A Travellerspoint blog

The Amtrak Coast Starlight Train

1,337 Miles of Comfort and Scenery between Los Angeles and Seattle

semi-overcast 17 °C

17-18 May 2019

My plane trip from Sydney, Australia to Seattle, Washington State, started as the best B-grade horror story on record. Wedged in the middle seat between the gentleman on my left weighing in at an easy 300 pounds and the gentleman on my right weighing in at an even easier 400 pounds, the shear girth of these two men meant that I had no armrests. I sat, at a resounding 127 lbs, like a tiny toy soldier at attention with my arms at my sides for 15 ½ hours.

This was followed by the harrowing return trip drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, some 140 miles to the east of Los Angeles, coping with despicable congestion, and drivers that have no idea that their vehicles have blinkers and that their cars can actually do less than 90 mph in areas where the speed limit is 60 or 65 mph.

So I was more than ready to luxuriate in a business class seat on the Coast Starlight Train from Los Angeles, California to Seattle, travelling through Santa Barbara , the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento and Portland. It’s an overnight train ride of 1,377 miles taking roughly 35 hours.

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The Coast Starlight Train is run by Amtrak departing from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. I was staying in the neighbourhood of Westwood which encompasses the UCLA campus and abuts Beverley Hills. A bus ride and the Red Metro got me easily to Union Station which is vast, cavernous and functional. One delight I discovered was Wetzel’s Pretzels located in the central part of the station. This shop sells yummy, freshly made, warm pretzels, salted and unsalted. It’s worth getting a couple to eat on the train trip, even if they are cold.

I decided to indulge in travelling business class as the ticket was not that much more expensive than coach class. Coach would have cost me $120 and my ticket was $150. I was sold on the pleasures of having access to free coffee, tea and fruit in the Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station while waiting for my train, receiving a bottle of water and a $6 credit towards food in the dining car once on the train, and very significantly, having a seat where I would almost, but not totally, be able to stretch out and recline my body.

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Day 1

Boarding the train was so relaxed – no baggage check-in, no security lines, no boarding queue. Bliss. I could select my own seat, choosing the left side as I was told this gave the best views of the ocean as we headed north. I settled into my comfortable, spacious seat which was my home for the next 35 hours. And sure enough, Brent, our business class coach attendant came through with our bottles of water and food vouchers, and made sure we were each settled into our seats.

The start of the trip takes you through the hectic city of Los Angeles and outer suburbs. Then magically, you are out in open country looking straight down from the train tracks onto the Pacific Ocean shoreline with miles of beach stretching beside you and into the distance. Surfers and caravans dot the beach and ocean.

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If you get tired of your seat, the business carriage is conveniently placed between the dining car and the Sightseer Lounge, the observation car where sunlight pours through all the windows on the side and top of the car and you can watch the spectacular views in comfort while sipping your beverage of choice.

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As we progressed north, we passed through open valleys planted with various crops including strawberries, kale, cabbage and broccoli – some of the crops being harvested, some just starting to sprout. We also passed RV parks, rooster farms and small, quaint towns with momentary glimpses of backyards and eventually passed through forests of magnificent deciduous trees.

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An occasional fresh-air stop was made where you could get out of the train and stretch your legs. These stops lasted about five minutes so there was no time to meander or visit the station. You could only hover around the door as you were only given about 10 seconds before the all aboard whistle blew and there was no way the train was going to wait for you.

As a solo traveler, the dining room experience was a rather awkward social situation. I was placed at table with three strangers. I was lucky at dinner that I had three very conversational people. I was not so lucky with lunch and wished I had my book into which I could bury my nose.

Back in my seat I was happy to stare out the window, read, do code breakers, and snooze while the landscape rolled by. Eventually, the views were lost in the totally darkness and I slipped into the comfort of my reclining seat. My only complaint was that I did not take full advantage of how far I could stretch out as the temperature of the car was, to me, bloody cold. I huddled in a foetal position to keep warm the entire night. Only then did I understand why some of the passengers had brought blankets.

Day 2

I awoke after a somewhat restless night to the Ponderosa pine forests of northern California, inter-dispersed with smatterings of yellow flowers of scotch broom. Later in the day we had the delight of a virtually circumnavigating the base of snow covered Mt Shasta (elevation 14,162 ft, 4,316 m) and passing Upper Lake Klamath dotted with grebes, mallard ducks and pelicans, and hawks soaring in the sky.

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Time passed while the train tracks tunneled through impenetrable moss laden forests and we chugged up the mountains crossing the Cascade Range at highest point of the trip, Willamette Pass (elevation 5,128 ft, 1,563 m), patches of snow still coating the ground.

Having grown up in Washington State, I was pleased when we passed over the mighty Columbia River making our way north to Tacoma, clanking under the Narrows Bridge at sunset with the Olympic Mountains in the west, following the edge of Puget Sound to our final destination, King Street Station, in Seattle.

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If you go:

Amtrak publishes the Coast Starlight Route Guide which is available in pdf format on www.greeneducationfoundation.org. This guide details points of interest along the route.

The description of the classes of travel, the prices of train tickets and the schedule is available on the Amtrak website: www.amtrak.com/coast-starlight-train. You can book your ticket on this website.

Posted by IvaS 21:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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