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Seattle to San Francisco by Train

Last month I had a meeting in Seattle so we decided to bring the whole family and make a trip out of it. We’ve always wanted to take the train down the coast so we decided this was the perfect opportunity. We flew up to Seattle, had a few fun days to explore the city and then boarded a train in Seattle in the morning. It was kind of an interesting adventure so I thought I would share it here in case anyone wants to try it. The airplane tickets at the time were around $100 each way and the the train tickets were $75 each way. The train from Seattle to San Francisco takes 24 hours so we decided to upgrade to the sleeper car. (I was worried about the kids being noisy at night and disturbing other people.) The sleeper car was about double what the plane tickets would have been (but it also includes meals). After a couple of hours on the train we were joking that we could have been home already. While the train was really cool, it isn’t the most time or cost efficient way to travel. Make sure you are doing it for the experience or you’ll be disappointed.

We arrived at the train station about 25 minutes before the train left. There were only a few other people in line so getting on the train was so easy. There was no taking off your shoes or putting everything through x-ray machines. It happened so fast that I can’t remember but I think we just walked through a metal detector. Within 5 minutes of arriving we were settled in our sleeper cabin. After we tucked away our bags the agent came by to offer us Champagne and Martinelli’s. It was so fun and we were all excited. The family sleeper cars felt spacious. I was worried I would feel cramped but that wasn’t the case.


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The scenery was beautiful and breathtaking. It is so great to curl up next to the window and watch the country go by, this was my favorite part.  The train traveled all along the water as we headed south to Oregon. It felt really relaxing. While an airplane is a lot faster, the train felt a lot more comfortable.

The best part about the train is you can get up and walk around to do stuff, and there is actually stuff to do. The observation car is a car that is floor to ceiling windows. You could go and relax and watch the scenery, it was really beautiful. They also had a Theater car where they were showing Arthur Christmas, which kept the kids entertained. At one point Roman got a little antsy so we walked through all the cars to the caboose to look out the back window. There was also the dining car that served meals. The agent came around before every meal and made a reservation. The food was fine, edible but not amazing. But everything was served fancy like you were at a restaurant.  It was fun to eat with a view of Mount Hood out your window.

When it was time to sleep the agent helped us fold down our beds into double bunk beds. I didn’t get a picture of this but it felt roomy and comfortable. Kate had recommended we bring our own pillows and I was glad we did. The train ones weren’t awful but the room had the vibe like a hostel so it was nice to have some comforts from home. If I was ever going to take a longer trip I might even bring a blanket too.

We had a great experience and have even been talking about taking a train trip across the country sometime. I would love to hear if you’ve had any train experiences traveling in the U.S. P.s.: Find some train travel tips at the end.

Tips for Traveling on the Train

-Get a sleeper car if you can splurge.
-Bring your own snacks.
-Bring your own pillow (and blanket if you have space.)
-Plan your trip so you see the beautiful parts when there is light out.


  1. shokufeh

    January 23, 2013

    We love taking the train between New Orleans and Chicago. While the time on the train (~16 hours) is longer than on the plane, it’s less stressful and more reliable (less subject to delays), and we don’t have the time spent showing up early and going through security. We’ve done this overnight trip a few times, with the regular seats (not sleeper) and found it really comfortable. Our experience with our son is that the trip up, which leaves in the afternoon and arrives in the morning, is a bit easier than the trip down, which leaves at night and requires a little more entertaining and patience until we arrive the next afternoon.

  2. Angela

    January 23, 2013

    Love this post! We also took our first family train trip this past October. We traveled from Harrisburg, PA to Kingston, RI. It was 7 hours one way with one transfer in Philadelphia. Viewing the sun rising over the beautiful farmland of Lancaster, PA to the beautiful coastline of Connecticut was a wonderful experience. Not to mention the stress free travel and not having to find and stop for rest room breaks had we driven. Our 9 year old is a huge train enthusiast so it was thrilling for him in many ways too.

  3. Lane

    January 24, 2013

    Years ago I took the train from Seattle to SF and back again. I loved it, but regretted not getting a sleeper car because unless you’re 20 years old, those reclining seats just aren’t that comfortable when you want to sleep. I also took the train in the winter and it got very cold so I recommend taking a blanket and dressing in nice warm layers.

  4. Jesi

    January 24, 2013

    My husband and I took the Amtrak train from Madison, WI to Seattle, WA when we moved here back in January 2012. We brought along our little Elie when he was only 10 months old, got the family sleeper car, and had a blast! We plan on doing the trip to Florida this summer!

  5. Madeline

    January 24, 2013

    I have taken the Coast Starlight at least a dozen times, often with children, and once with six children. Always, always perfectly great! I like the family room. I also like to get the deluxe rooms upstairs – two adjoining (with a bunch of kids) is really quite spacious.

    I’ve also taken the Zephyr to Chicago. There’s really nothing like the train through the rockies. Gorgeous. The mister and I booked just a roomette, but were able to buy the roomette across the hall for cheap because neither of us like the top bunk (and we can’t swing both of us in the bottom bunk). You may know this, but you can often get a room or room upgrade once you’re onboard for a song. The conductor negotiates.

    Thinking about taking the Empire Builder across the northern states next.

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