Our Favorite Experiences While Traveling Across the USA by Rail
It took us 10 days to travel nearly 5,000 kilometers by train across the southern United States. Our journey took us from the golden sands of the Southern California coast, across the desert landscape of Arizona, through the grassy plains of Texas Hill Country, and across the bayous of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast to the historic monuments of Washington, D.C. and the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.
Along the way, we had the opportunity to visit several U.S. cities — each with its own personality. We discovered what it means to “Keep Austin Weird”; we were able to “Remember the Alamo” in San Antonio; and we ate authentic Cajun-Creole dishes in New Orleans. Below are a few more of our favorite experiences from our coast-to-coast train journey.
Strolling Along the Hollywood Walk of Fame – Los Angeles, California
John Lennon, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Barbra Streisand. These are just a few of the famous names we saw engraved in the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone who’s anyone in show business — be it film, music or sports — has a spot on this iconic sidewalk in Hollywood. We had a great time looking for the stars of famous celebrities, such as Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and Jennifer Aniston.
Riding the Roller Coaster – Santa Monica, California
Before leaving Southern California, we sought out some thrills at the Santa Monica Pier. Extending into the Pacific Ocean from the shores of this trendy beachside community, the Santa Monica Pier is home to Pacific Park, an amusement park filled with rides, games and more.
Pacific Park provides entertainment for visitors of all ages. the World’s only solar-paneled Ferris wheel towers over the wooden walkway, and families can enjoy playing games and snacking on tacos and funnel cakes. But for us, the highlight of our stop at the Santa Monica Pier was riding the West Coaster. This steel roller coaster carried us nearly 17 meters up into the sky and out over the edge of the pier as the Pacific Ocean waves crashed below us and the salty mist cooled our skin.
Watching the Sunset Over the Colorado River – Austin, Texas
Before enjoying the live music in the bars lining 6th Street in Austin, Texas, we enjoyed a moment of calm by the Colorado River. As the day drew to a close, the setting sun shimmered on the rippling water, reflected off the metallic buildings downtown and cast a warm glow on the Texas Capitol’s historic Italian Renaissance Revival-style dome.
Cruising Down the River Walk – San Antonio, Texas
Weaving its way through downtown San Antonio, Texas, the historic River Walk is one of the city’s most popular attractions. It’s easy to see why. We hopped aboard a Rio San Antonio Cruises River Tour and set off down the river, passing diners enjoying Tex-Mex cuisine beneath a rainbow of brightly colored umbrellas. Live mariachi music filled the air.
The cruise took us past such sites as the open-air Aztec Theater, where spectators can watch performances right on the waterfront. Throughout the 35-minute-long tour, a knowledgeable docent regaled us with tales of the city’s history.
Listening to Live Music – New Orleans, Louisiana
As soon as we stepped off the train in New Orleans, Louisiana, the city thrust its exciting, one-of-a-kind culture on us. Strolling through the picturesque French Quarter, where stately tiered buildings, cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages hark back to the Big Easy’s colonial history, our ears perked up at the sound of brass instruments.
The bold tones from the trumpet cut through the warm air and were complimented by the lower notes blasting from the trombone. Encountering live music is not uncommon in New Orleans — we were thrilled we’d gotten the chance to experience it firsthand.
Cracking Open Blue Crab – Baltimore, Maryland
By the time we got to Baltimore, Maryland, we had worked up an appetite. We neared the end of our travels in true Maryland fashion: with a table piled high with steamed blue crab. We cracked open the shells, topped the succulent meat with melted butter and reminisced about our time on the tracks as we watched fishing boats bob in the waters of the Inner Harbor.
Touring the National Mall – Washington, D.C.
After a scenic train ride past hectares of rolling North Carolina farmland and Virginia vineyards, we stretched our legs along the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. The more than 3-kilometer-long green space in the heart of the city connects the U.S. Capitol on one end to the Lincoln Memorial on the other.
While walking along the Mall, we encountered a variety of fascinating sites. Between the Capitol and the towering obelisk that is the Washington Monument sit 11 Smithsonian museums — we stopped in at the National Museum of American History to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the film The Wizard of Oz and then explored the depths of the ocean at the neighboring National Museum of Natural History. On the opposite side of the Washington Monument, we had a great time posing for pictures alongside the reflecting pool.
The Journey Itself (Traveling by Train)
Perhaps the most memorable part of our journey was the train ride itself. The time on the train exposed us to the incredible diversity of the USA.
Sitting in the comfort of the train car with glass roofs, the gentle rocking motion relaxing us, we watched as the landscapes changed right before our eyes. We saw the scenery transform from towering skyscrapers to arid deserts, from grassy hills to swampy bayous, from iconic monuments to peaceful harbors.
They say that travel is about the journey, not the destination. In our case, that proved to be true.
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