From the E-Mail Bag.
Q: I’d like to take a memorable long-distance train ride before Trump has his way and kills off most of the Amtrak system, and would appreciate some advice. I live in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I’d like to go from here to the West Coast and back, but there are any number of possible itineraries I could choose. Do you have a recommendation?
A. Absolutely! I’d recommend taking the westbound California Zephyr from Chicago to the Bay Area, the Coast Starlight from there up to Seattle, and the Empire Builder from Seattle back to Chicago.
You could make that trip in reverse, of course—Chicago-Seattle-Bay Area-Chicago—but I am suggesting you start your itinerary with the westbound Zephyr because of the incredible views as the train climbs up into the Rockies after leaving Denver in the morning. Of course you would be taking the same route coming from the other direction, but the eastbound train is due into Denver at 6:38 p.m. and, if it should be a couple of hours late, that part of the trip would be in darkness. It happened to me once and it was a great disappointment.
Heading west, the Zephyr arrives in Emeryville at 4:10 p.m. (photo above) and you could probably connect with the northbound Coast Starlight which is scheduled to depart Emeryville close to 10:00 p.m. However, I am always leery of connections because, as you probably know, unseen circumstances can conspire to make these long-distance trains late. Sometimes many hours late. I would suggest, therefore, that it would be prudent to spend at least one night in the Bay Area.
If you decide to do that, there’s a Hyatt hotel literally a couple of hundred yards across from the Emeryville station.
Your ride up to Seattle on the Coast Starlight is not only very scenic, but as a sleeping car passenger, you have access to the Pacific Parlour Car, which is what makes this train my personal favorite.
You won’t have the option of connecting with the Empire Builder in Seattle because the Coast Starlight arrives several hours after the eastbound Builder has departed. But that’s fine—even if you spend just one night in Seattle, you can have a superb meal at Assaggio, a wonderful Italian restaurant. Two hotel suggestions for Seattle (both near Assaggio): the Mayfield Park, a classic older hotel, or Hotel Andra, which is quite contemporary.
Ok, that’s my suggestion and I’m jealous. It will be a wonderful trip. Send me an email when you get back and let me know how it all worked out.