California Zephyr Amtrak: The Most Beautiful Train Ride in North America!

California Zephyr Amtrak is touted as the most beautiful train ride in North America. Starting in Emeryville (a small city just outside of San Francisco), the train takes you through the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevada, majestic Rockies as well as the plains of Nebraska, making its final stop in Chicago. Along the way, you’ll pass through the cities of Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver. The entire journey from Emeryville to Chicago took 52 hours in total. With such amazing scenery, it is without a doubt the most beautiful train ride we’ve ever taken!

Emeryville Station California Zephyr Amtrak
Emeryville Station California Zephyr Amtrak
California Zephyr Amtrak Emeryville to Chicago
California Zephyr Amtrak Emeryville to Chicago

As the train was scheduled to depart at 9:10am, we headed across the train tracks to the Emeryville Public Market for breakfast before our journey. Between the hours of 8 to 9am, you pretty much have only 2 choices, the cafe within the Emeryville train station or Peet’s Coffee at Emeryville Public Market.

Breakfast at Public Market Emeryville
Breakfast at Public Market Emeryville


California Zephyr Amtrak Superliner Roomette

Since the entire journey was 52 hours, we had to decide whether to travel by coach seats or the superliner roomette. The cost of tickets to travel by coach (for 2 people) was $516USD while the superliner roomette costs $645. The difference between the 2 are that with the higher cost of the roomette, you’ll have all meals included (for 2 people), common showering facilities (towels & soap included), coffee, water and most importantly, the seats can be converted to 2 beds at night. For about $150USD more, it was quite an easy decision to make. Looking back, if you’re deciding to travel via the California Zephyr, we’d strongly recommend the roomette as well…

California Zephyr Roomette - Small but functional
California Zephyr Roomette – Small but functional
Window views with Superliner Roomette
Window views with Superliner Roomette

As you can see from the picture, the two seats can be converted to a bed at night, while the upper bunk can be folded down to present a second bed. Within the roomette, you’ll also be able to find electrical outlets, climate control, individual reading lights, garment rack, fold-down table as well as personal service (turn-down, coffee, make-up bed) within the carriage. The best part of the room is that both seats are facing each other with wide “picture window”, as they call it, that allows you to enjoy the scenery each time you’re back in the room. Waking up each morning with picturesque scenery was such as a treat!

Views of the Sierra Nevada right in our own roomette
Views of the Sierra Nevada right in our own roomette

Next, we headed to the other carriages to check out the amenities that were included

Showering Facilities

Showering Facilities included with California Zephyr Roomette
Showering Facilities included with California Zephyr Roomette
Towels and soap next to shower
Towels and soap next to shower
WC aboard California Zephyr Amtrak
WC aboard California Zephyr Amtrak

You might not think much of it. But showering is an important issue, especially if you’re travelling for 52 hours on a train. Imagine not bathing for 2 days and smells re-circulating within the train… Ok, that was borderline on gross but you get the picture. However, it can be quite a challenge to bathe if the train is passing through some bumpy tracks.

Dining carriage California Zephyr Amtrak
Dining carriage California Zephyr Amtrak

With the additional $150 (that’s for 2 people), you’ll get beds, shower and all meals included! The meals were actually not too bed so we’ll be talking more about that in our next section – food aboard the Amtrak California Zephyr.

Sightseer Lounge

Sightseer Lounge California Zephyr Amtrak
Sightseer Lounge California Zephyr Amtrak
Sightseer Lounge California Zephyr Amtrak Emeryville to Chicago
Sightseer Lounge California Zephyr Amtrak Emeryville to Chicago
Can you spot the eagle?
Can you spot the eagle?

If you’re travelling via coach, you’ll be happy to note that the Sightseer Lounge is open to all. Here, you’ll be able to see views on both sides of the train as you travel through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada with the California Zephyr. During various sections of the journey, National Park rangers will also board and carry out commentaries. If we saw some eagles’ nest or beautiful features, they would point them out as well. One of the “features” we saw was a man baring his butt as we passed along the Colorado river. So the ranger commented, “There it is! Our first “full moon” of the journey!”. Apparently, these are common “sightings”…

Superliner Bedroom - Private sink, vanity, private toilet and shower
Superliner Bedroom – Private sink, vanity, private toilet and shower
Coach Seats California Zephyr Amtrak
Coach Seats California Zephyr Amtrak

We also took the opportunity to visit the Superliner Bedroom and Coach seats. The only difference between the Superliner Bedroom and Superliner Roomette is that there is an attached bathroom/shower with the Superliner Bedroom. For us, the Superliner Roomette of the California Zephyr still delivers the best value.

Snack Bar Amtrak California Zephyr
Snack Bar Amtrak California Zephyr

There’s also a snack bar that offers sandwiches, chips, instant noodles and drink options.


