We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

“Amtrak California Zephyr to Reno” 4 of 5 stars
Review of California Zephyr

California Zephyr
Improve this listing
Ranked #1,497 of 5,695 Activities in California
Type: Scenic Railroads, Public Transportation Systems, Sightseeing Tours
More attraction details
Attraction details
Owner description: Since 1949 this Amtrak train has taken travelers on scenic rides between Roseville, IL and Oakland, CA.
San Jose
1 review
14 helpful votes 14 helpful votes
“Amtrak California Zephyr to Reno”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed April 5, 2010

We bought tickets online a couple of weeks prior to our trip. I wanted to go on the ride with snow in the Sierras and we were not disappointed! (March 31, 2010) We had questions regarding the trip and called an Amtrak representative to ask about food and parking. There is a lot immediately next to the train station in Emeryville...you have to go inside and get your tickets at the counter and they will give you a parking pass to display on your windshield, so parking is free.
Regarding food, there is a dining car and a small cafe on the train. Food is basic, prices range $5-$20 depending on bkf, lunch or dinner. After reading a review that the food is like 'airplane food', we decided to take snacks on the train from home and bought a subway sandwich, which is open early and is directly across the street from the station. Also across the street is another food store with pastries, coffee and snacks. There is food available to purchase inside the train station as well.
The train ride was very comfortable, many people bringing pillows and their own blankets. You can recline slightly in the seat and there is a foot rest as well. Plenty of leg room. You can wander to the 'lounge' car, which has tables and viewing seats with a clear dome ceiling. You are told not to 'camp out' there so that all may enjoy....but....
The stairway is VERY narrow and that leads to the bathroom. You can carry on your own bags that can be stored overhead. The drinking water on the train is terrible, bring your own. There is an electrical outlet under your window so you can charge electronic items. Cell phones seemed to work very well on the whole ride.
We left Emeryville around 10am and arrived in Reno around 4:30pm. We stopped 5 times...at Martinez, Davis, Sacramento, Roseville, Colfax, and Truckee...all stops were fairly brief. The only stop they allowed you to get off (smoke) was in Sacramento.
Seating is open and it wasn't any problem for us to find a seat for us together.
Bathrooms are like airplane bathrooms, and one had room to change clothing.
We stayed overnight in Reno, walked to Silver Legacy, although Harrahs was closer, almost across the street from the station.
There is a McDonalds right across the street from Silver Legacy, so if you are still full from the buffet dinner, you can get a light breakfast before going to the station.
Our train was an hour and a half late....something happened out of Salt Lake...we heard delays are common.
We sat on the right side each way so we could enjoy all the scenery...some say it isn't pretty until you are out of Sacramento, but we totally enjoyed it all....seeing the bay, the bridges, the mothball fleet, and then the beautiful sierras and rivers. We had to wait outside of Martinez for 45min for a tanker ship to go under the drawbridge...it was the slow boat from China!
We ate in the dining room on the way back...sat with ladies who were in the sleeping car, so got good feedback regarding their experience....their food was included in the fare.
The meal in the dining car was ok, salad very small (about 3 bites), but it was a fun experience, but nothing like the dining car on our trip to Alaska to Denali Park with Princess. But we are glad we tried it and it didn't break the bank, meal was about $16....I had the veggie burger and my husband had the 'special'...a hot beef/rice dish...he said it was good but a very small portion.
For those who get motion sick easily, this ride was very smooth until you got up to walk...could be wobbly....I was afraid looking outside the window would make me feel sick but I was ok.
Cost for us out of Emeryville was about $160 roundtrip for both with a senior and AAA discount.
We would highly recommend this trip, probably one of the best $200 weekend trips we have taken.

Was this review helpful? Yes 14
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Write a Review

398 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
  • German first
  • Italian first
  • Swedish first
  • Any
English first
13 reviews 13 reviews
Reviews in 11 cities Reviews in 11 cities
20 helpful votes 20 helpful votes
“Great family trip from Washington to Glenwood Springs, CO -- upgrade to one bedroom sleepers a must”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed March 20, 2010

We did this to visit family over Xmas in Snowmass, CO. There are five of us and the airfare into Aspen was almost $1000 per person. We took an overnight train from DC to Chicago that was late because of a snowstorm. We waited 4 hours at Union Station with three small kids, the lack of accurate info was frustrating.

We were happy and excited to get on -- we bought sleepers on both legs-- the first two roomettes and the second leg two one bedrooms that attached. I will say that we loved going to the dining car with the kids and looking out the window, playing games. When it was time to go to the roomettes it was just too cramped for us. I was in one with a 2 year old baby and a 7 year old. It was too hot and crowded in the berth. The AC wasn't working well and the conductor was really going at the horn all night. My husband and I were texting each other throughout the night saying "this sucks!" "kill me now!"

