How to Get the Most out of Amtrak’s California Rail Pass

Zack Garhart
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How to Get the Most out of Amtrak’s California Rail Pass

Are you looking to travel the California coastline? While cruising Highway 101 is an unparalleled experience, taking the train along the coastline is an incredible way to see California. Amtrak offers a rail pass that helps travelers make multiple stops within a certain amount of days at an affordable cost. It’s a great way to slow travel through California and see all the beautiful sights.

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What is Included With the Pass

The California Rail Pass allows for travel up to seven days within a 21-day window. This means you can book as many trips within California on Amtrak as long as they occur within seven calendar days. The price of the California Rail Pass is $159. If a trip extends into the next day, it qualifies as an additional day of travel. This is important to note, since you are only allowed travel for seven days. Also, the pass is limited to no more than four one-way trips on a given route.

Amtrak does restrict travel on the Sunset Limited, the Southwest Chief, the California Zephyr, and the Texas Eagle for passengers using the California Rail Pass. Routes servicing areas outside of California are also not eligible for passengers using the California Rail Pass. The pass is also not valid for buses that connect with other trains. Thruway buses, however, are eligible for use with the California Rail Pass. Thruway buses can help you access places like Yosemite National Park, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.

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The Routes & Suggested Trips

The California Rail Pass does allow travel on the Capitol Corridor, the Pacific Surfliner, and the San Joaquins routes. These routes all offer unique ways to see California. The Capitol Corridor is your ticket to seeing cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. Suggested stops along the way are Santa Clara, Oakland, and Berkeley. The Pacific Surfliner is the best way to access San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. The San Joaquins services both Southern and Northern California, and is a great way to access Yosemite, Sequoia, and Death Valley National Parks.

One way to maximize the pass is to book a trip from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, with stops in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara. For a better look at the area around San Diego, check out Carlsbad and Oceanside. Both are awesome beach towns with their own funky vibes and emphasis on local businesses. Ventura is also filled with great spots and makes for a fun day trip. If you stop in Santa Barbara, stay for its excellent seafood before heading to our Santa Barbara Beach Hostel for the night.

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How to Pack

Preparing for long train rides is an artful balance of being prepared and being flexible. Delays occasionally happen, so keep this in mind if you are on schedule to be somewhere specific. On many routes, Amtrak offers food service in their cafe car. This can be a lifesaver if you don’t have the time or means to pack snacks before your ride. As well as food, Amtrak’s cafe car sells alcohol and other beverages. While alcohol is available for sale on Amtrak trains, passengers are not allowed to bring and consume their own alcohol on board.

Depending on what time of year you travel, Amtrak’s coach cars can get hot. They can also get cold at night. It’s best to bring layers, or a throwaway blanket, just in case! Otherwise, bring a book, a homework assignment, or a deck of cards and stretch out as you watch the California coast emerge from the window of your train car. Also, we recommend checking out the observatory deck on routes that feature this car.

Curious what it’s like to tour California with the rail pass? Check out this video!

Before booking your stay at one of our eight California hostel locations, make sure to sign up for our Traveler’s Club! This is a great way to save on all future bookings, and it’s free to sign up!

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