Solana Beach, CA (SOL)
Drawing on the form of the Quonset hut, a collection of which once stood nearby, the light-filled depot anchors the popular Cedros Avenue Design District.
105 North Cedros Avenue
Solana Beach Transit Center
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 396,157
- Facility Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
- Parking Lot Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
- Platform Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
- Track Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Pacific Surfliner between San Luis Obispo and San Diego is among the most popular Amtrak routes and Solana Beach is one of California’s busiest Amtrak stations. The town sits about 22 miles north of downtown San Diego along the coastal bluffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean to the west. In the immediate area, Del Mar is to the south, the San Elijo Lagoon to the north, and Rancho Santa Fe to the east.
Post-World War II, California experienced a population boom, and the resulting automobile congestion prompted communities statewide to actively explore alternative transportation options. It’s against this backdrop that COASTER commuter rail service was inaugurated in 1995, linking San Diego and Oceanside with another passenger rail option in addition to Amtrak. Today, the tracks between San Diego and Oceanside are owned by the North County Transit District (NCTD), having been purchased from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) in 1994; in addition to COASTER trains, the line also carries intercity and freight trains.
The existing station site at Del Mar presented some difficulties, so the NCTD decided to build a new depot and parking lot at Solana Beach; following suit, Amtrak also relocated to the facility. A station was constructed at the corner of Lomas Santa Fe Drive between Old Highway 101 and North Cedros Avenue. Town officials viewed the train station as an impetus for creating a new 5.7 acre town center that would feature residential, retail, office, and institutional uses as well as provide public amenities such as a plaza and parkland. The station project included not just the depot, but also the depression of the tracks below street level.
The grade separation cost approximately $18 million, with funds gathered from the following sources: $5.8 million through Proposition 116, a 1990 state initiative to fund rail projects; $6.7 million from the Federal Transit Administration; $2.5 million from Amtrak; $1.4 million from the City of Solana Beach; $1.1 million from the state’s Capital Improvement Program; and $500,000 from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (formed when the ATSF merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad). The rail right-of-way was sunken 28 feet below street level for more than a mile-and-a-half through town.
The depot was designed by San Diego based architect Rob Wellington Quigley, whose firm is noted for its commitment to environmentally sustainable structures that draw inspiration from regional precedents. Funding for the station was assembled independently from the grade-separation project. $2.8 million came from Proposition 116, and $3.3 million used for land acquisition and design was obtained through Transnet, a half-cent county sales tax. After a series of meetings with the residents of Solana Beach to learn about what they wanted in the station and the town center, the depot was completed in 1995 for the opening of the Coaster line.
For the Solana Beach project, Quigley drew on the form of the Quonset hut, a lightweight, semi-circular, prefabricated structure used primarily by the Army. A series of these buildings had been attached together along North Cedros Avenue in the 1940s to quickly house the Bill Jack Scientific Instrument Company. The repetitive roofline of gentle curves quickly became a landmark in town and later many of the huts were reconfigured into shops and restaurants. To this basic form, the architect added a tower reminiscent of those found on many train depots dating to the second half of the 19th century.
The depot employs the Quonset hut’s semicircular form, which is covered in corrugated metal except at the top ridge of the curve where the metal is replaced by a row of glass. Not only does the glass act as a skylight, allowing the sun’s rays to permeate the interior, but it also creates tension since the two sides of the building appear to be linked by only the thinnest connection.
The principle façade faces North Cedros Avenue while the other opens onto a grand ramp that zigzags down to the tracks; viewed from Old Highway 101, the trackside composition alludes to ancient hilltop temples where the visitor must ascend a symbolic staircase to a higher plane. The façades are recessed walls of glass roughly three stories high and divided into vertical strips by prominent metal columns. By recessing these walls, the deep roof overhang casts cooling shadows on the surface and the interior while still insuring that abundant light floods the waiting room. Each façade also prominently displays a clock, essential for the approaching traveler keeping track of the train schedule.
Inside, the structural supports of the roof and walls are clearly visible, stretching from the waiting room’s bottom edge to the top of the ceiling where the narrow skylight begins. Although many of the interior finishes are industrial—various metals, polished concrete, and ceramic tile—they are softened by the warm wood paneling which follows the curve of the structure from the floor to the base of the skylight. Quigley’s original vision, grounded in regional design context and a consideration of the climate, has led to a station that is instantly recognizable to most riders of the Coaster and the Surfliner. To reach the palm lined platforms, passengers may either descend the gentle ramp with their luggage or take an elevator located next to a pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks. The bridge unites the north and south bound platforms and provides direct access to the depot from Old Highway 101.
The California coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542, he claimed the region for Spain, but no settlements were planned; sixty years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Although known by the Spaniards for more than two hundred years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late eighteenth century when the Russian Empire began to take interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. In 1769, the fort or “presidio” at San Diego was founded on the hills to the northeast of the harbor; soon thereafter the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá was established by Franciscan friars to work toward the conversion of the American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization. Each mission was supported by large tracts of land used by the friars and American Indian converts for agriculture and grazing. Much of the acreage around Solana Beach once belonged to the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá.
