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Rails To Rodeos - 2006

A January rail adventure on the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight

between Los Angeles and Denver

Photos and Report by Carl Morrison,

Trip Report #3:

Coast Starlight, Sacramento, CA, to Los Angeles, CA.

If you arrive in Sacramento, CA, on the California Zephyr, an easy/close motel is the Vagabond Inn:

(800) 522-1555
(916) 446-1481
(916) 448-0364
909 3rd St
Sacramento, CA 95814

We arrived in Sacramento in time to walk under I-80 to Old Town where we had nearly an hour to visit  The Calfornia Railroad Museum.  I had not yet seen the Hewes Estate donation so I went directly to that model train layout upstairs:



From the second floor, 913 looked like a model, but it is full-sized.


I find it very hard to photograph this Cab-forward 4294, with its black finish in the dark museum, but I try each time I'm there because I like the 'engineuity' so muc

Old Town Sacramento, California.





Westerfield Shopping Center's carousel


Inside Sacramento Railroad Station


A Starbucks Coffee is now located in the first building south of the Sacramento Station.


Sacramento Station still has the Southern Pacific benches with heat registers inside...a warm welcome for passengers in February!

Rails to Rodeos

The Coast Starlight

Sacramento to Los Angles/Fullerton, California.

Sacramento, CA.  We had a good night’s sleep and checked with Julie (1-800-USA-RAIL), automated voice of Amtrak, periodically for the progress of Train 11 and knew the southbound Coast Starlight was running a couple of hours late, so rather than preparing for a 6:15 am departure, we got a few extra winks.  The Vagabond provides a continental breakfast starting at 7 am, which we could attend, and their van to the RR station starts at 8, and we could use that as well, because of the delay.  We got to the station about 8 for an 8:20 arrival according to Julie, but the bottom line is that we departed at 9:40 am…3 hrs and 25 minutes late.  However, as my buddies Chris Guenzler, Steve Grande and Ray Burns at say, “Every rail journey on Amtrak is an Adventure!” 

Recommendation:  Vagabond Inn, Sacramento (Old Town), 909 Third St., Sacramento, CA  95814, 800.522.1555 or  Advantages:  Close to the SAC station, or a $6 taxi ride, Continental breakfast at 7, Shuttle available at 8 a.m., in-room hard-wire Internet (cable available free at desk), walking distance from downtown mall, Old Town and the Calif. RR Museum.


The Pacific Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight as you first walk in from the sleepers.

From the center, you see the lounge area, six tables, and the bar.  Through the far door is the diner.


Clabourne Slough between Sacramento and Davis


Pacific Parlour Car attemdamt, Nanette during wine tasting.

Davis, CA.

Martinez, CA.



Some of the mothball fleet near Martinez.

Massive new bridge work along the route.  Look for men on the bridge and below as size indicators.

Private rail cars in Ski Train train at Martinez, CA.


Emeryville, CA.



Massive bridges near Emeryville, CA

Oakland, CA.

San Jose, CA. 


Don grabs a newspaper in the station before we depart.

We continued to be later and later as we progressed southward, mainly from heavy Union Pacific freight traffic and work on the right-of-way.   In fact, as we speak, at 2 pm, we are still 26 miles north of San Jose, traveling at 30 mph, and the schedule says San Jose 9:55 a.m.!  On the brighter side, the ride is very smooth at 30 mph, the diner still serves meals at the proper clock time, coffee and pasteries are available in the morning, and wine and cheese about 3:30 pm, then there is dinner, so what’s wrong with that.  The California sun is still shining through the many large Parlor car windows, and there are electrical plugs at each of the eight, comfortable, living-room swivel styled chairs in the Pacific Parlor car allowing me to write this report. 

Since we rented a roomette for this 16-hour, or longer, trip, we could even return there for some shut-eye if we feel the urge!

Tip for wine California lovers:  Before lunch, I inquired with the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant, Nanette, about what type of wine she had available by the bottle for purchase.  She asked, “Red or White,” then handed over the 6-wine list of what she would be serving later during wine tasting time, or the wine she had served for tasting yesterday.  I purchased a bottle and she said I could take the glassful to the diner since I purchased it from Amtrak.  This is worth remembering for those of you who pack your own wine for enjoyment in your room.  I purchased a bottle of “Symphony Obsession” by Ironstone Vineyards, Murphys, CA.

If you are a winery or vineyard owner, you might be interested to know that the wine list for tasting on the Amtrak Coast Starlight states, in part:  “…we keep looking for special wines from all over to pour at our tastings.  If you would like to suggest a wine for this event, please drop me a line:  Matt Cahoon, Manager, On Board Services, The Coast Starlight, 810 N. Alameda St. 1st Floor, Los Angeles, CA  90012.”

At 3:15 in the Parlour Car, Nanette announced that all Sleeper Car passengers were invited to attend complementary wine tasting, with cheese and crackers.

She served:  Chardonnay from Buchli Station, Napa Valler, CA.  Pinot Noir from Parker Station , Santa Barbara, CA.  Symphony Obsession, Ironstone Vineyards, Murphys, CA.  Each would be available for purchase by the bottle after the tasting at $14 or $16 (as opposed to $8 per half bottle of lesser quality wine at meals in the diner.)

The dining car steward passed through the sleepers offering dinner reservations, and after a short discussion, and realizing we had another 10 or so hours on the train,  we decided to take the latest seating, 6:45.

Salinas, CA

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At wine tasting, as usual, friendships were made with fellow passengers.

Between the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, Carol Abitabilo Ast, MFA, Ph.D. Artist and Teacher, mentioned that she was making pastel sketches of their train trip from Syracuse, NY – Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Chicago and Syracuse.  After the Salinas stop, she invited me to her ‘studio’ in the New Hampshire car where I saw her excellent sketches.  Take a look at her brand new website: or contact me for e-mail and telephone number.

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Paso Robles, CA.

San Luis Obispo, CA (Morro Bay)

Santa Barbara, CA

Oxnard, CA

Simi Valley, CA

Van Nuys, CA

Los Angeles, CA

We arrived too late to connect to our Surfliner, so an Amtrak Bus took passengers to Fullerton and points south.  The driver announced that he would be getting the San Diego passengers to their destination "about daylight."

Fullerton, CA

Don's family had executed a great plan...leaving a car at the Fullerton Station so that when we arrived about 2 a.m. no one had to come pick us up.  We were home and in bed about 3 a.m., about 4 hours later than expected.

The trip was marvelous with great winter scenery including bald eagles along the Colorado River.  Great Rail Journey!


Links for Rails to Rodeos:

Southwest Chief
Fullerton, CA to Denver, CO

California Zephyr
Denver to Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs to Sacramento

Coast Starlight
Sacramento to Los Angeles, CA

Official Amtrak Schedules
of all three trains

Schedules and Costs for the
three Amtrak Segments.

Print Resources for
Colorado Trains