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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Coasting the Coast

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Experience the vibrant cities and astonishingly diverse landscape of the West Coast aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

Ready to pack your bags for a West Coast rail adventure? Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 and book your trip today!

Sure, you can cover the same distance from Seattle to Los Angeles in less than three hours by airplane. But then you’d miss the Douglas fir forests and snow-capped peaks of the Cascades, the golden hills and rich farmlands of Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley and perhaps even a pod of gray whales spouting just beyond the hidden shoreline of California’s Central Coast.   

Amtrak’s 10-day “West Coast Spectacular” vacation package, which features land-based interludes in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles linked by a classic train experience through matchless scenery, evokes a more gracious age of travel. The basic package price includes eight nights of hotel accommodations, a night on board the train in Coach accommodations, one dinner and complimentary passes to selected area attractions. 

Scenic Seattle

Starting off in Seattle, there are two full days for exploration, including a complimentary ride up the iconic Space Needle for panoramic views of the Emerald City and sparkling Puget Sound with its necklace of tiny forested islands. There’s ample time to wander among the fantastic free-form glass sculptures at Chihuly Garden and Glass, stroll along the waterfront or watch the fishmongers toss their fish in the air at Pike Place Market. 

On the morning of the third day it’s time to board the legendary Coast Starlight for the first leg of the journey to Los Angeles, with a night spent on board before a morning arrival in San Francisco. Heading south through Oregon’s coastal region, the Superliner is the ideal vehicle for enjoying the waterfalls and magnificent mountain vistas of the Cascade Range, especially from the upper level of the Sightseer Lounge Car with its wraparound windows and plush swiveling armchairs. In contrast to the confining nature of air travel, there’s plenty of room to move around the train, perhaps striking up conversations with fellow passengers and sharing stories of previous rail experiences. 

Upscale Dining

Enjoying a leisurely dinner with an ever-changing view is among the pleasures of the dining car where attentive service is combined with a menu of dishes prepared on board by expert chefs using fresh ingredients. Quelling any notions that train food is bland or boring, choices include everything from grilled-to-order USDA Choice Black Angus steaks with béarnaise sauce to thyme-roasted chicken and butternut squash risotto, all available with premium wines. There are vegan, vegetarian and child-friendly selections as well. 

When it’s time to settle in for the night, being lulled to sleep by the gentle rolling and chugging of the train, there are several types of accommodations to choose from. Coach passengers enjoy large comfortable seats with ample legroom and footrests, along with the option of Just-for-you Express Meal Service in which freshly prepared lunch or dinner selections are delivered right to the seat. Passengers can also upgrade to Roomette and Bedroom accommodations, enjoying such conveniences as electric outlets, reading lights, fold-down tables, private bathroom in bedroom cabins and daytime seating that converts into comfortable beds at night. 

Bayside Beauty

Arriving in San Francisco the next morning, there are three days ahead to fully enjoy the City by the Bay. With a Pier 39 Pass included with the package, you can take a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour around the city, take pictures of the famous “Painted Ladies” Victorian houses, Golden Gate Bridge and other landmarks as well as explore intriguing neighborhoods like Chinatown and North Beach. Other inclusions are a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, discounts at Pier 39 shops and restaurants and admission to the Aquarium of the Bay. There is also complimentary admission to the renowned California Academy of Sciences with its real-life rainforest, planetarium and interactive exhibits on coastal ecosystems.  

Then it’s time to embark on what for many is the highlight of the journey, the chance to traverse the inland valleys and seascapes of California’s Central Coast in a way not possible by car. Heading south, the urban Bay Area soon gives way to oak-studded hills, vineyards and a patchwork of fields thick with lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts and other produce. Soon after thrilling to the winding curves and vantage point of the Stenner Creek Trestle near Paso Robles, the sparkling Pacific comes into view. The train hugs the shoreline for the next several hours, at times affording a look at areas inaccessible to highway traffic such as Vandenberg Air Force Base, its empty rocket pads a reminder of the days when NASA planned to conduct space shuttle launches from the site. Then it’s time to sit back with a beverage as the setting sun casts a golden glow over the historic piers and surfing beaches of Santa Barbara and Ventura, the marine-rich Channel Islands looming on the horizon. 

Arriving in Los Angeles in the evening, two more days of enjoyment await, including a complimentary sightseeing tour of the city and classic Hollywood sites. At journey’s end, the sense of having experienced the West Coast in all of its cultural and geographic splendor makes a lasting souvenir.  
 

Ready to pack your bags for a West Coast rail adventure? Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 and book your trip today!

(Traveler Spring 2018)
 

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