It has always been a little dream of mine to take a trip on a train. I had always pictured doing it somewhere majestic like Europe, but I certainly wasn’t upset to experience my first bit of train travel along the rugged Pacific Coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego.
I had to travel to LA for a course related to my job, and I had originally planned to spend an additional 4 days in LA to hang out with my uncle who lives there. However, a last minute change of plans had me looking for other ways to spend these 4 days. Staying in LA was way too expensive…and there actually wasn’t much else in LA that I really wanted to see after spending a week in Santa Monica. I hopped on the Amtrak website and learned that there was a train called the Pacific Surfliner that runs between Los Angeles and San Diego. I was easily able to change my return flights to Canada to depart from San Diego instead of LA…so I booked my one-way, business-class ticket on the Pacific Surfliner for early on a Saturday morning.
On the day of my journey, I took an LA City Bus from Santa Monica to Union Station in Los Angeles, which was actually pretty easy and comfortable. Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus website was actually very easy to navigate, and my Rapid 10 Bus was right on time. The ride to union station took just under an hour, and the adventure began. Here’s what I learned…
1. Train Stations are pretty cool
Saying this may classify me as an absolute nerd, or maybe just somebody who clearly hasn’t spent a lot of time at train stations, but I was amazed at how beautiful Union Station Los Angeles was. It was just turning to daylight when I arrived, so I wasn’t able to get any phenomenal pictures of the entrance and foyer, but I was definitely impressed. There are lots of waiting areas, although they were very full on a Saturday morning, and there were also several food vendors (Starbucks, Wetzel’s Pretzels, etc). Since I had booked business class (fancy) I was actually taken to a private Amtrak Business Lounge. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Business Class Rocks
I’ve never been one to spend extra money on special treatment, but in this case, I couldn’t help myself. A one-way ticket in coach was $46.00, and a Business Class ticket was $65.00. The main difference that sold me on Business Class was guaranteed seating, whereas in Coach, you aren’t guaranteed a seat at all, and sometimes during busy times passengers cannot get a seat at all. Since it was a 3 hour journey to San Diego, I spent the extra $19 and upgraded. And it was well worth it. I got to spend the two hours waiting at the train station at the Amtrak Business Class Lounge, which was quiet, completely empty when I was there, and full of snacks, coffee, tea, water, and soft drinks that you’re welcome to take with you on your journey. They had nice little desks and tables set up so I could get some work done, and i was extremely grateful for this after passing by the crowded waiting areas in the main foyer of the station. The lovely man at the desk in the lounge called for a cart to take me and my bag to the train when it was time to board, and although I never mind walking, this was actually quite nice.
When it came time to board, all passengers who are not in a wheelchair or otherwise unable were asked to sit on the second floor. This was also fine with me, because I had my heart set on a beautiful ocean view. Tip: Choose a seat on the right-hand side of the train when you’re facing forward (facing the locomotive) as this will be the side that the ocean is on. My bag was small enough that it was able to be stored in the luggage area of the car, but if you’re carrying lots of big bags, they’ll likely have them stored under the train.
The business class car was big and roomy, the chairs were comfortable, and there were snacks and drinks available free of charge. Each row of two seats has an electric outlet near the window so you can charge your devices while you ride, and the complementary wifi was fantastic. I was able to maintain a connection for the entire ride, although by the time we got to the coast, I wasn’t paying much attention to my phone or computer.
3. The interior of Southern California is nothing spectacular…
The first part of the ride will take you through the guts of LA and Anaheim, which are nothing special to look at out the train window. I found myself wondering a few times, “when does the view get pretty like it is in all the pictures!?” Well. Let me tell you, it does get beautiful eventually, although the majority of the ride is through cities and towns.
4. …but the coast will take your breath away
By the time we hit the coast, the ride became incredible. Within two minutes of being by the ocean, there were dolphins jumping right outside my window. It was early in the morning and the skies were a bit hazy, but I certainly didn’t mind. You will pass beaches, rugged coastline, surfers, and campers. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view.
5. I had everything I needed, and more
Amtrak staff were all very helpful when I asked my silly “train virgin” questions like where to put my bags and what to do with my ticket. The car had a small restroom, similar to one that you would find on an airplane, lots of snacks and drinks, electrical outlets, free wifi, and plenty of lovely humans to chat with throughout the journey. Every stop is announced, and the stops are quick and efficient. The Santa Fe Depot in San Diego is the final stop for the Pacific Surfliner, so if this is where your final destination is, you’ll have a bit more time to get off the train.
All in all, my experience aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner was a fantastic one from start to finish. Even when I had to call customer care a week before my journey to change my train, I was amazed at the friendliness of the staff and the level of customer care. My number one piece of advice would be to spring for a Business Class seat if you can afford to. I don’t know what it was like in Coach, and I kind of wish I did just so I could compare the two, but my experience in the Fancy Pants Section was just so awesome that I think I would always do it this way.
Thank you, Amtrak, for making my first train experience such a pleasant one! I will be back!