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All Aboard! 8 Must-See Vintage Train Stations in SoCal

A Mission Revival style red brick building stands next to a set of train tracks that cut between the station platform and a line of trees.
The San Juan Capistrano Historic Train Depot is the oldest Mission Revival style train depot in Southern California, erected in 1894. | Sandi Hemmerlein
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Whenever travel season comes around, it can get a little stressful trying to plan your trip around the traffic.

But hitting the road — and braving bottlenecked freeways — isn't your only option for travel within Southern California.

So next time you're putting together a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a holiday visit to family, why not ride the trails — and take a train from and/or to one of SoCal's most magnificent train stations?

The arrival of the railroad revolutionized access to Southern California — and between the communities within it. And train travel remains one of the most scenic and stress-free ways to explore the major transportation hubs of this diverse region.

From coastal cities to desert gateways and wine country weekenders, here are the most historic depots where you can take the train — and what to do once you arrive or before the conductor calls out, "All aboard!"

1. Union Station, Los Angeles

The exterior of Union Station in L.A. The building is a stark white color with terracotta-colored tiled roofs. Tall windows line the side of the building and are outlined in a terracotta-brown color. A clocktower rises above the rest of the building with a clock in an art deco architectural style. Tall palm trees stand tall along the building and a bright blue sky stretches above the scene.
1/5 The Spanish Colonial Revival architectural design notable on the exterior of Union Station in L.A. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A dark train station is lit by three tall, arched art deco-style windows. Light streams in through the windows, leaving three square-shaped patches of light on the tiled floor. The inside is nearly empty aside from a rope railing on the right side of the photo. Grand hanging lights also hang from the ceiling, but offer no light.
2/5 Tall Art Deco windows light the dark train station interior and add to Union Station's classic 1930s grandeur. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The interior of L.A. Union Station features an elaborately tiled floor. Above is a high ceiling with decorative chandeliers hanging from beams. A dark-wood counter takes up the right side of the photo. Behind the counters are three, tall art deco-style arched windows.
3/5 The former ticketing area features elaborately-tiled floors, dark wood counters, and high, ornate ceilings. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A mural painting features various people of different genders, ages, ethnicities and races. Above the mural is an elaborate art deco-style glass dome, reflecting geometric lights shapes onto the mural.
4/5 Artist Richard Wyatt Jr.'s "City of Dreams/River of History" mural in Union Station | Sandi Hemmerlein
An outdoor water fountain spews out water that trickles down its two tiers. The fountain is attached to a wall decorated in brightly colored tiles, forming geometric shapes and patterns.
5/5 An outdoor courtyard, located to the left of the main terminal entrance at Union Station, features a colorfully tiled art deco fountain. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Built in 1939, Downtown L.A.'s Union Station is the last of the great railway stations of the early 20th century — in the days before car culture took over the post-World War II American West. At the same time both modern and Moorish, Union Station — one of many "union stations" throughout the country — is a triumph in both its details and its major features, like sandstone-colored travertine, mosaic tilework, Islamic crosses and stars, a Spanish tile roof and streamlined motifs.

Its classic grandeur and unusual combination of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural styles make it a destination for exploring even if you’re not taking the train.

The former ticketing area features elaborately-tiled floors, dark wood counters, and high, ornate ceilings; and the former Harvey House restaurant (one of the last remaining, now operating as Homebound Brewhaus) features a huge counter/bar and a colorful tile floor that resembles the pattern from a Navajo rug. Look for artwork — including murals, sculptures, and mosaics — throughout the historic part of the station as well as in the Patsaouras Bus Plaza (where you’ll even find a huge aquarium).

Arrive on foot, by Amtrak or Metrolink, or via Metro bus, subway, or lightrail. (Station tours are also conducted by Metro and by Los Angeles Conservancy.) When you walk into the station, it feels as though you're stepping into another time — into an era when travelers dressed dapper, doffed their hats indoors, and swept glamorously down the concourse, illuminated by the sun streaming through huge bay windows and the art deco chandeliers glowing from above. Stay awhile and have a vintage-inspired lunch or cocktails at Traxx, which is located inside the train station and is open daily.

2. Santa Fe Depot, San Diego

A man carrying a duffel bag enters a white building with a sign that reads, "Waiting Room and Ticket Office." The face of the building features three arched entryways, the last of which is the entryway the man is entering through.
1/3 San Diego's historic Santa Fe Depot features the same Spanish Colonial Revival architecture found in the extant structures from the Expo in Balboa Park, just a couple of miles northeast. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The exterior of the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego. The Santa Fe Depot is a white Spanish Revival Architecture building featuring big arches, a tall column topped with a dome and red-tiled roofs. In front of the depot are a row of palm trees and behind the depot are tall, modern skyscrapers.
2/3 San Diego's historic Santa Fe Depot features the same Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and tile work found in the extant structures from the Expo in Balboa Park, just a couple of miles northeast. | Sandi Hemmerlein
An old, blue and white sign that reads "Santa Fe" is mounted on top of a white building with red-tiled roofs. The letters that spell, "Santa Fe" are white and in a serif font over a blue background.
3/3 The blue and white "Santa Fe" sign was added to the terra-cotta, red-tiled roof in the 1950s. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to welcome visitors to the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-1917, San Diego's historic Santa Fe Depot features the same Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and tile work found in the extant structures from the Expo in Balboa Park, just a couple of miles northeast. The blue and white sign was added to the terra-cotta, red-tiled roof in the 1950s.

