Riding Amtrak between Florida and California

Two of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States, Florida and California, are on opposite coasts. It’s a long trip if you’re flying, long if you are driving and even longer if you decide to take Amtrak because multiple trains are involved. The trip is doable if you have the time, and you can choose different route options based on the cities and landscapes you wish to see or travel through.

For a complete list of route options from specific cities, start the booking process on Amtrak.com, and keep in mind that you might need to try departure dates on different days of the week for the start of your trip since long-distance trains are not operating every day during the pandemic.

You might also need to book a series of one-way train tickets in order to get the route you want, but since the long-distance trains are not running every day, you’ll want to make sure your connection is the same day or otherwise plan to get a hotel and see the sights while you wait.

Note that you will have to change trains in either Chicago or New Orleans as a major decision to make when planning your trip.

Travel Times

Train travel between Florida and California requires at least four nights on three different trains. The length of the trip will vary by your start and end destinations. If you are starting your trip in Miami for example, trip time is about 8.5 hours to Jacksonville, Florida — and that’s just the travel time in Florida! Likewise in California, if you aren’t starting your trip near Los Angeles, San Francisco or Sacramento, then you will have to factor in time to reach one of those cities in order to connect with a cross-country train.

Florida Start

If you are starting your trip in Florida, keep in mind that Tampa is the only city on the West Coast with a train station. All other stations are on the East Coast and no train stations are in the Panhandle. View the list of Florida Amtrak Stations on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor routes to see which one might be closest to you.

Other things to know:

  • Alexandria, Virginia is the first place you can change trains. You can transfer to the Cardinal train for a trip to Chicago or transfer to a Crescent train for a trip to New Orleans.
  • If you travel to Washington D.C. Union Station instead of Alexandria, you eat and shop on your train layover and board a Capitol Limited train to Chicago, which is a shorter trip than the Cardinal route (you can also connect with the Crescent and Cardinal in DC)
  • If Northern California is your destination, you’ll need to go to Chicago and get on the California Zephyr, which stops near San Francisco.
  • If Southern California is your destination. you can reach Los Angeles from both New Orleans and Chicago.

California Start

A trip from California to Florida on Amtrak is easiest if your starting location is the Los Angeles, Sacramento or San Francisco/Emeryville area.

Other things to know:

  • The Sunset Limited departs from cities including Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino and travels to New Orleans. At that point you’ll need to change trains and ride the Crescent to Alexandria, VA or Washington D.C.
  • If you’re trying to reach the Florida panhandle, take the Sunset Limited to New Orleans and rent a car and drive the last leg of the trip.
  • The Southwest Chief departs from the Los Angeles area and goes to Chicago if you prefer that route.
  • Near San Francisco, the California Zephyr departs from the Emeryville Station and Sacramento Station goes through the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains for a scenic trip to Chicago.
  • From Chicago, you can transfer to a new train to reach the Washington D.C. area (Cardinal or Capitol Limited) in order to reach a train to Florida.
  • If you’d rather see New York City, you can board the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago and go to Manhattan. At New York Penn Station you can get on the Silver Meteor or Silver Star train to Florida.

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