly. It did not have to be folded since it the same length as a standard bicycle, but we were prepared just in case. We did have to reserve the bicycle slot ahead, but it was free.
Exploring Santa Barbara by tandem bicycle and train was not only fun, it was very relaxing. Had we taken the car, we would have had to deal with traffic and difficult parking. Alternative transportation is certainly our favorite way to enjoy crowded areas with lots of traffic and little parking.
Fantastic Views for Train Travelers Only
The views along the coastline are stunning. Our ride from Lompoc to Santa Barbara took just over an hour, and we sipped our morning coffee while taking in the views. For this ride, we recommend sitting along the coast side in both directions, so the right side of the train for the outgoing journey, and the left side for the ride home. The highway is inland, and some of the coast is owned by the US military, so this area is highly inaccessible for anyone not on the train.
Right next to the Santa Barbara train station is the country’s largest fig tree, the Moreton Bay fig. This State Historic Landmark is over 140 years old and provides enough shade to cover around sixteen thousand people. Fortunately, while we visited we had the entire canopy to ourselves. I am a huge lover of fresh figs, so this was something of a pilgrimage for me.
The Beaches and Bike Trails
In Santa Barbara, there is a beautiful, but short, bicycle trail along the beach (the Cabrillo). We meandered along, stopping in several spots to take in the views and walk along the beaches. If you haven’t brought your own bicycles, there are plenty of places to rent them. Thanks to the Channel Islands, the beaches in Santa Barbara have more protection from the Pacific currents than beaches further north. We finally were able to wade along the shore without fighting to keep our footing.
The Santa Barbara Mission
To stretch our legs a bit more, we traveled uphill along the city streets to the Santa Barbara Mission. For the casual tourist, an hour touring the grounds provides a nice overview of living conditions many centuries ago. The missions provide a living history of the colonization of California, which is drastically different than the rest of the country. The 21 missions that along El Camino Real provided safe havens, about a day’s ride apart, for travelers pushing north into California territory. The missions were really small towns, with schools, families, and food production. They are drastically different from the forts, occupied primarily by soldiers, used to colonize other parts of our country.
Some fresh clams at a restaurant overlooking the waterfront capped off our day. Don’t miss this wonderful local treat.
The Relaxing Ride Home
The train was nearly an hour late for our ride back, but we did not really mind since Santa Barbara is such a pleasant place to sit outdoors. Also, updated train information is available for your mobile device, making it easy to kill an extra half-hour in a shop without worrying about missing your train.
If you visit during the right time of year, you can watch the sun setting over the Pacific as you sip local wine on the train ride home.
My Amazon picks for a great bicycle ride experience.
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These Pura Stainless bottles are the only bike bottles we use. Heated plastic tastes terrible in addition to being toxic, so we rid ourselves of any plastic bike bottles. These Pura bottles are stainless with silicone lids. The caps cover the mouthpiece while we ride, keeping the dust and grit out of our teeth. They are a bit heavier than plastic, particularly the insulated model. However, we feel our health and hydration are far more important than carrying the extra couple of ounces. We usually carry one of each model, and keep the insulated one to drink from last so our beverages stay cold.