Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class San Diego to Los Angeles

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01. Introduction: Trading wings for rails
02. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class San Diego to Los Angeles
03. Sofitel Hotel Beverly Hills
04. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class Los Angeles to San Diego

I’m an airline guy through and through, but I was very much looking forward to this trip up to Los Angeles on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. For those of you not familiar with trains and Southern California in general, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner gets its name from the fact that it literally follows the coastline during it’s journey from San Diego to Los Angeles (and beyond, all the way up to San Luis Obispo). In some places the tracks are right on the beach, and the views are better than what you could get from driving on Interstate 5 between these two cities.

The Pacific Surfliner arguably offers some of the most scenic views of all train routes in North America, so I was more than eager to get on down to the train station that morning and experience what it’s like to be a hardcore train geek (I believe “railfan” is the proper term). I’ve already got the AvGeek thing well-covered, so adding rail experience to my repertoire sounded like a pretty good plan.

Amtrak California Pacific Surfliner No 579
San Diego, CA (Santa Fe Depot) – Los Angeles, CA (Union Station)
Friday, June 23, 2017
Locomotive: EMD F59PHI
Locomotive Number: 464
Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes
Seat: 72 (business class)

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner san diego to Los Angles route map

Route map of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner showing all the stops between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Note: Although the Pacific Surfliner offers direct service from San Diego to Los Angeles, there are actually 13 stops along the way:

  • Old Town
  • Sorrento Valley
  • Solana Beach
  • Encinitas
  • Carlsbad (2 stations)
  • Oceanside
  • San Clemente
  • San Juan Capistrano
  • Irvine
  • Santa Ana
  • Anaheim
  • Fullerton

Every stop was very brief though, and still a whole heck of a lot better than driving up interstate 5.

The Santa Fe Train Depot in downtown San Diego is one of the most interesting (and beautiful) buildings in this city. I’m actually a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve never once been inside despite living less than a half mile away from it at one point ten years ago. I’m pretty sure that’s why my mind was completely blown the moment I saw the interior with my own eyes. I’m not all that familiar with train stations, but I’ve always imagined them to be grand structures with tons of interesting history and the Santa Fe Depot does not disappoint.

 San Diego train station exterior

Santa Fe Train Depot in downtown San Diego.

 San Diego Santa Fe train station entrance

Standing at the entrance made me feel like I had stepped back in time to the year 1920. This is a seriously cool building!

 San Diego Santa Fe train station sign

Why don’t airports feel this grand?

 San Diego Santa Fe train depot interior

Interior of the Santa Fe Train Depot. Such a beautiful structure.

The downside of entering a train station as a total newbie that morning was the fact that I truly had no idea what to do. I already had my printed ticket in hand, but we had a large suitcase with us that I did not know what to do with. Do we check it in or carry it onboard with us? I’ve been told that it’s perfectly OK and acceptable to bring a large suitcase inside the train, but as a seasoned airline traveler, that just seems weird to me. We decided to check it in to avoid any hassle.

 San Diego train station ticket counter

Ticketing counter and check in desk. Pro tip: there’s no need to check your luggage if you really don’t want to. Bring it on the train with you and stuff it in one of the huge overhead bins!

The check in process was smooth as butter, and the friendly desk agent confirmed that no, we did not actually need to check the suitcase in if we didn’t want to. All right, good to know. We willl check it in this time, but on the way back to San Diego tomorrow we will just bring it on the train with us. Man, I felt like a newb and totally out of my element!

Once checked in and ready to go, I quickly discovered the joys of the simplicity of train travel. Scheduled departure time was not for another 30 minutes, but it was still plenty of time to exit the terminal and walk across the street to get a bagel from the bagel shop and a coffee from Starbucks. By the time we got back, the boarding queue had started to form and we simply took our place in line and waited to board. No security check, no excessively long lines, no shenanigans. Just easy and simple travel – the way it used to be.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner San Diego train station

There she is! Our ride to Los Angeles this afternoon.

 Amtrak train boarding queue

There were two lines formed to board the train. Business class passengers on the left, and coach passengers on the right.

Walking up to a large locomotive and standing next to it for a moment is always an overwhelming experience. I almost didn’t even want to get on board at first – this train was impressive, and I could’ve spent hours walking around it looking at it and taking pictures. But there was no time for that, especially since my wife was with me, and she always does a good job of keeping me focused and not too distracted with geeky man stuff.

