Amtrak Coast Starlight: 25 Things To Know Before You Go

Traveling by rail is one of the scenic and memorable ways to experience the natural beauty and splendor that this country has to offer. One of the most famous routes is the West Coast passage between Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California, traversed on a daily basis by the iconic Coast Starlight.

Prior to booking a trip on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, it is important to do your research to ensure a properly planned journey that is free of worry and full of unforgettable experiences. Here are 25 things to know before you go.

Amtrak Coast Starlight: 25 Things To Know Before You Go

While the notion of traveling by train may seem like a romantic endeavor that harkens back to simpler times, there are many things that can (and do) go wrong without proper planning, particularly if this is your first time traveling on an overnight rail passage. Here are some important things to know that can help make climbing on board the Coast Starlight an experience of a lifetime.

The Coast Starlight Serves 29 Train Stations

While stops like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland are the headliners on the Coast Starlight passage, there are actually 29 train stations in total interspersed along this world-famous railway route. The state of California leads the way with 17 stops, followed by Washington and Oregon with 6 stations apiece. Here is a sampling of the unique destinations that can be found by traveling on the Coast Starlight:

  • Tacoma, WA
  • Vancouver, WA
  • Eugene, OR
  • Klamath Falls, OR
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Oakland, CA
  • Paso Robles, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA

The Coast Starlight is not only a prime way to visit cosmopolitan cities like Seattle and Los Angeles, but also the perfect way to discover hidden gems on the West Coast.

amtrak trains

There Is a Wide Range of Accommodations

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight has a total travel time of 35 hours, meaning that it is an overnight trip. To this end, this train offers a number of accommodations to fit any travel budget and provides varying amenity levels. These options include:

  • Lower and upper-level coach class (non-sleeper)
  • Business-class (non-sleeper)
  • Superliner roomette
  • Superliner bedroom
  • Superliner bedroom suite
  • Superliner family bedroom
  • Superliner accessible bedroom

Sleeping quarters start off with the modestly appointed roomette and progress in amenities to the more lavish bedroom suite, which can accommodate four guests and features two private in-room bathrooms and showers.

Travel With Your Bicycle

For the adventurous traveler who prefers a more intimate mode of sightseeing while disembarked, the Coast Starlight is a bicycle-friendly train. Subject to these restrictions, bicycles are welcome on board:

  • For carry-on or train side bicycles, the maximum weight is 50 pounds and tire widths must be 2 inches or less
  • For checked bicycles, the maximum weight is 50 pounds and the maximum dimensions are 70” L x 41” H x 8.5” W

One of the unique aspects of traveling on a train like the Coast Starlight is that you can bring your own personal mode of transportation with you to gain an up-close perspective on every destination you visit.

amtrak coast starlight
Jonathan Lee

There Are Daily Departures

The Coast Starlight train offered by Amtrak is actually two passages, one heading southbound from Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA, and the other traveling the same route in reverse going northbound. Trains depart daily and run according to the following schedule:

  • Northbound trains depart Los Angeles around 10:00 am and arrive the following evening around 8:00 pm in Seattle
  • For trains operating in the opposite direction, southbound departures embark from Seattle around 10:00 am and arrive the next night around 9:00 pm in Los Angeles

All told, the entire trip on the Coast Starlight train, regardless of direction, is roughly 35 hours.

Pets Are Allowed (But With Limitations)

Cats and dogs are welcome on board the Coast Starlight train but there are some very important rules to keep in mind when booking a trip with your furry travel companion:

  • There is a strict weight limit of 20 pounds which includes the animal and its approved carrier
  • Pets are only allowed on routes lasting 7 hours or less
  • Ticketed cats and dogs must accompany their owners on the train – they cannot be checked in as baggage
  • Animals must be at least 8 weeks old and have proof of all required vaccinations
  • Official Amtrak documents like a pet release and indemnification agreement must be signed by the pet owner

Perhaps most importantly as far as trip planning is concerned, there is a maximum of 5 pets allowed per train, so if you want to bring your cat or dog with you on your next Coast Starlight journey be sure to reserve your companion’s spot as early as possible.

