Train Travel and Southern California

Southern California Train Travel

Did you know that you can create a terrific SoCal vacation around train travel? You can come by train and get around by train very nicely. There are packages, discount travel cards and many train stations near attractions of interest. So where do we start?

We’ll talk about packages and tours later. First, know that AMTRAK has stations from San Diego up through Orange County, Los Angeles County and on to Santa Barbara, northern California and beyond. You can take a train from Chicago, New Orleans or dozens of other places, including Canada (you must start from somewhere within North America, unless you know something I don’t know).

You could take AMTRAK to Southern California and enjoy cross-county train travel, then renting a car when you arrive. On the other hand, if you start your SoCal portion of the trip in San Diego, you can use the San Diego Trolley and local bus system to get just about anywhere you want to go. You can even take The Coaster regional rail line up to Del Mar, Carlsbad or Oceanside for a day trip. Renting a car is not as important in San Diego.

When it’s time to leave San Diego, jump on AMTRAK and head north for Orange County. A quick taxi ride from one of the several train stations will have you to a nearby hotel. As we discuss on some of our OC and LA pages, you can get around reasonably without a car if you’re patient, but things are a bit more spread out than in San Diego. There is Metrolink train travel and the regional bus systems in the greater Los Angeles region. You can also sign up for tours that pick you up at many hotels and handle all the transportation issues.

Southern California Theme Parks

Rather than coming to town on the train, you could also fly into either LAX, John Wayne Orange County Airport or San Diego International Airport at Lindbergh Field. The transition from airport to hotel to train station is probably the easiest in San Diego, where the historic train depot is very close to the airport. So that might be a natural starting point.

So you could spend 3-5 days in San Diego and then take the train up to Los Angeles for another 4-7 days. If you’re dealing with a shorter schedule that will take some careful planning (we’ve counted that you could pretty easily spend 3 weeks in San Diego alone).

So far we’ve talked about you traveling independently on the trains. Why not consider one of the numerous train travel tours and packages by AMTRAK, in coordination with many of the major attractions.

However, if you will be traveling with children who have not seen Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Sea World, Legoland and Six Flags Magic Mountain, this may not be the best trip to leisurely tour the state by train. You can still get around by train, but the tours and trips to Hearst Castle or the wine country in central California will burn days that could be spent at the parks or at the beach.

Train travel to the Fullerton depot

When I was a kid our family took the 3-day trip from Los Angeles to St. Paul and we loved sitting up in the dome car enjoying the scenery. I played gin rummy with some other kid I met on the train. I could not understand why the conductor did not share my excitement when we rode over the Mississippi River and approached our destination in St. Paul.

It was a great, memorable trip. However, there was some trauma when I chose to use the restroom just as the train pulled into our station. All’s well that ends well though; they waited for me.

Train travel is not the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B, but it can be the most fun!

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