John Jannuzzi

Travel the West Coast in One Fell Swoop With the Coast Starlight

John Jannuzzi
Travel the West Coast in One Fell Swoop With the Coast Starlight

By Alanna Bennett

In the grand scheme of life and travel, I have not been very many places. I didn't leave the west coast until my senior year of high school, when a college visit took me to Ohio. I didn't get a passport until I was 25. I've still never left the country. That's next on my list, since the furthest I've been yet is a U.S. territory. I crave the experience, knowledge, and feast to the eyes that travel can provide. But as is the case for so many people, finances and budget have meant I've had to make due with what's been in my immediate vicinity. Luckily for me, that corny old adage about beauty being all around us really is the goddamn truth. A fact well observed from the Coast Starlight train, which is where my longtime broke-ness landed me.

Spanning 1,377 miles between Los Angeles and Seattle, the Amtrak Coast Starlight line runs through some of the most breathtaking views in the states. I found it by sheer convenience — throughout my life I've periodically needed to travel between Portland and Los Angeles in a way that qualified as both cheap and easy. So I bought my ticket, packed my bags, and settled into a reserved coach seat for the 30-hour trip.

Coach on a train is not the most luxe way to travel, and rest assured there are other options for those who want to spring for a room of their own. But let me tell you: I don't regret a thing about any of my trips on the Coach Starlight. They were perfect for the broke twenty-something that I was, looking for an excuse to unplug and get some writing and reading done. I read all of Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah on that train. I thought about what I wanted from my future, and gazing through the train's giant picture window, I thought about where I already was. The trip was the perfect set-up for me — I could burrow into my own personal little world when I wanted to, but I could also wander, eat, chat with strangers when I felt like it, and see the sheer glory of the world right outside my window.

Let me run through, very quickly, some of the things you will see out the big ol' windows of this train. If you start your journey in Los Angeles, it's not long into the trip that your train will skirt the ocean. If you look to your left at that point you are likely to see a dolphin — or maybe dolphins, plural, soaring in their little arcs through the air as they break above the water. The desert on your right will meet mountains and grow greener as the hours pass and you make northward progress. There will be redwoods. There will be little inlets of lakes and rivers where you might just see a heron, an eagle, a beaver, a bear. They're off their guard, because you're just in this mysterious tin can brushing past their busy lives. At some times being on this train is practically like being the cinematographer in a Planet Earth special. At other times it's pure Americana.

You'll see cityscapes — of Oakland, Portland, Seattle — and you'll see the lush rolling hills and vibrant, virile land that attracted so many people to this part of the states in the first place. You'll see cows grazing what looks like a different planet entirely, and you'll see snow-capped mountaintops peeking out over miles of evergreens. If you get the urge to go out and experience any of them closer-up, you can — the Coast Starlight runs regularly and can pick you right back up. But there's something at once calming and exhilarating about seeing it from the train. It's a reminder, sped up: This is all there, all the time, often shoved to the sides when we're just trying to get from place to place. But it's worth seeing.

Your Instagram will thank you, but so will your brain, and heart.

Alanna Bennett is a culture writer currently writing and reporting about entertainment for BuzzFeed News. She grew up in Portland and currently lives in Brooklyn with her cat, like a stereotype.