Amtrak’s Baggage Policy Is Flexible

While travelers flying to their destinations can expect to pay exorbitant baggage fees while grappling with checked luggage and carry-on size restrictions, the Coast Starlight offers a far more relaxed policy when it comes to passenger baggage. Each traveler is allowed:

  • 2 checked bags
  • 2 carry-ons
  • 2 personal items

All of these items are included in the far and aside from compliance with certain size limitations, there are no fees or imposing restrictions.

amtrak superliner
Jonathan Lee

The Coast Starlight Does Not Offer Free Wi-Fi

One of the biggest selling points of traveling by rail on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is the opportunity to unplug from the whirlwind of everyday life and enjoy a scenic journey along the Pacific Coast. Which is good because passengers may have no choice but to put their devices away as there is no free wi-fi service offered on this train.

(It is worth noting that even on trains and routes offering free wi-fi, the service reportedly has serious limitations and is incapable of supporting activities like streaming movies or downloading large files.)

Pack a Power Strip for Your Room

If you are planning to book a sleeper room be forewarned that there is a good chance that your accommodations may have but one electrical outlet. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, or will be sharing the room with a companion (who will surely have devices of their own) be sure to pack a power strip to distribute the juice as needed and keep those essential electronics running.

Dining Options Onboard the Coast Starlight

With a duration of roughly 35 hours for the full route running between Seattle and Los Angeles, knowing your dining options will be an important aspect of your trip. There are essentially two ways to go when it comes to eating on board the Coast Starlight:

  • Café service – this dining option is available to all passengers and comprises snacks foods, beverages, and pre-packaged meals (i.e., microwaveable, re-heatable, or instant) that can be purchased
  • Traditional dining – for passengers traveling in private rooms, traditional dining is included in the ticketed fare and consists of breakfast, lunch, and a 3-course dinner served in the dining car (complimentary room service is also available)

For the full experience of traveling by train, splurging on a private room to dine in an elegantly appointed dining car may be worth the extra expense.

Amtrak sleeper cars
Jeff Hampton photo

The Roomette Is an Economical (but Cramped) Way To Go

As far as private rooms with a bed are concerned, the superliner roomette is the most economical option available on the Coast Starlight. While this level of accommodations does include full meal service (with wine, water, and soft drinks), the room itself is quite modest and does have its limitations:

  • Bathrooms are shared with other roomette passengers (as opposed to bedrooms which have private facilities)
  • There are two sleeping bunks, one up high and the other down below (both require the assistance of an attendant to prepare for the night)
  • Once the bunks are set up for the night, getting out of them (particularly the top bunk) in the middle of the night can be a chore

While the accommodations may seem less than ideal, staying in a roomette on the Coast Starlight can add to the whole railcar experience.

Coast Starlight Is a Great Way To Find Hidden Gems

With so many stops along its nearly 1,400-mile route, the Coast Starlight provides a unique opportunity to visit and experience hidden gems in California, Oregon, and Washington, including lesser-known destinations like:

  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Sacramento, California
  • Oakland, California
  • Paso Robles, California
  • Oxnard, California

The beauty of traveling on the Coast Starlight is being able to get off the beaten path without venturing very far from its storied route.

amtrak engine
Jonathan Lee Photo

The Sightseer Lounge Car Is One of the Train’s Highlights

Of all the features of the Coast Starlight, one of its most talked-about highlights is the experience of sitting in the sightseer lounge car and taking in the awe-inspiring views of the Pacific coastline and other natural wonders through windows that stretch from the sides of the car all the way up to the ceiling.

For many passengers, this is not only the most memorable part of their own personal journey but perhaps the singular aspect by which the Coast Starlight truly lives up to its name.

Choosing the Right Time of Year To Travel

One of the appealing aspects of traveling on the Coast Starlight is the unique opportunity it affords to experience hundreds of miles of Pacific coastline and other natural wonders that would otherwise be largely hidden from view.