Inside the waiting room, you'll find century-old oak benches, redwood beamed ceilings (part of the design of the San Francisco-based architecture firm of Bakewell and Brown), original tile by California China Products Company of National City (some featuring the blue Santa Fe cross) and even exhibits of historical photos and artifacts.

As it’s still an active transportation center, you can get there by taking the COASTER regional commuter line from North San Diego County or Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner rail line or the from points farther north. Upon your arrival, it's an easy walk to San Diego’s harbor neighborhood, downtown, Gaslamp District, and even the Coronado ferry. You can also hop on the San Diego Trolley to reach popular destinations like Old Town and the Mexican border crossing at San Ysidro.

3. Santa Fe Depot, San Bernardino, Inland Empire

A Mission Revival architecture beige building features arched windows and entryways and a light green trim that lines each window, entryway and roof. The roofs are red-tiled.
1/3 Reflective of high-class train travel of days of yore, the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino features Moorish domes, Mission Revival architecture and red Mexican floor tiles. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A shadowed archway on the train depot exterior offers a view of the blue sky and other parts of the building.
2/3 One of the oldest train stations in California, the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino was designed by architect W.A. Mohr and built at the cost of $800,000 — and at the time, it was the largest train station west of the Mississippi. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The exterior of the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino features a beige concrete face with arched windows and domes that top the building. A vibrant, lime green trim lines each windows and the underside of the roof.
3/3 The first passenger train ever to arrive in San Bernardino did so on the California Southern Railroad line in 1883 — but the current concrete-and-steel station, a national landmark, wasn’t built until 1918. | Sandi Hemmerlein

With its Moorish domes and Mission Revival architecture, the "San Berdoo" train station is lovely — reflective of high-class train travel of days of yore, with its original ceiling light fixtures, wall tiles, and red Mexican floor tiles. There's even an elegant lounge outside the ladies' powder room. The historic Harvey House restaurant may have closed in the 1950s, but you can see it through the slats of some window blinds. (There are hopes to reopen it someday.)

The San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum inside the station is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., when you can take a depot and museum tour. (For tours on other days or for special groups, call 951-544-4449.) There's lots of stuff to look at in the museum there, which is located in the former baggage room with its great rolling garage doors and original brick floors. From precision-accurate clocks and watches to signals, bells and whistles, maps, wagons, and ephemera, it’s a rain fan’s dream — and a historic visit for train travelers of all age.

The first passenger train ever to arrive in San Bernardino did so on the California Southern Railroad line (a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) in 1883 — but the current concrete-and-steel station, a national landmark, wasn’t built until 1918. (Its predecessor, a wooden structure built in 1886, burned down in a fire in 1916.) One of the oldest train stations in California, it was designed by architect W.A. Mohr and built at the cost of $800,000 — and at the time, it was the largest train station west of the Mississippi, with roundhouses and repair shops (long since demolished). Today, you can reach it via Amtrak's Southwest Chief line or Metrolink — or, of course, by just driving right up to it and parking your car.

4. Harvey House Railroad Depot, Barstow, Mojave Desert

The side of the Harvey House features a green lawn that sprawls before the building. The building features red brick columns on either side and several white arches that frame an outdoor walkway that lines the circumference of the building.
1/4 The side of the Harvey House in Barstow. The Harvey House became a registered landmark on the state and national level in 1976. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Pergolas line a walkway, offering partial shade to the path. Foliage creep up the columns holding up the pergola. To the left of the walkway is dark green, healthy grass partially shaded by tree branches that are peeking into the top left corner of the photo.
2/4 A pergola lines the walkway that leads up to the Harvey House entrance. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A photo of the Harvey House Railroad Depot exterior showcases the building's white columns and intricate railing. "Casa Del Desierto" is engraved across the building.
3/4 Barstow’s still-operating, 100+ year old train depot along the old Route 66 was formerly known as the Casa del Desierto (“House of the Desert”). | Sandi Hemmerlein
An antique railroad car sits on a patch of dirt outside. The train car is a dark, navy blue with yellow detailing and trim as well as the word, "Santa Fe" written across in the same yellow color.
4/4 An antique train car sits outside as part of the Western America Railroad Museum, which is free to visit. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Barstow's still-operating, 100+ year old train depot along the old Route 66 was formerly known as the Casa del Desierto ("House of the Desert") — and it really is a crown jewel of the Mojave Desert. Designed by the same architect as Union Station's Harvey House (see #1 above), Mary E. J. Coulter, it closed in 1971 and fell into severe disrepair throughout the 1980s as scavengers stripped it and squatters trashed it. It was nearly lost until the city of Barstow purchased it in 1990, restored it after damage sustained in the 1992 Landers earthquake, and reopened it in 1999. Now, the station once again welcomes passengers into the heart of the Mojave Desert, just as it did when it opened in 1911.

