AITO: The Association of Independent Tour Operators
California – The Golden State

California – The Golden State

California – The Golden State Overview

Two weeks exploring heritage and modern transport in the USA’s “Golden State”. Experience former logging railroads with Shay locomotives, San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, Amtrak’s “Coast Starlight” and the modern BART system. Highlights include an overnight stay on the historic former Cunard liner Queen Mary and a paddlewheel river boat.


Day 1 – Flight to Los Angeles

We fly from London to Los Angeles for a coach transfer to Long Beach and a 2-night stay on board the Queen Mary in its art deco staterooms. The former ocean liner has been preserved as a hotel and museum and the staterooms have changed little since its launch in 1934, though all rooms now have en-suite showers. Dinner is included this evening.

Day 2 – The Queen Mary

A day to relax. We have a guided tour of the Queen Mary, learning about her launch when she was the most luxurious and technologically advanced ocean liner of her day, her duty as a troopship during WW2 and her golden days of the 1950s. There is also time to explore independently including the engine rooms, the bridge and the stately ballroom.

Day 3 – Coast Starlight

After a coach transfer to Los Angeles we travel along the west coast of America on the Coast Starlight train to Oakland. Enjoy the stunning coastline between Oxnard and San Luis Obispo followed by the climb over the Cuesta Pass. We arrive late in the evening for a 3-night stay in San Francisco.

Day 4 – San Francisco Transport

A day exploring the unusual transportation systems of San Francisco. As well as the iconic cable cars we ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), one of the widest gauge trains in the world and we visit the Cable Car museum’s collection of historic cable cars, photographs and mechanical displays. We also hope to visit the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships built and launched during World War 2.

Day 5 – San Francisco and Napa Valley

Coach tour of the city highlights, crossing Golden Gate Bridge plus a photo opportunity at Lombard Street, famous for its eight hairpin bends. We take a boat to Alcatraz and the day concludes with an evening meal on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Relax in beautifully restored carriages on this 36 mile round trip.

Day 6 – Roaring Camp and Big Trees plus Beach Train

Transfer by road to Felton for a ride behind a Shay locomotive on the Redwood Forest Steam Railroad. Travel over trestles, through towering redwood groves and up a winding narrow-gauge gradient to the summit of Bear Mountain. We then travel on the Beach Train, a classic US “short line” along the San Lorenzo River Gorge to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where we have a 1-night stay.

Day 7 – Yosemite National Park

We continue to the Yosemite National Park for a 2-night stay. In the National Park, established in 1864, we will find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, wildlife and much more.

Day 8 – Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Close to the entrance to Yosemite National Park is an exciting 4 mile long former logging railroad on the historic Madera Sugar Pine Railroad route. This is another chance to ride behind the geared Shay steam locomotives, on a one-hour excursion through the beautiful Sierra National Forest.

Day 9 – Mendocino Coast

We travel by coach today to the dramatic Mendocino Coast for 2 nights. Our hotel is the Little River Inn, beautifully situated on a small bay where wading birds are common.

Day 10 – Skunk Train

We ride the California Western Railroad, known as the Skunk Train. The less than flattering name originated in 1925 when the first gasoline powered railcars were introduced. Like a skunk “you can smell ‘em before you can see ‘em!”

Day 11 – Pacific Coast Highway

We travel south along the famously scenic Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, before turning inland to Sacramento for a 3-night stay on the Delta King Riverboat hotel.

Day 12 – Sacramento Railroad Museum

Located in Old Sacramento, our visit to the California State Railroad Museum includes a 45-minute train ride on the volunteer operated Sacramento Southern Railroad along the levees of the Sacramento River. There will also be time to explore the national historic landmark of Old Sacramento which was the terminus of the Pony Express. Find out about why the streets were raised over a century ago.

Day 13 – Sacramento RiverTrain

We have a light lunch on board the Sacramento RiverTrain, a 2.5 hour round trip which showcases Gold Rush history.

Days 14 & 15 – Homeward Bound

Overnight flight from Sacramento to London.

Price Includes

  • Flights in Economy Class by scheduled airline
  • All rail travel as stated in Coach Class
  • Accommodation in good quality hotels on a room only basis
  • 2 lunches and 2 dinners
  • Excursions as indicated
  • San Francisco Visitor Passport for use on historic streetcars, cable cars, Muni buses and trams and Muni Metro
  • Services of a tour leader from London and throughout the tour
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