Experiencing 50+ Hour Train Ride from Chicago To San Francisco as a Muslim Solo Traveler [California Zephyr REVIEW]

California Zephyr Review

When I embarked on my first-ever grand solo trip across the USA, I decided to do a cross-country train ride on the Amtrak California Zephyr so I could see the “non-glamor side” of the country.

I thought, “it would be a waste to only visit the major cities while I was already there.”

So if you are thinking about whether you should ride on the 51-hour train ride on Amtrak’s California Zephyr..

Stay tuned because, in this guide, I will share with you:

  • My personal experience as a Muslim solo traveler on the California Zephyr ride:
  • What made me choose this (teaser: scenery!) particular route over other Amtrak options to the West Coast side of the country
  • Dealing with food challenges as a Muslim
  • Accommodation, train delays, and more!


The Big Scenic Amtrak Ride Dilemma—”California Zephyr or Southwest Chief?”

California Zephyr Review

Before I chose California Zephyr, I was torn between Southwest Chief and Zephyr.

Because I had Los Angeles or San Francisco in mind as my “final destination” before heading back to Malaysia, I was contemplating between the two. Both had their own interesting sights, and journey that were each spectacular in its own way.

California ZephyrSouthwest Chief
End DestinationEmeryville (nearer to SF)Los Angeles
Scenic HighlightsRegarded as the most beautiful train trip in North America. Cruising through the plains of Nebraska, the Rockies, snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, salt hills of Salt Lake CityFor the great American West adventure through the red and vast deserted vistas. Passing by ranches, wheat fields, pueblos, canyons, and mountains that you can’t see on Interstate Highways
RouteChicago → Omaha → Denver → Salt Lake City → Emeryville (San Francisco)Chicago → Kansas City → Albuquerque → Flagstaff → Los Angeles
Duration51+ Hours40+ Hours
California Zephyr vs Southwest Chief

On top of the comparison, reading more about California Zephyr vs Southwest Chief Reviews on this thread played a role in helping me choose my train journey of choice.

At the end of the day, it is up to you to choose which one best suit your needs.

Riding the California Zephyr [REVIEW]

Amtrak Union Station Chicago

The journey starts from Chicago Union Station and ends at Emeryville, California.

Prepared with the idea that I would not have access to Halal food on board for the next 50+ hours, I ate a lot prior to boarding. I also brought a lot of snacks, smoothies, water, brownies, and fruits.

Accommodation on board

I chose the Reserved seating on Coach Class because that was affordable to my budget.

The Coach class is good enough for a tiny Asian like me. It is a wide reclining chair seat (for you to sleep) with ample legroom.

Prior to boarding, I expected that I would have to sit with a neighbor but for the entire journey, the whole 2 seat was mine! So for 50+ hours I had the entire two seats to myself which made me comfortable.

California Zephyr seats
Every one person had two seats to themselves in the reserved coach class

However, sitting for long hours do make your legs cramped up, but walking along the train, and towards the Observatory Car will help you stretch your tense joints!

Besides, there are other “more comfortable” accommodations like Sleepers if budget is not a concern to you.

Scenic views to not miss out

The main reason I wanted the Zephyr was because of the views.

Some people may be drawn towards Grand Canyon, and the red vistas of the American West, in such case they’ll be more suited to hop on the Southwest Chief.

But I wanted to see the Rockies, the pine trees, the salt lake. So because of these I chose the Zephyr.

And while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact locations, due to the occasional loss of cell coverage (my Simcard was T-mobile), here are some scenic views you can’t miss out on the California Zephyr!

A major plus about this Amtrak train ride is that the captain would explain, and announce the best views approaching the train.

Some of my California Zephyr photograph collections are:

Absolutely beautiful train ride, despite the long delays (which will be explained more down below).

Arrival in Emeryville

From here, you’ll have to take an additional shuttle to San Francisco (that is if your final destination is SF-like me).

