As the years unfold, the emphasis of travel has increasingly been on getting there—as quickly as possible.
Gone are the days of savoring the journey, immersing oneself in every detail. But imagine traveling in a way that allows you to move about freely, meeting people from all over the world. This and so much more can be found riding the rails on Amtrak.
Half the fun of traveling is planning the trip: fine-tuning where to go, figuring out where to stop along the way and where to stay. Then, that moment of opening the door to your hotel room; rushing to see the view, checking out that claw-tub bathtub, and if you’re lucky, finding a gift of wine and chocolates waiting for you.
The Amtrak California Zephyr route begins in Chicago and ends in Emeryville, California, just across the bay from San Francisco. My initial itinerary called for boarding in Chicago, spending three days and two nights on the train. Then, a night in San Francisco across the bay from the train depot after which I would wake up early and board the Amtrak line south parallel to Hwy 101 until reaching the town of San Luis Obispo near the coast. Then, stay there for a night, rent a car, tour Hwy 1, and stay in Cambria, an artistic town just off Hwy 1.
I wanted to experience the luxury of a bygone era, combining the old with the new, but had to adjust the route to save time. Instead, I flew to Denver and stayed the night so I could board early and catch the 8 a.m. train. It worked out perfectly, I had breakfast on the train and set out for what was a glorious one-night, two-day trip.
Travel often entails adapting to the unanticipated.
So when I learned my train trip to San Luis Obispo was canceled due to rail repairs, I rented a car in San Francisco and drove parallel to the train route. Another detour that proved to be a blessing as it saved me several hours and I stopped along the way taking photos of the emerald hills and vineyards.
Departing from Denver’s Hotel Monaco
In downtown Denver, just blocks from the train depot is Hotel Monaco. Inside the luxury suite, a regal blue sweeps across the living area with a curvaceous sofa, wet bar and dining area. In the bathroom, comfort joins convenience with an oversized tub and a chest of drawers for clothes and jewelry. Floor to ceiling windows cast a soft glow across the bedroom and a most inviting bed with Italian Frette linens, down pillows and comforters.
So divine, you don’t want to leave, but there’s complimentary wine tasting every evening in the lobby. Get that cell phone ready for a most exquisite ceiling, a multi-dimensional work of art. Equally dynamic is the lobby furnishing, a collage of mineral blues and greens, a perfect fit for sipping wine and conversation.
All aboard luxury on the Amtrak California Zephyr
Denver’s century-old Union Station embodies the comforts of an old-fashioned living room. In addition to serving the Amtrak line, there’s shopping and fine dining, burgers and brats, along with ice cream and coffee. Be sure to stop at Pigtrain for a delightful latte or ice coffee to sip while daydreaming on the train.
All aboard the Amtrak California Zephyr from Denver to Emeryville, California, a stunning trail through the Rockies, the Utah desert and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Conductors lead the way narrating details past farmland, canyons and the winding Colorado River.
Your attendant meets you outside and directs you to the superliner luxury bedroom. Top of the line with sofa for two that turns into a bed at night, a lounge chair, an upper deck bed, a closet area, a lavatory with mirror, and a toilet and shower.
And the most critical part of the trip, the huge picture window with a tray that folds out for games, camera gear or snacks and beverages. There’s ample storage for carry-on bags or you may check in your luggage, free of charge. All your meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner are complimentary. Your attendant turns down your bed and attends to your every need with snacks, water and coffee.
This moving picture show brings a peace, a time to reflect, a time to dream, and stops along the way, a trail of luxury.
Hilton San Francisco Union Square Hotel
Pulling back the sheers, peering through the window, a gold light falls gently across the San Francisco cityscape. A welcome mat that swiftly turns into a city of lights as the full moon rises across the bay.
Although the hotel’s décor is a comfortable repeat of Hilton’s finest, the hotel’s Cityscape Bar has quite the reputation for romance and intrigue. Atop the 46th floor, the entire bar is draped with wall-to-wall glass windows, sit back and relax drinking a dry martini or perhaps a white Russian and soak in the evening’s performance.
SLO Brew Lofts
Next stop is the town of San Luis Obispo, just a short ride from the Pacific Coast. A tapestry of everything that makes your heart sing, an artistic mecca blending the new with the old. And smack dap in the middle of town, above the town’s SLO Brewery is the SLO Brew Lofts.
Imagine a 70’s luxury urban studio with psychedelic colors splashed across the furniture and high-end appliances. It’s a happy, spacious pad complete with a turntable and a large-size print of Steve McQueen looking cool sitting on a sofa with sunglasses gripping a handgun ready to shoot. In the living room, flip a switch and the fireplace sets the mood along with sipping a freshly brewed beer from the brewery below. Check out a long list of excellent restaurants, all within walking distance. I highly recommend the Big Sky restaurant, another funky place that fits right in with the urban appeal.
Rent a car or hop on the San Luis Obispo bus and tour the lauded Hwy 1. On the highway, just outside the artesian town of Cambria, Oceanpoint Ranch is more than a seaside inn, it’s an oasis filled with birdsong and the ocean’s eternal energy. Oceanpoint Ranch harkens back to mid-twentieth century motels with the amenities of a luxury hotel, a generous living area and fireplace along with dreamy bed and claw-foot bathtub.
Nestled inside are canopies of wind-swept cypress trees and Monterey pines. Enjoy gardens filled with majestic flowers, and communal fire pits for toasting libations and roasting marshmallows. Just steps away from the shores of the Pacific’s Moonstone Beach, stroll along wildflower trails weaving through the bluffs. Stop by Moonstone Grill and toast the beauty in an outdoor patio or dine inside the ocean-side restaurant.
All good things must come to an end
End your luxurious adventure with a first-class direct flight back home on Alaska Airlines. Sip champagne while watching an Oscar-winning movie and nibbling on a dark chocolate brownie with a hint of sea salt.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Amtrak offers multi-city stop discounts and 10% discounts for travelers age 65 and older.
- You can rent a car or take bus tours along Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County.
- The Hearst Ranch Winery is on Hwy 1, delightful tastings and outdoor patio. The Hearst Castle is just six miles from the Oceanpoint Ranch, book your castle tours in advance.
- Amtrak suites are slightly different depending on the train route, and there are suites for four with two baths and showers. The Amtrak dining car requires parties of three or less to share a table inviting people to share their stories.
- Amtrak has added more ADA accommodations on different routes, check their website for more info.
- It’s convenient to take an Uber from Emeryville to downtown San Francisco.
- Check in advance on the SLO Brew Lofts, sometimes they have concerts in the brewery below.
The author’s stay in San Luis Obispo and Oceanpoint Ranch was hosted by the San Luis Obispo County tourism office.
IF YOU GO
Route of the Amtrak California Zephyr with stops along the way
*Photos of hotels supplied by the properties, bedroom suite on train supplied by Amtrak and landscapes taken by Deborah Burst.