“SD on the Cheap” — The COASTER, It’s not just for commuters

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The COASTER provides for amazing views of the North County coast

The COASTER provides for amazing views of the North County coast

Every day nearly 6,000 San Diegans board the COASTER train. Most riders are commuters making their daily trek to and from work.

But have you ever considered taking the COASTER to somewhere other than the office? Or how about riding the train on the weekend?

The COAST Express Rail (the train’s formal name) offers more than just an alternative for commuters. The train’s 41-mile route between downtown San Diego and Oceanside provides an easy way to access many free events and inexpensive activities around the city and in North County’s coastal communities. Whether it be sightseeing in Old Town or spending the day at the beach in Carlsbad, the COASTER offers a comfortable and stress-free way to get to your destination.

The COASTER takes you from Oceanside to Santa Fe Depot, with many stops in-between

The COASTER takes you from Oceanside to Santa Fe Depot, with many stops in-between

You’re probably asking, “Why not just drive there?” Well, there are several benefits to the taking the train. First, by not driving, you eliminate the stress that comes with being on the area’s congested freeways and, once you get to where you need to be, finding and paying for parking. You save gas (never a bad thing given gas prices these days) and help the environment by keeping your car off the road.

And rather than worrying about merging cars and passing cars and speeding cars and slow cars and stopped cars all around you, you get to sit back and actually enjoy the scenery passing outside your window. While en route up the coast, you will see some great views of the ocean, beaches and beachside towns.

Being a big proponent of public transportation, I took the COASTER this past weekend up to Solana Beach, where I unexpectedly stumbled upon the town’s Fiesta del Sol, a free two-day event of music, food, shopping and sun. I enjoyed an afternoon checking out booths overflowing with art, clothes and crafts; eating delicious funnel cake; having some drinks in the wine and beer garden; and catching some rays at Fletcher Cove.

Steel Rod playing at Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach

Steel Rod playing at Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach

To get away from the crowds for a bit, I strolled down nearby Cedros Avenue and popped in and out of its boutiques, home stores and art galleries. Then it was back to the festival for some more funnel cake, people-watching and live music. Before heading back home on the train, I witnessed brave audience members go up on stage and, in front of hundreds of people, sing a song with Steel Rod, an L.A.-based cover band that also does live karaoke events — it was an entertaining way to end a fabulous afternoon. (For all of you wannabe rock stars, check out Steel Rod and the live band karaoke contest at the Belly Up Tavern on July 12th.)

I chose Solana Beach, but that’s just one stop on the train’s route. Here are some other attractions you’ll find along the way.

Santa Fe Depot
The downtown station provides transfers to trolleys and buses that will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go and hang out in the city, such as Balboa Park, Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter. Or take a walk and explore the harbor, located just a few blocks from the station.

Old Town San Diego
Across the street from the train station is the entrance to the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you can learn about the cultures that transformed San Diego from a Mexican settlement to an American town. Walk along the central plaza lined with restored and reconstructed buildings — some of the oldest in California — and get a glimpse into what life was like from 1821 to 1872. Visit the museums (admission is free), stores and restaurants or just relax on a bench or under a tree in the park’s main square.

Explore the historic downtown area with its 200 shops and more than 30 restaurants. You can also head down to Moonlight State Beach, named for the midnight picnics local residents used to have here in the early 1900s. Today, the beach offers picnic tables, volleyball courts and play areas for children.

Carlsbad Village
Just a block from the station begin the tree-lined streets of the village, where you’ll find boutiques and quaint eateries. If you happen to visit on a Wednesday or Saturday, check out the farmers market from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., also located just a few blocks from the train station. Enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants as well as unique jewelry and crafts. When you finish exploring the shops and the market, grab a coffee or ice cream and head down for a stroll along the Carlsbad Seawall, a concrete path that runs for nearly a mile along the beach.

The final stop on the COASTER route, Oceanside offers visitors three and a half miles of beaches for sunning and surfing. Visit the Oceanside pier, more than 1,900 feet in length and a popular spot for fishing, long walks and sunsets. Surfing fans can check out surfing artifacts and memorabilia at the California Surf Museum; admission is free on Thursdays (all other days admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students/seniors/military, free for children under 12). Also on Thursdays, Oceanside hosts a farmers market from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. just blocks from the train station.

The COASTER has plenty of space for you to relax instead of sitting in traffic.

The COASTER has plenty of space for you to relax instead of sitting in traffic.

So ditch the car this weekend. Take a ride on the COASTER, stop at any one of these stations and spend the day exploring — you never know what low-budget fun you’ll discover once you step off the train.

And don’t forget to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

COASTER basics

The COASTER stops at eight stations in four zones:
Zone 1: Oceanside and Carlsbad Village
Zone 2: Carlsbad Poinsettia, Encinitas and Solana Beach
Zone 3: Sorrento Valley
Zone 4: Old Town and Santa Fe Depot (downtown San Diego)

Tickets are priced by zones and can be purchased at ticket vending machines located at each COASTER station. No tickets are sold on the train.

A one-way ticket for an adult (anyone age 6 and older) ranges from $5 to $6.50, depending on how many zones you travel through (round-trip tickets range from $10 to $13). Children age 5 and under ride free. Discounted fares are available for seniors, people with disabilities and Medicare recipients.

The COASTER operates Monday through Saturday. There is no Sunday service except for when the Padres play home games at Petco Park. There are more than 20 COASTER trains linking North County and San Diego every weekday and 10 trains on Saturdays. A bit of warning: On Saturdays, the time between trains can be several hours, so plan accordingly.

Parking is available free of charge at all stations except at the Santa Fe Depot (downtown San Diego), where metered parking is available.

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