Our first Amtrak journey on the west coast started with a trip on train 14 Coast Starlight from LA to San Francisco. Having done the coastal drive over a dozen times and countless miles in airplane seats decided to cross this one off the bucket list. Decided to book a business class reservation because this was essentially a day trip. (We later rejoined this train after some days in San Francisco for the continued journey to Seattle.)
After arriving the previous day from the east coast we took a ride share to LA Union Station which in itself is an amazing place. And unlike many train stations we've been in we found LA to be clean and friendly.
If you are checking bags best to enter the station from the west entrance and go to the Amtrak ticket window. Our tickets included the Amtrak thruway bus from Oakland (Jack London station - OKJ) to San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf. In checking in the agent told us that we couldn't check bags to Fisherman's Wharf because it was an unstaffed location. While that would make perfect sense for an Amtrak train station ... the stop (along with two others in San Francisco) is served by the Amtrak bus (and the bus driver is the one who would be getting your bags for you). I changed our destination to the SFO trans bay terminal so we could check our bags and figured we could deal with the bags with the bus driver at the end of our journey.
We boarded a double-decker business class car and grabbed a seat on the upper level. In many ways this didn't seem much different than the east coast Amtrak trains (other than the double decker car). It was clean and quite spacious.
The highlight of this trip is the few hours along the pacific coast overlooking the ocean. If this is your interest you'll want to get seats on the west side of the train - which is the left side if the locomotives are in front of you.
Shortly after the train left LA we moved back a car to the domed observation car (above the cafe). Much more light in there and larger, more scenic windows. They also have a variety of seating - we took the seats that actually face the window on the west side.
One of the drawbacks of this car is there were a lot of people in there and a group of six women traveling together thought it was their local bar. Loud and obnoxious would be an understatement. Thankfully we think at some point someone said something to them and the noise abated a bit. The nice thing with the business class seating is you can move to a different car and take an unreserved seat there.
We had a great weather day and the views for much of the trip were amazing. Its so much better to be able to see things without having to be driving, stuck in traffic, etc.
There are quite a few stops along the way and a few of them you can even get off and stretch your legs. For the normal schedule though none of the stops are long enough to really get away from the train (which is actually highly unadvised).
The trip from LA to Oakland runs from ca 10:00 to 20:00 which means you need to consider lunch and dinner. There is a parlor car (which is only for people who have sleeping accomodations), a restaurant car for sit-down meals and a cafe car.
Reservations for the restaurant car are taken by one of the staff actually walking through the train - starting at the head of the train in the sleeping accomodations. By the time they got to us all reservations had been booked so they put us on a wait list and would call us by name. While they estimated we'd be able to get seated by 13:30 it actually ended up being about an hour later than that. Very frustrating. If we did this again I would give serious consideration to bringing on my own food for at least one meal.
The food was OK. While sleeping car passengers have food included business and coach class passengers do not. I found the pricing for what you get to be a bit high ...
Our arrival into Oakland's Jack London Station was a bit early. We disembarked and Amtrak staff directed us to the waiting Thurway Bus to take us to San Francisco. Our bags were transferred to the bus.
The first bus stop in San Francisco is the trans bay terminal (where Amtrak also has a staffed office). There I told the driver we had originally been booked to Fisherman's Wharf (the last stop) and he told me to stay on the bus and he'd get us our bags at our destination. Great Service! (The second bus stop is in the San Francisco financial district.)
All in all - this was a great journey and I'd give serious consideration for doing it again (maybe in the reverse direction).
Closing thought: in looking through other reviews I saw a lot of frustration with delays. Unfortunately this train (and most of the Amtrak routes) travel on railroads owned by other companies - typically freight railroads. Track work and other rail traffic can cause delays that are out of Amtrak's control. Passengers need to consider this when making reservations and other plans around their train travel.
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