California, Here We Come! (2021): Day 8: An Amtrak Thanksgiving

Los Angeles – Emeryville

It was Thanksgiving Day – and our big Amtrak day! It began with a little bit of early-morning stress, but we eventually succeeded in finding a coffee shop that was actually open. After breakfast, we showered, packed, checked out and retraced the previous evening’s metro journey to Union Station. The metro train was somewhat less skanky at this time of day. Los Angeles Union Station is surprisingly young by railway standards, having been opened in 1939. It has been described as the ‘last of the great train stations’ in the USA. The building combines a number of architectural styles, including Art Deco. We had departed from this terminal before on a lengthy journey, and it felt good to be doing so again.

In due course we made our way to the Coast Starlight train, which was about to embark on a 35hr journey to Seattle, WA, a distance in excess of 1,100 miles. We would be going as far as Emeryville, near San Francisco, on a journey that was scheduled at just shy of 12hrs. We could have driven in less than half that time, but generally speaking, you don’t take the train in North America for speed. Interestingly, Bruce and I had previously travelled on the Coast Starlight to Emeryville, and that journey had also taken place on Thanksgiving Day. This was in 2013, when we had boarded the train at the northern extremity of its route. Today almost felt like filling in the missing bit.

We knew exactly what we were doing when the time came to board. For what I reckon to be the fifth time overall, we had booked the so-called ‘family room’ in the sleeping car, which has two huge advantages. First, it is situated at one end of the lower deck and therefore has no through passenger traffic. (It is the train equivalent of an end-of-corridor hotel room.) And secondly, the room spans the entire width of the train, offering an unobstructed view on either side – subject to clean windows, of course!

We set off more or less on-time at 0951 and after an initial northbound run up to Burbank, we turned westwards towards Oxnard. Shortly after that stop, we met the coast and largely followed it up to a destination that was familiar to both of us, Santa Barbara. Our call there coincided with lunch in the Dining Car, where we shared our table with a very nice young couple from China. I had a rather disappointing Chicken Caesar Salad while Bruce had a decent-looking burger, and we shared a portion of the carrot cake for dessert.

Our route continued up the coast for a while, before veering off inland as we made our way towards San Jose. There were 10-minute ‘leg stretch’ / ‘smoking break’ stops at San Luis Obispo (in daylight) and Salinas (in darkness).

It wasn’t long to wait until dinner time. We returned to the Dining Car, this time sharing with a solo traveller from Germany. Unlikely as it may sound, one of the traditional treats when riding Amtrak trains is that the staff generally cook excellent steaks. I have verified this for myself on a number of occasions, most recently in spring 2019. Sadly on today’s journey, we both had the steak and we both felt that the quality wasn’t up to previous standards.

Eventually we arrived at Emeryville and walked the short distance to our next overnight stop at the Hyatt House hotel. We were met by somewhat ominous signs: numerous NO PARTIES notices and even the need to sign a declaration that we would not be hosting one! It got even worse: the bedside table contained earplugs and some kind of ‘white noise machine’, although in fairness, these could have been for people bothered by night-time trains. In the event, there was no significant noise to speak of, and I slept well.