Holiday hacks for riding the train, taking the bus or renting a Tesla

The Pacific Surfliner requires reservations during Thanksgiving.
(Alex Mayes)

Road traffic reports can be daunting around the holidays, so maybe you want to ditch your car and let someone else to do the driving. Trains and buses will be busy during the holidays. Here are tips that can help you get to where you need to go — without the stress.



Thanksgiving is the only time Amtrak requires reservations on its popular Pacific Surfliner train, which runs between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. You’ll need reservations from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2 — and tickets sell out quickly. Last year, Surfliner saw a 77% increase in ridership on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and a 68% increase on the following Sunday. As a result, the agency has added capacity, which brings a total of 26 trains a day on the L.A.-San Diego leg of the journey.


You cannot use Rail2Rail, Metrolink and Coaster commuter rail passes during the reservation dates, but monthly Amtrak and 10-ride passes will be honored. Passengers may take two bags and two personal items on board for free.

Even though there are no airport-style security checkpoints, you are required to carry a photo ID. Amtrak advises passengers to arrive at least 45 minutes before their train departs, especially if they are picking up tickets.

Christmas and New Year’s holidays don’t require reservations, but booking early is a good idea.

Info: Buy tickets at or on the Amtrak app, at ticket kiosks and stations or by calling (800) 872-7245.

Yes, you can carry a turkey in your suitcase, assuming it fits in the overhead compartment (the bag, not the turkey) and isn’t accompanied by more than 3.4 ounces of gravy and cranberry sauce.


On Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, Metrolink trains operate on a Sunday schedule. Passengers may buy a $10 holiday discount ticket that’s good throughout the day. Ventura County and Riverside lines and some stations on the Perris Valley Line extension don’t operate on holidays.

Info: Metrolink


To start your search for bus travel, head to Wanderu, which is like Kayak, an aggregator, but in this case specializing in buses and trains. It provides a comparative list of routes and prices and is free to use.


Megabus will take you from Los Angeles to Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco and Las Vegas. (I found L.A.-San Francisco fares of $64 outbound on Nov. 27 and $33 return on Dec. 1). You can pay $2 to $10 extra to reserve a seat during the holiday rush. Seats have power plugs and Wi-Fi; buses depart from and arrive at Patsaouras Bus Plaza at L.A.'s Union Station.


From Los Angeles, Greyhound serves San Diego (for as little as $15 each way), Santa Barbara, San Francisco and other destinations in California and beyond. No assigned seating, but passengers who buy pricier tickets (Economy Extra and Flexible Fares) get to board first. Buses have power plugs and Wi-Fi, and depart and arrive at the L.A. Bus Station, 1716 E. 7th St.


From Los Angeles, Tufesabus will take you from downtown L.A. pickup points to Tijuana during the holidays for about $32 each way. Other top routes from the L.A. area include Las Vegas and Phoenix. Buses offer free power plugs and movies.

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Ride-hail services

Uber and Lyft

If you’re in love with ride-hail services, be prepared to dig deep in your wallet for more distant destinations. For example, the one-way fare from L.A. to San Diego on Uber is $123 to $145, according to the company’s online fare estimator. On Lyft, fares for the same route start at $159.

Electric vehicle


This company used to offer ride-share service in tricked-out Teslas between L.A. and Palm Springs. It has regrouped and offers one-way Tesla rentals between L.A. and San Diego, starting as low as $49 each way.