Although Los Angeles is known for car traffic, it’s actually a great place to start or end a rail trip. There are multiple Pacific Surfliner trains that depart each day from Union Station, and several long-distance routes can take you to the Northwest, Midwest, Southwest and even New Orleans.
If you only have time for a day trip, you have several destinations to choose from. Here are your best options.
Just 45 minutes away from Los Angeles on the Pacific Surfliner train, the Anaheim Amtrak station is near Disneyland and next to Angel Stadium and the Honda Center. It’s a great day trip if you want to go a theme park, concert or sporting event. There are several trains to choose from each day. The last train back to L.A. departs at 11 p.m.
Irvine is a family-friendly getaway that is one hour away from L.A. on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner route. You can shop at the Irvine Spectrum Center (pictured above), and take kids to the children’s museum, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and Tanaka Farms to pick fruit and vegetables (including pumpkins in the fall).
Lyft and Uber are the easiest ways to get around after you arrive, but you can easily walk to the FivePoint Ampthitheatre for concerts (note that we may make a commission if you book tickets through this website). The last train back to L.A. departs around 10:40 p.m.
For hiking and history, plan a day trip to Simi Valley. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is here along with the Santa Susana Pass State Historical Park, Las Llajas Canyon Trail, Corriganville Movie Ranch, and many other places to walk, bike and hike. Rail fans will enjoy visiting the Santa Susana Depot and golfers can head to Simi Valley Golf Course (learn about Amtrak’s policy for golf equipment). Travel time is just over one hour.
San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is historic and kid-friendly destination with a 1776 mission (pictured above), historic district and petting zoo in walking distance from the 1894 train station. Travel time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes on the Pacific Surfliner, with multiple trains each day and a last return trip to L.A. at 10:30 p.m. Be sure to have a meal at one of the top-rated restaurants and consider visiting in March when the cliff swallow birds migrate.
Get off the train at the beach after a 1.5-hour trip to San Clemente. The Amtrak station is next to the pier and the beach trail, so it’s a great destination for getting outside and enjoying the ocean. If you’re looking for more things to do, you can visit the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens or go shopping at the Outlets of San Clemente, both are a short Lyft or Uber ride away from the Amtrak station. The last train back to L.A. departs just after 5 p.m.
A great coastal getaway, Ventura is about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Los Angeles on the Pacific Surfliner. You can make this a day trip and have eight hours in the area if you take the first train out of L.A. and the last one back.
Ventura Pier and Promenade, Marina Park and San Buenaventura State Beach are some of the top things to do. You can also go to the Ventura Raceway, hike at Seaside Wilderness Park, take a bike ride on the Ventura to Ojai Path or surf at Surfers Point, which is next to the Amtrak station. Check out Amtrak’s guidelines for bikes and surfboards if you want to bring your own equipment.
Oceanside is two hours south of Los Angeles on the Pacific Surfliner. In addition to beaches and pier, the Sunset Market has a wide variety of food and music on Thursdays, or check out the restaurants, tours and boat rentals at Harbor Village. There’s even a surf museum. The last train back to L.A. departs around 10 p.m.
A beach community north of San Diego, Solana Beach has a lively downtown with many unique shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes. You can easily reach the Del Mar Fairgrounds from here, which hosts the San Diego County Fair and other events. Other top things to do include seeing a performance at the North Coast Repertory Theatre and hiking at Annie’s Canyon Trail. The last train back to L.A. departs around 9:30 p.m., and Amtrak travel time is just over two hours.
For a beautiful getaway with potential celebrity sightings, plan a trip to Santa Barbara. The trolley tour is a great way to see the city without a car, and there is a zoo, harbor, wharf, bike path, coastal park and historic mission to explore. Plus, adults can go on the urban wine trail.
Travel time on Amtrak is 2.5 to 3 hours on either a Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight train (the Coast Starlight has roomettes and bedrooms if you want privacy). You can spend about six hours in Santa Barbara on a day trip.
Three hours away from L.A. on the Pacific Surfliner, San Diego is a fun destination with lots of things to see and do. You’ll arrive at the Santa Fe Depot near the USS Midway Museum, Maritime Museum of San Diego, Seaport Village and Gaslamp Quarter. The world-famous San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park are also a short Lyft or Uber ride away, or hop on the trolley or the ferry to Coronado Island to see more of the area.
There are multiple trains that travel between L.A. and San Diego each day, with the last departure from San Diego around 9 p.m. Several rental car companies are downtown, so it’s easy to get a car in case you want to drive to La Jolla or another location.