Need a unique, inexpensive escape from the hustle and bustle of the city? Take the San Diego Coaster. Want to leave the quiet countryside to enjoy the city? Take the Coaster. Just looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway with friends, but gas prices have risen too high? Take the Coaster!
Run by the North County Transit District, the San Diego Coaster train traces the Pacific Ocean from downtown San Diego all the way to Oceanside, providing excellent connections along the route.
It tends to receive less attention than, say, the Trolley or Amtrak’s Surfliner, but it deserves more widespread use, and I recommend it whenever I can. Here’s how to make it work for you.
What Is The San Diego Coaster Train?
The Coaster travels the 41 miles from Oceanside to San Diego in just over an hour. The route services eight stations, on a journey of breathtaking beauty.
NCTD Coaster operates 30 trains during the week, with 20 on the weekends, offering easy, reliable service to nearly everything on San Diego’s coastline. Planners originally imagined the line as a commuter train, taking passengers from North County into the city and surrounding job centers. However, it also appeals to tourists and those who just don’t like to drive.
It makes travel in and out of the city — depending on what you’d like to do today — simple and convenient. It eases travel woes, allowing riders more freedom to simply enjoy themselves.
Because heavy rail functions on longer timetables, waits between trains can last up to an hour. Riders should consult posted times and plan accordingly, both for arrivals and departures.
You can check the San Diego Coaster schedule through the NCTD Coaster website.
All stations connect to local bus routes, and two link with the San Diego Trolley, further expanding options into surrounding areas. Check these connections at each station or on their website for more information.
San Diego Coaster Fares & Parking
Prices differ depending on the distance traveled, with the line broken into three zones.
Zone 1 extends from Oceanside to Solana Beach and Zone 2 contains Sorrento Valley. Zone 3 covers both Old Town and the Santa Fe Depot.
Each station offers free parking, even letting vehicles remain overnight. Alternatively, the NCTD chose trains designed specifically for bikes, with open areas on the lower level for their storage. Thus, travelers can take bikes to and from any stop with ease.
Customers can purchase tickets at Customer Service Centers, found at most stations, or vending machines, installed in all stations.
They can also use the money saved on the Pronto Card, which likewise grants access to the Trolley and bus networks for easy transfers. With a Pronto Card, load it at the kiosks or on the app and tap the pad when boarding the train. Remember to tap after the ride to avoid overcharges.
Round-trip fares covering the entire length cost only $13, with shorter rides running much less. Day passes and monthly passes exist for more frequent travelers. As a bonus, each fare adds a free transfer to the Breeze commuter shuttle (in Sorrento Valley) and Escondido’s Sprinter light rail (in Oceanside) within two hours of activation. The fare can sometimes apply to Amtrak rides along the same route in certain conditions.
San Diego Coaster Stops
Santa Fe Station
Easily the prettiest station along the route, Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad built it in 1915 right on the harbor. It exemplifies the Mission Revival Style that dominated Southern California architecture at that time, with its grand towers and cavernous waiting room.
The station currently serves the Coaster, the Surfliner, Green and Blue Trolley lines, and multiple bus routes, including the 992 to the San Diego Airport. It allows for easy access to the Cruise Ship Terminal on Broadway Pier and all the local excursions at the waterfront.
An incredible variety of attractions await travelers who disembark at the station. The station itself houses the Museum of Contemporary Art. Nearby stand the USS Midway and Maritime Museum, the Gaslamp District, Seaport Village, and Embarcadero all sit within comfortable walking distance. For more active visitors, a bicycle opens the entire city.
This station conveniently places you in the heart of the city and can be ideal for North County residents wishing to enjoy San Diego. It’s also great for baseball games, concerts, and music festivals, among other attractions.
Special Events: Comic-Con
In addition to the everyday stations, the NCTD Coaster operates special stations during large events. One such station is the one at the Convention Center, convenient for Comic-Con attendees, which operates throughout that affair.
This temporary station sits at the station of the same name on the Trolley Green line, providing easy transfers to that system.
Old Town Transit Depot has become one of the busiest hubs in San Diego County, connecting commuters with a wealth of transfer options to explore the rest of the city. Buses, other trains, and the Trolley all emanate from this spot into every center of the city.
