10 best Amtrak winter beach vacations

Palm Beach

If you’ve rather be on a beach in winter than deal with cold weather, you aren’t alone. Fortunately there are many warm coastal destinations to visit in the United States, some of which you can reach by train. Rail vacations to Florida and Southern California are great options if you don’t want to fly or drive, or just want to experience an old-fashioned way of travel.

To start planning your winter getaway, here are 10 warm beach destinations that are a 15-minute drive or less away from an Amtrak station (rideshare services are available so a rental car is optional). These vacation spots were also selected based on average high temperature in January. The Florida destinations have an average high temperature of 75°F (24°C) and the California destinations 65°F (18°C).

Note that Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains travel to all the Florida cities listed here, which also stop at major cities on the East Coast. You may need to transfer to a Florida-bound train in New York City or Washington D.C. If California is your destination, you can travel to the state on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

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Hollywood Beach

Hollywood Beach Boardwalk
Photo by Tamanoeconomico/Wikimedia

Hollywood Beach is a vintage Florida vacation spot that was established in the 1920s. Hotels and motels built in different decades lookout over the ocean, and a 2.5-mile boardwalk makes it easy to walk, bike and skate to local markets, restaurants and bars. The Sun Shuttle also travels to and from downtown Hollywood, where you’ll find more places to eat, a large park and cultural center.

The Hollywood Amtrak Station is a 15-minute car ride away from the ocean. Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains stop here daily before continuing on to Miami. Enterprise offers pickup service from the train station if you want to rent a car.

Fort Lauderdale

The Strip at Fort Lauderdale Beach
Photo by Wally Gobetz

Known as the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant city full of canals, restaurants and nightlife. Boat tours and water sports are great ways to enjoy the sunny weather, plus there’s a Riverwalk and beaches (Fort Lauderdale Beach pictured above). Don’t miss Las Olas Boulevard for dining and shopping or the local museums if you like history.

Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains stop at the Fort Lauderdale Amtrak Station and drive time is less than 15 minutes to downtown Fort Lauderdale. If you want to rent a car, Enterprise is near the station and pickup service is available, but call ahead to make arrangements before your trip.

Deerfield Beach

Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier
Photo by Dtobias/Wikimedia

Recognized for its clean water and habitat conservation, Deerfield Beach in Florida is a great vacation destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The International Fishing Pier and Deerfield Island Park are top attractions, plus there are multiple places to rent boats, surfboards, bodyboards, paddleboards, jet skis and kayaks (including Island Water Sports, Misty C’s and Wet Feet Adventures).

For more things to do, head to Quiet Waters Park, which has a water park, camping (tent rentals available), waterskiing, biking and disc golf. The Florida Renaissance Festival also takes place in the park in February and March.

Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains stop at Deerfield Beach each day. In less than 15 minutes you can be at the beach, where you’ll find restaurants and a variety of hotels and other accommodations. The nearby Enterprise office offers pickup service if you want to rent a car.

Delray Beach

Delray Beach is a Florida destination full of art, culture and small-town charm. Known as the “Village by the Sea,” the walkable downtown has restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries and a retro arcade. A short walk away is Delray Municipal Beach (check out Delray Beach Water Sports for rentals), making it easy to get around without a car.

The Festival of the Arts takes places in January and there are other downtown events to check out. Top attractions year-round include the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Morikami Japanese Gardens and the Sandoway Discovery Center. Enterprise offers pickup service from the station (call in advance to confirm and arrange transportation) if you’d rather not use rideshare services to reach your hotel or vacation rental.

West Palm Beach

Harriet Himmel Theater in West Palm Beach
Photo by Wally Gobetz

For a luxury getaway, book tickets on the Silver Meteor or Silver Star to reach West Palm Beach. There’s fine dining, shopping, museums, performances and events (including the South Florida Fair in January). Kids and adults will also enjoy visiting McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary and the Manatee Lagoon, which has an area for viewing the large animals.

Palm Beach is a short drive away from West Palm, where you can enjoy miles of beaches and visit the Flagler Museum, which is the former mansion of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. If you want a car to better explore the area, trains arrive in walking distance of Avis or arrange for Enterprise to pick you up.

Mission Bay

San Diego’s outdoor playground, Mission Bay is the place to go for parks, water sports, boat rentals and family-friendly fun. Top attractions include SeaWorld and a beachfront amusement park. You can also soak up the sun at Mission Beach, explore the bike path and eat at a variety of restaurants.

For easy access to all the activities, there are several hotels and resorts in Mission Bay. The Old Town Station (a stop on the Pacific Surfliner route) is conveniently about 10 minutes away via car, and downtown San Diego and the famous San Diego Zoo are 15-20 minutes away. Lyft and Uber are easy transportation options, and Enterprise offers pickup service from the train station.

Oceanside

Oceanside, California Beach
Photo by Joe Wolf

Oceanside is a Southern California beach town with miles of beaches, an iconic pier and a popular sunset market full of food and music. Harbor Village is a must-visit for oceanfront dining, shopping, whale/dolphin tours and boat rentals. Away from the water you can explore the historic downtown district where you’ll find fantastic restaurants, local shops and the California Surf Museum.

Pacific Surfliner trains stop in Oceanside multiple times per day, about one block from downtown and two blocks from the beach. You can rent a car from the nearby Enterprise (pickup service available from the station) or use Uber and Lyft to reach nearby attractions such as LEGOLAND California and the Beach House Winery. Coaster commuter trains can also take you to Carlsbad and San Diego for the day.

San Clemente

Restaurant on San Clemente Pier
Photo by Kinney/Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1925, San Clemente is known for its beaches and Spanish architecture. Pacific Surfliner Amtrak trains stop next to the pier — you can’t get much closer to the ocean. In addition to multiple beaches, there’s a coastal trail with great water views — bike rentals are available near North Beach.

Other top things to do include visiting the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the outlet stores. Walkable downtown San Clemente also has shops and restaurants. Be sure to also take a walk out on the pier — if you’re lucky you might see a whale.

Ventura

Ventura, California aerial view
Photo by Harold Litwiler

On the Pacific Surfliner route, Ventura is a classic vacation destination with great tacos and beaches. The 1872 pier is the oldest in California, which you can support at the yearly food and drink festival. Surfers Point is a popular surf spot or visit Ventura Harbor for other water sports, boat rentals, winter whale watching cruises and ferries to the Channel Islands.

On land, top attractions include Mission San Buenaventura and the Ventura Botanical Gardens, which has an amazing hiking trail with ocean views. You can also rent bikes next to the pier for a fun day cruising the beach promenade, which connects with the Omer Rains Coastal Bike Trail and Ventura to Ojai Trail.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
Photo by Eugene Zelenko

Beautiful Santa Barbara is a stop on the Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner routes. Multiple trains stop in the city each day, and the Amtrak station in walking distance of hotels, restaurants and beaches. Popular things to do include wine tasting, winter butterfly viewing and exploring Sterns Wharf. There’s also a zoo, historic mission, botanic garden and museums to check out.

For dining, shopping and entertainment, head to State Street Promenade, which is only open to pedestrians. For more car-free fun, book a tour on the Santa Barbara Trolley, which has a popular holiday lights tour (buy tickets early as this experience usually sells out).

More Information

Top photo credit: Ethan Oringel (Palm Beach)