However, we had breakfast, showered (a little gross but oh well...) and pulled into Chicago. We met close friends for brunch and the kids ran around and stretched their legs. We were sooooo happy to get on the second train the CA Zephyr and move into our very luxurious and spacious (in comparison) one bedroom sleepers that we could open up to combine. We went to dinner and the lookout car, had a great time reading and playing games and the second night went to bed around 9 pm. All of us sleep soundly through the night not waking up until 8 pm. Something about the upgraded accomodations, bigger and better beds made all the difference. We felt great! We had breakfast and hung out in our adjoining rooms watching the gorgeous scenery from Denver to Glenwood.

We loved the trip and would do it again but only one way (we flew back) and only in the larger family suites or two one bedroom connecting rooms. We hope sometime to take the train all the way to see family in LA.

Was this review helpful? Yes 7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Adelaide, Australia
Top Contributor
1,140 reviews 1,140 reviews
496 attraction reviews
Reviews in 191 cities Reviews in 191 cities
928 helpful votes 928 helpful votes
“One of the world's great train journeys, and a great and unique way to see the USA- but not for everyone”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 7, 2010

This is one of the world's great train journeys.

You can travel from Chicago to San Francisco, taking about 3 days of travelling time (2 nights sleeping on the train).

You travel in double deck Superliner train carriages, with an observation car which has panoramic windows.

Your journey takes you through magnificent scenery- Amtrak bill it as "the most beautiful train trip in North America" and they're right.

You go from Chicago through the Rockies, the Coninental Divide, Glenwood Canyon, the Utah Desert and the High Sierrras, then on to San Francisco. (The final leg of the journey from Emeryville to San Francisco is by coach).
On the Denver to San Francisco leg, you travel on the historic Union Pacific line.

The scenery is magnificent. The timing is contrived to ensure that you travel through the most scenic areas by day.

Some of the scenery is quite inaccessible by other means, therefore giving you a unique experience.

As a great train journey, CZ offers a magnificent opportunity.

I don'y know how much longer you will be able to take this train- there has been speculation that Amtrak will stop providing the service.

Hence, if you want to take this journey as a long distance train adventure, then I recommend you do it sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, this is an "adventure".

Amtrak's accommodations for passengers are provided sincerely, and with great staff.

However, the accommodations are dated, although clean and serviceable.

We travelled in a "bedroom"- a 2 seater compartment with private en suite washing facilities and toilet (a washstand and a combined shower and toilet cubicle).

By day, you can sit in the compartment; by night, you have an upper and lower bunk. I slept well, but not everyone does- light sleepers might be disturbed by the motion of the train and the sounding of horns at intervals during the journey.

This is the most expensive way of travelling on the CZ, but it is the only way you will have private facilities.

If you don't mind "sit up" travel and communal washing facilites, the USD 145 ticket price is a bargain for the scenery you experience! The bedroom is USD 966 extra (for 2 persons).

There is a dining car, which serves honest fare in a simple fashion (disposable plates). The highlight of dining is meeting and chatting with other passengers.

Remember: many passengers do not take the entire journey; they are travelling on one particular leg. Hence you are able to meet with interesting people as you travel.

The observation car is a good place to spend the day- you can sit in one of the seats or couches, and literally watch the world go by!

The seats swivel so you can take in sights on each side of the train.

This trip is all about the experience, and being willing to accept that the accommodations, whilst clean and comfortable, are certainly not luxurious.

If you are willing to accept that, on the basis that you are seeing magnificent scenery in a unique way, I believe you'll enjoy the experience. However, if you are looking for a luxury experience, think again.

Was this review helpful? Yes 11
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
San Francisco Ca
Senior Contributor
40 reviews 40 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 21 cities Reviews in 21 cities
45 helpful votes 45 helpful votes
“Great Day trip from Lake Tahoe Area (Truckee) to Bay Area (and back)”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed January 5, 2010

We rode the Zephyr from Truckee, CA on December 24th to the bay area and then back again on January 2nd.

The trip was much better than I expected. I was concerned that the West bound train would be full of holiday travelers, out of food and dirty. So my expectations were low. While the train was busy and a bit "used", we found the trip very enjoyable. We were traveling with 3 families both with smaller children ages from 5 - 8. Some key points:

1) The train was about an hour late. We kept checking AMTRAK train status, and it was very accurate.

2) Upon boarding, the coach hostest did an excellent job of seating everyone on a relatively full train. She sat people in groups and ensured we were all together.

3) The observation car was pretty full, but there was always room to sit (not always together).

4) We ate in the dining car which opened much too late (around 12:20). If we had known this, we would have had a snack around 10:30 . One in the dining car, we were quickly seated. There is a only a short list of lunch items, but they are all fine for a family. The kids had toasted cheese, spagetti, chicken fingers or a cheeseburger. The chicken fingers were not very good (frozen clearly just heated as there is on fryer on the train). Everything else was very good. All were served with a pickle and chips. The adults either had the hot sandwich (pesto/tomato/toast cheese on wheat) or a cheeseburger. There was also a pork stew over rice that looked pretty good. We all had dessert of ice cream (individual containers) or a slice of pie. These were great. I believe the kids meals were $6 including milk/juice and the adults were $7-$10 without drink/dessert. Overall, we paid around $80 for 7 people with the desserts.

