Most scenic Amtrak routes on the West Coast

Pacific Surfliner on the Arroyo Hondo Railway Bridge

Amtrak has several scenic west coast routes that travel along the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, Columbia River, as well as through or near mountain ranges. There’s a trip for everyone, whether you love the mountains or the water. See the five top routes below to learn more.

Pacific Surfliner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saIGP7-X11I

Pacific Surfliner trains travel in Southern California between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. This route is very close to the coastline in many spots (see photo above), with views of some of the best surfing beaches in the United States. Book a trip on this route if you are a beach lover or want to spend time sightseeing in cities including San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Commute time between San Diego and L.A. is about three hours, and the entire route is nine.

Tip: If you are flying into California, we recommend the San Diego International Airport, which is a short taxi/Lyft/Uber ride away from the San Diego Old Town Transit Station. There you can connect with multiple Surfliner Amtrak trains each day. Also, be sure to sit on the left side of the train if heading north (or on the right if you are traveling south).

Coast Starlight

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-alaq0ayXk

Coast Starlight trains travel between Los Angeles and Seattle in about 35 hours if you’re looking for an overnight train trip with great scenery. With stunning ocean and mountain views, this epic route is a great option for viewing most of America’s west coast. In addition to the Pacific Ocean and beaches, you’ll see Puget Sound, Mt. Shasta, Cascade mountain range, wine country, farm country and big cities.

Because the Coast Starlight is a long-distance train, sleeper cars are an option when booking your ticket. Choose from a roomette or bedroom. Meals are included if you book sleeping accommodations instead of a coach seat.

Amtrak Cascades

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGX9eBFoIFc

For a tour of the Pacific Northwest, book a trip on the Amtrak Cascades. There are several different trains to choose from each day, but they stop at different stations. Only the trains departing Portland and Seattle go north to Canada, which is where you’ll find some of the better scenery. When selecting your Amtrak ticket, just make sure it doesn’t include a thruway bus connection (select a different trip departure time that is rail only).

We recommend traveling between either Portland or Seattle and Bellingham, Washington. You can also travel into Canada if you have a passport and want to visit Vancouver, British Columbia.

Perks of starting or ending in Portland include views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer, Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. The trip time between Portland and Bellingham is about 6.5 hours. If you have less time, then consider the Seattle-Bellingham segment, which travels next to Puget Sound and is only 2.5 hours long.

Empire Builder

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk7JAHVckGY

If you’d rather be in the mountains than see them from a distance, book a trip on the Empire Builder. This cross-country route travels through the Rocky Mountains, Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge. To view just the gorge section of the route, book a rail trip between Spokane and Portland, which takes about 7.5 hours.

California Zephyr

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBySVb9eF4Y

Often named as the most scenic Amtrak route in the United States, the California Zephyr is a cross-country train with an amazing route through the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The best scenery is the segment between Emeryville, California (near San Francisco) and Denver, Colorado. The trip to and from Denver is about 32 hours, otherwise, plan for two nights on the train in order to reach Chicago.

More Information

All Amtrak Routes
Amtrak routes with observation cars
Amtrak routes with sleeper cars
Busiest long-distance Amtrak stations