The Harvey House Railroad Depot gets its name from entrepreneur Fred Harvey, who opened a series of restaurants, bars, luncheonettes, etc. in the major train stations across the country — including Barstow, as well as several others in California (San Diego, L.A., Bakersfield, etc.) — to serve passengers on long train rides who would disembark to get something to eat in the days before dining cars. (Some would even spend the night in hotel rooms upstairs.)

The Harvey House depot-hotel that stands in Barstow today — a landmark on the state and national level — is actually the fourth Harvey House in that location, the prior one having been built out of wood in 1885 and subsequently burned down in 1908. Now made entirely out of brick masonry with very little wood, its rich history includes having housed troops for World War II. Nowadays, it's also home to the Route 66 Mother Road Museum and the Western America Railroad Museum, both of which are free to visit and have fascinating exhibits about travel through the American Southwest (including an outdoor display of antique rolling stock at the railroad museum). Passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line.

5. San Luis Obispo Train Station, San Luis Obispo, Central Coast

A white building by the train tracks serves as a train station and depot for travelers. A large and stout palm tree stands by the building, providing ample shade for various travelers resting in it and casting an intricate pattern created by its branches on the concrete.
1/5 San Luis Obispo had been isolated from California's railways up until the late 19th century. It wasn't until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived from Northern California in 1894 that SLO was connected to the rest of the Golden State. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A passenger train car with windows lined along the side. A man dressed in a train conductor outfit sits at the front of the rain car.
2/5 Near the train station is the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, which celebrated its grand opening in 2013. There are various types of rolling stock in the museum's outdoor exhibit like the passenger train car photographed above. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Various metal street and rail placards are displayed on a segment of a wall. The largest sign is in the middle and is in the shape of a circle. It reads: "Southern Lines Pacific." Other smaller signs surround the largest sign. One sign reads, "End Guadalupe Block," another "Stop Tank Car Connected." A sign at the bottom left corner reads, "Stop - Look - Listen DANGER, Look out for cars." A sign on the bottom right reads, " Stop on red signal."
3/5 Various metal street and rail placards can be viewed at the San Luis Obispo Train Station. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The words, "San Luis Obispo" are painted in black on the face of the train station building. The lettering is faded and is in a classic serif font. "San Luis Obispo" is written write above a red-tiled roof. Part of a palm tree not photographed hangs low from the top left corner.
4/5 The exterior of the San Luis Obispo train station features a faded sign painted on the face of the building. | Sandi Hemmerlein
An observation car for trains is parked outside. It is mostly painted in white apart from a gray stripe that goes across the line of windows. Below the windows is the words, "La Cuesta" painted in black on the white face of the train car.
5/5 La Cuesta, formerly known as La Condesa, is a 1926 Pullman observation open platform car on display at the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum. The car was built for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and served as a café observation car. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Until the late 19th century, San Luis Obispo was kind of an isolated island located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. For decades after the line from SF to L.A. was completed in 1876, the trains still bypassed San Luis Obispo. With lines extending east into Arizona and Texas, the Second Transcontinental Railroad (the country's "southern" one) was officially completed in 1883 — still 11 years before it would make its way to SLO. It wasn't until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived from Northern California in 1894 — and conquered a seemingly impassible stretch of terrain known as the Cuesta Grade — that SLO was connected to the rest of the Golden State.

The historic freight house of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was built in 1894 alongside the original train depot (since demolished to make way for a parking lot) — houses the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, which celebrated its grand opening in 2013, after spending more than a dozen years restoring its new home. Inside the museum is like a time capsule of 19th- and 20th-century railroading — whether passenger or freight, public or private.

The types of rolling stock in the museum's outdoor exhibit really run the gamut and come from all over — including a circa 1972 Southern Pacific Railroad caboose, boxcars, pushcars, and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway's café observation car No. 1512 — one of five such cars built by Pullman Car Company in 1926. If you're ready to ride an actual train, hop on a northbound Amtrak to Paso Robles to experience the engineering marvel of several tunnels that cut through the Cuesta Grade. And at Paso's historic depot, stop for a winetasting at Cypher Winery.

6. Glendale Transportation Center, Glendale, L.A. County

A concrete building with ornate and intricate architectural features stands against a bright blue sky. The building is mostly a beige and cream color. A Churrigueresque cast stone entry portal is the main focus of the face of the building, with plasterwork that mimics an adobe finish. Swirling wrought iron window grills and railings stand in front of the tall, French door-style windows.
1/3 Tucked away on Cerritos Avenue, just about at the border of Glendale and the Los Angeles neighborhood of Atwater Village, stands the Glendale Transportation Center. | Sandi Hemmerlein