Adults were able to order off the kids menu so I saw other adults having toasted cheese or spagetti.
Even though we were at the end of the train's journey, everything was fully stocked.

My husband and 7 year old ate in the cafe car and we had many snacks from there. The staff in the cafe car both going and coming was very friendly and made trips to the cafe car a fun experience especially for the kids.

5) The train traveled quickly and we arrived in sacramento early. From Sacramento to the bay area, the train only stops to let off passengers so it moved quickly and we were in Emeryville around 15 minutes early.

6) From the start of our trip in Truckee through Sacramento (and then on the way back starting in Sacramento) two volunteers from the Rail Road museum were on the train to provide tour feedback. They were great and you could hear them through the observation car and cafe.

Negative aspects:

-- The bathrooms were "used". They felt and smelled a bit like a bathroom at the end of a long plane trip. I would recommend using the bathrooms that are combined with the changing rooms as I think these are used less often.

-- We used the AMTRAK connector bus to get from Emeryville to San Francisco. This was pleasant and clean, but very slow as it felt like 1/2 the train used it. So it took about 35 minutes to get everyone on and their luggage placed under the bus. Next time, we'll take the shuttle to BART.

-- On the return trip, our coach host wasn't as friendly. He was pretty gruff and struggled putting passengers together after the initial departure from Emeryville. At Sacramento where a large number board, you could tell he was stressed prior to the stop, no allowing folks to move to sit together when there would have been no problems if this had been allowed.

-- Because we did a day trip, there were many other people traveling and there was a "bussle" on the train. A lot of cell phones, loud discussions, games, etc. This was great for us, but might have been a pain for those hoping to have a more quiet, relaxing trip.

-- The trains are old. The seats are shabby, the bathrooms are super small. There is plenty of leg room between the coach seats (with leg rests and food rests), but it is all very "klunky". When you lower your tray table, the whole seat shakes. This is not a luxury ride.

I would strongly recommend that everyone take the California Zephyr through California at least once. It is a LOVELY trip and a very easy day trip from San Francisco to Reno. We didn't go all the way to Reno, but there are many hotel/casinos right on top of the AMTRAK station there. Truckee's depot is also right downtown truckee and has both bus and taxi service to a number of local hotels in Truckee. Our taxi was $16 from the Truckee depot to our destination.

Overall, a great experience for both families

Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Solihull, UK
Top Contributor
489 reviews 489 reviews
146 attraction reviews
Reviews in 159 cities Reviews in 159 cities
398 helpful votes 398 helpful votes
“Across the Plains”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed October 31, 2009

We travelled across the USA on a tour organised by Great Rail Journeys of York between the 7th and 27th October 2009. We boarded the California Zephyr for an overnight journey, across the cornfields and plains of Iowa and Nebraska to Denver. The Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and San Francisco. Much of the early part of the journey before night fell was through extensive plains that can be a little boring though just before nightfall we crossed the Mississippi River. We had upgraded to a sleeper with an integral Shower/WC. The room (about 9 feet by 6 feet) is equipped with a bench seat for day use and a armchair. Also a wash hand basin with razor point and individual heating control and bottled water. Ample towels and toiletries are provided. The steward puts up and takes down the bunk beds. Coffee, ice, water and orange juice are available free of charge. Dinner and Breakfast is included and taken in the Dining Car. Reservations for dinner are strictly observed by the Dining Car staff and you are seated at the next available table and so the choice of dining companions is ‘pot-luck’. Dinner serving started at 1730 and breakfast at 0600. Dinner was a salad followed by a choice of chicken, beef, pasta or fish followed by a sweet. Alcoholic drinks could be bought in addition. Breakfast choices included a continental breakfast or a Pancake choice or an American cooked breakfast. We found sleeping on the train difficult and constantly interrupted by the motion of the train cornering and the whistle as it approached level crossings. We were grateful to have private facilities and to not have to use the communal facilities on the lower level of the carriage. Coming down from the upper bunk in the middle of the night was interesting! Use of the top bunk requires physical effort and can feel claustrophobic – the bunks themselves are not uncomfortable, but the air conditioning can be chilling. A word of caution, most of our party mentioned that they suffered from a mild ‘motion sensation’ for much of the day following the journey. Surprisingly, we arrived 25 minutes early in Denver.

Was this review helpful? Yes 6
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Travelers who viewed California Zephyr also viewed

California, United States
California, United States
Plumas County, CA
California, United States

Been to California Zephyr? Share your experiences!

Write a Review Add Photos & Videos

Owners: What's your side of the story?

If you own or manage California Zephyr, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.