We’ve previously spotlighted the California Zephyr trip to Chicago from Emeryville’s unsung Amtrak station. The scenic, 2-1/2 day trip takes you through seven states traveling a distance of 2,438 miles.
If you’re looking for a less “ambitious” trip to test your tolerance for rail travel, the daily, overnight Coast Startlight is a shorter alternative with less of a commitment.
It’s a scenic option for those not in a hurry or looking to avoid the anxiety of TSA lines, long boarding queues and cramped airline seats.
History & Ridership of Coast Starlight
The Coast Starlight has been running since Amtrak was founded in 1971. Its name is a combination of two prior Southern Pacific lines, the Coast Daylight and The Starlight.
“Coast” is a bit of a misnomer for the northern leg of the trip as none of it straddles the coast (although it does pass along several bays and other bodies of water).
Prior to the pandemic, the service was consistently averaging over 400,000 riders annually. Last year, ridership was less than half this.
Booking Your Trip
There are a variety of options for seating depending on your budget and comfort level. As a small family of three, we opted for the bedroom that comes with two twin-sized bunk beds and a private bathroom/shower combo (there are also roomette and “family” rooms that have four beds but lack a private bathroom).
Rooms also include all scheduled meals.
The cost of our ticket came to about $1,500 although we traveled on a Friday and booked only two weeks prior. If you’re looking to save money, travel on a weekday and book further in advance. Coach class can run as little as $119 per rider.
There are opportunities to customize your trip along the way. We opted to de-board at the Portland station overnight before completing the trip to Seattle the following day.
Getting There & Parking
If you’re in Emeryville, the station is rather centrally located and walking or getting a ride is reasonable for most. The station also offers inexpensive, secure BikeLink lockers (you’ll need to register in advance to get a special BikeLink card).
If you’re driving, the adjacent Transit Center offers overnight parking for the validated rate of $11.50 per night. Have your ticket stamped at the kiosk inside the station before you depart. There are spots designated for EV but there are currently no plug-ins available (I might also recommend parking in a spot where pigeon excrement isn’t prevalent 😉 ).
You can pay for your parking via credit card at the turnstile as you exit upon your return.
Departure: Nora Davis Transit Center
You’ll depart from Emeryville from the recently renamed Nora Davis Transit Center. Davis sat on council from 1987 to 2016 and was an instrumental force in the city’s “Boomtown” era transformation. She passed away in 2020 at the age of 92.
The station was built in 1995 as a replacement for the Earthquake damaged 16th Street Station in West Oakland. At the time, it was the first new train station to be built in 50 years.
The station is clean and safe and has amenities including a small cafe (they close at 7 p.m.), a book lending library, bathrooms and ample seating.
The staff is friendly and helpful and will keep you alerted to the status of your departure via intercom.
— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) January 14, 2023
EMY > KFS
The route begins in Los Angeles and connects at Emeryville at 9:41 p.m. if they are running on time.
The evening departure will limit the sightseeing opportunities through Northern California. I made a point of staying up to see the C&H sugar factory neon in Crockett along the Carquinez Straight from the left side of the train before turning in.
The train gently rocks and sways the entire trip but there are times when the movement is more jarring and you can hear the muffled horn. If you’re a light sleeper, you may want to consider using your favorite sleep remedy.
KFS > PDX/VAN
You’ll likely awaken somewhere along the California-Oregon border. There will be freshly brewed coffee waiting for you as you awaken.
The train will pause at the Klamath Falls Station at 7:45 a.m. if it remains on schedule. In warmer months, Klamath Falls is a popular staging area for visiting Crater Lake and a bounty of other outdoor recreational activities including rafting, fishing hiking and more.
We then enjoyed our breakfast in one of their dining cars. There were ample options including omelets, french toast and a pretty solid breakfast quesadilla. There’s also a snack car that sells pre-made foods and beverages (including alcoholic beverages).
After breakfast, we took to the observation car with its wrap-around windows, natural lighting and window-facing seating.
Sites along Southern Oregon are filled with rural and rustic landscapes, snow-covered peaks and lush forests.
We were given a 1 p.m. lunch reservation and enjoyed our second and final meal of the trip (a Monte Cristo for me) before repacking our belongings.
We arrived at the Portland Union station (PDX) at about 3:15 p.m. (actually earlier than scheduled).
VAN > SEA
We stayed overnight in nearby Vancouver, Washington which is evolving into a destination in its own right. Vancouver is located across from the Columbia River just north of the Oregon border.
The city recently completed an impressive, new mixed-use waterfront filled with new bars, restaurants, retail, housing, a hotel, open space and new pier. The site was originally home to a paper mill that shuttered in 2005.
Vancouver also has its own small but functional train station located about a 15-20 minute walk northwest of the waterfront area.
Our connecting line ran about two hours late. If you provide your mobile number when you purchase your tickets, you should be alerted via text of any changes in your departure time.
We arrived at Seattle’s King Street Station at about 11 p.m. The station is located in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood south of downtown and near amenities including the stadiums where the Seattle Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders all play.
If you opt to take the return trip home, the Southbound CS line departs at 9:50 a.m. and arrives back in Emeryville at 8:29 a.m.
Bookings, status and all stations serviced are listed on the Amtrak website. Amtrak also sells a package that includes roundtrip travel from L.A., hotel stay and a Seattle “CityPASS” that provides access to common tourist destinations like the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden.
Feature Image: Ingrid V Taylar / Flickr