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Travel Tips & Inspo

  • Writer's pictureTravel Gardener

Train Vacations: Unique Ways to Experience California

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

California is an incredible and vastly diverse holiday destination with myriad sights, activities, and offerings to appeal to every kind of traveler. When it comes to making your vacation experience as unforgettable as possible, there are few options more capable of accomplishing this as a train vacation.

In addition to being one of the most energy-efficient methods of travel, train journeys give vacationers a wide variety of incredibly scenic views, and iconic sites and wonders, both natural and manmade—all in a comfortable, luxurious setting with plenty of premium amenities.

Planning Your California Train Trip

By its very nature, a railroad-centric California holiday will entail traveling to various locations. When it comes to statewide options, Amtrak services destinations all across California, and is by far the most popular choice for longer-distance train trips.

Here are several of the most popular Amtrak lines connecting California:

  • California Zephyr connects Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, with stops in Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno.

  • Coast Starlight links Seattle and Los Angeles, and includes stops in Portland and Sacramento.

  • Southwest Chief runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, stopping at Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff.

  • Sunset Limited travels between New Orleans and Los Angeles, via San Antonio, Tucson, and Phoenix.

  • Capitol Corridor is a regional line that travels throughout Northern California, including stops at Auburn, Sacramento, Emeryville (San Francisco), Oakland, and San Jose.

  • Pacific Surfliner runs between San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.

  • San Joaquin links Sacramento and Bakersfield, with stops in Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Martinez, and Fresno.

Amtrak offers a range of California tours and travel packages highlighting some of the most famous and visually stunning locations across the state, such as the gorgeous Yosemite National Park, majestic Golden Gate Bridge, star-studded Hollywood, and breathtaking coastline.

The company also provides cross-country vacation itineraries to and from California, taking passengers through some of the most iconic sight-seeing destinations in the United States, boasting natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and Rocky Mountains, as well as popular cities such as New Orleans; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Salt Lake City; and more.

Popular Regional Commuter Trains

If you would rather explore by rail on your own terms, there are several regional commuter train services available, depending on where you plan on traveling to or from, including:

  • Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) provides train service to Stockton and San Jose.

  • Caltrain (JPBX) runs through the San Francisco Peninsula, along the South Bay to San Jose and Gilroy.

  • Coaster (SDNX) travels north and south throughout San Diego County.

  • Metrolink (SCAX) services Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and part of San Diego County.

There are even smaller, specially themed train lines featuring plenty of the celebrated vistas and unforgettable locations that make California such a worthwhile place to visit.

Popular Specialty Trains

Napa Valley Wine Train

This famous vacation attraction features fully restored century-old train cars, which take passengers along the three-hour, 36-mile venture from Napa Valley to St. Helena.

The Wine Train is a favorite among romance-seekers, offering a unique, vintage aesthetic as well as premium amenities, such as an incredible locally sourced gourmet cuisine, exceptional wine selection, and plush seating with genuine mahogany paneling. Enjoy your meal in comfort and luxury, while viewing the spectacular vistas and scenic vineyards that make the region so renowned.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

For visitors who want to check out California’s legendary coastline, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner travels more than 350 miles along the southern coast, providing stunning views of the landscape and ocean.

This train offers full vacation packages with features such as sightseeing and wine tours, following several scenic routes that pass through destinations including Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Located only 10 minutes from Yosemite National Park, this fun-filled and family-friendly train ventures through the Sierra National Forest. The railroad features a slew of activities and attractions for travelers of all ages, including campfire barbeques, gold-panning adventures, guided tours, live music and theatrical events at the Lewis Creek Canyon amphitheater, and much more.

Fort Bragg Skunk Train

This historic train has been in service since 1885, and takes passengers on an amazing, panoramic trek through scenic meadows and towering redwoods to the Noyo River Canyon.

In addition to providing phenomenal views of the pristine and perfectly preserved natural wonders of the region, Fort Bragg Skunk Train also features plenty of unique offerings and vacation experiences. These include live music and events such as the Mendocino Film Festival, riding two-person electric railbikes, and even seasonal, themed train rides such as the Magical Christmas Train and Pumpkin Express.

Amtrak Coast Starlight

This popular West Coast line takes passengers on a luxurious, grand adventure extending from Los Angeles to Seattle, with comfortable seating, plenty of legroom, and even superliner sleeping and dining car accommodations.

Make a stop in San Luis Obispo and bask on the glamorous beaches, savor the rustic architecture, or enjoy some fine dining and wine tours. More intrepid travelers can visit Dunsmuir, California for great fishing, surfing, and fun water sports. Discover why the town’s slogan is “Home of the Best Water on Earth!” Coast Starlight has sights and destinations for travelers of all kinds.

TRAVEL TIP: When your travels take you into crowded narrow spaces, consider a theft-resistant carry-on backpack with locking zippers, slash-resistant straps, and RFID protection from scans of your identification and credit cards.

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