So in this respect, it is important to choose the right time of year to travel on this train if taking in the views is one of your major reasons for going in the first place. For instance, booking a trip during the summer months when there is ample daylight well into the evening hours will maximize your enjoyment of the natural splendors that can be seen while on board the Coast Starlight.

pacific parlour
Jonathan Lee

Seniors Can Travel at Discounted Rates

For adventure seekers 65 years and over, Amtrak offers senior discounts on the Coast Starlight and other popular routes. Generally speaking, the senior discount amounts to a 10% savings but it should be noted that certain restrictions do apply (e.g., the senior discount cannot be used with Saver or Flexible Fares or toward the purchase of Business Class seats on the Coast Starlight).

There Are Also Discounted Fares for Kids and Students

In addition to seniors, younger travelers can also qualify for discounted fares on the Coast Starlight. Here’s how these discounts work:

  • Children between the ages of 2 to 12 years can travel for 50% off of the lowest available adult fare when accompanied by a ticketed adult (over the age of 18)
  • Students between the ages of 17 to 24 years with a valid student I.D. can receive a 15% discount on a standard adult coach fare when booking at least one day before departure on the Coast Starlight

When it comes to nurturing respect and appreciation for the natural beauty and splendor of the Pacific Coast you can never start those Coast Starlight passengers too young.

Booking a Sleeping Car Berth Has Its Perks

While one night spent in a coach or business class seat (as opposed to a sleeping bunk) may not seem like a horrible way to spend the night on a 35-hour train ride, booking a sleeping berth on the Coast Starlight has its perks, including:

  • Preferential seating times in the dining car (with all meals included in the fare)
  • Although train seats are considerably larger than their counterparts on airlines, they nevertheless present challenges as far as getting comfortable for a night’s sleep
  • With over two dozen stops during the journey and a number of them occurring in the late night and early morning hours, passengers in non-sleeper accommodations will likely find themselves being awakened at every stop by people disembarking and boarding the train
  • Every sleeping berth has at least one electrical outlet to use for charging devices but not every non-sleeper seat will be near one
  • Sleeping car passengers have access to wi-fi as part of their higher fare while coach passengers do not have wi-fi access at all

Sleeping accommodations on the Coast Starlight may pale in comparison to the bedding in a posh hotel but given the realities of train travel, they may nevertheless be worth every penny paid for them.

The Views Truly Are That Breathtaking

Regardless of the overall experience, if there is one aspect of riding on the Coast Starlight that would earn a consensus thumbs-up from all travelers, it would be the breathtaking views. Here is a small sampling of the sights you can expect to take in:

  • Pristine beaches and coastlines
  • Surf that seems to come right up to the tracks
  • Peaceful valleys with winding streams and glistening lakes
  • Snow-capped mountains and vast stretches of wilderness

The incredible sights offered by the Coast Starlight are not limited to natural scenery. The city lights of metropolitan areas like San Francisco also make for a memorable experience.

amtrak views
Jonathan Lee

Riding Coach Is for the Brave and Hardy Traveler

As many a brave and hardy travel blogger has commented, spending the night aboard the Coast Starlight in a coach seat is an adventure in and of itself and one that typically produces a certain degree of regret the next morning. As one traveler has noted, if offered a second pillow by the car attendant, do not hesitate to accept.

Socializing With Other Travelers Is (Almost) Unavoidable

Although somewhat tempered by pandemic-era travel restrictions, traveling on the Coast Starlight (and any overnight route for that matter) makes socializing with other passengers practically unavoidable.

There was a time when meals in the dining car placed strangers at the same table for every meal and even now, like it or not, the intimate settings of the sightseer lounge car and the tight confines of the coach and business class cars are highly conducive to striking up a conversation with fellow passengers.

Amtrak’s Cancellation and Refund Policy

As anyone who has flown on any airline can attest, unexpected changes to travel plans can not only wreck an entire itinerary but also take a big bite out of your bank account with exorbitant fees for changing or canceling a flight reservation.

