Warning to Visitors

Some of the information below may be out of date as a result of changing timetables and services. Please double check the accuracy of all information before travelling.

The booking forms should be up to date however, so if tickets for a particular service are available, then the service should be operational.

Chicago - San Francisco (California Zephyr Train)

Rail

The Journey

The California Zephyr is an Amtrak service running between Chicago and San Francisco. The route covers a total distance of 3,924km, and passes through seven states on its journey. It is well known for being one of the most scenic long distance routes operated by Amtrak. The two day journey is best enjoyed in a roomette or bedroom, but for budget-conscious travellers, a reclining seat can be just as comfortable.


Amtrak Superliner Trains

Amtrak Superliner services operate on long-distance routes cross the USA. These two-floor services offer various types of accommodation, along with various onboard dining options.

Overnight Superliner services can be very enjoyable. The comfortable accommodation on offer allows you to arrive at your destination refreshed and ready for the day ahead. 

Onboard, there are a range of sleeping options, including: Reserved Seats, Superliner Seat, Roomette, Bedroom, Bedroom Suite, Family Bedroom and Accessible Bedroom.

Reserved & Superliner Seats:

Reserved seats are the cheapest accommodation option onboard overnight Amtrak services. They offer big, reclining seats with footrests, a huge amount of legroom, foldable trays and individual reading lights. A limited number of seats have electrical sockets.

Seating carriages tend to be considerably noiser than private cabins, just because there are more people sharing the room with you. If you are a light sleeper, we suggest you opt for a cabin. Superliner trains also have an additional level of seating downstairs, in the Superliner Coach Seat section.

Find out more about Reserved Seats.

Roomettes:

Roomettes are small cabins, for one or two passengers. During the day, the room is set up with two reclining seats facing each other across a small table in front of a window. At night, these seats are converted (by train staff) into a bed, with another bed folded down from the celing. Roomettes include electrical sockets, climate control, reading lights, fresh towels/linen, toiletries, water and newspapers.

Roomette passengers get all their meals (in the dining car) included with their train fare. Toilets, showers and sinks are shared with other passengers within the same carriage. 

Find out more about Amtrak Roomettes.

Superliner Bedroom:

The Superliner Bedroom is a slightly larger bedroom, suitable (at a pinch) for 3 passengers, and comfortable for 2 (with a couple of suitcases). During the day, each cabin has a large sofa, which is converted at night into either a single or double bed. The third bed is lowered from the ceiling. Each room has electical sockets, climate control, reading lights, clothes rack, fold-down table, fresh towels/linen, toiletries, water and newspapers.

Superliner Bedroom passengers have all their meals (in the dining car included with their train fare. Superliner bedrooms hae their own private bathrooms, which include a toilet, sink and shower.

Find out more about Amtrak Superliner Bedrooms.

Superliner Bedroom Suite:

If you are travelling as a group (between 4 and 6 adults), the Superliner Bedroom Suite may be your best choice. Each suite is made up of two Superliner Bedrooms, combined, with two private toilets and showers. 

During the day, the suite has two large sofas, which are converted at night into either single or double beds. The third and fourth beds are lowered from the ceiling. Each room has electical sockets, climate control, reading lights, clothes rack, fold-down table, fresh towels/linen, toiletries, water and newspapers.

Superliner Suite passengers have all their meals (in the dining car included with their train fare.

Find out more about Amtrak Superliner Suites.

Luggage

Passengers are permitted to travel with up to three items of checked-in baggage, and up to two items of carry-on baggage. Check-in items must be registered at least 30 minutes before the train's scheduled departure. Upon arrival, checked-in luggage will generally be available within 30 minutes, although this process can take up to 60 minutes. Carry-on items exclude handbags, laptops, briefcases etc. All hand luggage must be tagged with the passenger's name and address. 

Bicycles

Some trains have bike racks to take fully assembled bicycles. As these spaces are limited, advanced reservation is suggested. The routes operating the Bicycle Service include:

  • Cascades;
  • Capitol Corridor;
  • San Joaquin;
  • Pacific Surfliner (excluding trains 798/799);
  • Downstate Illinois Service;
  • Missouri River Runner;
  • Downeaster; and
  • Piedmont.

Those that do not have dedicated spaces may offer to take your bicycle as checked-in baggage (subject to an additional $5 charge). Checked-in bikes must be at the station at least one hour before departure, and must be transported in suitable bike boxes. These can be bought at the station if required ($15) per box. Checked-in bicycles will usually be required to be disassembled.

Folding bicycles may be taken on-board as hand luggage, although only one folding bicycle per person will be allowed. Folded bicycles should be stored in the luggage storage areas at the end of the car (lower level).

Food & Drink

Most Superliner services operate a full-service Dining Car, which serves hot meals prepared by chefs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are included for First Class passengers, passengers with sleeping accommodation, and all Auto Train passengers. Standard/Coach Class passengers may dine for an additional charge. Credit cards are accepted as a means of payment.

On long-distance trips, passengers are asked to make reservations for lunch and dinner services, which are made in 15 minute increments. An Amtrak steward will take your reservation after boarding the train. Lunch is served from 11.30am-3pm, whilst dinner is served between 5pm and 9pm.

If you would like a more informal dining expierence, food service is available in the Lounge Car. The food on offer is more basic; sandwiches, pizzas, snacks etc, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. As the Lounge Car is found on the upper level, people using wheelchairs may request to be moved to the upper deck at an appropriate station stop.

Passengers are permitted to bring their own food and drink onboard the train with them for consumption at their seats or in their sleeping accommodation. Food and drink may also be consumed in the upper level of Superliner Sightseer Lounges. Alcohol may not be consumed in public areas of the train.

