When my husband and I were making plans for our recent road trip we had to figure out a way for me to get from San Francisco to LA, where he would pick me up. I researched several options and found that taking Amtrak's Coast Starlight was the cheapest ($60), the longest (12 hours 40 minutes), and the most scenic (farmland, cliffs, and hours along the Pacific).
Yes, please! I was sold.
This route goes from Seattle all the way down to LA and back and it's known as one of the most beautiful Amtrak routes in the country. Honestly, I got pretty giddy about it while doing my research. I wasn't looking at it as my way to get from one place to another but as an adventure in and of itself. A way to see California's coastline and have a day of quiet alone time amidst a very social trip.
Something about train travel feels old-fashioned and elegant to me. Is it the romantic in me or do you feel the same? I picture Edith Wharton-esque scenes of old trunks filled with ruffled dresses and cars for smoking and playing cards and women in their hats and traveling clothes. Modern train travel has lost a lot of this glamor but it takes only a bit of imagination to bring it back.
The hours actually went by pretty quickly. In between looking out the window and snapping photos I took little naps, read my book, ordered a burger for lunch in the dining car, called my mom, and daydreamed. We took a "Fresh Air Break" in San Luis Obispo and I found myself pacing the platform along with a very sweet old gentleman who also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the trip. It was fun to notice how people were spending their 12 hours on the train. Some people seemed to sleep the whole time. Other people had carefully laid out their newspaper and snacks next to them and looked settled and content to be there. Other people were mostly gazing out the windows.
This route is amazing because for much of it, the train is by itself, cutting through fields and along cliffs. Sometimes it ran parallel to a road but even then the roads were often sleepy ones. I loved seeing the fertile California land and I must have witnessed several dozen fields full of perfect rows of lettuce or kale, so vibrantly green and bushy. And when the land gave way to the ocean about halfway through the trip it was breathtaking. Lonely stretches of coast and a setting sun and old ramshackle structures. The scenery we rode through was incredible.
Here are some snapshots I took in case you'd like to see. If you ever have the chance to take this train, do. I have a feeling that when I'm 80 I'll still remember the solo train journey I took through California when I was 25.