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Blog #1037

Coast Starlight - 9/14/2021

This is day five of my cross-country Amtrak vacation with Shawn.  Today we will be boarding the Coast Starlight covering 469 miles in about twelve and a half hours on our way to Los Angeles.  After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and made the short walk over the tracks to the Emeryville train station.


Our train pulled out of the station right on time at 8:20am and headed south through the East Bay region.  After passing San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley, we entered the Coyote Valley and it's vast farmlands.

Coyote Valley

California’s enormous agricultural industry would be a major theme throughout most of the first half of today's journey.

The Pajaro River led us from the Coyote Valley to near the coast and by noon we had entered the Salinas Valley.

Salinas Valley

The San Ardo Oil Field was another of the varied scenes we encountered along the way.

San Ardo Oil Field

At Santa Margarita we began the climb over the Santa Lucia Range and down to San Luis Obispo.  Over these 16 miles of rail we would rise from an elevation of 998 feet to 1380 and then down to 240 feet.  This is called The Cuesta and is the most difficult climb on the entire Coast Line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The train uses Cuesta Pass to traverse the Santa Lucia Mountains.  The pass has an elevation of 1,533 feet, but the train crosses under it utilizing a tunnel.  Tunnel 6, the summit tunnel, is 3,600 feet long and contains the high point of the grade.  After emerging from the tunnel we could see US Route 101 on the other side of the valley.

US Route 101

Now on our descent, we would make several horseshoe turns back and forth.

The Cuesta

The Stenner Creek Trestle, built in 1904, is 931 feet long, making it the longest bridge on the Coast Line.

Stenner Creek Trestle

By mid-afternoon we approached San Luis Obispo and passed the campus of California Polytechnic State University.  On the practice field was the Cal Poly Mustang Band, also known as The Pride of the Pacific.  I had a little band geek moment and thought of Sarah.

We were able to step off of the train for a short break.  San Luis Obispo is a beautiful city, with unique architecture.

Once we were passing through the grounds of Vandenberg Air Force Base we were near the edge of the Pacific coast.

Vandenberg Air Force Base

Vandenburg is home to facilities for NASA, Space X, and of course, the Air Force.

Vandenberg Air Force Base

Vandenberg Air Force Base

As we crossed the large base we were closer and closer to the water.  And then from here, past Santa Barbara and into Ventura there were many stretches that were very close to the water's edge.

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

I was constantly checking the trains progress by GPS and watching the clock against the approaching 7:00pm sunset.  One of my most important goals of this trip was to be riding the train right along the coast watching the sunset across the Pacific.  It is at Ventura that the tracks leave the beach and turn inland to Oxnard and Simi Valley.  It was my estimation that we would be in Ventura right at sunset, just barely enough time to get a couple great pictures.  I was still worried if I would get the shots I was hoping for.  But it was all for not, fifteen minutes before sunset we rolled into heavy fog.


We would be in this fog all the way into LA.

The Coast Starlight arrived at Los Angeles Union Station right on time at 9:00pm.  It opened in 1939 and the structure combines Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style.

Los Angeles Union Station

Los Angeles Union Station

We got a rideshare from Union Station to our hotel in Hollywood.  As we exited the freeway and onto Highland Avenue traffic was slow and all of the parking spaces and nearby parking lots were completely full.  A short distance away we saw searchlights stretching into the sky.  It felt like we had truly arrived in Hollywood.  The driver said we were near the Hollywood Bowl.  Shawn did a quick internet search and found out that cellist Yo-Yo Ma was performing.

A few blocks later we arrived at our hotel, the Loews Hollywood Hotel on North Highland Avenue.

Once we checked in, we headed to the elevators and stepped inside with a mother and her daughter.  Just as the doors were about to close, others almost stepped inside as well.  But once they saw the four of us already inside, they decided to catch the next one.  I noticed the surprised reaction of the daughter and asked if we should know those who almost boarded the elevator with us.  She said that they were contestants from America's Got Talent.  Wow, we were in Hollywood for less than ten minutes and already we almost met a celebrity.

Once in our room we checked out the view.

Loews Hollywood Hotel

Tomorrow we’ll have a full day of exploring the heart of Hollywood.

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