Since I had a business meeting down in San Diego on Saturday, I decided to head down a day earlier and make it a working weekend getaway. 99% of the time, I take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Train down to San Diego and I decided to do the same this time as well. I still had two upgrade coupons from being a member of Amtrak Guest Rewards Program and reaching Select Plus Level. I needed to use the upgrade coupons by the end of the month. I booked my Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Tickets by by calling the dedicated Select Plus Amtrak Guest Rewards customer service line to redeem the coupons per the instructions printed on them. Due to the 48 hour max window on upgrades, I had to call twice, once for the outbound trip and second for the return trip on Sunday.
Since my Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Train 774 was originating in Goleta California, I checked with my Amtrak iPhone App to see if the train was running on time. The App showed that train 774 was running about 30 min behind schedule so I left for the station later than I would have if the train was running on time. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Train 774 finally arrived close to one hour late at my station. For those of you who are traveling between Los Angeles and San Diego, it is better to take the 500 series numbered Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Trains vs the 700 series numbered trains. 700 series numbered trains, run between San Diego and North of Los Angeles to Goleta and couple trains even further North to San Luis Obispo. Pacific Surfliner Trains that travel to and from North of Los Angeles generally tend to be overcrowded and have worse time keeping than the trains that run exclusively between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The vast majority of the Amtrak/Metrolink stations in Orange County offer free parking up to 72 hours in multistory covered parking structures. If you are going away for longer thank 72 hours, you can register your vehicle with the station security so they know not to have your vehicle towed away. Not all stations in Orange County are manned so double check the station’s information from which you are departing from before parking and jumping on the train.
- Anaheim (Free – Registration Required)
- Santa Ana
- San Juan Capistrano (No Free Parking)
- San Clemente Pier (No Free Parking)
Once my Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Train arrived, I boarded from the front of the train which is where the Business Class car is located. I found a seat upstairs after stowing my roller bag on the luggage racks downstairs. Shortly after departing, the Business Class Train Attendant came by with complimentary snack packs and took my complimentary drink order. I chose the white wine which was promptly delivered along with a cup. As I usually do when I ride on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, I tipped the Business Class Train Attendant before sitting back and enjoying my wine and snack pack.
For those of you who are not familiar with Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, here is a quick rundown on what amenities are offered aboard the train. Two classes of travel are offered aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Trains. Coach class is “Non Reserved” meaning you are not guaranteed a seat. On busy trains, there is a good possibility that you might be standing in the aisles. Tickets are good on any train between your ticketed station pairs anytime except during a list of blackout dates, which you can find on Amtrak’s Website. Prices on the Pacific Surfliner trains are stable throughout the year except during the blackout dates when the prices are nominally higher. Blackout dates fall on major three day weekend holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Business Class on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is “Reserved Seating.” This means that you are guaranteed a seat but not any specific seat. Generally, if you are traveling as a group, the Business Class Train Attendant or the Conductors are pretty good with accommodating your group to sit together. For the Conductors or the Business Class Train Attendant to know about your group, it is important that you purchase everyones ticket on one reservation. While this does give the crew a heads up that your group will be boarding, NOTHING IS GUARANTEED! Since Business Class is guaranteed seating, you do need to make sure that you change your reservation if you can not make your train or need to board a different one.
Seats in both Coach and Business Class are the same except for the difference in legroom. Business Class does have substantially more legroom than Coach does. Group seating with a table in between are available but they are reserved for groups of 3 or more passengers traveling on the same reservation. General seating is upstairs with the lower level seating reserved for passengers who are mobility impaired and seniors. Standing passengers are not allowed in Business Class Car but are allowed in Coach, which on a busy train makes a big difference. I have been on trains where there was absolutely no way to walk through the Coach car at all due to jam-packed standing passengers in the aisle.
Seats in both Business Class and Coach aboard the Pacific Surfliner reclines, have footrests and tray tables, but the recline is deeper in Business Class. Due to less legroom in Coach, when the seat in front of you is reclined, the tray table when in use may hit your torso. In Business Class, there are no issues with your space being impinged on by a reclined seat in front of you.
Pacific Surfliner Business Class passengers are offered snacks and beverages onboard the train. On trains operating before noon, muffins and cinnamon rolls along with coffee, juice and tea are offered self service in the Business Class snack station. On trains operating afternoon, one snack pack along with one beverage of your choice are offered by a Train Attendant. You have the choice between red or white wine, sodas, or bottled water. Coffee and tea are available throughout the day as much as you want.
Newspapers are available for Business Class passengers who still read newspapers, but for those who read digital editions, all Pacific Surfliner Trains are equipped with WiFi internet. The WiFi aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Trains have video or other data intensive functionality disabled, so you will not be able to stream using the onboard WiFi. There are plenty of power outlets in both classes for anyone who need to recharge their phones or other devices.
Weather you are traveling in Business Class or in Coach, you will have spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean between San Diego and Orange County, and between Oxnard and San Luis Obispo. The railroad track in many places run closer to the shore than the freeway or PCH and since the Surfliner Railcars are dual level, you will get great unobstructed view from the big panoramic windows of the train from the second floor. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, all of the Pacific Surfliner Trains have WiFi internet, but the best entertainment one can enjoy aboard the train is the beautiful Pacific Ocean passing by your big window.
The Pacific Surfliner Train has a cafe onboard, which offers snacks, sandwiches and beverages for sale including beer, wine, cocktails and more. Unlike other Amtrak Cafe’s, the Pacific Surfliner’s Cafe offer more variety of items including locally sourced products and healthy products such as fresh fruit bowls. For those of you who will be taking Metro in LA or MTS in San Diego once you arrive at your destination, the cafe car sells day passes for both transit systems.
Last summer, my parents and I drove down to San Diego for our Global Entry interview. We jumped on the 5 freeway around 11AM on a Weekday and it took us over 5+ hours to drive down to Otay Mesa, where we had appointments for our Global Entry interview, due to just the sheer number of vehicles on the road. During the summer months, 5+ hour drive time down to San Diego has become the norm not the exception. From Los Angeles Union Station, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, travel time and about 1 hour 45 minutes from South Orange County to San Diego. I highly recommend everyone to take the train and save themselves the stress and anger of being stuck in traffic for 5+ hours driving down to San Diego. The only reason we did not take the Pacific Surfliner for our Global Entry Interview was because the Otay Mesa Border Crossing is not connected to convenient public transportation. With 12 trains running each way daily between San Diego and Los Angeles, the Pacific Surfliner Train has very convenient schedule to meet ones need.