Slow and Scenic…Traveling Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

In response to enthusiasm shared with friends about last month’s travels with  mom aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, I’m frequently asked, “Was it on time?”

It seems almost everyone has heard a story of someone grossly inconvenienced by a late arriving train.

While it is true that scheduled station stops do tend to be more approximate than precise, I wasn’t bothered. Adherence to the timetable was “in the ballpark.”

There are any number of reasons for why a passenger train may lose time between stations, but there are times when the train just stops, which can be confusing if you don’t know that track is controlled by the freight companies, and their priority directs passenger trains into a siding to wait for the freight trains to pass.

Between Los Angeles and Portland, our final destination, we gave way to freight trains fewer than a half-dozen times. Time is lost, but then in open stretches the Coast Starlight made up much of the time.

There is one question almost everyone asks. “Isn’t train travel awfully slow?” A look of grave concern crosses their expression and it’s clear they aren’t sold on my assertion that traveling by train is as much the vacation experience as the end-point and destination.

Most of us spend more time than we’d like running from one event to the next only to arrive with little conscious appreciation for how we got there!

I do acknowledge that it is a privilege to have the time for leisure travel, and a train isn’t practical for everyone. But unless time is a serious factor, I think it’s worth considering.

We answered questions about sleeping quarters by describing Amtrak’s Business Class, which we found very accommodating.  Seating in a dedicated car allowed for fewer disturbances and greater overall flexibility. We found the reclining seats more than adequate for sleeping, and although it was a 30-hour trip, we didn’t feel the need for a roomette or sleeping car.

Once all pertinent concerns and questions are answered the Coast Starlight is an easy “sell” because of the mesmerizing scenery.

I previously shared some of the beautiful California coastline from my Amtrak window seat HERE and HERE, but this trip we extended north, well beyond our previous destination of Oakland, crossing the California border into Oregon.

It was growing dark as we pulled into Oakland, and not long before we settled into our sleeping positions. From 10PM until 7:00AM all station announcements are silenced and our car attendant reminded everyone that it was time to be courteously quiet. The lights were dimmed sufficiently and it was a pleasure listening to the hum of the rails.

An early sunrise revealed a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta, second only to Mt. Rainier among the tallest volcanoes in the Cascade Range, and we could see the cone of the volcano for about an hour as we traveled north.

Soon we had crossed the state line and the Coast Starlight from Klamath Falls to Eugene is known as one of the most beautiful and scenic sections.


I guess that’s true, but perhaps I’d best describe it as relaxing.

Slow is probably subjective anyway, don’t you think?

All 22 inches of him!

Do you think a tortoise is slow?

He knows how to take advantage of a quiet morning bath, but when Darwin wants to escape his confines he appears to be motorized. He can move faster than you’d think!

Have I perhaps influenced you? Not to be a Sulcata Tortoise “parent,” but to perhaps consider the “breathe lighter” benefits of train travel?

I’d be interested in your thoughts, or perhaps previous experience. Do share!


Additional links if interested:

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight: America’s most beautiful train ride?

Enjoy Stunning Views on the Coast Starlight–Video


61 thoughts on “Slow and Scenic…Traveling Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

  1. It’s a room with a moving view. I don’t understand how anyone can not love train travel, Debbie. I don’t do much of it because it’s relatively expensive here, and doesn’t always take me to places I want to go, but with views like that, I’d never get off the train. 🙂 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the trip.

    • The trip to B.C. is definitely one I would like to take, Jim. We’d like to come back to Oregon and spend a little more time, though. I feel like I just had a tease. 🙂 I was on the train almost as long as I spent off! Maybe slightly more. LOL!

  2. I loved taking the auto train up to get mom and return to Florida. On the way up, I slept in a recliner. On the way back, I got a sleeping compartment so mom would have convenient access to the bathroom. The meals were great and it’s a very relaxing way to travel. BUT . . . I felt like I missed all the scenery we passed under cover of darkness.

