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Riding the Pacific Surfliner: the Los Angeles to San Diego Train

On a recent domestic flight I found myself having one of those travel days. You know the ones. You get to the airport and the queue to get through security is a mile long. You get to the gate for your flight and sit there surrounded by glum looking people for half an hour and then the flight is delayed. The glum looking people become annoyed looking people as the delay stretches on, and it then takes about another half hour to board the plane, before you sit on the tarmac and wait for a spot to open up on the runway.

I usually try to rise above and not let these things bother me but on that particular day I’ll admit I felt my blood pressure rise a little, and as we finally took off I found myself thinking about the Pacific Surfliner train in sunny California.

Even without factoring in the 45 minutes it took to get to the airport, I realised I could have already made it from Los Angeles to San Diego in the time it took to get from the airport entrance to wheels up.

As you can probably guess, at that moment I really wished I was back on that train.

View from Pacific Surfliner Train, Los Angeles to San Diego

When I decided to go to San Diego for the first time I’ll admit I considered flying down after catching up with friends in Los Angeles but fortunately friends in both cities were quick to set me right and tell me to get the Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak’s Los Angeles to San Diego train.

When they explained the train cost $56 for a business class seat and that it included free snacks and drinks, including tea, coffee, juice and wine, and free WiFi throughout the journey I was a little bit worried about Amtrak’s business model. Free wine over a two hour and 45 minute journey? Surely with some passengers they’d be operating at a loss?

Read: Canada’s great train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

As you have already guessed I jumped at the chance to get on the Pacific Surfliner which has been running between San Luis Obispo and San Diego since the year 2000.

Even before I stepped onto the train I was embracing the romance of rail thanks to LA’s beautiful Union Station.  I was one of those tourists stopping to take photos of the art deco architecture and imagining how much fun it would be to have a swish party in the original ticket lobby (although that last bit may have just been me).

As a business class passenger I had access to Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge which only opened last December and was a nice little oasis from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the station. Here they have complimentary tea, coffee, a fridge full of soft drinks, and pastries and muffins if you’re ready for a snack. They also have free internet access and newspapers as well as a conference room if you need somewhere to talk business before you get on the rails.

When it came time to board the train I had a game plan that involved getting on quickly, and nabbing a window seat upstairs on the right hand side so I’d have the best view on the way down to San Diego. I assumed I’d be able to see a bit of the ocean from time to time, but underestimated just how much I would see and how close I would be.

After leaving Los Angeles the Surfliner train hugged the coastline, and the free WiFi was forgotten as I looked out the window at California beach life. There, just outside the window, were people surfing, kiteboarding, playing volleyball or just sunning themselves on the sand.

As it was a Sunday we passed market days and fairs along the way, and as the driver hooted his horn I was close enough to see the big smiles on children’s faces as they waved back.

As well as the happy faces outside the train, I was pleasantly surprised by how warm and friendly the staff on board the Surfliner were too. Not only when they came through to offer drinks and snacks including potato chips, danishes and muffins, but also when they made their announcements.

On the way back from San Diego to LA I had a bit of a chuckle as the conductor joked over the PA system that it was ‘make a friend Monday!’ as she asked people not to put their bags on the seats next to them as it was going to be a busy train due to some sporting events.

Looking around me I saw a mix of sports fans, business types, day trippers and tourists like myself all just relaxing in comfort as we made our way along the California coastline. And I spared a thought for all of those people sitting at an airport gate at LAX. Then I accepted a glass of wine and watched some more sandy beaches go by.

In San Diego Amanda stayed as a guest of Sofia Hotel, a member of the Historic Hotels of America, and an easy five minute walk from the San Diego train station. Amanda independently purchased her own Los Angeles to San Diego train tickets on the Pacific Surfliner.

Love trains? So do I. You can check out some of my other train reviews including doing the Venice Simplon Orient Express from London to Berlin, going to Machu Picchu in style on Belmond’s Hiram Bingham, the spectacular Oslo to Bergen train in Norway, the old Sunlander train in Queensland and its replacement, the Spirit of Queensland with their unusual railbeds,  crosssing Australia in gold class style on the Indian Pacific or travelling Eurostar e320 business premier style from London to Paris.

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