 Boarding Pacific surf liner San Diego

Aaaallllll aboard! Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

 Pacific surf liner San Diego Amtrak

I literally felt like an eight-year-old boy at this point, totally engrossed in the experience and really excited to board this train.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class car

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class car.

 Up close with the Amtrak Pacific surf liner train

As a total train newbie, the only thing I could think was how large these freaking things are when standing right next to them. This is a serious machine!

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner conductor

I didn’t get his name, but our business class attendant today was a world-class guy. He took very good care of us all the way to Los Angeles.

Another advantage to having my wife with me was the that fact that while I was distracted as an eight-year-old boy on his first train ride, she was laser-focused on finding us a seat on the upper deck of the business class car that was on the left-hand side (the ocean side with the best views). She succeeded admirably, with two seats on the left-hand side of the upper deck about 3/4 of the way back. Score!

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class interior

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class upper deck.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class interior

The first two cars behind the locomotive are business class. However, the first car was a bit newer and had better seats. This picture is looking back towards the second car and it’s older interior.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner seat number

It’s first-come-first-serve seating on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, and my wife chose seats 71 and 72 for us. Fine seats they were. By the way, that green tag was an indicator to the conductor that our destination was Los Angeles today. Other passengers with different destinations had tags of other colors.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class seats

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class seats.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class seating layout

Here’s a wide angle view of the seating layout. By the way, this dude was so cool – he totally looks like a seasoned train traveler, bowtie and all.

We had been seated for all of 15 seconds and we were already very impressed with this experience. The seats were large and comfy, there was tons of legroom, we had a big window to ourselves to watch the view, and the business class attendant was one of the nicest and helpful individuals we had ever met. We hadn’t even left yet and things were already looking good.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner seat backs

Fold out tray tables and foot rest at the back of every seat.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class foot rest

Pretty decent foot rest. It worked for me, but my wife was too short for it to be comfortable.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class electrical outlets

120 V electrical outlets at every seat. Free Wi-Fi too.

 Amtrak pacific surf liner train ceiling

Overhead panel detail with air vents and reading lights. Just like on airliners, your baggage goes in the overhead bins. These are MUCH bigger though.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner train kitchen

Just behind us was this little kitchenette with a coffee maker for the business class attendant.

 Amtrak pacific surfliner train safety card cover

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner safety instructions. Just like being on an airplane!

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner safety card interior

Interior of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner safety card.

Just before pushback – well, I guess you can tell it “pushback” since the locomotive was in the front and we were going to be pushed all the way to Los Angeles – the attendant came through the aisle offering a very impressive amenity kit / snack box stuffed full of snacks and treats that was big enough to be considered a full meal. It even had Pacific Surfliner branding on it, which the travel geek in me thought was really cool. I was quickly starting to understand the fascination many people have with train travel.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class snack box

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner business class snack box. Why yes, I will enjoy!

 Amtrak to Pacific surfliner snack box exterior

As you can see, the snack boxes are specific to the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. I really wish airlines did this kind of stuff.

 Departing Santa Fe Depot Station

Rolling out of the Santa Fe Depot and heading north!

View from Amtrak Pacific Surfliner San Diego

We hadn’t been moving 30 seconds and we started seeing San Diego from a perspective we’ve never seen before.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner view of freeway

This sure beats driving!

One of the things my wife and I were looking forward to the most about this particular train ride was the fact that we would be rolling right past our house. We live on the edge of a canyon that has train tracks running through it, and we see these trains go by every single day. Hey – it was kind of neat to see our house from the perspective of the train that we’ve seen so often from our living room window.

Seeing our house from the Amtrak Pacific surf liner

That’s our house up there on top of the canyon! Cool!

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner passenger

I just couldn’t get enough of this guy. Imagine all the places he’s been via train travel…

The attendant came through offering free alcohol in the form of bottled wine and beer, and we took him up on the offer because, hey – this is business class after all end it would be inappropriate not to accept. Right?

 Amtrak at Pacific surfliner free alcohol

Mango protein smoothies and white wine – that’s how we roll.

