When you’ve reached financial independence, time is on your side. People with traditional jobs have limited vacation time, so they need to rush through their trips. Financially independent people can “slow travel” and soak up the experience to their heart’s content.
Here is my favorite way to see the West Coast in style. Slow traveling on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Why Traveling By Train Is Best
When you travel, your primary options are to drive, fly, or take a train. If you’re a true masochist, long-distance bus rides are also an option.
Who wants to drive?
As a Dad, one of the worst parts about traveling for me is having to drive. Everyone else is playing on their phones and tablets, taking naps whenever they feel like it, and otherwise enjoying the heck out of themselves. Me? I have to stay focused on the road, watch out for cops, and stay awake for hours on end, no matter how boring the scenery. Thank God for Red Bull and podcasts!
Ready for a TSA pat-down?
Flying is also an option when you travel, but it can be expensive when you’re traveling as a family. $400 for a plane ticket doesn’t sound too bad, except when you’re buying tickets for a family of four. Now you’re talking $1,600 for a vacation before you’ve even made it there.
Then mix in the “fun” that is the TSA security process. Take off your shoes. Remove your laptop and tablet. Put all liquids in the bin. Oops, you have the 3.4-ounce size. You’re only allowed three ounces. Sorry, put it in the trash.
I love to fly, but it can be a tremendous hassle sometimes.
Train travel is the best way to slow travel
When you travel by train, however, the experience is completely different.
You can get up and walk around whenever you feel like it. There is either a dining car for sit down meals or food you can take back to your seat. Wifi is often available (albeit a bit slow) so you can stream movies or surf the web. Stopping for bathroom breaks is a thing of the past. And, if your family is like mine, having to make a second bathroom break 10 minutes later because your little one “didn’t have to go” just minutes prior!
All of those frustrations of driving are eliminated because the train conductor is responsible for getting you from Point A to Point B.
Amtrak Coast Starlight: A Slow Travel Dream Experience
The Amtrak Coast Starlight is my favorite train route. It starts in Los Angeles, California, and winds its way up the California coast and cruises through Portland, Oregon, before ending at the final stop of Seattle, Washington. You can also start in Seattle and follow the trail in reverse.
If you ride the train continuously from start to finish, the journey will take you 35 hours. This route departs daily, so it can fit your schedule with ease.
Along the way, you’ll travel along stretches of the Pacific coast, venture past the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, and experience lush valleys and forests. It is one of the most highly recommended routes that Amtrak offers.
What’s The Best Way To Experience The Coast Starlight?
Depending on your timing, you can hop aboard and cruise from Los Angeles in one shot or you can “slow travel” and hop off at interesting destinations. There are 28 stops along the route (including LA and Seattle), so there are plenty of cities to explore along the way.
Here are some of my favorite stops.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is known as the City of Angels. There is so much to do and see here, ranging from seeing the stars’ handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, watching the circus acts on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, going shopping on Rodeo Drive, or visiting one of the many regional theme parks.
You can easily spend a day riding roller coasters, watching shows, and meeting the characters at each of them–Disneyland, California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, and Magic Mountain.
For sports fans, there’s an opportunity to catch a game no matter what time of year it is. NBA’s Lakers and Clippers. Baseball with the Dodgers or Angels. The Ducks and Kings in hockey. And now the Chargers and Rams for football.
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is in the heart of Southern California’s wine country. Okay, maybe it’s more mid-California than Southern California, but it is a short drive from LA, so we’re claiming it as our own.
My wife and I love to visit Santa Barbara and all of the nearby towns to sample the wines. A short walk from the Amtrak station you’ll find many tasting rooms of the local wineries, so you won’t have to venture far to enjoy the fermented grapes. To soak up the wine, on the way back to the train, stop by Patxi’s Pizza for some delicious deep dish pizza.
If you head in the other direction, you’ll be at the beach and enjoying the fresh ocean breeze. For the best of both worlds, there’s actually a wine tasting room on the pier. The Deep Sea Tasting Room has outdoor seating so you can watch the waves crash on the shore while sipping your favorite varietal.
