Exploring Los Angeles by public transport – Union Station, a step back to a bygone era of travel

Do you use public transport? Would you use it in LA?

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite travel writers. In his current book The Road to Little Dribbling, he is once more travelling around Britain. He, like me, is a big fan of using public transport, and when I read about the railway system and how stations and lines disappeared in the 60’s (and that Beeching was not really the main man responsible for this) I got thinking of train journeys I would like to make and then I remembered Union Station in Los Angeles.

You see, I am a bit of a train and  railway station geek. Not normal commuter stations nor commuting so much, full of angry people rushing everywhere, more the ones of a bygone age of steam and the big trains that cross America and Australia.

I have visited a village made famous by a poem about its station, Adlestrop (that no longer has a railway station) and got to see a working old fashioned signal box in Wales. So yes, I like trains and stations. The anticipation of travel without the hassle of the airport and more leg room. Indeed I am hoping to do a lot more train travel – I never did the interrail thing that all students are supposed to do so perhaps that could be the plan for the semi retirement. Sagarail (does that exist)?

Grounded in Los Angeles

Getting stranded in LA in November 2011 had its bonuses. Phil and I saw so much more of the city by exploring the city by public transport. We once shared a bus with Marilyn and Elvis on our way to Carnival.

The motel we were staying in, The Coral Sands, was a block away from Hollywood Western subway station. Brian and Bon on reception who looked after us so well during the unplanned extended stay, provided a list of things to do and see in LA that had not been on our list.

We had, after all, only planned to be there for 3 nights and so bought a tourist bus pass to see all the famous sites and visit Universal studios. This was our ‘be safe plan’ as I was convinced that LA was a dangerous place and everyone would carry guns. We now had 3 extra days (or more we really didn’t not know how long the Qantas dispute would last at the time) to see more of LA. As it turned out LA, in our experience, was not dangerous at all and we experienced some amazing acts of kindness and hospitality during our stay there.

I have just watched too many action movies I guess.

Union Station

Back to the list. Go visit Union Station they said. so we did.

Union Station Los Angeles

We caught the very clean and safe subway from Hollywood and Western to Union Station .

Hollywood and Western station Los Angeles

IMG 3172 169x300 - Exploring Los Angeles by public transport - Union Station, a step back to a bygone era of travelThe subway station is unmanned but the ticket machines work and the maps are very clear. Announcements are made at every stop. An all day Metro Pass in 2011 was $5. According  to the Metro Page the cost is $7 for a one day TAP pass and the TAP card (a prepaid card like an Oyster card) is $1.

It was Halloween so staff were, of course, dressed up.

This is LA. Everyone is an actor.

The subway station is pretty much like most commuter stations.  As you make your way to the main station  along a long corridor with platforms off you can hear the trains, and then you come upon this.

Union Street Station Los Angeles

Union Station was built in the 1930’s and was placed on the National Register Of Historic Places in 1980.

Much of it is now closed to the public including the original ticket lobby and a restaurant. If you are a movie fan you may recognise this station as it is regularly used as a movie location.

The detail of the architecture is stunning.

It has a outdoor patio area with a water feature.IMG 3167 - Exploring Los Angeles by public transport - Union Station, a step back to a bygone era of travel

Comfortable seating, water fountains and restaurants with proper table cloths selling decent food.

So beautiful I don’t think I would mind if my train was delayed.

IMG 3166 169x300 - Exploring Los Angeles by public transport - Union Station, a step back to a bygone era of travel

It represents travel of a bygone era. It made me want to book a train and go somewhere, any where.

We went up to the platforms and looked at the trains. Great big double decker trains.

The names of the trains sounded so Hollywood and glamorous. Who wouldn’t want to climb aboard the Coast Starlight to Seattle,  the Southwest Chief to New Orleans?

Or the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego, with views of the ocean along the way? I do.


If you find yourself in Los Angeles, I urge you to go visit Union Station. Take a seat and people watch. And think what it would have looked like back in the thirties….







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