Day Tripping through California

The last time I rode in the coach section of Amtrak was for seven hours from Chicago to Kansas City a year ago. I watched videos the whole way, as there wasn’t a lot of stunning scenery.

Em to LA fixedThis time I spent about 12 hours on the Coast Starlight, from Emeryville (near Oakland) to Los Angeles. I didn’t watch videos.

img_3482For the first hour or so, we passed through commercial and residential areas. I could see a number of backyard pools mere yards from my train window. It was fun to open my app and check the prices of properties on the market in the areas we passed by. In some places, you can pay almost $1 million to have Amtrak passengers watch you swim.

We next rolled into farmland, and I could see why so much of our produce comes from California. Many crops had just been planted, and workers were preparing other fields. I couldn’t identify all of the plantings, but I knew grape vines when I saw them.

We gradually moved into more hills. During our brief stop in Salinas, we had a few minutes to explore a farmer’s market and fair at the depot. I couldn’t resist a bag of kettle corn. By mid afternoon we had left the produce farms behind and entered what looked like cattle country and rolling green hills north of San Luis Obispo. I was surprised at the number of tunnels.

img_3574The highlight came in late afternoon, when we finally reached the Pacific Ocean. For about 30 minutes, it teased us with a glimpse or two now and again, just out of reach. And then the tracks took us almost to the ocean’s edge, following a bluff for miles and miles of just crashing waves and the train. I couldn’t believe that in California, where land is so expensive and cherished, we spent more than an hour traveling through an undeveloped area on the Pacific Ocean. I suppose the nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base had something to do with it. The views were stunning and went on and on.

img_3582-1In Santa Barbara houses appeared in the small space between the train tracks and the water, and by Ventura we had seen hundreds of campers pulled over by the beaches. From there, it was probably two more hours through the sprawling metropolitan area to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

I had a short Uber ride to my downtown hotel, the legendary Biltmore. It hosted the early years of the Academy Awards. My room looked out on a brick wall, but I didn’t mind. I had a night of luxury.

A few notes about the logistics of my trip on the Coast Starlight. By getting on in Emeryville, I got to choose any seat in a sparsely filled business class car, so I grabbed a window seat on what would be the ocean side (right side going south). The next stop was Oakland, and a lot of people boarded there. Several did not get the window seats they wanted. I was glad I boarded one stop earlier.

Because this was a day trip, I booked a business class seat. It wasn’t too different from a coach seat. I got two bottles of water and a $6 voucher for food. I went to the dining car for lunch and dinner, which wasn’t included in the ticket price. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have cost much more to book a roomette for the day with meals included.

The business and coach seats on Amtrak put airline seating to shame. There is a lot of room between the rows, and your seat not only reclines, but also has leg support and a footrest. There are two power outlets for each pair of seats. I didn’t mind the business class car, but next time I would check the roomette prices, too.