Amtrak Coast Starlight review…is it worth it?

by Apr 10, 2022 | First published in 2018Travel, USA

This is my honest Amtrack Coast Starlight Review after taking the train Northbound in 2021.

The Coast Starlight is an Amtrack passenger train running the length of the West Coast of the US from Los Angeles. I took this train with my husband at the end of our epic Kicking the States adventure. We’d just kick-scooted the length of the USA. Our legs were tired, we wanted to enjoy the views in a more relaxed way and we wanted a more eco alternative to flying.

Amtrak Coast Starlight seemed like a great option!

How much does the Amtrak Coast Starlight cost?

When booking the Amtrak Coast Starlight, there are 5 different options available:

  • Saver: Saver Fares are the lowest available and deeply-discounted fares, and require advance purchase. Saver Fares are limited.
  • Value: Available on all Amtrak routes, Value Fares are the regular rate for fares and offer several refund options. Value Fares are limited.
  • Flexible: Flexible Fares, ideal if your plans change, are fully refundable and modifiable without cancellation fees.
  • Business: Business Class offers an affordable, enhanced travel experience with extras like more legroom and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Premium: Premium services include Acela First Class: an upscale travel experience, and private rooms: available on most long-distance routes.

We booked our tickets online a month before we travelled for $132 (Aug 2019). We were travelling the full route from LA to Seattle via Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area, opting for the cheapest option – a Saver seat. If you are after a bargain, it is possible to sometimes get tickets as cheap as $94 if you book in advance.

At the time of booking, for the same route and time we took, the Flexible fare was $242, the Business fare was $158 and the Premium fare was $419.

Checking into the Coast Starlight

We took the train the full way from LA to Seattle. It took 33 hours in total….it’s a long ride!

Before heading to the Angeles Union Station we went to a supermarket and stocked up on all the food and drink we could for our journey. We arrived at the station 2 hours before ‘departure’.

First, we needed to check in. Large bags have to be checked in to be stored elsewhere on the train (like on a plane) and they are very strict on weight allowance so check this in advance. Each passenger is allocated the following:

Each passenger may bring two personal items, 25 lbs. (12 kg) and 14 x 11 x 7 inches each, and two carry-on items, 50 lbs. (23 kg) and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each, onboard.

They also had quite strict rules about what is and isn’t allowed in your checked-in bag (food and drink for example are not allowed so you need to have that in your ‘hand luggage’). It took a long time to check in – we were queuing for over 40minutes. Mostly this was because lots of people before us had heavy bags and had to take things out and re-pack to meet the guidelines.

Once that was done with we were able to use the comfortable Amtrak lounge until the train was ready to board. You get an allocated seat so you don’t need to rush to the train to get a good spot.

Economy of the Amtrack Starlight

Amtrak Coast Starlight review

We debated paying for the sleeper option but decided it was too expensive. I was worried that the economy option was going to be really uncomfortable, especially for such a long journey. It turned out that the seats were very spacious both width wise and also in terms of legroom.

Much more spacious than I was expecting.

Each seat comes with a socket, table, light and footrest. I was also surprised that the seat reclined so far backwards (far more than on a plane for example). When sleeping I was able to curl up and have my legs entirely on the footrest (which comes up to be flat against the seat level).

I was amazed by how well I slept!

The Coast Starlight Amenities included luggage storage ahead and also toilets which were always clean when I used them.

Saver seat on the Amtrak Starlight Train

The viewing deck

The best feature of the Amtrack Coast Starlight is definitely the famous observation car where there is an impressive viewing deck. This room has large curved windows allowing you to really take in the scenery as it passes by. Half of the room is made up of sofas and chairs that face outwards at the view. The other half is the dining car with tables and chairs.

Throughout the train ride, you also have volunteers delivering short lectures about the places you are passing. Amazing!!

This room is available for everyone to use for free and works on a first-come-first-served basis. There was always somewhere to sit although the sofas can get full and you get a few hoggers! The only annoying thing about going to the observation car for the viewing deck is having to take all your valuables with you when you go as you don’t want to leave them unattended.

Should we have gone Business or Premium?

Definitely not!! For business, you get benefits like more legroom and non-alcoholic drinks. I could stretch my legs out all the way without knocking the seat in front (and I’m 5″9 with long legs!). The extra room wasn’t needed. As for the soft drinks – you can just pick these up easily before the journey.

