Taking Amtrak at Thanksgiving? Don’t leave home without a reservation

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner
The Pacific Surfliner at the Amtrak Station in Santa Barbara.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

You better have a reservation if you’re planning on taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner from L.A. to Santa Barbara or San Diego over the Thanksgiving holiday. Show up without one and you won’t get a seat -- even with the 5,500 extra seats added to accommodate California train travelers -- or even a place to stand.

Amtrak is requiring reserved tickets on the popular route that runs between San Luis Obispo and San Diego via L.A.'s Union Station starting Tuesday (today) and continuing through Dec. 2. Just like airlines, Wednesday through Sunday is Amtrak’s busiest travel time of the year.

The passenger rail service started requiring reservations over the holiday a few years ago, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham, because “we had so many standees it just became unbearable."  

To make room for more Thanksgiving passengers the company will add 4,200 seats to the Pacific Surfliner, 700 seats to the Capitol Corridor between Auburn and San Jose (no reservations required) and 600 seats to the San Joaquin service between Bakersfield and Sacramento. (Reservations are always required on this route.)


More than 100 “thruway” buses that connect rail passengers with places such as Fullerton, Indio, Cabazon and Palm Springs will be added too.

To make a reservation and buy a ticket, you may:

--Go to and then print an e-ticket or display it on your smartphone;
--Use Amtrak’s mobile app for iPhones and Androids;
--Use the QuikTrak ticket kiosks or ticket windows at trains stations; or
--Call (800) 872-7245 to speak with an agent.

Also, note that there’s a limit of two carry-on bags (not including laptops, purses, etc.), and you may check bags for free.

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