San Jose, California
During football or hockey season, why not stop and catch a game? The stadiums for the San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks are both relatively new and are easy to get to with the vast network of affordable public transit you’ll find in the Bay Area.
If sports isn’t your thing, consider a stop at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. It is less than two miles from the Amtrak station. This 5 1/2 acre garden was established in 1927 and features more than 3500 plantings of 189 varieties of roses.
Oakland/San Francisco, California
When you make a stop in Oakland, you can explore this rising city that features the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, or hop on the BART train to explore San Francisco.
In San Francisco, you can ride the famous cable cars up Powell Street, walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoy clam chowder at Boudin’s Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf, sample chocolates at Ghirardelli, or take a tour of Alcatraz Island.
In Sacramento, you can visit the California state capital to see the state legislature in action. A stop at the California State Railroad Museum would be quite “meta” since you’re on an Amtrak journey. While visiting the Old Sacramento district, take a break and stop in the River City Saloon for a drink or bite to eat. It’s a themed restaurant that takes you back the Gold Rush days. The building was one of the first houses of ill repute in 1861 Sacramento.
If you’re a basketball fan like I am, you can see more hoops’ action since Sacramento is also home to the NBA’s Kings.
Klamath Falls, Oregon
As you enter Oregon, don’t miss Klamath Falls. It is known as Oregon’s “city of sunshine” and offers a wide array of hiking opportunities. While in Klamath, visit nature on one of the many hikes and trails, such as the Link River Trail and Moore Park. While in town, you should also visit Badger Run Wildlife Rehab to support this noble cause and see all of the animals getting nursed back to health.
Portland, Oregon is one of the major hubs of craft brews. If you’re thirsty, there is an abundance of brewery options to sample. The city is very walkable and their public transit system (aka MAX) is very user-friendly.
The food is pretty amazing too! Put your diet on pause and check out VooDoo Donuts. They’re so good. When we visit Portland, we always grab at least a dozen to sample.
Consider partial-day or day trips outside of Portland as well. You can visit Mt Hood, which is only 20 miles outside the city, or take in the scenery at Multnomah Falls. Inside the city limits, you can explore Forest Park, with its more than 80 miles of trails across 5200 acres.
Take in the beauty of Portland’s parks and gardens as well. The Portland Japanese Garden is a sight to behold. It is said to be one of the most authentic Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. And the International Rose Test Garden has over 10,000 rose bushes with more than 650 varieties represented.
Seattle is the end of the journey, but the fun doesn’t stop here. Seattle is a vibrant town with so much to offer. The original Starbucks is located just steps away from Pike Place Market. At Pike Place Market, enjoy some locally sourced fresh fish and watch the fisherman put on a show as they throw huge fish right before your eyes. While you’re at Pike Place Market, don’t miss the Gum Wall–just don’t touch anything.
One of my favorite things to do in Seattle is taking the Underground Tour. It’s a historic tour that tells the tale of the original Seattle and how the current city is built atop the old one.
Ready To Start Your Journey?
My family and I rode the Coast Starlight a couple of years ago as part of a longer journey to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It was such a memorable experience, and we highly recommend it. We didn’t stop and get off the train along the way, but I can imagine how awesome of a trip that would have been if we had the time.
Keep in mind that Amtrak does not allow on & off privileges. If you buy a ticket from LA to Seattle and get off in between, you’ll need to buy another ticket to continue your journey. The best way to plan the trip is to look at the stops and determine where you’d like to get off and explore, then buy tickets from one destination to the next.
Before you book, sign up for Amtrak’s newsletter to receive promo codes for discounted tickets. When I wrote this, there was a promotion to save up to 30% off your train tickets.
Have a great trip. In the comment section below, let us know your favorite Amtrak routes. And share which stops along the way have the best food and entertainment options that readers shouldn’t miss.
If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI’s free travel rewards course.