Head up to San Francisco by train


Hi there!

Days have passed so quickly! It is already March! In these few weeks, the air temperature is getting higher day by day in here Los Angeles. Also, the days are getting longer than before. The spring season is almost here! 

Well, I would like to introduce a unique way to get to San Francisco from Los Angeles.

Mostly, tourists get on the plane or rent a car when they head north to San Francisco. We take six hours in the car to get to San Francisco by taking turns driving.  

Two years ago, when we planned a trip to San Francisco to see my husband’s relatives, my husband suggested an unusual travel method for California: Get there by train. That is because I said many times that I want to go on a trip on a train with a dining car. I had good memories of enjoying meals on the dining cars many times with my family when I was a child in Japan. I was super excited to hear that it could be done in California too!


The entrance of Union Station.


The route goes north to San Francisco, as shown on the map below.  The train departs from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Then it goes all way up along the coastline—the final destination is Seattle. We get off the train at Oakland Station. From Union Station to Oakland takes about 11hours.

※It takes 35 hours to get to the Seattle station.



  Let get on the train

The train departs from Union Station, which is downtown, Los Angeles. The station is pretty old. It opened in 1939, over 80 years ago! You can see outstanding art deco architecture everywhere inside the building. It is worth it just to see the beautiful station interior. There is a tour called “Union Station Art & Architecture.” Actually, months after we made the train trip, we joined the tour, and we had so much fun. 

We now have a local metro train that goes to Union Station from Santa Monica and other West Side areas.  So getting to the station is easier than before.

※ Specific information about the “Union Station Art & Architecture Tour.” 




An atmosphere that makes you feel the history.


The train is called “Coast Starlight,” which the AMTRAK company operates. This train also has a sightseeing car and a dining car. First, we checked in at the front desk and then we received tickets. Now, all that was left was to get on the train. Many passengers are waiting on the platform. I saw some passengers who brought their bikes as well. (If you bring your bike, you can stow it as large luggage.)

※The train fare is about 60.00 per person. Please take a look at the specific information from the AMTRAK website, which I posted below.


These are our tickets.


I saw some passengers keep their bikes on the storage car like this.


Our train departed at 10:10 am from Union station on time. This train moves extremely slowly. That is why it takes 11 hours to get to San Francisco, as compared to six hours in a car and one hour by plane. So I don’t suggest this method of travel if you don’t have enough time.  


The steps to the platform on which our train will depart. A staff checks our tickets.


The train is a double-deck. Our seats were on the top deck. However, after the train departed, we moved to a sightseeing dome car.  So we were just seated in these reserved seats for less than an hour, lol.

The first carriage.


This video shows the train comes to the platform.


This atmosphere is similar to the Japanese bullet trains. There are sleeping cars as well.


Windows surround the sightseeing dome car, so it is light, and we can see the incredible views from the seats. When we went there, almost all the seats were occupied. So I highly recommend you to grab seats as soon as possible.

This is the sightseer car. We can see and enjoy a spectacular view from these big windows. 

This Starlight train goes all the way up along the coastline. (Please see the map which I posted above.) If you can sit on the left side, you can enjoy the coastal view. I realized how California state has excellent scenery everywhere. Ocean, mountains, farms, vineyards and pumping oil wells, and so on. We were never bored with these fantastic views. And, I think we have this great experience only when we can travel by train.


The train runs along mountains then runs along the coastline for a while. We saw some surf points where many surfers were surfing.


There are many vineyards. I realized again that California state is known for producing wines.


Huge sized farms and sometimes we can see horses like this.


Freeway US101. We can see these views only from the train.



As everyone knows, California state is an area that still has to pump oil wells. We can see many pumping machines.


Volunteers make an explanation of the history in the train for each area. It was fascinating to hear from them to learn the history.



 Meals on the dining car 

The essential purpose of this train trip was to have lunch and dinner in the dining car. Before lunchtime and dinner time, a staff member came and asked each passenger if they wanted to make a reservation. Once you can make the reservation, the team gives a confirmation ticket. Then you go to the dining car at the specified time of the reservation.

The staff asks each guest to make a reservation or not.


This is the confirmation ticket for our lunch.


The dining car has ten tables. Four people can sit at each table. We shared the table with a Chinese woman and her daughter. The daughter works for an IT company in San Francisco. She invited her mother from China, and she is going to show her around California.

These are views of the dining car.



This is the menu for the dining car.


The menu is simple: Typical American food such as hamburgers and Mexican. I ordered Steamed Mussels with white wine. My husband ordered a cheeseburger. And, we ordered cheesecake and chocolate cake for our dessert. The taste was nothing to write home about, but we enjoyed lunch. I was so happy that my dream came true!

Luckily, while we were having lunch in the dining car, the cloudy weather changed to a sunny sky! Also, the train started running along the coastline! So we could enjoy our meal watching the great view!


From the top, Steamed Mussels, Cheeseburger and Cheesecake, and Chocolate cake for dessert.


The coast view from the dining car.


The staff will ask for the dinner reservation in the same manner as lunch.

This is the confirmation ticket for our dinner.


 We shared our table with a couple, Hilly and Byron, who is the Japanese 2nd generation. They are engaged, and she left her job, left her apartment in Los Angeles to live her new life with him in Seattle. We were impressed by their sweet love story. We talked a lot and enjoyed the dinner as well.

We shared a lovely couple at the dining car.


Spend some great time with someone and with an enjoyable conversation. There is nothing to replace it. Precisely this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The best part of travel by train, I think. 

We saw a great sunset view and full moon from the window.


Finally, the train arrived at Oakland station at 9:30 pm.

The train at Oakland Station.


More than 11 hours for one way trip is a bit long.  But if you plan to head up to San Francisco from LA, I highly recommend using the train. If you fly, it will be more comfortable and faster than the train.  But you can make great memories and have experiences on the train!


The specific information about AMTRAK




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