Five Amtrak routes travel to California: California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle. You can board trains in the Midwest, Southwest (including Texas), Great Plains, around the Rocky Mountains and in the Pacific Northwest. If your starting location is east of Chicago, you’ll need to travel there or to New Orleans in order to connect with a California-bound train.
Note that trains enter the state in Northern and Southern California only, but you can transfer to trains that will take you to other destinations. Here’s what you need to know about each travel option. For schedules and custom travel recommendations, use the Find Trains feature on the Amtrak.com homepage.
One of the most scenic Amtrak routes, the California Zephyr travels to Northern California from Chicago through multiple mountain ranges. California stops include Sacramento, Davis and Emeryville (there is an Amtrak bus shuttle to San Francisco if you book San Francisco as your final destination).
To reach more of California, you can transfer to San Joaquins and Coast Starlight trains in Sacramento and Emeryville. The San Joaquins route travels in the Central Valley to cities including Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield. The Coast Starlight travels through the entire state near the coast. Popular stops include Oakland, San Jose, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, the Coast Starlight is your best option to reach California by train. You can board the train in cities including Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem and Eugene. You can also transfer to the Coast Starlight from Empire Builder trains in Seattle and Portland. The Empire Builder route travels through the Upper Midwest, Great Plains and Montana Rocky Mountains, so it’s a good option to reach California if you live in cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minot, Whitefish and Spokane.
As the name suggests, the Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and Los Angeles through the Southwest desert. You can board trains in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Trains only stop in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Fullerton, Riverside and San Bernardino.
If you want to travel to San Diego, other cities south of LA or the central coast, you can transfer to the Pacific Surfliner train in Fullerton and Los Angeles. Otherwise, for destinations in Northern California, you can transfer to the Coast Starlight at the Los Angeles Union Station.
Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited
The Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited trains merge in San Antonio and travel to Los Angeles. Before joining together, the Sunset Limited departs from New Orleans and stops in Louisiana and Texas cities, and the Texas Eagle departs from Chicago and travels through the Midwest, Arkansas and Texas.
In addition to Los Angeles, the other popular California stop is Palm Springs. Exit here to enjoy the sunny city and to reach Joshua Tree National Park. You can also transfer to the Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight trains in Los Angeles to reach other areas of California.
- Amtrak Stations in California
- 10 best stops on the Coast Starlight
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Top photo credit: Murray Foubister