Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Day Trip and my Confusion with Orange County Metrolink and San Diego Coaster

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Logo

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Day Trip and my Confusion with Orange County Metrolink and San Diego Coaster

Last month, I shared my experience riding the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Seattle down to Los Angeles (link).  A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on taking public transportation (buses and Amtrak) from Orange County to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Diego International Airport (SAN) (link).  Today, I will share my experience booking the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and some of the scheduling roadblocks I ran into.

The first thing you should know is that the Pacific Surfliner is part of Amtrak’s special routes, where it costs only 1,500 Amtrak Points per person each way, regardless of how long or short the ride is.

Amtrak Special Routes

The Pacific Surfliner runs multiple times every day from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, a 5 hour and 45 minute journey if you go end to end.  Along the way, the train passes through 29 stations.  Important: not every Pacific Surfliner train stops at every stop.  This partially screwed me up on my trip from Irvine (IRV) to Carlsbad Village (CBV) to visit a friend on Tuesday afternoon, I’ll explain later.

Pacific Surliner Maps and Stops

Booking the tickets were easy.  I converted 3,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points into 3,000 Amtrak Points and booked 2 one way Pacific Surfliner tickets.  No taxes or fees on Amtrak.

Amtrak IRV-OSD Confirmation

Amtrak has a pretty cool iPhone App where you can see all your upcoming trips and view your eTickets.  You need to have your ticket printed out or on your smartphone to show the conductor on the train. (The screenshot below is for my return trip, I forgot to take a screenshot for my outbound trip).

Amtrak App Trips

An eTicket is just like an electronic boarding pass you would use to board a flight or get through TSA screening.  No ID necessary.

Amtrak E-Ticket

Here are some pictures of my day trip.  This is the beautiful Irvine Station, close to the Irvine Spectrum.  Free parking in the parking garage next to the station.

Irvine Amtrak Station

Passing by San Clemente beach…

San Clemente Lifegaurd Tower

Stopping at San Clemente pier…

San Clemente Pier

Military helicopters flying over the freeway and train tracks in Camp Pendleton…

Helicopters over Camp Pendleton

Closeup image of the military helicopters as they prepare to land on the beach, very cool stuff!

Military Helicopter over Camp Pendleton

Anyway, back to my confusion with Amtrak.  The Pacific Surfliner runs several times every day, but only certain trains stop at certain stations.  The top image shows morning routes and the bottom image shows afternoon/evening routes.  Only evening trains stop at Carlsbad Village, but all trains stop at Oceanside.  I figured I would just get off the train and get on the next train passing by to take it one stop to Carlsbad Village.  (Pacific Surfliner Website and Schedule PDF)

Pacific Surfliner LAX-SAN Morning Pacific Surfliner LAX-SAN Afternoon

My logical choice would have been to grab the San Diego Coaster train from Oceanside to Carlsbad Village.  Unfortunately with that plan, I forgot to look at the train schedule.  There is a big gap of time between 7:42am and 9:42am and between 11:05am and 2:32pm.  The Coaster does not operate between those times.  Unfortunately for me, I got to Oceanside at 11:40am, so there were no trains for a while. (Coaster Schedule PDF)

Amtrak SD Coaster Schedule

To get from Oceanside to Carlsbad Village, there is a bus that goes that route.  I also noticed Uber drivers were nearby, but at that time I had already bought a bus ticket and the bus was leaving in a few minutes.  After a short 10 minute bus ride, I made it to Carlsbad Village!

Bus Stops between Oceanside and Carlsbad Village

After having lunch with my friend at a nice cafe in Carlsbad Village, we walked along the beach and talked miles, points, travel, and shared notes about blogging.  After talking for a few hours, I wanted to get home before it got dark, so I was planning on taking the 3:41pm Pacific Surfliner train from Oceanside.  Luckily, there was a 3:14pm Coaster train (see schedule above) leaving from Carlsbad Village that would take me 1 stop to Oceanside.  After arriving in Oceanside, I made my way to the other track and waited a few minutes until my 3:41pm Pacific Surfliner train showed up.

Pacific Surfliner SAN-LAX Morning Pacific Surfliner SAN-LAX Afternoon

I also saw a few Metrolink trains that day and was curious what their schedule and routes looked like.  Similar to the Pacific Surfliner train, I could go from Irvine to Oceanside, but no further.  Unfortunately, you cannot use Amtrak Points for Metrolink trains, so I didn’t really consider taking Metrolink. (Metrolink Schedule Website)

Metrolink Irvine-Oceanside Metrolink Oceanside-Irvine

Thoughts: If you are planning on traveling on the weekend, click the links in this post to see each train’s full schedule (weekdays and weekends).  The weekend train schedule is different than the weekday schedules I posted above.  Secondly, make sure you know which trains and times you want to be on, don’t wing it like I did.  Lastly, Amtrak is a great way to get around SoCal and is so convenient.  With easy access to Amtrak Points from Chase Ultimate Reward Points, your travels will be very affordable.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Happy travels!

P.S. If anyone is thinking of signing up for the Chase Freedom or Chase Sapphire Preferred anytime soon, please consider using my Chase refer a friend link on my Credit Cards page.  Thank you.

Chase-Ultimate-Rewards

13 thoughts on “Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Day Trip and my Confusion with Orange County Metrolink and San Diego Coaster

  1. calwatch

    If you ever have to ride this corridor, a great way to see all the trains organized is with the LOSSAN (Los Angeles – San Diego/San Luis Obispo) Joint Timetable at http://www.octa.net/lossan/LOSSAN-Service-Information/

    In the past Amtrak tickets were cross honored for Metrolink and Coaster, which makes sense as they are the higher priced options. Now only monthly passes are cross honored, although there are confusing exceptions – the Amtrak trains that make the Carlsbad stop honor Coaster tickets (a 50% or more savings from regular prices) and Metrolink and Amtrak tickets are valid on either service from Burbank Airport to Los Angeles. Metrolink has the $10 weekend day pass, and Coaster has a $12 day pass everyday which are valid on the six special Amtrak trains from Oceanside to San Diego. Luckily Amtrak and Coaster have online ticketing, and Metrolink soon will, which will allow the walk-up customer to just purchase a ticket for the next train while it’s pulling up.

    Reply
      1. JustSaying

        Well my last train mistake was on the TGV from London to Paris……..I thought I was being really smart buying the day they went on sale and then buying a specific seat in the Premium car……..what an absolute ripoff……..after walking thru the regular cabin it was quite obvious that the seats there for $60 were relatively the same as the over $200 I paid……..felt pretty stupid on that one………

        Reply
  2. L

    Taking the Surfliner from LA to San Diego round trip in a few weeks. Hopefully I will be using Amtrak points. I need to purchase a few in order to pay for a round trip with points. I am going to SD after a business trip to LA. I did not want to rent a car and drive so Amtrak was a great option. I take the train on the NE corridor at least one time a year.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: A Complete Guide To Amtrak Guest Rewards Points (AGR): Best Uses & How Much They Are Worth - Doctor Of Credit

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