Coast Starlight lounge car features floor-to-ceiling
windows and lounge chairs where all passengers can
enjoy the views.
It takes 35
hours to get from Los Angeles to Seattle on Amtrak’s
Coast Starlight train. Thirty-five. Hours.
finding out what it’s like to ride a train for a day and
a half, I armed myself with books and crosswords to combat
boredom, an extra hoodie to serve as blanket and pillow
leverage, and a bag of toiletries to limit my own
contributions to the odors of the showerless.
that even if I was cramped, cranky and wild with cabin
fever by Hour 8, at least I’d be entertained and
how it all went down.
(Hour 1; Location: Union Station, Los Angeles)
with ease at Union Station a half-hour before our 10 a.m.
departure time. There were no long security lines, no
baggage check and the train was right on time. On board I
had my choice of seats, and stretched out into a
surprisingly roomy seat that would be my workspace, bed
and possibly my torment for the next 35 hours.
into a practically empty business class car (it was only
30 bucks more than a coach ticket), where I was greeted by
business-class car attendant Raymond Luna who reassured me
when I told him Seattle was my destination.
you’re with me all the way?” he said, “OK, I got
(Hour 2; Location: Simi Valley, Calif.)
views began in earnest and were absolutely stunning. At
times, the train ventured closer to the coast than the
highway and offered glimpses of beaches so isolated they
seemed like tiny desert islands.
lounge car, passengers sit in swiveling chairs facing the
floor-to-ceiling windows that run along both sides of the
car, some excitedly hold cellphone cameras to the glass,
while others just blend into the charming scene as they
sip wine and read in the natural light as the countryside
Many of the
views along the way are as incredible as I’d imagined.
In southern California, the sunny beaches and vast ocean
views seem to stretch from right under the wheels of the
train all the way to the ends of the Earth. In northern
California and Oregon, the snowy landscape seems at times
to press right up against the train windows before
breaking open into vast valleys that literally sparkle as
the sun gleams off the snow, streams and lakes.
more mundane scenes of daily life captured the imagination
as we passed through residential areas and caught
momentary glimpses into backyards.
rural town, the whole community seemed to be outdoors,
working their lawn mowers and landscaping projects on a
Sunday afternoon. In a small suburb, two women sat in a
backyard eating birthday cake amid an otherwise empty
circle of tiny chairs decorated with balloons.
(Hour 6; Location: San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
the San Luis Obispo station we passed the tall, foreboding
walls of the California Men’s Colony, a prison. From the
train, I spied a small courtyard inside the walls, where a
couple of prisoners wandered along the confined circular
path. Such a sobering contrast to the privilege of my
thousand-mile journey up the coast.
(Hour 7; Location: Paso Robles, Calif.)
have thought that seven hours of staring out the window
might make me antsy to move around, but I had to tear my
eyes away from the window to try to get some work done.
Unsuccessful, I nodded off and woke up to an announcement
that the dining car was accepting dinner reservations.
(Hours 8-11; Location: Salinas to Oakland, Calif.)
dining-car experience is basically an awkward social
experiment. If you’re rolling solo like I was, the
dining-car attendants will seat you in a four-person booth
with three strangers and leave you to comment on the
weather and navigate conversational land mines.
tablemates were a father and son from Arizona and a
teacher from the Bay Area. We dutifully made conversation
out of the menu options. I chose the thyme roasted chicken
breast ($18.50) and didn’t regret it. The mashed
potatoes had the slightest taste of cardboard that
indicated they probably came from a box, but I was
surprised to find the chicken was tender, juicy and
graduated to more interesting topics. The father and son,
it turned out, had also boarded in L.A. and were
Seattle-bound. They planned on jumping right back on the
train the morning after they arrived in Seattle to go
straight back to L.A. in time for a family reunion. They
were on a sort of father-son retreat, they said. It was
all for the Coast Starlight experience itself.
after I brought up that I’d gone to hear Kimberle
Crenshaw talk in L.A., the teacher and I got into a nerdy
conversation about intersectionality and white allyship
that lasted until the dining car emptied and he had to
disembark at Oakland.
(Hour 12; Location: Emeryville, Calif.)
Back in my
seat and still energized by the conversation, I stayed
awake, staring out the window until the lights from San
Francisco shining across the bay disappeared and the views
faded into pitch darkness. Luna handed out pillows, and
generously offered me a second pillow with a look that
said, “trust me, you’ll need it.”
a.m. (Hours 13-21; Location: Martinez, Calif., to Klamath
I tried the
knee-hug, but quickly abandoned it for a solid recline,
which eventually morphed into a semi-upright fetal
position across the two seats, happily unobstructed by an
armrest. Then, it was back to the knee-hug.
In short, I
didn’t sleep very well. But when I woke up to
snow-covered evergreens of southern Oregon sweeping past
my window I quickly forgot about the cramp in my neck.
(Hour 23; Location: Chemult, Ore.)
This time I
had a table to myself in the dining car, accompanied by a
book and a coffee, and a cozy wintry scene outside my
plastic cup of Tostitos salsa that arrived on my breakfast
plate kind of maimed the charming scene. The flavorless
omelet and the home fries that somehow managed to be both
soggy and too dry at the same time nearly sent the romance
into its death throes.
amount of depressing eggs could ruin the charm of enjoying
a cup of coffee with a snow mountainscape brushing past
the windows and an adorable couple sitting next to each
other a few booths away looking out at the snow.
(Hour 27; Location: Eugene, Ore.)
the lounge car seemed lulled into the same peaceful mood.
Hours passed before I looked up from my book to find that
the snowy landscape had become lush green.
(Hours 29-32; Location: Portland, Ore., to Olympia-Lacey)
announced over the speakers that we were nearing Portland
and warned us to move to the left side of the train if we
wanted the best views of Puget Sound en route to Seattle.
(Hours 33-35; Final destination: Seattle)
In the last
hours of my trip, I felt like I was only just gaining a
degree of fluency in trainlife. I’d learned how to walk
a straightish line in rhythm with the jostling cars, and
had new theories on sleeping positions I wanted to try.
A couple of
hours after sunset absconded with the Puget Sound views,
the train staff began to bustle about the cars, making
preparations for arrival in Seattle.
shocked to find that I wasn’t ready for the trip to be
over! I’d just spent 35 hours on a train, and, despite
the bad omelet and the awkward sleeping postures, I wanted
more time. It had been exactly the kind of slowdown I’d
needed and a fascinating way to experience some of the
varied landscapes of the coast.
disembarked at King Street Station, I lingered in the
station, still not ready to relinquish this slowed-down
version of my life. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and
turned to find the father and son I’d met in the dining
We shared a
ride from the station, and I sent them off with well
wishes and a bit of envy that they’d be back on the
train the next day. Back at home, the envy and nostalgia
waned after a hot shower and a good night’s rest in my
Angeles to Seattle route is 1,377 miles.
percent of Coast Starlight passengers take trips of 1,000
miles or more
Angeles-to-Seattle route is the second most popular Coast
If you go:
car attendant which side of the train to sit on for the
own snacks to save some money and free yourself from the
mercy of the lounge-car and dining-car hours.
$89 (includes two bottles of water and Wi-Fi — though it
wasn’t working on my ride)
$254 (includes meals in the dining car)
vary, these are based on 2018 rates from Rail Passenger
$12.50-$14.50 (children’s meals available)
$16.50-$39 (children’s meals available)