    • I chose taking the train to Portland for the same reason, Nancy, to make it easier for my mother. I was sure it would be enjoyable, but I struggled a little bit committing to so much time. I was so glad that I did, however. Because the train left Los Angeles at 10 am and Portland at 3pm I did at least have different “blackout” times and I saw some areas on the return trip that I missed coming up! I think it would be fun to take the same trip in winter. I’m sure that would also be entirely different. The pace is nice, however, isn’t it?

  3. Yes, the train ride would be the experience of the trip. I bet my kiddos would like it all too much that we may be asked to leave. I can’t imagine us being courteously quiet during the hours of 10pm-7am unless I happen to get the little one down before that. Happy you enjoy the adventure.

    • LOL! I do not know how families make it work, Cristina, but there were many on the train. The Business Car kind of sheltered me from some of that activity. I think that most probably have a little private roomette, which with children, is probably almost a necessity. I hope you’re doing well with what’s left of summer. I’m sure you’re gearing up for school to begin, and your world is going to speed up! Slow isn’t always possible when you have children. What am I saying? It’s almost never possible. LOL!

    • You could decide to go either north or south from your home! Both directions are very scenic but quite different from each other, as you can imagine.LA to Oakland will continue to be well traveled route for us, but now I have my sights on taking the train to Seattle. I really think that would be a leisurely adventure. Let me know if you decide to give the Coast Starlight a go! 🙂

  4. CFL and I did a steam rail excursion from Portland to Bend, OR and back recently. That was REALLY slow. And it was something I’d wanted to do since I was a child. I wouldn’t have given up a moment of it.

    • What an amazing experience that had to be, Lori. I know that Jay and I would love to experience steam rail. I hadn’t actually thought of investigating that option, so thank you for the suggestion! I do hope you’re doing well and enjoying your summer!

    • You’ve mentioned some of your concerns about travel and I can tell you that from the things you’ve shared I think you’d be quite comfortable on a train for at least an overnight. All amenities are close and surprisingly private. There was a woman in one compartment with her companion dog. Whether he was a licensed therapy pet or not I don’t know. Maybe the cats stay home as guardians, but if you want to keep them close, It’s worth investigating? LOL!

    • You’ve definitely hit on one major reason I enjoyed the train! I was accompanying my mom to a family wedding in Portland and our first thought was that we’d drive and make a stop in the Sacramento area to see other family members. But the more I thought about the drive the greater my concern that we’d just be exhausted. We could have flown, but even that sounded like more than we wanted to take on. So the train just fit our needs perfectly. Driving was once a pleasure, but not so much anymore! I’m eager to decide on a future destination and plan for that trip. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  5. Lovely to hear about your trip Debra. I used to travel by train a lot as a student, and loved seeing bits of the countryside that remain hidden from roads and motorways. It always seemed a bit of an adventure too, which I have rarely felt with other forms of travel!

    • Friends and family who have enjoyed European train travel are quick to tell me that our American system doesn’t compare. I’m not always clear on what is better, but I don’t happen to be a very critical traveler. I simply enjoy the pace and the scenery, and thought the food and other amenities was just fine. I’m not picky! LOL! Anytime I can spend a day or two with few decisions to make and little personal stress, it’s a good thing. I agree with you that it is so delightful to go through cities and towns and see areas otherwise hidden to me. I enjoyed the way people, sometimes in their own backyards, would wave at passengers on the train. I always waved back! 🙂

  6. What wondrous views, Debra. I love the sound of trains; the clickely-clackety of the wheels on the rails and the sound of the horn. Your trip sounds soothing and restful and seems to have been just the right choice for you and your mom.
    Business class seats sound perfect and would be a good choice for us. Tom is so tall a sleeper has never been an option, but, business class . . . hmmmm? We both enjoyed a day trip up to Galena, IL some years ago. It’s a trip we’ve taken by car, but, the scenery and vistas one is afforded by train are so “worth it”. We did stop once for at least 20 minutes. Having lived in town with a coffee shop that become my second home I saw, first hand, many trains stopping. There was a Railroad Club that met over the coffee shop. We always knew something special was coming through when there were extra cars and tripods set up along the tracks.:)

