Top Train Rides From Santa Barbara

Zack Garhart
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One of the best things about traveling through California is the accessibility of different cities by train. Less popular than air or car travel, riding the rails is one of the more unique ways to experience an area. California has countless stops, including in major cities like San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But tucked in between the major hubs are quaint towns that include beaches and national parks.

The top train rides to take from Santa Barbara.

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San Luis Obispo

Founded in 1772, San Luis Obispo (SLO) offers a little bit of everything. The streets are walkable, and filled with tons of local shops and restaurants. Home to Cal Poly State, the town of San Luis Obispo is also a hub for historic theatres, museums, and great hiking spots. From Santa Barbara, the train ride is approximately 2 and a half hours long. Amtrak trains from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo run three times a day, and range from $23-$34 before taxes and fees. Make sure to check the schedules, since delays will occasionally happen. 

Once you’re there, we recommend swinging over to the Madonna Inn for a drink or to soak up the ambiance. Also a hotel, this historic inn boasts more than one hundred uniquely crafted rooms. Truly a spectacle, it’s worth your time to stop! Beyond the attractions, we highly suggest taking on Bishop Peak Trail for a moderate hike that offers spectacular views of the town and surrounding landscapes. 

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San Diego

Are you looking to soak up some sun? San Diego has some of the best beaches in southern California and also boasts a lively downtown area. Our hostels are located in different parts of the city, and each one offers a different experience. From Pacific Beach and Mission Beach to Little Italy and downtown, you’re sure to find something that suits your interests. Consider staying at one of our hostels while you’re in town, too. Once you’re in San Diego, don’t forget about Ocean Beach, a true oasis for artists and creative types. Then there’s always Petco Park, to catch a ball game or concert.

Getting to San Diego from Santa Barbara might take longer than other day trips on the train, but the ride is magnificent. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner offers coastal views and breathtaking sights along the way. Roughly six hours long, the train ride to San Diego is a perfect way to kick back and relax or even get work done if you’re a digital nomad. Wifi may be spotty at times, but Amtrak offers free Wifi on board, so you should have coverage for most of the ride. Direct trains from Santa Barbara to San Diego run five times daily, starting early in the day and running through the evening.

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For Disney enthusiasts, this is the place to be! Anaheim, California is home to Disneyland Resort, which is divided into different sections for various rides, shows, and entertainment. Tons of classic characters and iconic tales can be found here, making it a mecca for Disney lovers. Getting to Anaheim from Santa Barbara is surprisingly easy when you’re traveling on Amtrak. Five direct trains go from Santa Barbara to Anaheim, and there are other mixed services as options. Prices hover around $40 for a one-way ticket. All in all, a direct train from Santa Barbara to Anaheim will take approximately four hours without delays. And once you reach Anaheim’s Amtrak station, you’re not far from Disney California Adventure Park.

Los Angeles

With a little bit of everything, Los Angeles is truly a one-of-a-kind city. A cultural hub that also prides itself on being one of the entertainment capitals of the world, LA is a must-see for those who have never been. We love the mix of food and diverse cultures you can find on any corner. Plus, spots like Hermosa Beach and Marina Del Rey make for great destinations if you love soaking up the sun by the ocean. Swing by Venice Beach and walk the canals for an experience like no other. Not to mention, Universal Studios and Hollywood for the film buffs and movie-lovers.

Amtrak offers plenty of trains from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. Direct trains run six times a day, with prices that hover around $30 one-way. The direct rides take roughly three hours. Once you touch down in Los Angeles, consider staying at our funky Surf City Hermosa Beach Hostel. Just steps away from the beach, this is a perfect place to unwind and take in the cool ocean breeze while you walk by the water. 

Interested in seeing what it’s like to ride a train down the West Coast? Take a look at this great video!

Bonus pro tip: Amtrak offers a program called BidUp, which allows you to bid on or upgrade your coach ticket right before take-off. Check their website for more information on the program. It’s worth checking out!

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