This Amtrak Train Route Offers a Perfect Coastal California Trip — With Ocean Views Nearly the Whole Way

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner ocean-adjacent route travels between San Luis Obispo and downtown San Diego.

Gas prices are soaring, and getting stuck in traffic is never fun. As a result, train travel is gaining popularity this summer. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route is particularly special as passengers ride along the ocean for nearly the entire journey, which runs between San Luis Obispo and downtown San Diego. From panoramic views of the California coastline to the hypnotic rolling hills and laid-back beach cities along the way, here's how to make the best of this Amtrak train trip.

San Luis Obispo

People enjoy a warm spring day in the old town of San Luis Obispo at the main historic Monterey street.
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Start the day at one of San Luis Obispo's beloved local coffee shops, like Skippers Brew Coffee House. Then, saunter down Higuera Street to explore the arts and culture scene in downtown SLO, known for its legendary farmers market on Thursday nights. You can step into one (or 12) of the cute boutiques or stop by Mission Plaza, a wonderful outdoor space along the San Luis Creek and adjacent to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which offers a unique history lesson. Grab a drink on the roof at Hotel San Luis Obispo's High Bar, indulging in some delightfully crafted cocktails and small bites, set against a backdrop of rolling hills. Spend the night at the historic Granada Hotel & Bistro, a quaint and luxurious 17-room boutique hotel situated inside an original 1920s brick building. Guests can expect thoughtful design details like wrought-iron Juliet balconies and Persian rugs.

Santa Barbara

Scenic view of an upscale residential neighborhood on slopes of Santa Ynez Mountains range in Santa Barbara, California.
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Santa Barbara, known as the "American Riviera," offers seemingly endless adventures. Start with a wine or beer tour of The Funk Zone, a trendy district with an impressive variety of tasting rooms, cafes, and art galleries housed in contemporary spaces. Enjoy unmatched Oaxacan cuisine at Flor de Maiz, complete with views of one of Santa Barbara's main attractions, Stearns Wharf. Then, kayak with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company and explore the harbor, or reserve a bike with Wheel Fun Rentals and pedal through this bike-friendly city. Book a stay at the gorgeous Hotel Californian, a meticulously designed luxury boutique property that's right in the heart of the community, just steps from the train station, and only a block from the beach.


Hikers on a path in the Karoo Gardens section at the Ventura Botanical Garden on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 in Ventura, CA.
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Surfing is a large part of Ventura culture, but this relaxed seaside city also offers ample activities beyond the waves. Visit the Botanical Gardens, where you can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean from the hills above town. Take a self-guided mural tour, which is a great way to become immersed in local art and history. (Tip: Be sure to check out the Westside of Aventura). After working up an appetite, head to the Taco District, a string of Mexican restaurants along Ventura Avenue. Ventura's craft beer scene is incredible, too — Topa Topa has a nice outdoor area and the award-winning MadeWest Brewing Company features a taproom right on the Ventura Pier. As for lodging, Waypoint Ventura is a unique glamping experience in lovingly restored vintage trailers. Note that the Ventura train station is also where travelers can connect or transfer to SoCal's regional passenger railway service, Metrolink, via a convenient codeshare agreement.

San Juan Capistrano

Inn at The Mission San Juan Capistrano
Courtesy of Autograph Collection

Immediately upon pulling into the station in San Juan Capistrano, travelers can stop to refuel at Trevor's at the Tracks, a restaurant set in a historic train depot dating back to 1894. Explore the Los Rios Historic District, which is said to be the oldest continuously occupied neighborhood in California, with adobe structures from the late 1700s. Head downtown to grab a drink at the newly opened Rooftop Kitchen and Bar, where you can enjoy sweeping city views paired with modern American comfort food. Then, make your way to Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as the "Jewel of the Missions." It's a great spot to learn about California history while exploring the beautiful outdoor gardens. Stay the night at the nearby Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which overlooks the ruins of the iconic Great Stone Church.


Balcony view of pier at ocean from Mission Pacific Hotel in Oceanside, California
Courtesy of Mission Pacific Hotel

In Oceanside, the Transportation Center is conveniently within walking distance of the Oceanside Pier, countless cute coffee shops, tasty restaurants, breweries, and more. Start at Camp Coffee Company for a to-go cup — this local craft coffee shop is practically across the street from the train station and offers an extensive selection of handcrafted lattes and specialty pastries. Next, explore one of the outstanding breweries in town, like Craft Coast Beer & Tacos and Bagby Beer Company, the latter offering ocean-view seating on their deck. Those seeking something especially fancy can try the Balinese fusion restaurant, Dija Mara, which was recently named a "new discovery" by Michelin Guide. Finally, retire to Mission Pacific or The Seabird, two seaside sister luxury hotels with an ideal location for Oceanside exploration (as well as a hot rooftop bar and pool lounge).

Downtown San Diego

Begin the day with a coffee and pastry at Parfait Paris in the Gaslamp. This neighborhood features beautiful, contrasting architecture — a mix of contemporary design and historic Victorian buildings. Walk along the waterfront Embarcadero, exploring Seaport Village or the new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, which hosts fun concerts in the summer, including the San Diego Symphony. Then, check out Youngblood, an immersive, personalized cocktail experience in a hidden speakeasy-style bar. Spend the night at InterContinental San Diego, which is in close proximity to the train depot and blends the best of San Diego's offerings, with gorgeous city and bay views, a dynamic rooftop restaurant, and an expansive pool featuring a full bar and sun-soaked lounge.

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