    • I think you and Tom would enjoy a longer train trip, Penny. I’ve actually looked at the route between Los Angeles and Chicago and I have my eye on it for the future! I overheard more than one person say that they’ve traveled across country and found that the seating in business class was more comfortable for them than the sleeping cars. One night wasn’t bad at all, and I think I could manage two, or better yet, break up the trip a bit! We have an interesting change taking place in our city. I have lived most of my life in the city where I now live. The train goes right through the middle of the town (down by the Mission, since you’ve been there…) and for the past three years or so they’ve been lowering the track so that the train will be below grade. The project is almost completed. Jay says I won’t hear the whistle anymore and I am really sad about that. I have always been able to hear it and it’s a soothing sound to me. I’m hoping maybe he’s incorrect. 🙂

      • Oh, Debra, the lowering of the tracks, your history with the CA rails, the gains and hopefully convenience that has been made and the loss of the reassuring sound of the trains’ whistle all make for an interesting post (especially to me). You know how I think of my Mom making that trip in wartime, alone. I wish I had asked her more about it. The prospect of you taking a cross country trip is exciting, with Chicago as a destination, well . . . . joy supreme!

  7. We enjoyed so much of the train trips in Europe. I’d love to take this relaxing train trip in the near future.
    Thank you for sharing with us, Debra! 🙂

    • I would love to experience European train travel, Amy. I think we all go through life at such a rapid pace, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. So maybe that’s the appeal to train travel. I hope to find another route to try soon. 🙂

  8. How wonderful! My husband and I have taken the Coast Starlight three times in the past, and we are planning another trip next year. All those photos brought back some great memories.

    (The only time we had a serious delay was once, outside of Oxnard, when some drunken genius decided to try and “beat the train” on his bike, and wound up sprawled on his back on the gravel next to the tracks. He turned out to be FINE – but we had to sit there, stewing, for a couple of HOURS, so the police could do their investigation! Grr!)

    • Oh my gosh, Christine, the guy survived his attempt at beating the train? I can’t imagine. But I CAN imagine the frustration of sitting there waiting for the train to get moving again! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, and I traveled this time with my mom, so we need to enjoy the route again so my husband can get in on it. 🙂

  9. I’ve traveled by train many times, including the Coast Starlight. We took our boys to San Diego and back by rail and my husband and I crossed the country (California to Chicago, then on to Boston). I also traveled with a Eurorail pass throughout Europe many, many years ago. I love the slower pace, the incredible views and the ease of travel. It’s not about getting there when you ride the train. The hardest part for me, and this may have improved, is the food choices. I’m a vegetarian and found little to eat. I’m glad you enjoyed your journey.

    • You do have train travel experience! I would love to have some Eurorail experience! I have been across the country through the southern corridor ending in New Orleans, but never the northern route, and that’s one I’d really like to do. I’ve been thinking of exactly what you experienced–Chicago and on to Boston! I’m also a vegetarian and I wouldn’t call it “creative” fare, certainly, mostly just the typical black bean burger or a pasta dish, but at least they were tasty! Food choices are always tricky, I think. I was very pleased, but I read a lot of complaints on-line about the food. Much, much better than airline food. LOL!

  10. I crossed Canada 5 times by train in the ’70s. It was the cheapest way to make that trip back then if you brought your own food and slept sitting up in the regular coach. It was mostly younger people and always a party for 4 days….time went fast. Now it’s luxury travel. It sounds as if maybe the states have more possibilities for routes and pricing. I still think it’s the best way to travel if you travel for travel’s sake.

  11. I’ve never had the pleasure of riding the American Railroads so I read your report with interest and enjoyed your photos very much Debra. As I am now retired I’m intending to get back to longer train journeys in the UK. However – the pace is somewhat faster over here and the trains more frequent. Freight has to fit in with passenger services rather than the other way around.

    Perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage to commemorate your trip…
    Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
    Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
    And charging along like troops in a battle
    All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
    All of the sights of the hill and the plain
    Fly as thick as driving rain;
    And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
    Painted stations whistle by.
    Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
    All by himself and gathering brambles;
    Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
    And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
    Here is a cart runaway in the road
    Lumping along with man and load;
    And here is a mill, and there is a river:
    Each a glimpse and gone forever!

