Train Trip Diary: Coast Starlight, Portland to Los Angeles


Editor note: Do I wish I was back on the train? Sort of. I like them. Sometimes you just want to escape, know what I mean?

But back to Portland/Camas: After nearly a month, I was ready to go home to Los Angeles. I’d decided I’d ask if there were any upgrades to sleepers for the Coast Starlight and maybe fork over the dough if there were. There weren’t vacancies, unfortunately, but this train does have a business class car which made a huge difference.

Upgrading to business class: Worth the $57 I paid on top of the pass I already had. It included a seat with way more legroom, a dedicated car where there weren’t very many people buying that ticket (in other words, a mostly empty car), free water bottles, a $6 coupon for the lounge or dining car, and WiFi – the train itself did not have WiFi. This car did.

The Coast Starlight left Portland in the afternoon. Around 2:20 or so. It was a bit late, but ultimately got to LA early. I think they build in a lot of “fudge” time on their train timetables – no matter how late or early the trains were in the middles of the journeys, they always seemed to arrive on time or early at the final destination. Go figure!

The afternoon of Sunday, May 21 was a real eye-opener. The route was from Portland south through the interior of Oregon, stops at places like Eugene, Salem, Chemult, Klamath Falls, etc. The route goes through the Cascades, where there was still quite a bit of snow. It was a gorgeous landscape, very wooded, very mountainous, not a lot of buildings or roads. Quite empty, or at least it seemed that way from the train. Prime Bigfoot country, I would imagine. If I believed in such things.

Overnight the train went past Mt. Shasta with California stops like Dunsmuir, and through the northern part of the central valley – or maybe it’s the Sacramento Valley, not sure—and at dawn arrived in my birth city of Sacramento. From there, it lurched southwest to Emeryville and Oakland — even though there were points where you could see across the bay to the glittery buildings of San Francisco, the train does not go there. Oakland is the closest stop.

From there on south – inland to some areas with giant, golden brown hills and huge oaks, like the landscapes of so many of the paintings we sold at Early California Antiques. It was glorious. I don’t think you can see these landscapes from the road, at least no so dramatically. South of San Luis Obispo the train goes along the actual coast for miles into Santa Barbara and beyond. It was a beautiful sunny day and grateful for that. See photos and the videos — truly glorious.

This was the terrain most familiar to me. We turn inland at Ventura/Oxnard, eventually going over the Santa Susanna Pass to Chatsworth, and coming really close to the site of the former Spahn Ranch (Manson Family!). It’s really rather rocky and quite wild there—I’m not sure riding the bike out there the whole way would be doable, as there are some hills. But it might be. (I thought I would ride the Orange Line Bikepath the entire way from my house to where it ends in Chatsworth – from there just a short distance to the site of the old Spahn Ranch. But I digress.)

I got off the train at the Burbank Airport Station. A young girl, who also disembarked there, asked to use my phone. I was uncertain because, you know, I thought she might steal it. Run away. And I’d never be able to catch her! Because – why, I don’t know, she was dressed kind of punkish but maybe not so different from how my niece Emily might look, so I let her.

She did not run away with the phone. She thanked me and left.

I called a Lyft, and in 20 minutes I was at home.

That was 30 days on a rail pass. I’m sure I’ll do it again.