LA to San Diego via local transit

Ever ride the bus around L.A., and wondered how far you could get by transferring from one bus to another, and then another, and then . . .

I tried it twice: once in 1985 and again in 1990. In both cases, I only rode to Oceanside, so that I could return via transit the same day.

LA to Oceanside: December 27, 1985

I knew one thing about trying to go to San Diego County via local transit: start early.

So, in the early morning darkness, I made my way to RTD's Line #498. It was just getting light when I arrived in downtown L.A., and transferred to Line #456 (the pre-Metro Blue Line express bus to Long Beach). That ride was uneventful, although that particular bus had a musty smell... Nevertheless, I arrived at the Downtown Long Beach Transit Mall just in time to board an OCTD #1 bus for my long ride down the coast.

OCTD #1 operated along Pacific Coast Highway, which was pretty scenic once we left the City of Long Beach. However, the trip was long, about three hours. It was about 10 a.m. when we got to the end of the line near the San Clemente/Dana Point border. I transferred to OCTD #91 for the final few miles to San Clemente proper.

At that time, there was only limited connecting service south of San Clemente. (The North County Transit bus between Oceanside and San Clemente only ran nights and weekends). So, I used Greyhound, for $4.25 or so each way. The San Clemente Greyhound station was a dreary little trailer, with a rather surly counterperson and a couple of portable toilets that they had the audacity to charge for. So, I was glad when the bus finally pulled up. While traveling south along I-5, I noticed an amazing traffic pile up in the other direction. Little did I know...

We made it to Oceanside at around noon, and I got off at the Oceanside Transit Center. The OTC had stops for Amtrak, Greyhound, Trailways and the local buses (North County Transit District). It also had a restaurant (Burger King), a news stand and a small travel agency, if I recall correctly.

Oceanside itself was (and is) a military town, because of Camp Pendleton nearby. Really nothing but stores selling army uniforms and boots, and barber shops giving buzz cuts. I wandered around, looking for a used record store or something, but didn't find anything of interest. So I walked back to the OTC. I still had about 15-minutes to kill. I watched as someone who had just missed their Greyhound bus run after the bus and bang on the door, but to no avail. About 1 p.m, the bus back to Oceanside arrived and I boarded.

Soon I found out what that big traffic backup was all about. The US Border Patrol stopped our bus at their checkpoint near San Onofre, and checked inside, even in the bathroom, but didn't find any illegal aliens. So we were on our way again, and back to the miserable San Clemente Greyhound station. I got off and walked back to the OCTD #91 bus stop.

Bus #91 did take me to Laguna Hills, but on an annoyingly "loopy" route that took about an hour and a half. When we got to the Laguna Hills transfer point, it was getting quite late in the day (after 3 p.m.) and I was concerned about getting back to my starting point.

A #75 bus pulled up. I asked the driver if it went to Santa Ana. "Yes, but the #85 is quicker because it uses the freeway". So I waited about ten more minutes, and caught the #85. We got into Santa Ana around 4:30 and it was just starting to get dark.

At first I thought it might be useful to take the RTD #460 into LA, and get back to Glendora from there. But a few months ago, the Anaheim-Santa Ana portion of #460 had been taken over by OCTD as their new #51. And there was not a #51 schedule to be found. Thinking quickly, I remembered that a handful of RTD routes ran late-evening service (that is, one or two trips after 7 p.m. I decided to gamble on making connections via Brea, where the last #490 of the day would leave at 7 p.m. (I hoped it wasn't 6 p.m!)

So I boarded that old standby, the #49 State College route and rode to Brea Mall. The trip took about an hour and a half, and it was totally dark when we arrived at Brea. I waited about 20 minutes, then the #490 arrived. While riding I tried to figure out what would be the best transfer. Cal Poly? No, only the #484 would be running and that wouldn't get me north of Downtown Pomona. Eastland Center? The #488 petered out long ago. Azusa Bl? That #280 ran until 10 p.m...and the last eastbound #187 out of Pasadena would hit Azusa and Foothill at about 8 p.m. It looked like the best thing going...

Off at Azusa and San Bernardino at about 7:45....fingers still crossed....the #280 pulled up at around 7:51....I rode north along Azusa off at was about 8 p.m....I was wondering if I made it...the #187 came by at around 8:15. Home Free!

This was a strenuous trip.

LA to Oceanside: March 1990

By this time, NCTD had adjusted its #305 schedule to provide service to San Clemente on three midday round trips. (They ran more frequently on the weekend, but the frequency of the connecting RTD and OCTD routes was much worse on the weekends, making a weekend trip less appealing). This would still be a tough trip, but by carefully reading the schedule I was able to minimize time spent waiting for transfers, or unproductively looping around on bus routes taking me out of my way.

This time I started with a Foothill #274 out of Glendora, at around 5 a.m. That ride was uneventful, although this bus did seem rather busy, about half-full as it traveled south along Citrus Bl. (Foothill had taken over a number of RTD routes, and ridership was increasing slightly). I transferred to an RTD #490 at Eastland Center and rode it to Cal State Fullerton.

At CSUF, I transferred to an OCTD #69, getting off in a scroungy neighborhood in Santa Ana, just east of downtown. I would have liked to get off in Downtown Santa Ana, but that would have made me miss my next connection, #85 to Laguna Hills. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long.

#85 was the busiest bus I took on this trip, as it was loaded with (mostly) domestic employees from Santa Ana who worked in Laguna Hills. To avoid time-wasters such as the #85 route through Dana Point, or (worse yet) the Lake Forest portion of #91, I determined that the best transfer point between #85 and #91 was Saddleback College. The transfer was made on-campus, at a "bus loop" typical of many college campuses.

#91's route was scenic, if still a bit time consuming, through San Clemente. First the flower-lined streets, next the pier and the beach. (Did I glimpse Nixon somewhere along Avenida del Presidente?) The route ended at a Carl's Jr near the county line, El Camino Real and Cristianitos Rd.

After a quick snack, the #305 showed up. There were about eight people on board, and the driver was explaining to a passenger about why the bus route looped around El Camino. The trip through Camp Pendleton was interesting, if a bit long (about an hour). Lots of tanks, barracks, soldiers, the usual military stuff. The schedule warned that "passengers are subject to inspection at any time by military personnel", but no inspection took place.

We arrived at Oceanside Transit Center at 11:09. As I was to return on that same bus (leaving at 11:20), there was not a lot of time to do much, besides grab a few schedules. The northbound #305 was busier, with lots of relatives of service persons on board.

I retraced my path via OCTD #91, #85 (transferring in Dana Point), #49, RTD #490 and Foothill #276 (transferring at Eastland Center).

Also read the following!

  • SO.CA.TA San Diego Excursion
  • Nik Trendowski's all-local transit LA-San Diego trip
  • John Baker's all-local transit trip: LA-San Diego
  • Russell Bell's trip to Big Bend, TX starts off with an all-local transit LA-San Diego trip
  • Rachel Aschmann's trip from Oceanside to Torrance
  • Bill Manson took an all-local transit trip from San Diego to LA in 1987 and 1992, and wrote about the trips in the following two articles:
    "Buses Took 9 1/2 Hours, but He Got There Cheap". Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1987, page 6-1
    "You Can Get Here From There . . . and for Only $1.85". Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1992, page E-1

    Have you tried such a trip? Let me know!

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