The Kumeyaay people had long inhabited the coastal border region between Mexico and California, and many of the tribes migrated between summer and winter villages. Early Spanish accounts recall that the Kumeyaay survived by harvesting local plants such as a type of grain and acorns which were ground into a meal. Returning to the coast, the tribes took advantage of the sea life; beautiful shells were used to barter with inland desert peoples. Near present day Solana Beach, the San Elijo Lagoon’s brackish waters fostered a diversity of flora and fauna used by the Kumeyaay tribes.
As the Spanish worked their way north establishing new presidios and missions, a rough road was forged that linked the sites. Known as the “Camino Real” or “Royal Road,” it touched the southeastern corner of what later became Solana Beach so as to avoid the marshes and inlets near the coast. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the missions were secularized and many of the buildings and land holdings were sold off to private owners. The inland area east of Solana Beach—known as Rancho San Dieguito—was claimed in 1836 by Don Juan Maria Osuna, then the mayor of San Diego. A few of the family’s adobe houses still stand and have been restored.
By the 1870s Los Angeles and San Francisco dominated Californian shipping and railroading. The foremost railroad in the state was the Southern Pacific (SP), which overlooked San Diego’s request for a rail line until the rival ATSF started to make inroads into California. Meanwhile, San Diego civic boosters lead by newspaper publisher Frank Kimball made a deal with the ATSF to bring service to the city. To access San Diego, the ATSF started building a line under the subsidiary California Southern Railroad (CS) that was intended to reach Barstow, California to link with the SP line that ran to the Arizona border.
From 1880-1882, the CS line drove northward through coastal swamps and bogs and inland gullies and canyons, requiring numerous trestles and other infrastructure built by Chinese laborers. After years of building and lawsuits with the SP, the line reached Barstow in 1885. That same year, the first transcontinental train reached San Diego. The original route of the CS proved treacherous, as the inland portion through Temecula Canyon washed out in 1882 within a year of its opening. Although rebuilt, the line was soon replaced by the ATSF’s “Surf Line” which was laid through Orange County to meet the CS at Oceanside in 1888. It allowed a safer coastal link between San Diego and Los Angeles that avoided Temecula Canyon which washed out again in 1891 and was abandoned.
Although the railroad ran along the coast, the area remained sparsely populated and was used mainly for agriculture and grazing. In 1906, the Osuna family sold the remains of their “rancho” or “ranch” to an ATSF subsidiary that planned to use the eastern portion as a tree farm. Eucalyptus trees were planted with the intention of using the wood for railroad ties, but the soft wood turned out to be a poor choice. Reevaluating the situation, the company decided to construct a water system and create a planned residential community with spacious lots among the trees. Designed in a romantic Spanish Revival aesthetic by architect Lillian Rice, the settlement was renamed Rancho Santa Fe after the railroad and is still a sought after address.
Solana Beach—then known as Lockwood Mesa—consisted of a few small ranches owned by the George Jones family that cultivated crops such as grain and lima beans. To the south on ten acres stood the Stevens House, built in 1887 and purchased by the Stevens family in 1891. In the 1920s, the Stevens’ funded a new development that became the backbone of the current city. As the oldest standing structure in Solana Beach, the Stevens House was moved to La Colonia Park in the 1980s after it was almost demolished; it now functions as a local heritage museum overseen by the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society.
Colonel Ed Fletcher was also instrumental in the growth of Solana Beach. He was involved in the building of the local water and irrigation systems and was an early promoter of highways that connected his residential developments to San Diego. Fletcher worked with the railroad at Rancho Santa Fe and in 1922 he purchased 200 acres from George Jones along the ATSF right-of-way. This parcel became downtown Solana Beach. The railroad built a depot on the Surf Line near what is now Lomas Santa Fe Drive to serve the small community and in 1923 the land was subdivided. During the national boom years of the 1920s, the town grew to about thirty families and developed a commercial district near the depot. Mexican farmers working on the estates of Rancho Santa Fe formed an early community in Solana Beach. In those first years, Fletcher also pushed through access to the ocean by blasting away the sandy bluffs with a high-pressure stream of water and the resulting West Plaza Street is still the primary access point to the beach. To celebrate the beach’s opening on July 4th, 1924, horse races were held.
Amtrak and Coaster connections have further linked Solana Beach to other coastal communities and have helped attract new residents interested in living near public transportation. The majority of the town center in the vicinity of the station has not yet been constructed, but the idea is still active as of 2010 and can be pursued once the real estate and finance markets regain their health. The station has boosted development on North Cedros Avenue—the three blocks south of the station are now referred to as the “Design District.”
With frequently scheduled trains throughout the day, visitors from San Diego and even Los Angeles have discovered the more than 85 shops and galleries that focus on art, design, and personal well-being; many design professionals also maintain offices in the area. In the evening, music lovers head to Belly Up Tavern, which since 1974 has hosted some of the greatest names in the business including Curtis Mayfield, Etta James, and Maroon 5. On Sundays, a popular afternoon Farmer’s Market with stands selling local, organic produce and made-to-order grilled lunches occupies the avenue while townspeople mill about and catch-up on the local news.
Those looking for a few hours of contemplation head to the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, one of the area’s largest coastal wetlands. Covering roughly 1,000 acres, its six distinct biological zones include salt marshes and chaparral that are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, especially migratory birds. The LEED Gold certified Nature Center on the north shore of the lagoon contains exhibits on the natural and cultural resources of the estuary.
Amtrak provides ticketing, but does not provide baggage services, at the Solana Beach station. The Pacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
- 250 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Metrolink Kiosk
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift