Vacation by rail: San Francisco to Seattle, Vancouver

Flying and driving are not the only options to travel long distance. Nowadays, people seem to forget about traveling by train. Based on our personal experience, it is actually a surprisingly fun way to travel.
Amtrak: Photo from Wikipedia (If no source noted, all photos from MY PhotoVideography)

Most people in the San Francisco Bay Area heard about Amtrak. Few may have taken Amtrak to travel short-distance, but not many have had the experience of overnight travel with Amtrak. Amtrak is a national railroad passenger system that connects 896 cities and locations. Many major cities can be reached by Amtrak, for example, San Francisco, Oakland, San Joes, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Washington DC, New York and Miami.

For many reasons, I never enjoyed flying. Most urban airports are similar. Rushing through security, and waiting for boarding is not fun. Then another couple of noisy hours spent uncomfortably in your seat with depressingly narrow space. Trying to sleep in the plane is the worst. I feel even more tired after sleeping, if I can sleep at all.  For the opposite reasons, I am a fan of travelling by train.

Most of time on a train, there is no cell phone reception, no Wi-Fi. After a short while of getting used to it, I actually like it. With no Facebook, no emails or even phone calls, I spent much more time watching my daughter’s silly and funny moves, playing with her, talking to my wife, and enjoying the stunning view outside. You will always make friends on a train, to exchange stories to someone sitting next to you in the observation car or in the dining car. Because of the limited seats in the dining car, normally passengers were asked to share tables for a group less than 4 people. This is a better way to know someone than reading his/her Facebook stories.

Technologies make our lives much more efficient and fast-pace but it could also overwhelm us with too many information. We are so occupied with what our smart phone allows us to do and forget about the point of travelling with family. Is the travel about the family or Facebook messages and work emails?
Yes, it is much slower than flying, but I enjoyed every minute, even the time doing nothing. And the best part, my experience and memory of the trip is enriched and complete fun. No need to black out the part dealing with security, waiting, and the fatigue of travelling by air. Maybe for these very same reasons, there are still people out there like to travel by train. Faster is not always better.

We crossed California, Oregon and Washington by train, from Emeryville, CA (San Francisco Bay Area) to Seattle. We enjoyed the view of Pacific Coast, Cascade Range and Mount Shasta. Passengers are welcome to get off the train when it stops at larger stations to take a stretch break. 

23 hours later, at 9PM, we got off the Seattle station enjoying the smell of the cold air in this northern state (yes it’s cooler than the Bay Area).  We decided to spend a night in Seattle, then the next morning, fully rested, we rented a car and drove to Vancouver, BC.

Mt Shasta, Photo from Wikipedia

Vancouver in spring is amazingly colorful. You see flowers everywhere.  For the love of nature, we decided to go for a hike outside the city. Near the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, we found a beautiful provincial park at the end of Capilano River.

This is a natural salmon hatchery site. It was not the salmon hatching season but hiking here is refreshing as we were surrounded thriving trees and lives. Walking slowly into the deep woods, we heard not just the birds’ chirping, but also the sound of plants growing.  After a pleasant hike, I feel fully charged with the nature’s abundant energy. This is the reason I love to be in the nature so much.

We headed back to the city and visited Stanley Park before sunset. To the locals, Stanley is like the Golden Gate Park to SF’ers and the Central Park to the New Yorkers. Every major city needs a place like this to allow people to slow down, retreat, recharge and re-balance, so that we are ready for the new challenges ahead. In a fundamental way, we have always been like this. We need the Mother Nature to remind ourselves how much we are alive.

So next time when you travel for vacation, take a slower pace, and switch off the cell phone apps to enjoy the trip. I hope you will like the different travel experience.

Photo from