How to take Metrolink

Reader Frank Scimia e-mailed recently after reading about one of my L.A. excursions via Metrolink:

“I enjoy reading your blog and have a question regarding your day in L.A. It sounds like fun and something that I would like to do with my family. The only problem is that I have never ridden the Metrolink…gasp! Can you give a first-timer some tips? I live in Rancho and don’t have a clue on what train to take and what station to get off at. Also, how far is the walk to Hollywood Blvd?”

I responded to his e-mail but figured I’d share my response here since others may have the same question. Taking the train isn’t difficult, but I can see how it might be intimidating for a first-timer, especially since you kinda have to know the schedule in advance (it’s not like trains are pulling in every 15 minutes) and there are no employees, just ticket machines.

Here’s what I told him:

“Always happy to encourage riders on Metrolink. You can find the schedule at You’ll want the schedule for the San Bernardino Line. You buy tickets at the station. The machines can be confusing at first but other riders can help.

“From Union Station, which is the end of the line, you would take the Red Line subway to either Hollywood and Vine or to Hollywood and Highland. No big walk — you’re right there!

“Transferring from Metrolink to the Red Line is free with your ticket (for now — Metrolink officials are rethinking the free transfer policy).”

From Union Station, one can also take the Gold Line to Chinatown, Highland Park and Pasadena, or walk across the street to Olvera Street or walk about four blocks to Philippe’s, not to mention walking or taking the Red Line to other downtown sites, etc.

I find a lot of people confuse Metrolink and the subway. It all makes sense (I think) if you actually go there, and then look at the maps at Union Station. After a trip or two, you start feeling like an urban expert, and for me it beats driving, paying for parking, etc. Just be cognizant of the times the trains depart for home and factor in the time you need to get back to Union Station.

Here’s a link to Metrolink’s official “How to Ride Guide.”

Any other questions or comments?

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  • Eric

    Good synopsis, David.

    I have taken some friends on a trip on public transit, utilizing the Metrolink, Gold Line, and Red Line for a pub crawl. We take the train in, eat breakfast/lunch and beers at Philippe’s, walk to Chinatown, board the Gold Line to Pasadena, hit a few establishments in Old Town, back on the train to Union Station, transfer to the Red Line, and hit a few places Downtown.

    Most of my friends had never ridden on these trains, and found them comfortable, easy-to-use, and a great way to get home after a pub crawl. I think most of them would be willing to take them on their own after our “outing.”

    It is also a great value as your round-trip Metrolink tick is good for all trains and transfers. I really hope Metro doesn’t change this policy.

    [Me too — I’d pay a buck or two more for a Metrolink ticket if it meant not having to mess with buying transfer tickets. Thanks for the safe and sane note, Eric. — DA]

  • Don J

    Dave, if you get a roundtrip on Metrolink it IS a “transfer ticket” with direct connecting lines….don’t forget the Metro’s giant buses of the Orange Line whiz from the Red Line terminus in North Hollywood to the far western San Fernando Valley in mere minutes — and with the Foothill Transit’s snazzy “Silver Streak” operating 24 hours to Montclair nobody has to be “trapped” in L.A. if you miss the last train.

    [True re: the Silver Streak, a handy service. People should be prepared, is all, especially if they’ve already forked out money for round-trip train tickets. But as I say, the MTA is considering taking away the transfer benefit from Metrolink riders for budgetary reasons, since the MTA is subsidizing the perk. — DA]

  • Shirley Wofford

    Hi David, I’m sure that you would not be surprised to see me contibuting to your blog about Metrolink as, you know, I am a Metrolink “professional.”

    I have a new Metrolink story: A friend from Orange County and I went in to LA on a recent weekday to see “Ain’t Misbehavin” at the Ahmanson. The Orange County folks are not as blessed with the range of Metrolink schedules that we have on the SB Line, so she decided to drive herself to Union Station, and she said she planned to forego lunch, for dinner later. I did not want to go without lunch and, anyway, I always enjoy a detour to Philippe’s for my favorite meal there — beef stew, cole slaw and tapioca pudding. While at Phillipe’s I nearly ran head-on into a former Montclair coworker as I was exiting the rest room. We simultaneously blurted, “What are you doing here?”

    After lunch, I met up with my friend at Union Station, to take the Red Line to the Civic Center Stop, on our way to the Music Center. (This route is easily walkable from Union Station, but it was a hot day.) Since I did not need a Red Line ticket because of the transfer policy, my friend would need to purchase one. I had brought some of my subway tokens for her. The token, which cost 90 cents (bag of 10 for $9) at the time of purchase, was worth $1.35 in ride value. We are both “seniors.” The regular cost for her one-way ticket would have been 25 cents, according to the machine, showing me to be an economic dummy for wasting my token.

