The American Riviera by train

Ditch the car and explore three classic Southern California beach towns the easy way

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Sunset's roots are in the rails: Our magazine was founded by Southern Pacific Railroad as a travel guide to the West, and our name comes from the Sunset Limited line, where our first issue was handed out in May 1898. We're still fans of train travel ― here are some of our favorite ways to explore the West.

True journeys

The Canadian Relive the glory days of transcontinental railroads on this epic three-day journey between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Toronto. Along the way, you'll see the Canadian Rockies' towering granite peaks, marshlands, and prairies, and maybe even catch glimpses of wildlife, including moose. The train stops in the mountain village of Jasper and bustling Edmonton, a city that comes alive with arts festivals every summer. A unique feature of the Canadian is the option to stop in the middle of nowhere for an outdoor experience: With advance notice to the conductor, you can pick a random spot between Sudbury Junction and Winnipeg and get off. INFO: From $740 U.S. one-way; 888/842-7245.

Coast Starlight The granddaddy of West Coast train trips, the route runs 1,377 miles between Seattle and Los Angeles. Despite its name, the Coast Starlight spends most of its time away from the Pacific ― not that it skimps on scenery. The snowcapped Cascades and, yes, long stretches of the Southern California coast are among its highlights. Sleeping cars and daily wine tastings help you pass the time on this 35-hour trip, and for some sections in the Northwest, National Park Service guides board trains to offer a bit of area history. Delays are common on this route, so don't cut things too close on the last leg of your trip. INFO: From $92 one-way between L.A. and Seattle; 800/872-7245.

Shorter excursions

Alaska Railroad Whether you're looking for coastal glaciers or the grandeur of Denali National Park, the Alaska Railroad lets you sit back and see the state's remarkable landscapes in style. Double-decker dome cars offer panoramic views, and you step out to outdoor viewing areas to breathe in the fresh scent of northern forests or get views of tundra and wildlife. With four routes, trips range from the nearly 4 1/2-hour ride aboard the Coastal Classic between Anchorage and Seward to the nearly 12-hour Fairbanks run aboard the Denali Star. INFO: From $69 one-way; 800/544-0552.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad You might think you were born a century or so too late to ride a steam train over the Rockies. But this narrow-gauge train still huffs and puffs its way along the country's highest rail route ― all the way up through 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass. The 64-mile, 6 1/2-hour journey from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado (or the reverse), also winds its way through the stone chasm of Toltec Gorge. Beautiful any time of year, the route is at its best in September and early October, when aspens paint the mountains with their yellows and oranges. INFO: $79; 888/286-2737.

Grand Canyon Railway Leave the car behind and travel through stands of ponderosa pine and across sagebrush prairies to the ultimate scenic payoff: the South Rim. The railway from Williams, Arizona, helped open the Grand Canyon to travelers when it began running in 1901, and the 65-mile, two-hour-plus ride is still the classic way to reach this classic park. Choose from a variety of train-car classes, including dome cars and the ultra-posh parlor car. Once at the canyon, take advantage of the park's many shuttle routes. Not only is the train a fun way to reach the canyon, but you'll also help alleviate auto congestion and pollution at the South Rim. INFO: From $65 round-trip; 800/843-8724.

Skunk Train Travel through the redwood forests of California's North Coast on this ideal family outing. The Skunk follows the route of an old logging railroad between Fort Bragg and Willits that dates back to 1885. Depending on the run, a vintage diesel locomotive, steam engine, or motor car pulls the Skunk's restored passenger cars and open-air observation cars through the Noyo River Canyon. The round-trip takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours, and some summer rides feature barbecues in the shade of a redwood forest. And that name? Well, the Skunk earned its sobriquet back in the day, when motor cars (and their rather odiferous gas engines) were used on the line. INFO: From $39, $20 ages 3–12; 800/866-1690.


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