- I took a 52-hour Amtrak ride from Chicago to Emeryville, California, and enjoyed it.
- Opting to spend more for a roomette with shower access made the trek much more comfortable.
- I met some wonderful people along the way, and the views from the observation car were stunning.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr is known as one of the most scenic train rides in the US.
The 52-hour trek from Chicago to Emeryville, California, was my first long-haul train ride, and I had a few surprising highlights along the way.
Read on for 10 of the best parts of traveling this far by rail.
Splurging on a roomette was absolutely worth it
I felt most comfortable as a solo traveler in a roomette, which had a bed, access to a shared shower, and meals.
I think it’s a must if you’re committing to the entire 52 hours. Coach is cheaper, but it has fewer food options and no shower.
The staff was very accommodating, especially during delays
On the last day, we got delayed seven hours because of freights getting retracked on our rail. People told me to plan for this, but that didn’t make me any less anxious and annoyed.
Fortunately, Amtrak staff made sure every passenger had a snack since it was well after dinnertime.
I was also frantically trying to figure out how to get to San Francisco, which is across the bay from Emeryville, since I’d now arrive after the area’s rapid transit system closed and ride-hailing prices spiked. Fortunately, train staff helped me book a $5 late-night bus from Emeryville to my destination.
Sitting in the observation car for hours made the time fly
The long train ride had views of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and all the beautiful greenery and rocky scenery in between.
I spent almost the entire second day in and out of the observation car as we went through the Rocky Mountains — next thing I knew, it was time for dinner.
There were short stops to get fresh air
While the train didn’t feel too stuffy, it was nice to get some fresh air. The stops weren’t long, but they gave me the chance to stretch my legs a bit.
Train staff was strict about enforcing masks
I appreciated how strictly the staff enforced its COVID-19 precautions in the dining and observation cars.
For example, it made me feel safer that masks were clearly mandatory unless you were eating or drinking — staff seemed to ensure people abided by the rules by removing those who didn’t.
I had multiple meal options, even as a pescetarian
Hot food had come back on the train a few weeks before my July trip, and I was surprised by the number of delicious options I had.
There was vegan chili for lunch and salmon or crab cakes for dinner. The pesto tortellini was also delicious.
Dinner — three courses and a nice glass of white wine — quickly became my favorite meal.
The car attendant set up my bed at night and took it down in the morning
The daily turndown service, when staff prepares the suite for your stay, is something I can get used to on train travel.
I normally take short rides in coach, so the attentiveness of the staff was nice to experience.
There was no wait or line to use the showers
There are no individual showers in the roomettes, so I anticipated I would need to wait for a shared one, but that wasn’t the case. Still, mornings were a bit busier than nights.
I didn’t get bored at all
Almost three days is a long time to be on a train, so I thought the boredom would eventually creep in, but it never did.
Maybe the excitement of my first long train ride kept me entertained.
I met some wonderful people along the way
As a frequent solo traveler, the conversations I have are either really good or not that great. But everyone I met in the observation car was nice and even gave me tips on itineraries for future train trips.