‘Get the inside track on exploring America by train with these three incredible itineraries.’
from – Country Living – by Everett Potter
The Scenic Route
“See the USA in your Chevrolet” will always have a certain ring to it, but traveling by rail affords the chance to take in sights the interstate doesn’t deliver. Plus, loosening your grip on the steering wheel frees up your hands for a cocktail! (Though trains no longer possess the glamour they held in North by Northwest, most still have café cars.)
We’ve mapped out three amazing Amtrak adventures: All boast beginning and end points in cities worth exploring, and we’ve also suggested stops along the way. You’ll need a new ticket each time you board—a simple task thanks to the multicity planner on amtrak.com. And remember, with these trips, the journey is the destination.
All prices are correct at time of publication, but the prices listed may be altered at any time.
The Weekend Getaway: San Luis Obispo to San Diego
THE ROUTE: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner traces Southern California’s coast—so near the Pacific that, at times, it feels as if you’re cruising on the beach. Stunning all year long, the full run takes nine hours; with our three recommended destinations, tickets start at $61.
ON BOARD: Embark at the route’s northern depot, San Luis Obispo; seats in coach aren’t reserved, so guarantee a plush recliner by upgrading to business class for $31 more. For stellar ocean views, claim a spot on the western side of the train.
WHERE TO STOP: About seven hours into the trip, hop off at San Juan Capistrano to wander the ruins of the town’s famous Spanish mission, nicknamed the American Acropolis. For artifacts of a more recent vintage, hit The Old Barn Antiques (949-493-9144), a 10,000-square-foot space packed with everything from advertising signs to Victorian flatware. Before skipping out, nosh on spicy crab-cake salad at The Ramos House Café. Ride the train for 10 minutes more to San Clemente—the station is right at the pier, where you can watch surfers catch waves or go for a swim in the Pacific yourself. Later, check in to the Always Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with private gardens just off the rooms (from $149 a night). Meander the next day: San Diego, the finish line, is only 80 minutes away.
The Day Trip: Manhattan to Hudson, New York
THE ROUTE: Running on the east bank of the Hudson River, the Empire Service promises eye-popping foliage in October. A full run takes two hours; with our two recommended destinations, tickets start at $35.
ON BOARD: The ideal scenario? Leave New York City’s Penn Station around 10 A.M. and score a seat on the train’s western side. An hour later, keep your eyes peeled for Bannerman Castle(pictured): The crumbling manse, an abandoned military munitions storehouse, suggests something from a fairy tale.
WHERE TO STOP: You’ll land in Hudson in time for lunch. Located on Warren Street, the town’s main drag, Swoon Kitchenbar sources its ingredients—for dishes such as braised-short-rib panini topped with caramelized onions and pickled chiles—from local farms. After you eat, browse some of the street’s nearly 50 antiques shops; Red Chair carries a moderately priced selection of old hotel silver, French linens, and other treasures. On your way back to Manhattan, get off at the Croton-Harmon stop. First on the agenda: a quick cab ride to Ocean House for fresh seafood—don’t miss the lobster rolls. Then jaunt over to Van Cortlandt Manor, a 1732 landmark that, each fall, hosts the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, a display of more than 5,000 elaborately carved pumpkins. Tickets sell out, so buy yours early online.
The Weeklong Vacation: Chicago to Portland, Oregon
THE ROUTE: The mighty Mississippi, the Northern Plains, Mount Hood—the Empire Builder allows you to see America as Lewis and Clark did on their westward expedition. Prime season is summer, for the lushest scenery imaginable. The full run takes 46 hours; with our two recommended destinations, tickets start at $263.
ON BOARD: Before you head out from the Windy City, spend the extra $1,053 to bunk in a Superliner Bedroom—the space is small but offers a sofa, a chair, two foldout beds, and a private bathroom with shower; plus, meals are included. Be sure to study the Empire Builder guide on trainweb.com for tons of info about what you’ll see and when you’ll see it (for example, 3½ hours in, look for Camp Douglas’s striated sandstone rock formations). Views are spectacular from both sides of the train.
WHERE TO STOP: Definitely add on a couple days at Montana’s breathtaking Glacier National Park. Grab a shuttle from the West Glacier station to Lake McDonald Lodge(406-888-5431), a stone-and-gable inn listed on the National Register of Historic Places (from $79 a night). Glacier is home to 700 miles of walking trails, but to cover the most ground, tour the park in one of its 17-person convertibles, dating to the 1930s. Finally, continue on the train to Portland, soaking up the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge as you roll.