Internet Access / WiFi

Selected services offer WiFi access onboard, although the service does not support high-bandwidth actions. The routes covered include:

  • Acela Express;
  • Amtrak Cascades;
  • Capitol Corridor;
  • Carolinian;
  • Downeaster;
  • Empire Service;
  • Ethan Allen Express;
  • Keystone;
  • New Haven - Springfield Shuttle;
  • Northeast Regional;
  • Pacific Surfliner;
  • San Joaquin; and
  • Vermonter.

Further information about the Amtrak on-board experience can be found here.

Timetable

There is only one service between Chicago and Emeryville (for San Francisco) each day. It runs daily, throughout the year.

Chicago - Emeryville (for San Francisco) by Train:

Station5 6
Chicago14.00Emeryville09.10
Naperville14.34pRichmond09.22
Princeton15.44Martinez09.54
Galesburg16.38Davis10.36
Burlington17.25Sacramento11.09
Mount Pleasant17.59Roseville11.35
Ottumwa18.53Colfax12.21
Osceola20.09Truckee14.38
Creston20.41Reno16.06
Omaha23.05Winnemucca19.08
Lincoln00.14Elko21.31
Hastings01.47Salt Lake City03.30
Holdrege02.34Provo04.35
McCook03.43Helper06.37
Fort Morgan05.05Green River07.59
Denver08.05Grand Junction10.23
Fraser-Winter Park10.07Glenwood Springs12.10
Granby10.37Granby15.12
Glenwood Springs13.53Fraser-Winter Park15.50
Grand Junction16.10Denver19.10
Green River17.58Fort Morgan20.25
Helper19.20McCook23.49
Provo21.26Holdrege00.54
Salt Lake City23.30Hastings01.42
Elko03.03Lincoln03.26
Winnemucca05.40Omaha05.14
Reno08.36Creston07.04
Truckee09.37Osceola07.40
Colfax11.48Ottumwa09.09
Roseville12.57Mount Pleasant09.54
Sacramento 14.13dBurlington10.36
Davis14.44dGalesburg11.31d
Martinez15.26dPrinceton12.23d
Richmond15.59dNaperville13.43d
Emeryville (for San Fransico)16.10Chicago14.50

Emeryville - San Francisco by Bus:

If you are travelling to/from San Francisco, you will need to make your way to Emeryville in order to catch the train to/from Chicago. Fortunately, there is a connecting bus that is timed to meet the train.

Stop5005Stop5006
Emeryville (Station)16.25San Francisco (Caltrain Station)07.00
San Francisco (Ferry Building)17.05dSan Francisco (Shopping Centre)07.10p
San Francisco (Fisherman's Wharf)17.20dSan Francisco (Fisherman's Wharf)07.30p
San Francisco (Shopping Centre)17.35dSan Francisco (Ferry Building)07.50p
San Francisco (Caltrain Station)17.45Emeryville (Station)08.25

p: Picks up passengers only.
d: Drops off passengers only.

Price

Finding precise prices for Amtrak services is notoriously difficult. Fare information is not readily available to the public, perhaps due to the number of variations in price, relating to how far in advance you book, what time of year you plan to travel, etc.

The prices below are approximate standard fares, and are based on a one-way adult journey. The best thing to do is to check on the Amtrak website for the price of your trip, and to see if any special offers are available. Importantly, the base price for a seat is per person, whereas the price for a roomette or bedroom is shared between all the passengers in that room.

RouteSeatRoometteBedroom
Chicago - Emeryville (San Francisco)$145$500 - $900$900 - $1300

Amtrak tickets are available to buy up to 11 months before your journey. There are five pricing levels, with the price level increasing the closer to the journey date. Every Tuesday, Amtrak update its list of special offers, which offer savings of up to 90%. Offers are generally valid for journeys up to five weeks away. 'Weekend Getaway' deals are also available, which give special fares for certain routes with a Saturday departure and Sunday return (tickets must be reserved at least 3 days before departure). Amtrak Rail Passes can also offer significant savings, especially if you make a particular journey regularly.

Top Tip: Amtrak offer a 100% refund for cancellations on tickets that haven't been printed. If you wait until the day of departure to pick up your ticket, you might have time to spot a better offer for the same route. Simply cancel your existing ticket, and then buy a new one (at the lower price)!

Railcard Discounts:

If you are in posession of a valid USA Rail Pass, you may travel on this route free of charge (for regular Coach class seats). If you would like to upgrade to sleeping car accommodation, you may do so for a surcharge.

Available Discounts:

There are a range of discounts available for eligible passengers. It is important to remember however, that these discounts are for the standard fare, and not for the supplement paid for sleeping accommodation.

Children (2-15) get 50% off adult fares. Children under 2 years old travel for free.

Seniors (62+) receive 15% off the lowest available fare on most Amtrak trains. On cross-border services run by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, a 10% discount is available. 

American Automobile Association (AAA) Members , as well as their spouses and children (2-15) save 10% on the lowest available adult fare when using an AAA card.

Active duty members of the US military, their spouses and children save 10% on most Amtrak fares. When buying a ticket, you must present a valid active-duty US Armed Forces ID card.

National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Members receive a 10% discount on the lowest available fare on most Amtrak routes.

College Students and High School Seniors receive a 15% discount on the lowest adult fare on most Amtrak services, on presentation of a Student Advantage Card. You can buy an Advantage Card here.

International Students save 15% on the lowest adult fare on most Amtrak routes, on presentation of a valid International Student ID card and a valid photo ID. You can buy an ISIC card here.

Veterans Advantage Members Cards entitle their holder to a 15% discount on the lowest available fare on most Amtrak trains.

Tips, Questions & Comments