Amtrak Coast Starlight Train: Overnight Train from Seattle to LA
Summary: I’m sharing my experience in a first class sleeper car on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train where we rode overnight from Seattle to LA.
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I think America’s train system gets a bad rap. Sure, we don’t have nearly as many routes as many other countries in Europe and Asia and the trains we do have generally don’t travel as fast, but we have some fun options, too! Recently, I got to experience one of these for myself!
A friend and I wanted to visit Carmel, California, but instead of flying, we decided to take the train from Seattle down to California. The Amtrak Coast Starlight train starts in Seattle and ends in Los Angeles. The stop closest to Carmel is Salinas, so we ended our journey there. The whole trip was 27 hours long (it’s 36 hours if you go all the way to LA), so we were on the train overnight!
Keep reading to hear about our experience on the Coast Starlight train, and a few tips if you plan on making this trek yourself!
Amtrak First Class vs. Coach Seating
Since we were going to be on this train for 27 hours (i.e., overnight), we splurged for the first class sleeper car tickets, but we also explored the coach class and a family member of mine rode coach from Chicago to Seattle, so I can share experiences from both options.
First Class on Coast Starlight
On the Coast Starlight train, specifically, the first class ticket comes with a private sleeper car. There are two different sizes: two-person or four-person. The two-person cabin was quite small. When the beds were laid out, there wasn’t room to walk around at all, but that was okay for us. If you need a little more room, I’d suggest opting for the four-person room.
In addition to the private cabin, the first class ticket also comes with all meals included. The meals are served in the dining car and someone comes around to take reservations for lunch and dinner each day. Breakfast is first come, first served.
The train car where our cabins were located housed four two-person cabins, two four-person cabins, two bathrooms, and a shower/changing room that was shared between everyone. This was just downstairs; there were more rooms upstairs. Our car had our own attendant who was amazing! Her name was Cindy and we could tell that she truly wanted us to have a good time and be as comfortable as possible on board. She made our trip fantastic.
Personally, if I take overnight trips on Amtrak again, I’ll always choose this option.
Coach Tickets on Coast Starlight
Coach tickets are also available on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train. However, the experience is very different from First Class. My dad rode coach from Chicago to Seattle to come visit us a few years ago. He just wanted to experience a long train ride, but he said he wouldn’t do it again unless he got a first class ticket.
The coach seats are very similar to what you’d expect on a train or bus. The seats are comfortable and they recline, but don’t go completely flat. You don’t have much privacy which can make sleeping at night difficult.
The food availability was also a bit of an issue with coach. The first class riders have first dibs on dining car reservations and after those are reserved, coach passengers can then make reservations for the remaining time slots. However, if those fill up, then you’re out of luck. There is a cafe onboard with snacks, sandwiches, and some hot food, so you won’t go hungry, but it’s not as ideal.
All this said, if you are only going to be on the Coast Starlight for a few hours, coach is probably the way to go. You still have access to the observation car where you’ll probably want to spend most of your time anyway!
Looking for more train travel? Check out my experience on Napa Valley’s Wine Train!
Cost Difference Between Coach and First Class
As you can probably guess, the cost difference between the two classes is significant. Prices likely vary throughout the year, but I did an example search for a one-way ticket for a weekend in June for two people. The total cost for coach is $200 and the total cost for a first class roomette (private two-person room with shared bathroom) is $834. The four-person family room is nearly double that at over $1600.
For a long trip like this, it’s worth it to me to pay the extra money, but I really like that there is an affordable option available. Keep in mind that this is also only one way.
Food Options on Amtrak Coast Starlight
Before our trip, I was most curious about the food onboard the train. I wondered if it would be any good, and to my surprise, it was! We at four meals total on the Coast Starlight and each one came with at least 5-6 options. Our attendant also gave us a tip of adding whatever we wanted to our burgers or salads because everything was included.
