23 Hr San Francisco to Seattle Train Journey - Pros vs Cons | Amtrak Coast Starlight
Updated: Jun 16
I recently hopped aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight for a 23-hour ride up the west coast of the USA from San Francisco to Seattle. It was my first time using Amtrak and my first long-distance rail journey. After hearing mixed reviews about Amtrak, I was keen to rate the experience for myself. In this blog post, I weigh up the pros and cons of the 23-hour Amtrak train journey from San Francisco to Seattle.
The Amtrak Coast Starlight runs a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle servicing a number of towns in California, Oregon and Washington State along the way. The entire journey takes up to 35 hours, but I boarded at Emeryville (near San Francisco) so the ride to Seattle was 23 hours.
Emeryville is the closest Amtrak station to San Francisco. Since there's no station in the city, Amtrak provides a thruway bus service direct from downtown/Fisherman's Wharf to Emeryville included in the price of the ticket.
Overall, I really enjoyed my Amtrak experience and I was pleasantly surprised - I'd kept my expectations low due to what I'd heard/read about Amtrak. However, I'm one of those people who really enjoy train rides and the 23hours went quite fast for me. The bus left San Francisco at 8 pm and the train arrived the next evening in Seattle at 7:40 pm.
Pros of Taking Amtrak
It can be cheaper than flying
I booked well in advance to secure a good deal and my economy class/coach ticket only cost me $120AUD. At the time of booking, this was cheaper than an airfare - but you have to book early enough to secure the best deals.
You get to take in the scenery along the way
During train rides, I really enjoy just staring out the window and watching the world go by. The Coast Starlight is renowned for having some of the most spectacular scenery of all Amtrak routes. We passed beside the snow-capped Cascade Mountains and along stretches of the Pacific Ocean. I spent most of the daytime portion of the trip in the observation car which has comfy seats and big windows for taking in the scenery.
The facilities are surprisingly good
I've been on some interesting overnight train rides in Thailand, India and China and it's safe to say, I hadn't expected much from the facilities on the train. To my surprise, the toilets we really clean, the seats were comfy and the staff were really friendly. I was actually able to get some sleep as my seat reclined significantly and had a leg rest that meant I was able to curl up into a ball.
The train is more comfortable than a bus for long distance
I would way prefer being on a train than on a bus for a long distance journey like this one. The 22-hour Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Seattle is normally the same price, if not more expensive, than an Amtrak coach ticket. I think that it's way better value and way more comfortable to take the train.
Cons of Taking Amtrak
Often significant delays
While my train arrived right on time into King Street Station in Seattle, Amtrak has a reputation for significant delays. But, if you're like me and not in a rush to get to your destination, Amtrak is a perfectly good option.
Food options are poor
The food available on board in the dining car and snack bar wasn't the greatest and was quite overpriced. Breakfast options cost $10-15, lunch was around $15 and dinner entrees cost between $20-$40. I brought along my own snacks - fruit, nut bars, bagel and popcorn - which lasted me the journey.
There's no Wifi on board
One of the downsides to taking the train is that there is no wifi on board. Whilst it's probably a good opportunity to have a social media detox, make sure you download Netflix/Podcasts before you board the train.
Sleeper cabins are expensive
If you're after a more comfortable journey, you're going to have to pay for it. An upgrade to a sleeper cabin is two to three times the price of a coach seat. This makes the trip a whole lot more expensive and really makes more sense to take a flight.
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