One of the world’s longest train journeys at 2,438 miles, the California Zephyr is also one of the most magnificent. This railway cuts right across the USA, through the dusty and dry Nevada plains, through the Rocky Mountains, to the misty cliffs and sunshine of California’s coastline.
To help you make the most of this adventurous journey, here are the highlights for along the California Zephyr railway, showing you what’s best to enjoy at each stop according to global travellers.*
Chicago's skyscrapers form a dramatic skyline
Chicago isn’t just a supremely good-looking city. Its diverse population has cultivated an innovative and rich cuisine that’s moved away from the deep-dish pizza stereotype to farm-to-table food, Mexican fusion, and much more. Chicago is also celebrated for its music, art, and architecture, with al fresco summer orchestral performances, Anish Kapoor’s giant Cloud Gate outdoor sculpture, and lots of galleries. The Sono Chicago is conveniently-located in the Old Town neighbourhood, its thick carpets, super king size beds, and velvet throws providing a relaxing retreat after a day exploring the city.
Find Omaha's best pubs down narrow alleyways
Positioning itself as a family-friendly and cultural city, Omaha locals are known for their Midwestern hospitality. Hop off the train and explore the Old Market, a historic district with galleries, boutiques, horse-drawn carriages, red brick roads, and pubs hidden down flower-filled narrow alleyways. The Residence Inn Omaha Old Market Area is perfectly-placed to explore all of these attractions.
Denver is a great destination for active types
Approaching the Rocky Mountain landscape by train from the plains of Nebraska is a thrilling sight, and alighting the train in Denver, at the foot of the Front Range of the Rockies, you’ll find there’s a lot to explore. For active types, get around by bike, with a bike sharing program and the popular Cherry Creek Bike Trail making it an easy and fun way to see the city.
Touring Denver’s many breweries is another great way to spend an afternoon, as is trying out some of the cured meats, marinated seasonal vegetables, fine cheeses, and other artisanal dishes at acclaimed restaurant and market, Mercantile. The ART, a hotel within an eye-catching modern building in central Denver, is a showcase of the city's fashionable, contemporary style, with fine dining, decor, and service.
Temple Square in SLC houses the headquarters of the Mormon Church
Temples, Salt Lake City
Probably the most scenic stretch of the train journey is through the Rockies to Salt Lake City. Forests of Fir, Aspen, and Maple trees, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, canyons and the Great Salt Lake, from which the city takes its name, are all within easy access of the city.
Temple Square is worth a visit, the cultural, historic, and geographic heart of the city, as well as the official headquarters of the Mormon Church. Visit Salt Lake Temple and its sculpted gardens, and try to time your visit with the regular free performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Grand America Hotel is an incredibly plush hotel that looks a lot like the Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest; a beautiful, big building bedecked with lights, flags, and with harps and four poster beds in the bedrooms.
Reno is no longer all gambling and kitsch
Shedding its reputation for casinos and kitsch, Reno has emerged as a youthful and energetic city, well worth hopping off the train to see. The revamped, downtown Riverwalk follows the banks of the Truckee River with galleries, restaurants, and specialty stores.
In the summer, you can take a guided kayak trip on the city’s flowing waters or go camping at the hot springs in the eastern Sierras. In autumn, attend the nearby Burning Man festival and in winter head up to the snow around Lake Tahoe. Reno's casino hotels are the most highly-reviewed type of property in Reno on Booking.com, with the glitzy Peppermill Resort Spa Casino topping the lot.
Quiet and quaint Sacramento is a creative place
Culturally diverse food, Sacramento
Sacramento was once a farming town, nowadays it’s a sunny, quaint, and friendly Californian city. The farm-to-fork food movement is, understandably, big here but there’s also a growing hunger for art and culture.
Public art installations, new spaces like the Warehouse Artist Lofts (combining artists’ studios with exhibition areas and retail), and a resurgence of traditional crafts and artisanry like cobbling are all boosting Sacramento’s image. Amber House Inn Of Midtown is a popular property found in two historic Sacramento buildings, beautifully-decorated with antique furniture and art deco lamps.
The final stop, sunny San Francisco
Organic food, San Francisco
San Francisco is a suitable final stop for this railway, given it’s somewhere you’ll want to stay a fair while. A city known for its liberal, creative communities, and a trailblazing civil rights movement that paved the way for LGBT rights in the rest of the US, it’s full of excitement and drive, not to mention that beautiful big red bridge, the mysterious island prison of Alcatraz, and a great food culture (try some of the city’s famous seafood). Parker Guest House is a property set within a lemon yellow, quintessentially San Franciscan mansion, with old mahogany furniture, a conservatory breakfast room, and a big, flower-filled garden.
**Destinations featured were chosen as a selection of all the major destinations along the Chicago to San Francisco railway route. Then the most popular feature of each city was calculated using internal endorsement data.