This is my honest Amtrack Coast Starlight Review after taking the train Northbound. It was a surprisingly fun jounrey! Although I wish I’d known a few simple hacks to make the most of my time on the Amtrack Coast, read on to find out more.

The Coast Starlight is an Amtrack passenger train running the length of the West Coast of the US. From Los Angeles to Seattle, with many stops in between.

I took this train with my husband at the end of our epic Kicking the States adventure. We’d kick-scooted the entire length of the USA. We needed to get back to Vanvouver where we started for our return flight.

Our legs were tired, and we wanted to enjoy the views in a more relaxed way. We were also conscious that we wanted to find an eco alternative to flying. The Starlight seemed like the perfect solution! So we bought a ticket for its full length.

We actually began in San DIego where we bordered a train to Los Angeles. And at the end of the Starlight journey, we jumped on a ferry to take us to Victoria for a few days sightseeing before taking a final ferry back to Vancouver.

It was just meant to be a practical transport option. But the Amtrak Coast Starlight completely surpassed all my expectations and turned into one of the highlights of our trip!!

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 on most long-distance routes.

We booked our tickets online a month before we travelled for $162.

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 $100 if you book several months in advance (usually at least 3 months).

There is an option to upgrade your seats.

Business Class for as little as $120.

And a Private Room (think tiny hotel room on a train!) starting at $660.

Checking into the Coast Starlight

The full train from LA to Seattle takes 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 40 minutes. This was mostly because many 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 33 hours I would be itching to get off (I’m quite a restless person), but I 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 in 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!
  • Food and drink are 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 separately 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 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 guide has convinced you to book a ride on the Starlight! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or tips you’d like to share.

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Good luck with your Amtrack adventure!

18 thoughts on “Amtrak Coast Starlight Review // + Top Tips on the Best Seats [2024]

  1. 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.

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

    2. I love Coast Starlight … I have a bedroom … all meals are included … I go from Tacoma WA . to Salinas California … about a 26 hour trip … Some times a bit longer because of freight trains … But not a big deal … Every year l ride Coaststarlight … relaxing and most of all a beautiful trip and the porters and Conductors are so kind and very helpful! … I will keep on taking Coaststarlight every year to California!

    1. 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!

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. Your blog was very informative. We are coming off a cruise from the San Pedro cruise port and want to go right to the Amtrak Union Station.
    Do you know if Amtrak offers complimentary transportation? I saw a review from 2013 that said they did, but that was so long ago. I appreciate any of your help

  5. I don’t know if this is a dumb question but I’ve been wanting to take a train ride and I’m dying to visit Washington! If you leave from LA does the train bring you back to LA? I’m a little confused with the booking and I don’t want to get stuck in Seattle! Thank you for all the information!

    1. Don’t know if you’re still looking for an answer, but you need to book a return trip if you want to go back to LA. Be it the train again or a flight ticket.

  6. Update on the Amtrak Train, they now only allow one personal item and two carry on but beyond that, thanks for the review, really helps with planning!

  7. What do you miss while sleeping? Seems if only 35 hours you don’t want to miss anything!

  8. Thank you for the helpful blog. We are planning to take the coast starlight from LA to Seattle by coach class. Looks like the seats are assigned to you after you make your online reservation or the conductor assigns the seats when we get to the station? Since we will be starting at LA, what is the possibility that we get good seats and towards the left side? And is there lot of room on the observation deck and is it open throughout the journey? Thank you in advance!

    1. You can ask for a specific seat by calling ahead or when you check in (assuming it’s not already fully booked).
      The observation deck is not reserved so people come and go throughout the journey. We never had an issue finding a seat there whenever we went for a change of scenery.
      Enjoy the journey!!

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