Food Included with California Zephyr Amtrak Superliner Roomette

California Zephyr Dining Car Menu
California Zephyr Dining Car Menu
California Zephyr Breakfast Lunch Dinner Menu
California Zephyr Breakfast Lunch Dinner Menu

Again, as you can see from the prices, it makes perfect sense to have meals included with the roomette. The additional $150 probably pays for itself with the meals. Also, the meals were really not too bad as well. There are 3 things that you’d need to note though. Firstly, there are only 2 servers in the dining car. This makes service rather slow, especially during peak dining periods. Secondly, if you’re travelling in twos like us, you’ll be expected to be seated with 2 other passengers on the same table. Depending on who you’re seated with, the conversations can be quite interesting. We’ve met a couple who renovates buildings for a living (think property brothers) and 2 old ladies from England who also took a cruise to Alaska before the train ride. It was particularly intriguing to hear first hand accounts of ladies who voted for Brexit. But that’s another story to tell…Lastly, for lunch and dinners, your carriage attendant would go to your room and ask if you’d be having lunch or dinner. If so, you’ll have to choose the timing that you’d prefer. During meal times, your names will be announced over the PA system and you’ll just proceed. However, there was once where we had to queue up to indicate our preference to have dinner. Since there was only a limited number of seatings, there were some people who were not able to get a timing. If you fall within this category, head towards the dining car about half an hour from closing time, you’d probably still be able to have your dinner.

Breakfast

California Zephyr Breakfast - Railroad French Toast
California Zephyr Breakfast – Railroad French Toast
California Zephyr Breakfast - Omelet Selection with Pork Sausage
California Zephyr Breakfast – Omelet Selection with Pork Sausage

For breakfasts, we enjoyed the Omelet Selection or French Toast. Do note that you’ll also be able to add additional sides such as pork sausage, apple & maple chicken sausage or applewood smoked bacon for no additional charge. Also, you’ll have a choice of drinks for coffee/tea, water or orange juice.

Lunch

California Zephyr Lunch - Angus Steak Burger
California Zephyr Lunch – Angus Steak Burger
California Zephyr Lunch - Pork Shanks
California Zephyr Lunch – Pork Shanks
Desserts - Ice Cream!
Desserts – Ice Cream!

For lunch, our staple was the angus steak burger. The alternative for carnivores would be the pork shanks. However, the portion was quite small and not as satisfying, especially for a mid-day meal. For sides, we always had the garden salad to start off our meals. Towards the end of the journey, as we approached Chicago, cheese and chips were out. This meant that we basically had a burger without fries or chips for our last meal aboard. All meals come with a dessert. We usually chose the ice cream! :)

California Zephyr Scenery - Rafters along Colorado River
California Zephyr Scenery – Rafters along Colorado River

During lunch, you’ll also be able to enjoy the beautiful views as you dine!

Dinner

California Zephyr Dinner - Seafood Catch of the Day
California Zephyr Dinner – Seafood Catch of the Day
California Zephyr Dinner - Amtrak Signature Steak
California Zephyr Dinner – Amtrak Signature Steak
California Zephyr Dinner - Chocolate Dessert
California Zephyr Dinner – Chocolate Dessert

For dinner, you can’t go wrong with the Amtrak Signature Steak. The other option that we enjoyed was the Seafood Catch of the Day that included crab cakes. There’s always a choice of dessert in addition to ice cream. Hence, we usually chose one of each to end off our meals.


Views along California Zephyr Amtrak

We’ve talked so much about the beautiful views. Here are some views that we’ve enjoyed along the way. You can see more in our video at the end of the post.

California Zephyr Scenery
California Zephyr Scenery
California Zephyr Scenery - Colorado River
California Zephyr Scenery – Colorado River
California Zephyr Scenery - Colorado River
California Zephyr Scenery – Colorado River
California Zephyr Scenery - Sierra Nevada
California Zephyr Scenery – Sierra Nevada
California Zephyr Scenery - Sierra Nevada
California Zephyr Scenery – Sierra Nevada
California Zephyr Scenery
California Zephyr Scenery
California Zephyr Scenery - Rushing River
California Zephyr Scenery – Rushing River
California Zephyr Scenery - Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery – Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery - Snow Capped Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery – Snow Capped Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery - Another view of Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery – Another view of Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery - Denver Union Station
California Zephyr Scenery – Denver Union Station
California Zephyr Scenery - Another view of Rockies
California Zephyr Scenery – Another view of Rockies

On the 2nd morning at around 5am, we made sure we got up to take a shot of the train station in Omaha Nebraska. Now we can safely say that we’ve set foot in Nebraska right? ;P

California Zephyr Scenery - Omaha Nebraska Home of Warren Buffett
California Zephyr Scenery – Omaha Nebraska Home of Warren Buffett
California Zephyr Scenery - Omaha Nebraska Station
California Zephyr Scenery – Omaha Nebraska Station
California Zephyr Scenery - Iowa
California Zephyr Scenery – Iowa
California Zephyr Scenery - Chicago Union Station
California Zephyr Scenery – Chicago Union Station


Video of our travels on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago

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We hope you have enjoyed this coverage of our travels on the California Zephyr Amtrak from Emeryville to Chicago! Some people may think that spending 52 hours on a train is a waste of time. However, we think that being able to enjoy the routine of – wake, enjoy views, eat, enjoy views, sleep, enjoy views (and repeat), is a real treat! Try it! You’ll enjoy it as well! Remember, if you’re travelling in twos, go for the Superline Roomette!

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