Depending on the ticket that you choose, you can buy the shuttle prior to boarding, or buy it at Emeryville station, upon departure later.

I didn’t buy it cause I thought I would arrive at 2:00 pm instead of 11:00 pm—more on that later.

Things To Expect When Riding The California Zephyr

California Zephyr Cell Coverage

One thing that you have to prepare is that you’ll lose coverage lines in spots.

Bring yourself a book to keep yourself occupied throughout the journey! That makes the “Amtrak Solo Travel” even more memorable as you get to experience the journey on your own, reflecting within yourself.

California Zephyr Schedule

One thing that I would like to address on my California Zephyr Review is that the schedule has a possibility to delay. It is mentioned in the local reviews, and I have personally experienced it.

Do add buffer time (like a half-a-day to a day) to your itinerary so you can work out a sensible time frame for commuting from your train departure station to your destination in SF.

Overall, the California Zephyr route is:

Chicago → Omaha → Denver → Salt Lake City → Emeryville (San Francisco)

California Zephyr Map

Train Delays

California Zephyr Delays

Prior to departure, I have read several reviews that the train ride is prone to delays due to the engine breaking down.

While I’ve kept an open and positive mind throughout the entire journey, the review did come true, twice during my California Zephyr experience.

Once, it was more than 7 hours.

Because of these recurring delays, instead of arriving at Emeryville at 2:00pm as per the ETA, I arrived around 11:00 pm instead.

Luckily, my Airbnb host understood my situation and let me check in late at midnight.

#MST tip: If you’re fine with the possible delays, do make sure your schedule post-train ride is flexible so you wouldn’t be restless throughout the entire California Zephyr ride

Solo Travel Concerns

If you’re wondering “Is Amtrak safe to travel alone?” or if this is a worth-it “train trip for singles”,

Rest assured…

It is safe.


I had an enjoyable time on board, felt absolutely safe and secure.

Also, the good thing about the train ride on California Zephyr (according to my experience) is the fact that you get two seats at the price of one!

There wasn’t a need to potentially brush your elbow against your seat neighbor because the seat next to you is empty!

Related: What Does It Mean To Be A Muslim Solo Traveler?

Concerns about Halal Food

Realistically speaking, since it is a train ride in America, you should be prepared to handle your own Halal food concerns.

There is no halal food served on board.

With this already in mind, I brought as much food as I could, mentally prep myself for the possible challenges, and had also eaten A LOT at Union Station Chicago prior to departure on the first day.

Fruits that didn’t need refrigeration like apples and bananas managed to sustain me for the first 2 days.

On the third day, I decided to check out their convenience store and bought a vegetarian burger.

The burger was made out of red mung beans, so it could mimic the taste of meat.

Other than that, I snacked on the chips, a lot.

But if you have your own cup of noodles, that would be handy too as they provide hot water service.

Do you have tips on how to sustain a long train ride journey in a Muslim-minority country?

Dealing with Prayers

Of course, when it comes to prayer, Allah SWT has granted us travel prayers in situations like this. Do make use of this.

With the ample legroom in my coach class, the only way to pray was on your seat. Unless you booked the Sleeper, which probably would have a more comfortable space to pray!

Regardless, do bring a bidet for comfortable wudu’ use as the washroom sink had a tiny pipe (similar to those you see on airplanes).

California Zephyr Review
Close to Emeryville in California

Conclusion – California Zephyr Review

As a Muslim Solo Traveler who wanted to experience America beyond the major cities like NYC, Chicago, and LA within a short amount of time, a scenic train ride on the California Zephyr was the best decision compared to going on long bus rides.

There were some challenges that were expected, like no Halal food, loss of cell coverage, train delays, and 50+ hours being cooped up in the train. But, nothing that you couldn’t really handle!

As long as you prepare mentally and physically, in sha Allah, this will be a memorable train ride you’ll never forget.

Have you been on a long train journey before? Where was it? Share in the comments!

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