Our eyes were glued to the windows all the way north through San Diego, and we were simply in awe once we passed Oceanside as the train ran along the beach for miles. I mean like literally on the beach. If we were any closer we would’ve been wet.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner Torrey Pines

Passing by Torrey Pines in Del Mar.

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner beach view

Hard to believe that this is a view from a train right? The Pacific Surfliner is properly named.

 Carlsbad train station San Diego

Making a brief stop in Carlsbad.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner following freeway

Following along Interstate 5 just north of Oceanside. Wanna race?

 Amtrak to Pacific surf liner business class interior

Chugging our way north!

 Amtrak Pacific surf liner business class bathroom

I’m sure you were just dying to see pictures of the bathroom instead of the beach. Here you go!

SANspotter train selfie

Do I look like a proper railfan yet?

 Amtrak Pacific Surfliner ocean view

OK, back to pictures of the beach.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner ocean view

This train literally follows along the beach between San Diego and Los Angeles.

San Clemente!

San Clemente!

Amtrak Pacific surfliner business class free wine

Did you know that free wine greatly enhances the train travel experience? Yup. It’s true.

Majestic ocean views slowly morphed into urban sprawl the further we pushed north, and by the time we passed through Irvine it was nothing but city. That was a little bit disappointing, but I was relieved that the motion sickness that I was feeling earlier on in the trip (from facing backwards on a forward moving train) had completely disappeared and I was quite enjoying seeing parts of Los Angeles that I had never seen before.

San Juan Capistrano train station

San Juan Capistrano station. Looks really nice!

 Anaheim train station

This is the Anaheim station. A bit more modern.

 Santa Ana train station

Santa Ana train station – one of my favorites from the entire journey. So classy.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner view of angels stadium

Angels Stadium! If you can’t tell by now, I was really enjoying seeing southern California in a way I had never seen it before.

Fullerton station

Fullerton station.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner view of Los Angeles

Rolling into the heart of Los Angeles now.

 The city of Los Angeles

Say what you will about the city of Los Angeles, but I love it. Yes, it’s gritty in places, but it has so much soul.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner view of Los Angeles

Downtown LA in view!

Our approach into Union Station was slow and lazy, no doubt a result of all the congestion of this massive train station. I really had no idea what to expect from Union Station, but I was hoping it would impress me as much as the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego did. After all – this is the main train station in Los Angeles. This building is where travelers have been arriving and departing Los Angeles for over 80 years, so it had to be grand. It just had to.

 Arrival into union station Los Angeles

Start gathering your belongings, because we have just about arrived…

 Amtrak Pacific Surfliner stairs

Down the stairs and out we go.

 Amtrak Pacific surfliner business class car lower level

Just like it is on airplanes, it takes a little while to get out.

 Amtrak at Pacific surfliner in car display

Might as well get some detail pics while I wait.

My first impressions of Union Station weren’t all that great honestly. The arrival platform and the hall to the main terminal building was a little bit, shall we say…sterile. But once we got out of that and into the main hall, the word “grand” was simply not enough to explain the historical significance and nostalgia I felt while gazing at this very amazing train station. Union Station is impressive.

SANspotter selfie Amtrak Pacific surfliner train

I asked my wife to take my picture, so I gave her my phone and she gave me her bag and coffee in return. Um…I didn’t mean that I wanted to hold all this stuff…

 Union station train platform

The main platform here at Union Station.

 Union station Los Angeles arrival

Down the stairs into the main terminal…

 Arriving at union station train station Los Angeles

… and this was a little bit less “grand” than I was expecting.

Union Station los angeles main hall

Ok, this is more like it! The main hall of Union Station.

 Baggage claim at union station Los Angeles

The baggage claim facilities at Union Station. As you can see, absolutely nobody checks their bags onto the train.

So there you have it. My first ever train experience of this magnitude within the continental US. The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is an excellent way to travel between San Diego and Los Angeles, and you can bet that I will be doing this again – as often as I can. I love to drive, but this train is so convenient that it’s hard to resist.

I was feeling pretty good walking out of Union Station that afternoon, especially since I felt like I was an experienced train traveler now and the trip home to San Diego the next day would be even easier than this. I was also starting to feel a bit like a true railfan, which didn’t bother me one single bit.

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