4 Amtrak Train Routes That Make for Scenic and Affordable Summer Trips
Courtesy Amtrak
Train Journeys

4 Amtrak Routes That Make for Scenic—And Affordable—Summer Getaways

From beach towns in Michigan and oceanfront resorts in Rhode Island to vineyards in Texas hill country.

For affordable and easy-to-plan summer trips, look no further than a train ride on Amtrak. Many routes around the U.S. are best explored in the warmer months, with under-the-radar beach towns, popular vineyards, and picturesque villages ranking among the train company’s destinations. 

As with any Amtrak ride, passengers will be afforded a roomy seat, generous luggage allotment, outlets, access to café or dining cars (depending on the route), and large picture windows to watch the scenery go by. Additionally, Amtrak fares have been much less expensive lately compared to soaring airline prices—and navigating the train station is usually less of a headache than getting through an airport.

This summer, give yourself a dose of slow travel and opt to take a vacation by train. Here are four Amtrak routes worth exploring in the warm weather, no matter what corner of the country you're traveling from.

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Chicago to Michigan’s beach towns on Pere Marquette

For quick access to beaches and charming towns, Midwest-based travelers can hop on Amtrak’s Pere Marquette line. The route starts in Chicago and hugs Lake Michigan, curving north through Michigan state and terminating in Grand Rapids. Sun-seekers should buy a ticket for the quaint beach town of Holland—a three-hour ride from Chicago. Named for its strong Dutch heritage, the town has picturesque windmills and a tulip festival each spring. Come summer, the attention turns to Holland State Park, whose powdery sand beaches border both Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Swimming, fishing, and boating are all regular activities here. When the sun sets, visit one of the town’s microbrewies, like Big Lake Brewing or New Holland Brewing. Both the Tulyp, Tapestry Collection by Hilton (formerly the CityFlatsHotel) and the Haworth Hotel at Hope College have modern interiors and are ideally located in the center of downtown near all the breweries, restaurants, and galleries.

Amtrak's trains through California hug the ocean for soothing views.

Courtesy Amtrak

Pacific Surfliner to Santa Barbara

Book a seat on one of Amtrak’s most scenic lines, the Pacific Surfliner to Santa Barbara. If leaving from L.A., you’ll chug along the coast enjoying the ocean vista for two and a half hours before being deposited in the center of Santa Barbara’s West Beach neighborhood. You’ll be walking distance from boutique hotels like The Eagle Inn, while dreamy resorts including the Rosewood Miramar Beach and San Ysidro Ranch, are just a few minutes away by hotel car service. While there’s plenty to explore in Santa Barbara itself, renting a car for the day and exploring the outer reaches of the surrounding Santa Ynez wine country would be well worth the effort. We recommend making an appointment for a tasting at sustainable vineyard Brave & Maiden Estate. Around the corner from Brave & Maiden is the rustic-chic Hotel Ynez, a restored motel with a country-house feel, two-acres of gardens, bonfire pits, and a pool.

Westerly, Rhode Island, on the Northeast Regional

For an iconic New England summer vacation, hop on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train to Westerly, Rhode Island. About a three-hour trip from New York City and an hour ride from Boston, the town’s train station sits just minutes from some of the best oceanfront hotels in the U.S. Just a 15-minute drive away is the Ocean House resort, a rambling sunflower-yellow estate sitting right on the Atlantic (free pick-up car service can be arranged with the hotel). Private beaches, lush lawns, and sweeping ocean views from the guest rooms are part of any stay at the historic resort. 

Equidistant from the train station on the other end of town is Weekapaug Inn, a historic boutique hotel with just 27 rooms and four suites (free pick-ups from the train station can also be arranged with hotel staff). Just a quick stroll from the inn is two-miles of pristine Atlantic beach for you to enjoy. 

Austin and Texas Hill Country on the Texas Eagle

Head south from St. Louis to Austin, Texas, aboard the Texas Eagle line. Book a roomette or a bedroom and stretch out for the 22-hour ride through the Ozarks and down into East Texas. Check in to the exclusive Hotel Saint Cecilia, a quick metro ride or a 30-minute walk over the Congress Avenue Bridge from the train station in downtown Austin. Grab some BBQ at Leroy & Lewis and catch some live music at the famous Continental Club

If you’re interested in exploring the region a bit, rent a car and drive about a half hour to San Marcos (also a stop on the Texas Eagle), a hub for swimming and other water sports thanks to its sparkling blue San Marcos River. Or, head to trendy Fredericksburg, about an hour and a half from Austin, to explore the burgeoning vineyard scene there. Get a feel for the Texas terroir with wine tastings at Alexander Vineyards and Heath Sparkling Wines.