By comparison, if you book a trip on the Coast Starlight and need to make changes to your plans, you will find Amtrak’s cancellation and refund policies considerably more forgiving. For instance:

  • For any ticket purchased, a full 100% refund will be credited back via the original form of payment if the booking is canceled within 24 hours of purchase
  • Certain lower-priced tickets (e.g., the Saver and Flexible Fares) allow for a 75% refund in the form of a voucher or a straight credit if a cancellation is requested within a certain time period after purchase
  • Business Class tickets can be fully refunded if canceled prior to departure with no cancellation fees
  • For Sleeper accommodations, refund amounts will vary depending on the amount of time prior to departure that the cancellation request is made

Even the most meticulously made travel plans can unexpectedly go awry. With a booking on the Coast Starlight comes some peace of mind that you will not be throwing your money away if changes need to be made.

amtrak coast starlight
Glenn Beltz

Amtrak Guest Rewards

Akin to the frequent flyer programs offered by virtually every airline in existence, Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program allows repeat passengers to earn points with each booking that can be used for:

  • Class upgrades
  • Companion ticket discounts
  • Discount coupons

Booking certain types of tickets (for instance, a Business Class seat) can boost the number of points earned per trip. It is worth checking Amtrak’s site to see which accommodations qualify for Guest Reward bonuses for the trip you are planning to take.

Book Ahead To Save on Fares

With so many things in life, it pays to purchase early and this rule of life certainly applies to booking a trip on the Coast Starlight. There is a potential 20% savings to be had if tickets for this train are purchased ahead of time, but certain restrictions do apply:

  • This discount applies to the Saver Fare and the purchase must be made at least 7 days in advance of travel
  • All sales are final (no changes or refunds will be permitted)
  • Certain blackout dates apply (e.g., Thanksgiving weekend) and there are limited seats at this pricing

If you are traveling on a budget or simply want to try riding the Coast Starlight to get from point A to point B, then booking ahead of time may be a great way to take in amazing sights while saving some money.

There is No Hopping On and Off the Train

One question that a number of travelers have pondered before embarking on their first Coast Starlight journey is whether disembarking at the various station stops is permitted. It is important to understand that the Coast Starlight’s route runs from Los Angeles in the south to Seattle in the north with a number of stops and destinations in between.

The temptation to engage in impromptu sightseeing along the journey might be difficult to resist.

However, during the booking process you will be required to purchase tickets for the specific itinerary (including the number of stops and their duration) you plan to travel. In other words, unless you are ticketed to get off and on at a particular station, then your stay at any stop (which can be as brief as 10 minutes) will be limited to the time it takes for other passengers to detrain and come on board.

amtrak train
Loco Steve

Things May Not Always Go According to Plan

If there is one thing that is certain about traveling by train, such as on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight (or any passenger train for that matter), it is the need to accept the fact that there will always be an element of uncertainty with this mode of transportation and the best policy is to be prepared for the unexpected.

Given that rail cars must travel along train tracks, any time there is an obstruction or impediment on the rails, it must be cleared before the train can safely travel through. In the case of the Coast Starlight, the route winds its way through three states, diverse climate zones, different elevations, and various types of topography. Which all to say that any number of things can happen that can cause delays, such as:

  • Downed trees laying on or near the tracks
  • Snow or ice blanketing the rails
  • Flooding

Fortunately, with the number of trains traversing the route and the nearly 30 stations positioned throughout, there is a good network for gathering intelligence on any situations that have the potential of causing delays.

There Are Hundreds of Routes To Choose From

Although the Coast Starlight is famous for traversing the West Coast between Los Angeles, CA and Seattle, WA, it also services a number of cities and stations along this storied route. Travelers can plan itineraries that include many destinations in California, Oregon, and Washington that lie along the Coast Starlight route. These are some of the most popular passages:

  • Los Angeles, CA to Emeryville, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA to San Jose, CA
  • Seattle, WA to Vancouver, WA
  • Portland, OR to Tacoma, WA
  • Seattle, WA to Portland, OR

With 29 train stations in total along the Coast Starlight route, the number of unique travel itineraries that can be created among these stops is seemingly limitless.

Final Thoughts

Taking a ride on the rails with the Coast Starlight is not a journey for every traveler. But if you are looking to experience something new, this iconic train route may be the perfect way to mix things up while providing a unique perspective on the natural splendor of the West Coast. Just be sure to pack that power strip and head over early to the sightseer lounge to grab a good seat.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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