The site also opens directly into Old Town Historic Park, where visitors can enjoy the San Diego of the 1870s. The place deserves its own discussion and provides historic buildings and their storytellers, as well as shopping and dining for any taste and budget. The emphasis, of course, resting on Mexican food and culture. If you are hungry, check out some of the many fantastic restaurants in Old Town San Diego. Just above rises the hill on which the Franciscans founded San Diego, which contains the ruins of the original Presidio and Mission buildings.
After Old Town, the surrounding neighborhood revels in several festivals throughout the year, including the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world. Tourists and residents alike will find this station ideal for any of those activities.
Looking for ideas of things to do in Old Town? Check out our Old Town San Diego Guide.
This San Diego Coaster stop functions simply as a commuter station, connecting homes to industries in Sorrento Valley. Some small shops sit near the tracks, catering to workers on lunch breaks, but there are no attractions for tourists.
From the station, workers can take the Breeze or the MTS buses to jobs in Miramar and Torrey Pines. Visitors simply glide through this station, although most can appreciate the vistas down Rose Canyon.
Special Events: Del Mar Festival Station
Like at the Convention Center, NCTD places a temporary station alongside the Del Mar Fairgrounds, situated between the Sorrento Valley and Solana Beach stations, during large events at the site.
This stop primarily brings travelers to the San Diego County Fair and Opening Day at Del Mar Racetrack, both held in the summer. The Coaster, in partnership with the track, also sells ticket packages including both round-trip rides and admission, as well as transfers to our other transit networks. With any luck, this station will become permanent soon.
If attending the San Diego County Fair be sure to check out our Tips For Visiting The San Diego County Fair.
Approaching Solana Beach from the south, the Coaster passes the most scenic — and threatened — portion of its length, crossing within inches of the Del Mar bluffs. Make sure to select a seat on the left when headed north (right when south-bound) to really enjoy the view.
This station empties right onto the 101, the old Pacific Coast Highway. Along which sprawl dozens of great coffeehouses, eateries, breweries, and shops, all dedicated to the original Southern California vibe. It also has the easiest beach access, with sand only a couple blocks from the station at beautiful Fletcher Cove.
For fans of live music, never pass up an opportunity to attend a concert at the Belly Up Tavern, located across the street from the platform. This venue hosts incredible music acts in an older, somewhat grungier environment with outstanding sound.
Additionally, the station provides a free shuttle to the Del Mar Fairgrounds during events, particularly the races, music festivals, and County Fair. Some concerts use this connection, too, but check ahead before committing.
The station at Encinitas, like the previous one at Solana Beach, opens onto the 101 in an area filled with fun and hip shops, restaurants, and bars, all dedicated to the California Coast. Beyond, several attractions await tourists and locals alike.
The Flower Capital of the World, the city preserves the San Diego Botanic Gardens. It’s one of the nicest places to enjoy nature along the coast.
Right outside the gardens stands the San Dieguito Historical Museum, showcasing much of Encinitas history. On the bluffs just south of town, west of the tracks, rises the Self-Realization Fellowship. The followers of this faith maintain a series of impressive meditation gardens overlooking the Pacific Ocean, all free for any visitors.
The beaches nearby remain a mecca for surfing and stand-up paddleboarding, for those seeking a more active adventure. A couple of excellent hiking areas farther inland entice others to the area, particularly at Manchester Preserve and San Elijo Lagoon, both of which require a brief ride from the station to access.
This stop gives better access to larger attractions in Carlsbad. Within a short bus, bike, or rideshare trip, visitors can easily reach the Flower and Strawberry Fields, LegoLand, the Sea Life Aquarium, and the quirky Green Dragon Tavern and Museum. This final location houses an odd collection of Revolution-era Americana in a brewery I suggest history buffs check out.
Closer to the station you find beach access and a couple of shops. However this location focuses on commuters and tourists more than anything.
The last (or first) stop on the San Diego Coaster is Oceanside. This cute little beach town has so much character and fun things to do.
The Oceanside Pier is a fun little stroll over the ocean and a fantastic photo opp during sunset. If you come on Thursdays, check out the Farmer’s Market during the day and the night market at night. Another fun thing to check out is the Surf museum. For a special treat, book a table at Valle, which just received recognition by Michelin, or Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub for some fantastic sushi. But you can also just walk down Mission Avenue and find some good grub there as well!
Whether a commuter or day tripper the San Diego Coaster rail line makes for a fun and convenient way to get around San Diego!