Not only is Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route one of the most scenic in the United States, it also stops in many beautiful and interesting places along the West Coast. There are beaches, wineries, landmark attractions and national parks to explore if you get off the train for a night or longer.
To get ideas for your next trip, here are 10 cities on the Coast Starlight route that are great to visit. Destinations were selected based on the train schedule, transportation options and things to do. Note that you will have to book each leg of your trip separately if you decide to get off and back on the train.
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The Coast Starlight starts and ends in Seattle near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, so you can easily explore the city before or after a train trip. As a bonus, a rental car isn’t needed to see the sights. Transportation options include ferries, rideshare services, Sound Transit light rail and commuter trains, and even tours to Mount Rainier National Park.
The Space Needle is the city’s icon, but there are many other attractions to check out. The Great Wheel on Pier 57 (pictured above), Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibit, The Museum of Flight, West Seattle ferry (amazing skyline views), Pike Place’s Market and local breweries are some of the top things to experience. Cheese lovers should also make a stop at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop.
A pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly city full of parks and gardens, Portland is a great place to enjoy nature. Mt. Hood (home to six ski areas) and the Columbia River Gorge are also nearby, which are great day trip options. In the city you’ll find many craft beers and interesting festivals to plan a trip around. Oregon’s capital, Salem, is about a 50-minute drive away from Portland as another place to consider visiting during your stay.
The Portland Amtrak Station is in walking distance of hotels and restaurants, so you can easily stay near the station if desired. Local transportation options include light rail, Uber, Lyft and Biketown bikes.
A college town near wineries and outdoor recreation, Eugene is another a great stop on the Coast Starlight route. You can go to a game at the University of Oregon, visit the Cascades Raptor Center, walk or bike along the Willamette River path, or take a day trip to the Oregon coast. There are also many great hikes and farm-to-table restaurants to check out.
Lyft and Uber are options for getting around, otherwise you can rent a car at Enterprise or walk around the city. The Amtrak station is in a very walkable area near a few hotels, restaurants, Skinner Butte Park and the historic Eugene Saturday Market.
Rail fans should consider getting off the train in Sacramento to explore the California State Railroad Museum. In addition to exhibits, the museum also has excursion train rides. Other top places to visit include the California State Fair (in July), Old Sacramento Waterfront District and the many farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants. You’ll eat well here, and there are many local beers to try.
The train station is in a walkable area near many hotels and attractions, so a rental car isn’t needed. Lyft and Uber are options for getting around after you arrive. For more train adventures, you can transfer to the Capitol Corridor, California Zephyr and San Joaquins Amtrak routes at the station.
Next to San Francisco Bay, Oakland has a ferry to San Francisco if you want to use this stop to explore both cities. In Oakland, some of the top attractions include the Oakland Museum of California, Redwood Regional Park, Urban Wine Trail and Oakland Zoo. Plus, Jack London Square (pictured above) is next to the Amtrak station and has restaurants, bars and hotels near the waterfront.
If you decide to go to San Francisco, the ferry will drop you off next to the Ferry Building in the heart of downtown. The Embarcadero BART Station is a transit option once you arrive, and the California cable car is also in walking distance. Top attractions include Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and the Twin Peaks Lookout.
Exit the train in Salinas to visit the WeatherTech Raceway, National Steinbeck Center and the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad Museum. Another great reason to stop here is to reach the coastal towns of Monterey (pictured above) and Carmel-by-the-Sea (pictured top of article). Both are extremely charming getaways and drive time is only 30 minutes from Salinas. Lyft and Uber are options, or you can rent a car at Enterprise (pick-up service is available).
There are a few hotels and campgrounds in and around Salinas, though we recommend staying in Monterey or Carmel for the scenery, walkability and access to beaches and unique restaurants. Tip: plan your visit between November and February to see the butterflies at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary near Monterey.
Paso Robles is a must-visit stop if you love wine. Vineyards and wineries surround the small city, and you can walk to several hotels and wine tasting rooms from the Amtrak station. Wine tours are also available so you can easily visit local wineries without renting a car.
Outside of wine, there are many great restaurants and mineral hot springs to check out. Cayucos and Morro Bay, two quaint coastal towns, are also a 40-minute drive away if you want a change of scenery. Rental cars are available at Enterprise.
Beautiful Santa Barbara is known for Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, beaches, restaurants and State Street shopping. Plus, there are many attractions to check out, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, Mission Santa Barbara and Cabrillo Bike Path. Consider visiting in July or August if you want to enjoy the beaches and go to the Old Spanish Days festival. For whale watching, plan to visit Santa Barbara between November and April.
The area around the Amtrak station is very walkable so you can can easily reach restaurants, hotels and even Stearns Wharf on foot. If you want to rent a car, Enterprise is nearby. Lyft and Uber are also options.
If you want to enjoy the California coast away from the crowds, consider stopping in Oxnard. The city has Victorian architecture, car museums, beautiful beaches, whale watching excursions and water activities at Channel Islands Harbor. For a unique day trip, take a boat ride to Channel Islands National Park, often called the Galapagos of North America.
If you want to rent a car, Enterprise is near the Oxnard Amtrak Station (pick-up service is available). Lyft and Uber are also options for getting around. A vacation rental or hotel near the ocean is recommended.
The Coast Starlight starts and ends in Los Angeles at the beautiful L.A. Union Station near Chinatown. Hertz and Budget rental cars are available inside the station and other transportation options include bus service to LAX Airport and Dodger Stadium, Metro subway and Metrolink commuter trains.
Just like there are many transportation options, there are a variety of hotels and vacation rentals to choose from. Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are popular areas for lodging. There are also endless attractions to check out including the Getty Center, Griffith Observatory (pictured above), Universal Studios Hollywood and the Hollywood Sign. City tours are also a great way to see the city (and potentially a celebrity!).
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- Most scenic Amtrak routes on the West Coast
For additional trip ideas, here are the runner-up stops on the Coast Starlight route:
- San Jose (big city food and culture)
- San Luis Obispo (near wineries and beaches)
- Simi Valley (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
- Redding (Mount Shasta)
- Klamath Falls (Crater Lake)
- Salem (Oregon capital)
- Olympia (Washington capital)
- Tacoma (Mount Rainier)
Top photo credit: Allie Caulfield