Romance on the Rails in Scenic California

You might call train travel the “ultimate off-road experience.” Train travel is a nostalgic experience granting the rare opportunity to see the world right outside your window. It conjures sleeping cars that surprise morning risers with new scenery and steaming cups of coffee poured from silver pots. Riding the rails has been a nostalgic part of America’s travel lore since the train headed west. Capture that romance and nostalgia, as well as some of the Pacific’s most dazzling scenery, with an overnight rail trip on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

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To take the entire scenic route, rail-riders on the Coast Starlight board in Los Angeles and travel, mostly by a coastal route, all the way to Seattle. Nothing sells this railroading trip more than the views. People often look at a vacation as reaching a destination. With this journey, the vacation begins the moment the train pulls out of the station. Watch the morning sun glint off a river, see dolphins playing in the surf or submerged by a  giant forest. No traffic, no need to find a rest stop—just pure relaxation and enjoyment of one of the most breathtaking parts of America.

Winetasting and more

To really capture train travel the way it used to be, book a sleeping compartment for your trip. It costs a little more, but the perks make it worthwhile. Picture-window bedrooms that fit from one to four include a bathroom, amenities, Internet, turn-down service and onboard “tour guides” at certain locales.. In Business Class, you’ll enjoy a fully refundable ticket if canceled prior to departure, 25% point bonus for Amtrak Guest Rewards members, seating in a dedicated car, free WiFi, two bottles of water, an onboard credit good for food and beverage purchase or afternoon wine tasting, and access to the Metropolitan Lounge in Los Angeles and Portland.

Scenery at every turn

The scenery along the legendary bi-level train’s route grabs the sparkling coastal waters of the Pacific and dramatic snow-shrouded peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, as well fertile valley agricultural area, dense forests and more. The best part? You can capture every memorable moment from your comfy view dome seat or bedroom window.

Amtrak has established one of its best programs with the National Park Service, and passengers on the Coast Starlight are thrilled. In the “Trails and Rails” program, park service hosts jump onboard at certain points along the scenic route to educate and entertain riders with information about some of the natural and historical sites as the train passes by.

Sleeping car passengers on the Coast Starlight also enjoy a late-afternoon tasting of local wines and artisan cheeses in the refurbished Pacific Parlour Car that they refer to as a “living room on wheels.” It is a great time to meet other travelers and sample Central Coast, Monterey County, Oregon and Washington wines. Accompany your wine with a regional trio of cheeses, such as an Oregonian lavender cheddar, a Washington smoked gouda or a dry Jack cheese from California.

Meals are fresh, seasonal fare and considered tasty. However, business class passengers on the Coast Starlight can uniquely opt for ordering some special treats in the two-level Parlour Car. It is hard to surpass the experience of savoring a heaping bowl of Haagen-Daz while watching waves rip into jagged rocks on an unoccupied beach.

Discover Union Station

Begin your journey even before you board the train at the restored 1939 Union Station in Los Angeles, a nostalgic piece of architectural history worth some extra time to explore before departing northbound.

Even before you board your train, Union Station will fill your senses with history, beauty and a bounty of nostalgia. The fifth busiest station in Amtrak’s network, the 1939-built Art Deco enclave has undergone a continuing renewal process—carefully overseen as the “art masterpiece” it is for Los Angeles. It stands as the last great railway station built in the United States and everything you eye is authentic or replaced as originally built. Millions have been gone into the restoration thus far, and another $24 million will be invested in the next two years. In other words, this is not the same sad station you may have experienced a decade ago.

Movie and television filming is a regular occurrence at the station. You’ve seen it as the backdrop recently in the George Clooney movie “Hail Caesar.” You might remember the Judy Garland classic, “The Harvey Girls.” The Harvey House in Union Station has been beautifully restored, giving you an authentic look at the glamorous days of rail travel when travelers were served meals in luxurious banquettes as they stopped on their travels.

Today’s Union Station sees more than 75,000 people a day and 880 trains. New restaurants have taken the place of the Harvey House service and more are on the way, including a brew pub and a crepe eatery. Café Crepe will offer umbrella dining on the relaxing Rose Garden patio.

There are many reasons to make Union Station your destination. Walking Tours of Downtown LA depart three times daily from the station at 11 a.m. Tour highlights include Union Station, Olvera Street, Chinatown, Angles Flight Railway, Walt Disney Concert Hall and more. Visit for more information.

If you hear music while you’re waiting for your train, don’t be surprised. Free live music is scheduled on certain days in the waiting room areas. Enjoy the ride!

Photos courtesy Metro


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