Father/Son Time on the California Zephyr

Father/Son Time on the California Zephyr

Gary House and his son Jacob

For our first father and son trip, I decided to try train travel via Amtrak’s California Zephyr. My son, Jacob, recently turned 16 and I knew my time for hanging out with my boy was soon coming to an end. Sports is already taking some time away and girls are on the horizon—what better way to get to know my son, than by spending several hours together on a train?

The Start of an Adventure

Large comfortable coach seats awaited us as we boarded the train at the Modesto, California Amtrak station. With the seats only two across, we were not separated by annoying middle seats during our short trip to the Stockton train station. Convenient fold-down tables and large windows made this part of the trip very enjoyable.

Unlike driving, train travel takes a slower, more leisurely pace, providing ample time to take in the views. The seats are up high, and windows are large–you can see for miles. As the primary driver for our family, I never get to enjoy the scenery as we travel the roads to new adventures. Train travel has changed that for me.

We arrived in Stockton a short 30 minutes later, where our transfer bus was waiting. This whole process took about 10 minutes to disembark, walk the short distance to our bus, then another minute to board the bus. I was impressed with how clean the bus was and how easy the transfer went. 30 minutes later we arrived in Sacramento. Our layover in Sacramento was for a little more than an hour, which was a perfect window to find something to eat and explore the area around the station.

Sacramento Station

Turns out Starbucks occupies the same building as Amtrak, so sustenance was provided. We toured the Amtrak facilities, which is currently undergoing a renovation. The Sacramento train station sits adjacent to Old Town Sacramento and the old rail-yards, giving everything a nostalgic feel. The remodeled station is a massive brick building with beautiful murals, marble highlights, and old train station pews.

The path from the Amtrak station to the train tracks is a bit of a walk, but Amtrak Red Caps are on hand for those unable to walk that far. If you do take the walk, you will be treated to various native plant displays and comfortable resting areas both above and below ground. Once you arrive at the actual train track, you are treated to great views of the Old Sacramento train-yard, and massive brick buildings that housed the infrastructure of the old railroad days.

Boarding the California Zephyr

As we stepped aboard the train we were greeted by our cabin steward and shown to our Superliner roomette, which is definitely an upgrade in privacy, comfort, views, and price point from the coach seats. Cozy at only 4 x 6 ft, there is a fold down bed, and two seats that join together into a second bed, each about the same size as a twin bed mattress. I loved the huge wall-to-wall window in our roomette and table that we had for our use; the complimentary water was also nice. As soon as the train began its journey, we were given a quick introductory welcome and review of the train by our cabin steward. We were quite excited to learn that our meals were included with the cabin!

My son, ever the curious one, decided at some point to explore the comforts of the upper berth by folding it down and crawling into it for a so-called nap. At the prime age of 16, naps are not a common activity, and true to form, he was back down in five minutes to proclaim his completion of nap time. At 5’ 7, it is worth noting his comments about how comfortable the bed seemed (with room to stretch), a positive note to take for an overnight trip.

Amtrak Dining Car

The Amtrak dining car seats four people per table, allowing you to meet fellow train travelers. Of course, if you prefer the solitude of your room, your cabin steward will be happy to order you a meal delivered to your room. All cabins come with meals from the Amtrak dining car, and Amtrak offers a full menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We were quite impressed with the selection, which included several signature items, in addition to a daily Chef’s special.

Our California Zephyr experience included a visit to the glass domed “Sightseer Lounge” with its panoramic windows offering unrestricted views of the countryside as you pass by. This very roomy train car offers large swivel seats to relax in as you enjoy your trip. Tip: Once the train gets moving, these seats fill up fast.

During this leg of our trip, guides from the California State Railroad Museum joined us to share the history and trivia of the route we traveled. Our guides made the breathtaking scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains even more fascinating.

For the majority of our trip to and from Reno, we enjoyed our roomette, sitting in the full-sized comfortable chairs, looking out the large wall-to-wall windows. Our privacy was complete as soon as the room door and curtains were closed. We could talk undisturbed, read, relax, or just stare out the window at the amazing views passing by.

Would I travel this way again? In short, yes. I was so rested by the time we arrived in Reno, certainly ready to walk for miles, unlike how I would have felt if I made the long drive from home. Stress-free train travel, with happy people enjoying the freedom of letting someone else do the driving. I truly felt I received value for my money by taking the Amtrak train to Reno and back. It was a convenient, easy, enjoyable, weekend adventure that made my son and I firm believers that this is a great way to travel.

Jacob and I shared some valuable moments and made lasting memories during our adventure. He is the future traveler of our family and there is no doubt he is looking forward to our next train adventure. Father and son bonding at its best!

About the Author: Gary House is the host and producer of Cooking Everything Outdoors. Gary is an avid traveler, foodie and father of three boys. His travel adventures can be followed on his travel blog, where he shares his stories on how to enjoy traveling at any age.