    • What a wonderful poem, Martin. It is new to me and I thank you! I think it takes a particular temperament to enjoy long distance train travel. I would really enjoy the experience of traveling by train in another country. I do have my eye on the possibility of the Canadian Railroad. I’ve known a few people who have traveled clear across Canada by train and thought it was a spectacular experience. Maybe some day! 🙂 Congratulations on your retirement. I don’t know if this was recent or has been some time now, but it is a good opening in life to slow down, as in train travel, and enjoy!

      • My last day at work was 11th August Debra though I actually cease to be employed on 31st August – I’m using up my leave currently 🙂 Travelling across Canada would be great – who knows, maybe some day!

  12. Oh yes, you convinced me! I’ve been more prone to take Amtrak now that I live in the East Coast. When I lived in the SF bay area, I never really considered it, but now that trip from Oakland to Oregon is on my bucket list. Thank you. Just two weeks ago I took the Amtrak Acela from Boston to Philadelphia. SO MUCH easier and better than flying, even though it takes a bit more time. However, the movement of the train still gets me into motion sickness. I have to work on that before I take a longer train ride.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you have motion sickness on the train! I’ve been encouraging my daughter to travel with us at some point and she really suffers from motion sickness, so maybe I need to consider that! Isn’t it funny that you were on the west coast, and now that you’re on the east you would like to travel the Coast Starlight. I have taken a southern route across the lower half of the states to New Orleans, but I’ve not yet done any of the eastern corridor and I would definitely like to do so. I do agree with you that it’s really an easy form of travel. I like “easy” when I can manage it. 🙂

      • I’ve found that a small portion of a Bonine pill helps me with the motion sickness. (Dramamine is too strong for many, me included). I’d suggest Bonine for your daughter. Also, unfortunately, I can’t read much on a train because of the rocking. But it’s greatly meditative, looking out the window. 🙂

  13. Dear Debra, when I lived in Stillwater, MN, I wanted to travel by Amtrak, across the Rockies, to Seattle, but never managed to find someone who would enjoy the relaxation of the ride. Then I came to Missouri and traveled twice by train from Independence–far western Missouri–to St. Louis–far eastern–to visit a cousin and his family. Oh! Did I love that trip–the track follows the course of the Missouri River for many miles across the state. So much loveliness. I meant to read most of the journey, but instead I sat and looked out the window at the “muddy Mo.” And I thought of the pioneers who’d crossed the state on their way to Oregon or Santa Fe or California. Those three trails all began in Independence.

    Your recent postings breathe your attitude toward life and your optimism and contentment. Thank you for sharing. Peace.

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful response, Dee. I appreciate that you could “feel” the way the train travel does relax and calm a busy life! Your train experience was special, I’m sure, and perhaps there will be another time you can find a route that would hold much appeal. I did the same thing with my reading material! I had all that wonderful “unbroken” reading time, but I was mesmerized with the scenery, and then, when it grew dark, although still early evening, the hum of the wheels on the track lulled me to sleep!

      I thought of you yesterday, and assume you experienced the full shadow of the eclipse? That must have been fascinating! 🙂

  14. A train experience like this is something special isn’t! It seems like you have a great time. You get to see a lot of different nature and country side and, as you write, slow down and take it easy. Sounds like the perfect way of travelling. I once traveled with the Trans-Siberian railroad and enjoyed it immensely. Keep enjoying the trip!

    • Otto, you have such rich and varied travel experiences! I must say that my eyes light up at the thought of the Trans-Siberian railway! I did (and do) really enjoy the relatively brief but very beautiful routes I’ve had the privilege to ride, but I would love to experience something on a grander scale. I’ve heard wonderful things about traveling the Canadian Railways and think that may be in our future. 🙂

  15. Pingback: Slow and Scenic…Traveling Amtrak’s Coast Starlight — breathelighter – MobsterTiger

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