    After the show, we discussed a place to go for dinner. My friend suggested that, since I had never been to EL Cholo for green corn tamales, we should go there. It is one walking side trip from the Wilshire/Western stop that I have not taken, and I was apprehensive about the time, hoping I would not need to board a homeward bound Metrolink before 7 p.m. I countered with a suggestion that we go to Musso and Frank in Hollywood which she quickly voted down.

    So, we headed to the Red Line stop, and this Metrolink “professional” proceeded to screw up, big time. #1, I forgot that my friend should purchase another one-way Red Line ticket, because her first ticket had expired; #2, I then rushed us on to the train without remembering to make sure it was going to Wilshire/Western. (I think the fine for not having a ticket on the Red Line is about $250.)

    So all the time we are on our ride, I am quaking in my boots that “Enforcement” is going to come through for tickets, I am still not aware that I also have us on the wrong train. My friend was not too happy when we ended up in Hollywood, and I was saying my “sorrys” over and over. At that point, I told her, we could backtrack and start everything over to get to El Chollo, or we could just go on to Musso and Frank. We agreed to Musso and Frank, which is expensive, but I like the Hollywood nostalgia of the restaurant, and am always hoping a celebrity will walk in. The food is good. I always have the cheapest meal, cream of tomato soup and cooked vegetables. El Cholo would have to wait until our next trip.

    On the return trip from the Hollywood/Highland stop back to Union Station I did remember that my friend needed to buy another one-way ticket. That time the machine asked her for 55 cents. I am really puzzled about the difference in the two one-way fares, because the machine does not ask for the destination.

    Oh well, David, I too am waiting to see what they determine about the free transfer tickets. I have thought it amazing that we can ride the Blue Line from the 7th St. Metro Red Line stop all the way to Long Beach for free. If the free transfer policy is ended, non “senior” riders can save a lot by buying the tokens in advance. I am most worried about the Metolink officials stopping the 11:30 p.m. eastbound train on Saturday nights. If they do that, there goes my one-a-year, night Dodger game.

    [I knew you wouldn’t let me down when it came to a Metrolink comment, Shirley. And you’re right, the “free” ride (with Metrolink ticket) all the way to Long Beach certainly makes the train ticket a bigger bargain than ever. — DA]

  • Scott in R.C.

    I was hoping Shirley was going to mix in a restaurant review of El Cholo’s! We have been a fan of theirs for years and frequent the La Habra location on Whittier Blvd. Every Dec. 30, we go to the one in Pasadena for dinner, then walk down the back alley over to one of the float building sites. We are able to go inside for a “sneak peek” at the floats being built at a warehouse close to the restaurant. The fragrance of the flowers alone is worth the trip!

    Now I’ll try to load the family on a train to try the El Cholo’s downtown since we’ve never been to that location. Thanks!

    [The walk is five long blocks south on Western — very doable, but be ready. — DA]

  • shirley wofford

    David, I have just received my schedule for this summer’s “Grand Performances” at CA Plaza. CA Plaza is across the street from the Wells Fargo Center, on Grand Avenue. It is very easy to get to by Red Line from Union Station; it is also very walkable from Union Station.

    The first program will be on Saturday, June 13, at 7 p.m. and will be a performance by the composer of the musical score for the movie “Battlestar Galactica” with his orchestra. This would be a great time for IE Metrolink riders to show their support of the 11:30 p.m. eastbound train.

    [Thanks for the info, Shirley. — DA]

  • gail

    How do you use those machines to get your ticket for the Metrolink? I got confused and people aren’t helpful to show you how to do it.

    [From Metrolink’s How to Ride Guide:

    Choose which station you are traveling from,
    and which station you are traveling to.
    Ticket vending machines offer a variety of ticket
    Ticket vending machines allow you to purchase
    multiple tickets, including tickets for Adults,
    Children, Seniors, and the Disabled.
    Metrolink ticket vending machines accept Visa,
    MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diners
    Club, debit cards, and cash.
    If you pay by debit card, enter your PIN and
    press “Enter.” TVMs do not accept $100 bills.
    Now youre ready to ride!

    Hope that helps. I’ve generally found fellow riders to be helpful, but maybe Claremont is a friendlier station than some. — DA]

  • n_mur

    So i found this blog online. I have a question to add. When you take the metrolink train how do i request a stop at a station? Or does the train stop at every station?

    [It stops at every station. — DA]

  • Oleeta Igar


    I am glad I came across this blog! I am new to the trains and buses and have a question or two. If I purchase a Round trip ticket on the Metrolink train and go into Union Station to catch the Gold Line, do I have to pay with my tap card for riding the Gold line on in to Pasadena? I see those doors open and the tap machine next to them and it makes me think I have to pay again. Could you explain? Thanks for the great info!


    [A Metrolink ticket — one-way, round-trip or weekend pass — is good for unlimited transfers on MTA bus and rail, Oleeta. Just don’t lose your ticket! The TAP card is for non-Metrolink users. — DA]