Would I have slept better in a Premium sleeper car? Almost certainly. But I had a really good night’s sleep and I liked that I could people-watch in the day as passengers went up and down the aisle. I don’t think a private room would have had the same feel. Unless you’ve got a special reason for needing a sleeper car and a proper bed, like a back problem, then I really don’t think it’s worth paying 3 times the price.

So…is Amtrak Coast Starlight worth it?

Yes!!

I literally loved every minute of this train ride. I thought by the end of 33hours I would be itching to get off (I’m quite a restless person) but could have happily done another day on the train.

The views are just spectacular – passing farmland, coastline, endless trees and mountains. The comfortable seating meant I got a good night’s sleep and had some enjoyable hours watching Netflix which I had downloaded before leaving. Note that WiFi is only available for those in business or first class.

Amtrack’s viewing deck provided a change of scenery on the train and an excuse to stretch my legs. I also liked using the tables in the dining car to eat during meal times as it’s more comfortable than at your seat.

I actually can’t believe how cheap the tickets are for this journey. The Amtrak Coast Starlight is not just a form of transport but also an experience in its own right and a great way to take in the vast beauty of the West Coast of the USA.

Amtrak Coast Starlight review

If you still need convincing, check out this nice review on YouTube. You’ll see all the different seat options and have a taster of the views you’ll get to look forward to:

My top tips for travelling on the Amtrack Coast Starlight

Use these tips to make sure you make the most of your journey on this West Coast train ride:

  • As soon as you know your dates, book your tickets. You may be eligible for the cheaper advance prices.
  • The schedule for the train can be found here.
  • Download the Amtrak app to your phone. It’s a great way to make the booking and to keep the confirmation to hand without needing to print anything.
  • When checking in, ask for a seat on the LEFT SIDE OF THE TRAIN (assuming you are travelling from LA to Seattle. If you are travelling the other direction then ask for the right side). This way you will have the coastline views!
  • There is food and drink available on the train but it is expensive and not so varied. We chose to bring all our own food. The guy managing the restaurant was happy to give us hot water for free so we were able to eat noodles and other ‘add hot water’ meals. I don’t know if they would always allow this or if we just got lucky with a nice attendant! I guess you could always order a tea with the tea bag separate if they said no!
  • There are water taps available so bring a reusable bottle. Also, bring a reusable coffee mug if you want hot drinks….do your bit for the environment!
  • It can get a bit cold on the train with the aircon, especially at night. We had sleeping bags with us and got them out at night time. I think I would’ve been really cold without mine so bring plenty of layers and blankets if you can.
  • If you’ve got the space, a pillow would be a real luxury item.
  • Before boarding catching the train we spent 2 nights in Los Angeles enjoying Disneyland (we stayed at Clarion Hotel which was within walking distance from the parks and a taxi ride from the train station). If you are looking for a cheap place to stay in Seattle once you arrive I can also recommend the Green Tortoise Hostel.
  • The best time to get a sofa or chair in the viewing room was early in the morning or when the train was leaving a station (people go back to their seats to check their bags). It was most busy during meal times.

Are you planning to ride the train?

I hope my blog has convinced you to go for it! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or any tips you’d like to share.

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8 Comments

  1. Courtney Burnett

    Hi there! Your blog was very helpful! Does the train make any stops along the way? I was wondering about being able to hop off for an overnight stay and then get back on the next day.

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Yes it does! I’m not sure if the ticket allows you to get off…you may need to buy them separately 🙂

      Reply
  2. r

    Great work. Thinking of doing the same trip with an 8 year old. Thoughts appreciated and thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I think they’ll love it! Just be well prepared with snacks, a few games and maybe a film and you should create an adventure they’ll remember for years!

      Reply
  3. Christine

    We booked this trip in Business Class for this coming April.

    Do you know if seats are assigned, or do you run the risk of losing your seat if you leave it empty?

    We are a family of four, what do you think the chances we’ll be able to seat near each other?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I believe for Business you should have an assigned seat. Once everyone is sat there is no risk of your seats being taken – we regularly left our seats to go for a wander and would just leave a coat there to make sure they weren’t taken. I’d suggest being in your seats if you reach a stop as this is the only time anyone might take the seats or there’s a risk of items being stolen.

      Reply
  4. Marie B

    I would love to do the trip from Seattle to San Fran but it always shows that I have to do a part with the bus and it seems like a hassle getting off all my luggage from the train to a bus shuttle to make the last bit of the trip to San Fran…

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      We didn’t take buses at any stage – definitely possible to do it all via roads 🙂

      Reply

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