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Taking A Plane Or Train Through Orange County This Holiday? Here Are Some Tips

The front of an Amtrak train sitting at a station with a tall building in the background and palm trees lining the sidewalk.
With the tracks through San Clemente still closed, Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner is running additional buses between Irvine and Oceanside over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
(Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
Doug Letterman via Flickr)
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If you're planning to take the train for the holidays between Los Angeles or Orange County and San Diego, or if you're flying out of town or picking up loved ones at John Wayne Airport, there are a few things you need to know before you start your travels.

Rail travelers should be prepared for reduced service and a bus transfer. Passenger service through San Clemente in South Orange County is still suspended due to maintenance, but Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner has a bus transfer between Oceanside and Irvine.

Passenger train service through San Clemente in South Orange County has been suspended since late September, when authorities determined that a section of tracks there was shifting dangerously toward the ocean.

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Workers have begun drilling stakes into the bedrock to shore up the tracks, but the work is taking longer than originally expected and likely won't be completed until February. Train service, however, could be restored earlier than that if deemed safe.

Amtrak And Metrolink Need-To-Know

While we're not sure exactly when Amtrak travel will be fully restored, we know it won't happen this holiday weekend. Here are details on the changes and restrictions:

  • Reservations are required on Pacific Surfliner trains for Nov. 23 through Nov. 28. You can reserve a seat on Amtrak's website
  • The Amtrak Surfliner is running a bus bridge between Irvine and Oceanside, so you can still book trips between San Diego and other destinations. There will be additional buses running over the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Amtrak service in and out of San Juan Capistrano is limited and there's currently no Amtrak service to San Clemente.
  • Passengers can use Metrolink trains for service to the San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and San Clemente Pier stations. Trains will run on a modified weekend schedule.
  • Metrolink is offering $10 Holiday passes on both Thursday and Friday. There's more information here.
  • Passengers traveling between Orange County and San Diego can't check baggage on the Pacific Surfliner currently because of the bus bridge, but small carry-on bags are allowed. 
  • Bikes are allowed but there's limited space and you can't reserve a spot for your bike. 
  • Pet reservations are currently not allowed on Amtrak between Orange County and San Diego except for qualified service animals. However, you can take small pets on other legs of the Pacific Surfliner. More information on that is here
  • Metrolink allows small pets on board trains without a reservation and at no additional cost. They must be in a small carrier that can fit under your seat or on your lap.

John Wayne Airport Need-To-Know:

John Wayne Airport is expecting heavy traffic but it's almost guaranteed to be quicker than LAX to get in and out.

  • Orange County's airport is small but during the busy holidays airport officials recommend getting to your terminal at least 90 minutes early for domestic flights, and three hours early for international flights.
  • You can check ahead of time for available parking spots on the airport's website — but airport officials warn that parking lots at the terminal tend to fill up quickly. Your best bet is parking at the airport’s Main Street lot and catching a shuttle to the terminal.
  • Curbside valet parking is available for $30 a day. For a cheaper alternative, there are nearby hotels that offer parking and shuttles to the airport.  
  • If you're picking someone up, there's a cell phone lot where you can hang out and wait for their call or text. Waiting curbside is not allowed. 
  • The airport has designated rideshare pick-up locations; drop-off is curbside.  
Have a question about Orange County?
Jill Replogle wants to know what you wished you knew more about in OC and what’s important to you that’s not getting enough attention.

Updated November 23, 2022 at 12:01 PM PST
This story was updated to provide additional information on Metrolink service.
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