If you want to explore South County coastal towns for a day, it's getting easier and cheaper to execute without a car. For the $10 weekend round-trip fare on Metrolink—from Fullerton, from SanTana, from LA even—to San Juan Capistrano station, you can then catch free trolleys as far south as Capo Beach or up to North Laguna. You'll have to do some waiting and transferring, but so what? You're on staycation. And have several flasks stashed on your person, right?
The Laguna Beach and Dana Point free summer trolleys have been hooking up for years, but now San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point's trolleys connect, and that was the missing link to accessing Beach Cities from all over OC.
So, for your staycation, you could wander around the San Juan depot, breakfast in the Los Rios Historic District, then board a trolley to the transfer point at Del Obispo Street and Stonehill Drive in the Albertson's shopping center—a terrifying parking lot that sane motorists exit only if turning right.
From Dana Point's continuous loop you have many possibilities. (Watch 4th of July fireworks off Dana Point Harbor this year or the next, because come 2019 city budget cuts currently under negotiation will make Independence Day much less spectacular, dammit.) Transfer to the free harbor shuttle—tidepools, tallships, SUPing for an hour at Baby Beach—or stay on and switch at Salt Creek Beach/Ritz Carlton to Laguna Beach's trolley.
Maybe you want to beach-hop those Laguna spots that can't be seen from Coast Highway. The trolley map shows when to disembark for Victoria, Woods Cove, Brooks and Thalia streets south of Main Beach, or stay on to Shaw's Cove, which isn't far from galleries and fiery cocktails at the Royal Hawaiian farther north. Change to the Canyon route for stops at the art festivals and as deep into the canyon as the College of Art + Design.
Depending on your point of origin, taking a train to San Juan in order to end up at the Sawdust Festival is crazy talk. So read what Matt Coker has to say about the Summer Breeze lot at the 405/133 freeways, where a free shuttle will get you to the festivals (and the trolleys).
This free-for-all of freeness is made possible by Measure M2, which costs us all a half-cent in sales tax. Besides people moving, we get green benefits, less congestion, no DUIs or road rage. Nice. Grants from South Coast Air Quality Management also help in funding.The cities report to OC Transit Authority and have to keep ridership up or lose the M2 funds, so they pay attention to improving routes and counting riders.
This year, Dana Point added 6 new stops, the connection to San Juan's loop being the stand out. Laguna has added a Limited Stops car to its Coastal Route that doesn't run as often, but it's practically an express if you luck into it. When headed back south, just be sure to ask the driver if the car goes all the way to Salt Creek. San Juan skipped last summer, and revamped its route by doubling its trolleys to two and no longer going east of the 5 freeway.
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San Clemente hasn't gotten it together to link up with the other beach cities. There's some rancor in the town about whether their shuttle serves residents or "diners & shoppers." The route basically links San Clemente's two Metrolink stops to the Outlets, with collectibles, boutiques and great shoes on Del Mar and the thrift shops of El Camino Real (and Pedro's Tacos) along the way.
The San Juan trolleys run Friday to Sunday, when service stops at 5 p.m., so plan accordingly. Or don't, it'll be light out for hours. If you miss the last connection, or if you got out at Avenida Aeropuerto to grab a flight at Docent Brewing, it's a short Lyft ride to the train station. Laguna Beach's trolley runs all year round Friday to Sunday, and every day in the summer. Dana Point's will continue through Labor Day.
So get on and off all the free trolleys as often as you feel like it. Get counted lots and lots of times, so we eventually have free trolleys everywhere all year long. The fewer the cars, the faster the trolleys will go.
And have a bitchen summer.