To: Beyond the City

We haven't ventured aboard one of the big blue-and-silver Amtrak trains in a long time. Their Kids n' Trains program has been a bit tougher to work with than the just-for-us deal cut long ago with a now-retired Amtrak staffer, and the well-before-the-start-of-the-school-day start has discouraged bookings, too.

Still, the Pacific Surfliner route offers two destinations that participants raved about in years gone by:

Mission San Juan Capistrano
This was the seventh California mission built by father Junipero Serra over two hundred years ago. Even the most preoccupied kid can figure out that this was a complete, self-sustaining community, back in the days when one couldn't run out to the nearest 7-11 if the bottled water supply in the fridge needed restocking. There wasn't a 7-11; there wasn't bottled water; there wasn't a fridge! But there were soldiers' barracks and a tallow vat, and visitors can see them today. The mission is five minutes on foot from the San Juan Capistrano train station; if you're a fast walker, make it three.
It's not any one attraction that makes this a stand-out; it's the combination of attractions near the Ventura train station. There's the Mission San Buenaventura ... tiny compared to Mission San Juan Capistrano, but still worth a half hour. Across the street is the Ventura County Museum of Art, with its gallery of Chumash Indian artifacts and historical George Stuart figurines. Then there's the Albinger Archaeological Museum, also nearby, the A.J. Comstock Fire Museum, the Ortega Adobe, and, if the kids start to get cranky, the great blue Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the train station.