Rail Blazin’

By Jeremy Zachary

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Posted May 21, 2009 in Travel

You can leave your car in park and forget about dropping another mint for a full tank of unleaded. Many of SoCal’s best daytrips can be done without Detroit’s finest. Hop on a Metrolink train, give traffic the bird and leave the steering to someone else as you enjoy exploring these five destinations riding the rails.

CLAREMONT

Why You Must Go: Downtown Claremont and the newer Claremont Village offer a cornucopia of shopping and dining experiences for any taste. Just a short ride via commuter rail and in no time at all you’ll be in the coolest epicenter the Inland Empire has to offer.

Where To Eat: With such a selection and variety of foods, I’ll narrow this down to a few, but definitely do some exploring on your own! Nearby is Viva Madrid, one of downtown Claremont’s best-kept secrets, located down a hallway behind other storefront businesses.  Madrid serves up authentic Spanish tapas like no other. Another great location for food of all fare is Espiau’s, which regularly plays host to live bands and pay-per-view fights. In the mood for a little breakfast snack or just a great bakery? Then Some Crust is a must! These well-known bakeries use only all-natural ingredients and, believe me, you can taste the difference! There are a few other notable locations to visit while walking the Claremont Village. The Hip Kitty, known for their fondue and jazz is a great place to get your groove on. Down on the west end of the Meat Packing house is The Forks Chop House, and when we say “chop house,” we mean Chi-town style chop house (at press time, the Chop House was closed and scheduled to re-open in August). Don’t forget about Casa 425 which offers cool vibes, great drinks and a place to rest your head to make a night of the Claremont experience.

OCEANSIDE

Why You Must Go: Of all the Metrolink destinations this is a favorite. Riding along the coast you get a true taste for the spectacular beauty of this region we call home. Oceanside is only a short train ride away and a great summer getaway, especially when the temps are riding triple digits. Whether it’s for the beach, the shopping, and restaurants or just to smell the salty beach air, this idyllic city is a breathtaking place to visit. While taking a stroll down the nearly mile-long Oceanside Pier you’re highly likely to see dolphins and sea lions frolicking in the nearby waters. Everything is a short walk away, whether it’s the Oceanside Museum of Art, the Oceanside Museum of Photography or the California Surf Museum.  If you get tired of walking, rent a bike and pedal your way through town.

Where To Eat: Normally we’re not ones to recommend chain restaurants, but Ruby’s at the end of the pier has a simply amazing view so we’ve made an exception. Now for the serious Oceanside eats, visit The Fish Joint. This longtime Oceanside eatery serves up some delish eats that’ll make your trip worthwhile in itself.  Don’t forget to make a stop by The Longboarder Cafe, which serves up all-American standards, such as burgers, chicken-fried steak—you know, like Mom does it. To continue your nosh quest, start walking along Coast Highway and let your nose do the navigating.

ORANGE

Why You Must Go: The cute little area known as the Orange Circle (for its circular park in the center of historic Old Towne) has a slew of shopping and dining close to the station. Old Towne Orange is known for its beautifully kept neighborhoods and Craftsman style homes along the surrounding streets. Home to Chapman University, the campus can easily double as the backdrop for a casual stroll. Oh, don’t forget Labor Day weekend to join the half million other people partyin‘ here for the Orange Street Fair.

Where To Eat: Old Towne has no shortage of excellent foodie choices. On your walk from the Metrolink station, be sure to peek in at The District Lounge, a beautifully refurbished neighborhood bar. Around the corner you’ll find Citrus City Grille (with sister locations in Corona and Riverside), which has the best filet mignon you’ll find in these parts. Tucked away on the corner a block north hides The Filling Station Cafe, serving up what could possibly be the best breakfast and lunch around. On the south side of the Orange Circle you’ll find Gabbi’s, although don’t go looking for a sign as they don’t have one. Look for the gaggle of people waiting for a table out in front of this home-style Mexican restaurant. To top off the trip, make a stop over to Watson’s Drug & Soda Fountain for a chocolate malt. This place keeps it old school!

FULLERTON

Why You Must Go: Because it’s far enough away, but close enough for the day. A short ride down the Metrolink rails and you’ll soon realize Downtown Fullerton’s metamorphosis into one of the coolest destinations in Orange County. With plenty of eclectic and unique shopping, dining and drinking options, this downtown is a great place to get lost for the day and night.

Where To Eat: The Matador Cantina offers an extensive Mexican-inspired menu that will delight even the most finicky of food fanatics, with signature drinks to match. A great steakhouse on Commonwealth in the SoCo district is Stubrik’s. Serving up nothing but the best prime steaks you’ll feel at home here if you’re a carne-sseur! If it’s a simple burger you’re craving, you can’t go wrong at Knowlwood; a few skips from the train platform and you’ll be in burger heaven. Don’t forget to check out Commonwealth Lounge & Grill, Bourbon Street and the very rock ‘n’ roll Slidebar. Slidebar regularly features live bands and features many unannounced appearances by A-listers.

LOS ANGELES

Why You Must Go: Well, let’s see, because it’s L.A. and there is a lot to do on the cheap! After a scenic and relatively short train ride, you’ll be at Union Station on the north side of downtown. A walk across the street and you’ll be on Olvera Street, a meandering maze of stores selling ponchos, Dia de los Muertos trinkets, milagros and the ubiquitous black velvet Elvis. A short jaunt down Main Street to San Antonio Winery (yes, our very own San Antonio winery from Ontario) and you’ll be sipping grapes. That’s just for starters. Now do we visit MOCA, the Geffen Center, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Disney Concert Hall, Santee Alley, Bunker Hill (the tram is still closed) or the city’s Central Library (Little known secret; they have the largest old-photograph collection in Southern California that is available for viewing)? Each of these can be a day trip all by themselves. There’s lots to experience in downtown L.A. while it’s undergoing a revival.

Where To Eat: Philippe’s is an original, offering old-school cafeteria-style servings and bargain basement prices. Home to the French dip, why would you miss this? For high-end ambiance head over to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and take a seat in the rotating bar on the 35th floor. There’s always above-the-standard at The Standard‘s rooftop bar and lounge. This top-of-the-world experience serves up great eats whether it’s early or late. For the adventurous, head over to Sam’s Hofbrau on Olympic. The lunch truck that’s outside on the corner is one of L.A.’s in-the-know meals on wheels! The huge, inexpensive carne asada burrito is one that you’ll never forget. (Jeremy Zachary)


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