Is Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Business Class Worth The Upgrade?

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The drive between San Diego and Santa Barbara is long and sometimes made unbearable by traffic in Los Angeles so I decided to see if Amtrak business class is worth it. The journey on the Pacific Surfliner train takes 5 hours. Driving takes about 4, depending on traffic. Was it worth it? I think so.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Fares

Solana Beach Station to Santa Barbara Station cost me $38 plus an extra $18 for Amtrak business class, each way.

Amtrak Business Class Seats

I figured the business class seats would be bigger, but after peeking into the coach cars, I couldn’t see a major difference in width or legroom. The Pacific Surfliner business class seats do recline and there’s a flip down foot rest. I did not have anyone sitting next to me during either journey.

The business class train car was quiet. 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, etc. There was none of this in business class.

Free WiFi

To be honest, I wouldn’t have booked this trip if it weren’t for the free WiFi on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains. This made a huge difference to me, as I could actually get some work done. Each seat has a standard AC electrical outlet. However, 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.

The outlets seem to be every 12-18″ (that’s an estimate) or so on the wall, under the windows. There’s another outlet under the curtain in the photo above. I will say that the WiFi did cut out on occasion, but it’s better than not having it at all. I was able to get a decent amount of work done versus driving and getting nothing done. The Amtrak website suggests that WiFi is offered in any class of service on these trains.

Amtrak Business Class Perks: Food And Drinks

At any time, you can walk over to the snack and drink area and grab a complimentary coffee or juice. If you’re hungry there are muffins and pastries too. I don’t normally eat pre-packaged muffins, but they were pretty good.

Amtrak Business Class Snacks and Drinks
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.

Amtrak Business Class Wine
There is no mention of this little bonus on the Amtrak website. The eco-friendly cup is made from plant materials, so Amtrak gets props for this.

There is a cafe car next door to the business class car. Here, Amtrak sells sandwiches and salads (average price is around $6.50). I had an artisan-style turkey sandwich on one journey and a cobb salad on the other. Both were just OK. 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. Some passengers were throwing back drinks. In fact, I tried to use the bathroom while down there and a drunk guy forgot to lock the door. Super awkward.

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:

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner View Ventura
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Santa Barbara Ocean View
These pics were taken from my train seat by my iPhone, without zoom.

Solana Beach Train Station Parking

I’m shocked by this, but Solana Beach train station parking is FREE for 14 days. I’ve never seen it in writing, but this is what I overheard a station employee tell a customer and have read in Yelp reviews. The trouble is that you may not be able to find a space. I did happen to notice spaces there on the Saturday and Sunday of my journey. If you’ve parked overnight at Solana Beach Station, please leave a comment based on your experience.

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.

Will Travel By Amtrak Train Again

All in all, I look forward to my next Amtrak train journey. It sure beats sitting in traffic and the upgrade to business class is definitely worth the peace and quiet. Sometimes there are Amtrak Surfliner promotion codes online so do a search before booking.

And, if you need some advice regarding where to stay in Santa Barbara with kids, read my post about Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara (it was heavenly).

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  1. Melanie
    April 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm — Reply

    Thank you! This was very helpful.

  2. Michael Krupa
    November 10, 2015 at 12:43 pm — Reply

    Hello ! I did read your article and i like it very much. I am taking my first Amtrak Business Coach ride from Washington D.C. to New Haven Ct this Sunday. I can hardly to go . It has been several years since i have been up North.

  3. Colin
    June 29, 2015 at 12:44 pm — Reply

    Thanks a lot for this, I’m touring the states for my (belated) summer vacation from Saudi Arabia this year and was undecided about spending 4 1/2 days in LA or splitting it up with a day in San Diego (helps that the Padres have a long homestand during the period I want to go). After reading your post above you’ve definitely made my mind up for me and I will be taking in the sights and sounds of SD (along with a cheeky business class journey on the Amtrak of course).

    On that note, as I won’t have a great amount of time is there anything you would recommend that I see/do whilst I’m in SD?


