Amtrak business class is the most pleasant way to avoid traffic between San Diego and Santa Barbara. The journey on the Pacific Surfliner train takes about 5 hours. Driving usually takes about 4, depending on traffic. But, in Los Angeles, traffic can be brutal and appear when you least expect it.
Is it Amtrak business class worth the upgrade? I definitely think so, in most cases. Note that business class seating varies by train and that this post specifically covers the Pacific Surfliner.
Business Class Seats Are Guaranteed
I didn’t know this until recently but coach passengers on Amtrak trains are not guaranteed a seat. This means that standing during a journey in coach is a possibility, especially if traveling during peak hours.
Amtrak sells exactly the number of business class seats as there are passengers in this class of service. This is why you’ll see some trains sell out in business class but not in coach.
Amtrak Business Class Seats Are Larger
Business class seats do have more legroom than coach seats but aren’t necessarily wider. The Pacific Surfliner business class seats do recline and there’s a flip-down footrest as well as a tray table. I’ve experienced two different seat types but they are more or less the same in style.
On one of my trips, the conductor announced on the PA system that they were receiving “quality of life complaints” from passengers putting their feet on the seats in front of them, playing their devices on volumes way too high, and general disruption. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this happening in business class.
The business class train car is much quieter than coach unless you are sitting next to a chatty tour group from overseas as I was on my last trip. Part of the reason is that it receives less foot traffic from people passing through, as it’s at the end of the train.
Free WiFi in All Classes
The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains, like other Amtrak trains, has free WiFi in business class and coach. This makes a huge difference to me, so that I can work along the way. Standard AC electrical outlets line the train’s exterior wall.
This means that if you’re not sitting at a window seat, you’ll need to reach your plug over your neighbor in order to plug into the outlets. And, they are oddly spaced so that not every seat has them, even in business class.
The WiFi is decent but does cut out on occasion, but it’s better than not having it at all. You will not be able to watch videos or download huge files while on it.
Amtrak Business Class Perks: Food and Drinks
At any time, you can walk over to the snack and drink area to grab a complimentary coffee or juice. In the morning, when I’m usually traveling by train, there are prepackaged muffins and pastries, too.
But, this partially paid for the business class upgrade. I would likely have bought this myself and it’s the best Amtrak business class perk on offer if you ask me. I seem to get the wine and snacks at various times and haven’t been able to sort out a pattern. Regardless, I love it!
And, our train was delayed due to an accident on my most recent trip home from Santa Barbara so guests were treated to two rounds of snacks and wine, which I was very grateful for. On the flip side, I took an early train once which arrived in Santa Barbara before noon and no snacks or wine were passed out.
The eco-friendly cup is made from plant materials which I appreciate.
There is a cafe car usually next door to the business class car. Here, Amtrak sells sandwiches and salads (the average price is around $6.50). I recently had an artisan-style turkey sandwich on one journey and a cobb salad on the other. Both were just okay. The salad was really fresh, but the sandwich had mayonnaise on it, which I dislike. I might bring my own lunch next time. There are tables in the cafe car where passengers can sit and eat.
Amtrak Guest Rewards Bonus
Members of Amtrak Guest Rewards will receive a 25% bonus points for riding in business class. Points can be redeemed for train travel and even exchanged to other loyalty programs via Points.com.
The View Might Be the Best Part
The lower level is reserved for those who can’t get their bags up the stairs. It is definitely worth sitting upstairs in any class of service. Between San Diego and Santa Barbara (excluding some parts of Los Angeles), there is plenty of this.
What to Do with Luggage in Amtrak Business Class
I always recommend sitting on the top floor of the train because the views are stunning along the California coast. On the Pacific Surfliner, you have the option of leaving luggage on the bottom floor luggage racks or carrying it upstairs.
There is a rack for larger bags near the stairs. You can put smaller, carry-on sized bags on racks above your seat. Note that it is likely to be out of your sight on a luggage rack but so far this hasn’t been an issue for me.
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Business Class Fares
At the time of this writing, a Pacific Surfliner ticket from Solana Beach Station to Santa Barbara Station costs $40 plus an extra $20 for Amtrak business class, each way. That’s $120 for an adult round-trip business class ticket. A ticket for my 10-year-old would cost $80 round-trip.
Children ages 2–12 receive a 50% discount on coach seats but they pay the same upgrade fare as adults do. Note that Amtrak also offers AAA and military discounts.
Cost might prohibit frequent business class travel on the train as, for our family, a trip to Santa Barbara is $320.
However, considering that you’re not paying hotel parking fees (which in Santa Barbara can be quite pricey) or for gas, the additional cost for a long weekend trip becomes less. Plus, I also value my time.
Various Amtrak Tips
Over the years, I’ve become a huge fan of train travel in Southern California.
Amtrak Allows Travelers to Go Carless
It’s recently dawned on me that the Pacific Surfliner train stops at popular points of interest along the California coast, which really does enable people go carless.
The train stops near Mission San Juan Capistrano (close to the beaches, too), Angel’s stadium, Disneyland, downtown Los Angeles, Burbank (near Universal Studios Hollywood) and in the heart of Santa Barbara for starters. This means that you can sightsee without a car or more peacefully pop up to Los Angeles for the day.
Switch in Los Angeles to the Coast Starlight Train
The Coast Starlight train is the talk of the town for its cool sleeping accommodations and Sightseer Lounge Car.
San Diegans can take the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles and switch to board the Coast Starlight all the way up to Seattle. You could take advantage of the lounge at the Los Angeles train station with a long layover, only if traveling in business class.
Solana Beach Train Station Tips
Solana Beach train station parking is FREE for up to 14 days. The trouble is that you may not be able to find a space. If you’ve parked overnight at Solana Beach Station, please leave a comment based on your experience. I usually take an Uber.
Also, if the weather is cold outside, the station will be cold inside since it’s mostly windows. Do make sure that you’re on the right side of the tracks when your train comes, otherwise, you’ll miss it.
Where to Sit in Any Class
When heading north from San Diego, sit on the left side of the train to enjoy the ocean views which disappear around San Clemente and reappear in Ventura.
The train, however, will change direction in Los Angeles so if you were forward-facing on the left side of the train (like you would be in the driver’s seat of a car), you’ll be rear-facing on the right side of the train. Change sides to enjoy the view.
Will I Travel by Amtrak Train Again?
Of course, I will. I actually always look forward to my Amtrak train journeys to Santa Barbara. Taking the train is by far the easiest way to bypass traffic and I believe the upgrade to business class is worth the peace and quiet. The only time we don’t take the train is when we’re going to be heavily reliant on a car while there and can manage to drive up and back during off-peak hours.
Do you travel in Amtrak business class?