Amtrak Train cross country from San Diego to New York

posted by Russ, January 2 in travel, united states with tags , , , , ,

Santa Fe Depot, Amtrak, San Diego
cross country train trip, Santa Fe Depot, Amtrak Station, San Diego

Santa Fe Depot, Amtrak, San Diego

Since writing this article I’ve also taken the Amtrak from San Diego to Portland

DECEMBER – Most people I knew at work thought I was crazy to take a trip like this, but I had a good time and would still do it again, though making a few changes.

The trip was by Amtrak, and originated in San Diego (Santa Fe Depot) with the final destination being New York City. I took the Pacific Surfliner from San Diego to Los Angeles, then the Southwest Chief from LA to Chicago, and finally the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Penn Station in New York City. To make it even more interesting, I declined a ride to the train station from my beach apartment and instead opted to take the city bus instead. I also opted for the Metro North from Grand Central to Stratford, where I was picked up by my mom and grandparents.

It was quite a trip, approximately 42 hours to Chicago, then another 20 or so to New York, and when you add in a 4 hour layover in Chicago and the 2 hour journey up to Los Angeles, plus the transportation on each end, it took about three and a half days. Not to mention the train was about 4 hours late arriving into New York putting me there close to midnight, which foiled my plan to visit Rockefeller Center and see the holiday festivities and made it more urgent to catch a late train to Connecticut where I was getting picked up.

The one way Amtrak ticket itself was pretty cheap, about $180 dollars, which combined with a one way plane ticket back to San Diego put me probably a bit cheaper than standard holiday round trip airfare. Keep in mind that this was a coach seat, so I had no bed or shower. Beds and rooms can be obtained, but then the price increases dramatically. I can say for sure that the train is FAR more comfortable than an airplane, even in coach there is plenty of room, and you can bring pretty much as much luggage as you want. The obvious down sides to a trip like this are the lack of suitable food, the lack of a bed, the lack of cleaning amenities, and the obvious fact that you have to sit for so long. Though wandering the train and spending hours away from your seat was possible and actually appeared to be fairly normal.

The only things that I would do differently were I to do it again would be to pack my own food and bring more in the way of entertainment. There is so much space for personal storage that this would not be a problem, and had I known how bad the food would be in the cafe car, I would have done this.

A couple things to note. If you are in coach you have no access to anything more than a bathroom barely large enough to stand in. I started the trip taking bird baths every few hours or so and changing my cloths, but after a day this became futile and I accepted that in the recycled train air I would end up grimy and stinky regardless of how often I cleaned, so I just accepted my dirtiness and began taking pride in the fact that I didn’t shower for over four days. Also, on the older trains there is a serious lack of plugs to plug appliances into. The newer train from San Diego to Los Angeles has one in each seat, but the older long haul trains don’t. They are scattered though the coach car so you need to ask your neighbors, or you can fight for the couple that are in the cafe or lounge cars. A train trip might be better suited for reading and journaling than using a laptop or other device that needs electricity.

In Chicago the layover was enough time for me to get to the Sears tower, down to the river and Michigan Ave where I wandered for a while, and I even had time to grab a bite to eat and a beer. If you are a smoker there are some stops where the train stops for 10 minutes and give you time to get off. Just ask the attendants how long the stop will be and they will tell you if you have time or not.

Any other questions about a trip like this, just post a comment and I will do my best to reply.

>> See All Amtrak Cross Country San Diego – New York Photos

Originally posted on Friday, January 2nd, 2009 at 5:38 PM .

7 Responses to “Amtrak Train cross country from San Diego to New York”

  1. Grace says:

    Wow, sounds like a heck of a trip! I wish we still had passenger trains down here in Florida. I’ve never really had the opportunity to ride a train for long distances like that.

    My boyfriend actually made his way out to San Diego from Boston in a Greyhound bus. He has lots of stories, but I think I would much prefer a train-cross country trip myself.

  2. Larisa says:


    I’m thinking of going to Oklahoma to meet my sister and then to San Diego – this is all from Boston – is it okay just to get a cabin at night and be in coach during the day? Was the whole trip really exhausting – the reason I do not want to fly is because I am on the pill and I don’t want to get blood clots (which sometimes happens to people) I know I’m paranoid – but shit does happen



  3. Russ says:


    As far as I know, you would pick either cabin or coach. If you are in a cabin you can certainly wander the entire train though, same goes for coach. But your ticket would be one or the other. If you want a sleeper, you would just buy that type of ticket and then wander the train during the day as you wish. Coach is nothing special, so if you don’t want to be in your cabin you just go to the cafe or the lounge car.

    Each train is different as far as what it has on it. My trip involved three different trains, one from San Diego to LA, one from LA to Chicago, and one from Chicago to New York. The first one didn’t have a lounge as it was a short distance train. The next one had I think two lounge cars and also a cafe. The third to New York had both, but was not as nice. The amenities will vary based on the the train and the route, but you can pretty much guarantee a cafe car. The lounges are nice too, they are just open seating and big windows.

    As far as being exhausting, it wasn’t too bad. I napped on and off during the day and then slept pretty well through the nights. It will depend on how easily you sleep. The trains ride pretty smooth though so you shouldn’t have a problem, especially if you get a cabin with a bed.

    Best of luck in your trip!

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