  4. Steve R.
    January 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    Is this train all the way ? I was looking at the schedule, and some places (cities/stops) it says “Bus” – like in Buellton – what’s up with that ?

    • January 12, 2015 at 6:36 pm — Reply

      I’ve never taken it north of Goleta, but there are trains that definitely go north of Goleta. I think it sticks along the coast whereas Buellton is inland so I could see taking a bus to Buellton from Goleta. The run the buses after hours, too. I had to take one to Santa Barbara from LA because I was on a late train once.

  5. AE
    January 13, 2014 at 3:11 am — Reply

    I recently got an offer to work in La Jolla UTC, however, my gf wants to keep her job in downtown LA for about 6 more months before she finds work in the SD area.

    Can you recommend good apartment living close to the train station? I’ve looked at the Solana amtrak station but not the Oceanside one.

    We looked at Torrey Pines and Carlsbad areas. Either way she could drive a short distance to one of the stations, park, and ride to DT LA. Any advice on this would be GREATLY appreciated!

    We are used to LA/OC traffic but not sure how bad it gets in SD and in which directions.

    • January 14, 2014 at 9:39 am — Reply

      Gosh, I regret that I don’t have any apartments to recommend. Solana Beach has free parking at the Amtrak station but not really apartments nearby. UTC though is full of nice apartments actually and is a great, centrally-located place to live. A friend of mine lived in Renaissance apartments there and they are nice though I think maybe on the pricier side for the area. Sorry, I’m not very helpful! If she doesn’t mind the drive to Solana Beach, I’d probably recommend UTC or Del Mar/Carmel Valley area. Lots of apartments in Carmel Valley too, but the commute might be tough with traffic to/from UTC on the freeway depending on where you are.

  6. Britt
    October 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    This. was. exactly. what. I. needed.

    Business trip in Burbank through tomorrow, then a girls’ weekend in San Diego. Wasn’t sure which ticket to book but now I’m certainly going with business class … and will drag my carry-on bag upstairs for those views.

    Thank you so much!

  7. Lynn
    October 22, 2012 at 3:51 am — Reply

    Thanks for this review! Can I ask is it possible to get on and off stops between L.A and San Diego? Would like to do some cycling along the coast?

    • October 22, 2012 at 6:49 am — Reply

      Yes! It stops several places and I do see people get on the train with bikes. I know it stops in Oceanside, San Juan Capistrano and I think San Clemente.

  8. MyThy as in "Mighty"
    September 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm — Reply

    Thanks for the review! I wish there were photos of coach to compare it to. Besides leg room, I think seating isn’t guaranteed which is why I would pay for Business. Also, are there taxi’s waiting at the station in case one is needed to get to a hotel? I know there’s trolley’s available but I was wondering if there were taxi’s.

  9. Jeffrey
    April 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm — Reply

    Thanks for this! I upgraded to Business Class because of this review. One question: are the snacks unlimited? I read somewhere that you can only get one snack & drink for the whole trip.

    • April 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm — Reply

      On both legs of my trip, they basically left the pastries, tea and coffee out for the entire journey and people went back to grab them as they pleased. They passed out a heartier snack pack (dried fruit, chips, some kind of cereal bar) along with soda or wine just once during my journey from Solana Beach to Goleta. Enjoy!

  10. Business Class
    February 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm — Reply

    Whenever i travel i also upgrade to Business Class just because it makes for such a far better experience and i enjoy my trip a lot more.

  11. January 18, 2012 at 11:33 am — Reply

    Glad you enjoyed your Amtrak trip to Santa Barbara. Did you know that by showing your train ticket, you can get discounts on hotels, activities and dining throught the Santa Barbara Car Free Project’s 2012 Cool Car Free Discounts offer? AND if you book your train ticket in advance through the website, you will save 20% off regular Amtrak fares! Save some green the next time you travel to Santa Barbara. For all the details, just visit

  12. January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm — Reply

    My son and I took the Amtrak from San Diego to Carlsbad one summer day to visit a friend. It was so relaxing to not be dealing with the traffic. My son was young enough to appreciate the experience too.
    I love reading your product and service reviews.

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