I had a couple meals that were just okay (the burger wasn’t great), but here’s what I’d recommend ordering:
Lunch: Strawberry salad with chicken added
Dinner: Steak with mashed potatoes and veggies
Dessert: Chocolate mousse (this was incredible!) at dinner and the brownie at lunch
The cafe car was located just below the observation deck and was always open if you need a snack between meals, or if you’re in coach and plan to eat everything from here. They had an assortment of sandwiches, salads, little snacks like hummus and pretzels, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and hot food. It looked like a good selection.
The only thing I was missing was espresso. I wish I could have had my morning lattes, but regular coffee had to do on this trip.
How We Passed the Time Onboard
Like I mentioned above, we were on this train for 27 hours. That’s a long time to stare out the window! We did this trip in October, so the fall foliage was actually pretty to look at, but there was more to do than just that.
Every few hours, the train would stop at a “fresh air stop” where we stayed anywhere from 20-45 minutes. This was the perfect time to get off the train, stretch our legs, and walk around different train stations. There wasn’t a lot to see here, but we still made an effort to get off at most of these.
One of the stops even had a flash mob waiting to dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller for us! While it wasn’t an Amtrak-sponsored activity, it was still a really fun surprise.
Aside from that, I read a lot of my book, watched some YouTube videos (we had service most of the way), and chatted with my friend I was traveling with.
While it sounds like a lot of time, it honestly flew by. We were kind of sad to leave the train by the time we got to Salinas!
What I Liked About Traveling by Train
I’m not going to pretend that I’ll travel by train for every future trip because flying is so much faster in most cases, but I’d definitely do it again. It felt like a trip in itself. My favorite part was getting to know the other passengers. You’ll likely come to recognize faces of people in your car as you’re all excitedly exploring the train. All of the meals in the dining car are community seating, so if you have a party of less than four people, you’ll be sitting with others and get to talking. As someone who doesn’t usually make the first move to talk to someone knew, sometimes it’s nice to be forced to make conversation!
While onboard, we met a 70-year old lady who was getting ready to move to Italy, we heard stories from our train attendant about crazy things she’s seen on the train, and met a handful of other people that helped make our experience even more fun.
I also liked the fact that we didn’t have to deal with the downsides of flying, mainly the fact that we didn’t have to go through security, or sit in a cramped seat for the entire journey.
Lastly, it was such a different experience than I’ve ever had before. How many times can you say you’ve pulled up to a train station in a small town in Oregon and saw a flash mob? You’re riding through towns and seeing scenery that you’d probably never see otherwise!
What I Disliked About the Experience
Of course, there are a few downsides. The most obvious one being the time it takes to get between destinations. What was a 27-hour train ride could have been a 2-hour flight.
I can also imagine that if you feel any sort of motion sickness in cars or on boats, you might struggle with being on the train for so long, especially eating and sleeping onboard. Luckily, I don’t get motion sick easily, but I was starting to feel a tiny bit anxious when laying down at night.
Aside from these potential caveats, I think if it interests you at all, you should give train travel a try on your next trip!
Tips To Have the Best Experience on Amtrak Coast Starlight
- If you’re unsure about trying the train, book just one way, then fly the other way! I’d suggest taking the train to your destination and flying home as you’ll probably want to get home as fast as possible after traveling.
- If you’ll be on the train for longer than 12 hours, book the first class sleeper car ticket. Scroll back up to read about why I think this. You’ll thank me later!
- Choose earlier dining times. We ate later in the evening and they were out of some of the dessert we wanted! The have plenty of most food options, but this is a risk with later times.
- Bring some activities with you. Mine were my book and downloaded YouTube videos.
- Sign up for Amtrak’s rewards system before you book. You can accumulate points and work toward free trips. You can also call and have them add your points to your account if you make it after your ride.
I hope this article helped you decide if train travel is right for you! If you have any questions or you want to chat more about it, feel free to reach out on Instagram, or post a comment below.