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Train Travel: Seeing Southern California on the Pacific Surfliner
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Train Travel: Seeing Southern California on the Pacific Surfliner

Get a unique view of California by traveling down the coast on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and explore the towns along the way.

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5 min read

December 18, 2022

As you sit back in a train and watch the multitudinous landscapes pass by while enjoying the company of great friends, it’s difficult not to be swept away. There is something nostalgic about train rides that evokes a sense of simpler times. As you cruise along the Southern California coastline aboard the Pacific Surfliner, it becomes clear that the experience has more to do with the journey than the destination. 

While a trip to San Diego may take longer by train, the ability to skip L.A. traffic, avoid long airport security lines, or let go of the focus that long road trips require is well worth the additional time. Listening to the rhythmic sounds of the train chugging along redefines relaxation in a way that must be experienced to be believed; it could very well be the white noise you need from the fast-paced reality we all claim as our own.

The Pacific Surfliner isn’t about making it from point A to point B. It’s about everything in between.

Everything You Need To Know About The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner departs from San Luis Obispo and passes through Santa Barbara, Glendale, and Los Angeles before arriving at its final destination, San Diego. If you’re taking a direct train from San Luis Obispo to San Diego it will take between nine and ten hours to make it to your final destination. Depending on what time you plan on arriving in America's Finest City, you have a few options to choose from as the Pacific Surfliner schedule is pretty flexible. The earliest train moves from SLO at 3:45 a.m. and arrives in San Diego at 1:35 p.m., while the last one leaves at 3:40 p.m. and arrives at 1:35 a.m. So crack open that book you have been wanting to get to for months, pick up your phone only to capture the moments, and get to know old friends (or yourself) a little better while aboard the train.

When it comes to prices, Pacific Surfliner tickets taking you from SLO all the way to San Diego cost between $61 and $76. Prices vary, of course, depending on where you get on the train and where you get off. With so many stations, though, getting on and off the train in any city you desire is easy to do. After all, spending some time in the awesome cities in between allows you to have the ultimate California train trip experience. Here’s every stop you need to make along the way, and what to do at each.

Before you embark on your Pacific journey, take a few hours to explore San Luis Obispo. You’ll find a gem worth capturing at every corner.

First Stop: San Luis Obispo 

Before boarding the train and leaving the city behind, check out a few of the unique San Luis Obispo attractions. Bubblegum Alley is a must-see spot for adventurous souls; the 70-foot walls of the famed alleyway are lined with chewed gum from the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. If you want to leave your own mark, choose your favorite color of gum and get to chewing. After visiting this interesting attraction, grab a cup of coffee at a neighboring cafe, savor a slice of cake at the Madonna Inn, or check out the local art galleries before heading to nearby beaches. At San Luis Obispo beaches you can go surfing, rent a kayak, or lounge on the sand before your train arrives and the real trip begins.

Nicknamed the "American Riviera", Santa Barbara boasts miles of pristine coastline, gorgeous scenery, and beautiful colonial architecture.

Second Stop: Santa Barbara

Spend some time in this coastal gem to walk around the historic mission, visit the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and relax on the city’s best beaches. However, an especially unique item is experiencing the Eat This, Shoot That food tours offered in Santa Barbara and Solvang; for the best of Santa Barbara’s most delectable secrets go for the Funk Zone tour. While you’re in the area, you’ll also want to explore the nearby Channel Islands. Kayaking through the islands is considered one of the coolest things to do in Santa Barbara, especially since it’s also the best way to discover the unique fauna and flora of the area. Santa Barbara’s charming hotels and laid-back lifestyle make it an easy place to stay for a day or two, so plan your Pacific Surfliner schedule accordingly to ensure you don’t miss out on all that Santa Barbara has to offer.

Featuring picturesque views, soft sands, and a bustling downtown area, Ventura is a quintessential beach town best explored by bike.

Third Stop: Ventura

Next on your Pacific Surfliner stops list is the charming beach town of Ventura. Catch some waves at Surfers Point to meet the locals and see why this town is among the best in the state. The palm trees and coastal views provide the quintessential California vibes, inspiring residents and visitors alike to break out their longboards and paddleboards and spend every moment possible outside. You can head into the local bike shops to pick up your very own beach cruiser. This mode of transportation will allow you to immerse yourself in the rest of the cities along the way and will be a great reminder of your time in the quaint town of Ventura.

Pro tip: Reserve space for a bicycle when you plan your Pacific Sufrlined beach
 trip so your desired train can accommodate it.

L.A. is known around the world for its picture-perfect beaches and upscale boutiques, making it a must-see city for Pacific Surfliner passengers.

Fourth Stop: Los Angeles

While there are many worthy stops between Ventura and San Diego, Los Angeles is one of the most iconic cities in the state and is definitely worth exploring over a day or two. Whether you’re an LA native, first-timer, or frequent visitor, there’s plenty you haven’t yet discovered. The art galleries, eateries, and boutiques here are one of a kind, making it easy to fill an entire weekend with different experiences. From shopping in Beverly Hills and celebrity spotting to going on the best Hollywood hikes and catching some waves in Santa Monica, there are infinite possibilities in Los Angeles.

With iconic beaches, famous attractions, and luxurious waterfront resorts, America’s Finest City is the ideal final stop on your train travel journey.

Fifth Stop: San Diego

You have finally arrived at the last destination on your Pacific Surfliner adventure: Santa Fe Depot (which is centrally located in downtown San Diego and a short drive away from Balboa Park, Seaport Village, and Waterfront Park). You can also take the ferry over to Coronado island to wander around the charming boutiques, spend a night at the historic Hotel del Coronado, play a round of golf, and enjoy some much-needed relaxation time at the beach. 

The journey home is sure to be as beautiful as the train ride to San Diego, whether you decide to make multiple stops along the way or to go back directly. And luckily, there are plenty more train trips—including the Coast Starlight, which ventures to Seattle, and the California Zephyr, which heads halfway across the country to Chicago—that give you an opportunity to see other parts of the state as well.

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

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