The 10 Best U.S. Day Trips By Train

A westbound Long Island Railroad train rounds the corner into Cold Spring Harbor Station, on its way to New York Penn Station. K_Gradinger
By Sascha Segan

Just because you're traveling without a car doesn't mean you're stuck at your destination. Many day trips -- a sleepy fishing village outside of New York City to a beachside amusement park south of San Francisco -- are within a few hours by train from major U.S. cities.

Extend your vacation with these 10 rail day trips. All of these trips let you get there and back in a day, most for under $25 round-trip.

For more great train trip ideas within North America, check out The 10 Best North American Rail Trips Under $25 and 10 Amtrak Train Trips Cheaper Than Driving.

Photo Caption: A westbound Long Island Railroad train rounds the corner into Cold Spring Harbor Station, on its way to New York Penn Station.
View Next Slide
Montauk Point Lighthouse, Montauk Point, Long Island. Frommers.com Community
There's something magical about the "end of the line." Where do you go when you can go no further? Spend the day in Montauk, a beach town three hours from Manhattan on New York's Long Island Railroad.

To take a day trip to Montauk, board a 7:40am or 9:40am weekend morning train from New York's Penn Station. At the ticket window or on the ticket machine, choose "LIRR One-Day Getaways" and pick the "Montauk Village" package, which includes a taxi ticket into town and discount coupons for local shops.

Montauk lies just past the flashy Hamptons. There's a beloved old lighthouse out here, a park with nature trails, miles of beaches, ocean views, some seafood restaurants, and very little pretension. If you'd like to see how the other 1% lives, hop the 3:35pm train from Montauk for the 25-minute ride to one of the Hamptons.

It's easy to turn the East End of Long Island into a weekend or two-day trip, especially if you fold in the Hamptons, the Tanger outlet mall in Riverhead, and the wine country on the North Fork. To keep it a day trip, return on hourly trains between 5:35pm and 8:36pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Photo Caption: Montauk Point Lighthouse at Montauk Point, Long Island
View Next Slide
The beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Frommers.com Community
Whether you're a fan of Boardwalk Empire or just of boardwalks, Atlantic City is certainly worth seeing while you're in Philadelphia.

Tickets between Atlantic City and Philly cost $10 each way on New Jersey Transit's Atlantic City Line. The train takes 1 hour 35 minutes, but the schedule is a bit erratic, with buses now replacing some late-night, weekday trains. Before heading out, consult the official schedule to make sure you'll be riding both ways on smooth rails rather than bumpy roads.

Photo Caption: The beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey
View Next Slide
A shop in Beacon, New York. dougtone
The humble Metro-North Hudson Line—one of the greatest bargains in American railroading—cruises right up the Hudson River at least once an hour. You ride along the edge of this incredibly historic stretch of the river with an often-unobstructed view of the New Jersey Palisades and every now and then, some massive bridges. About an hour after leaving Grand Central Station you'll encounter two great little destinations one stop apart: Cold Spring, well-known for its antique stores, and Beacon, with a lavish contemporary art museum (Dia:Beacon) and a slightly scruffy main street of quirky restaurants and shops.
View Next Slide
A view of the Indiana Dunes, south of Mt. Baldy in Michigan City, Indiana. Tom Gill
For a city 750 miles from the ocean, Chicago is remarkably maritime. A short train ride south of Chicago is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore -- a combination of beach and hidden trails among rolling dunes. It's great for kids, and it's great for anyone in the summer. Just one warning: there are no real concessions here, so pack a lunch.

It's easy to get to the Dunes by train: take the South Shore line from Randolph or Van Buren St. stations in the Loop to Dune Park station (1 hour 20 minutes, $6.95 one-way). Trains run every two hours or so, so check the schedules. From Dune Park station, it's about a 15-minute walk to the water. You can find maps and guides on the park's official National Park Service website.

Photo Caption: A view of the Indiana Dunes
View Next Slide
Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California. ScottSchrantz
This one takes a train and a bus, but it's worth it. About two hours south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is beachside entertainment in the classic style: a true early 20th-century boardwalk amusement park, with rides, arcades, and a gigantic miniature golf course. It puts Fisherman's Wharf to shame, and it has a very different (and more maritime) vibe than newer amusement parks like Great America. It's a perfect day out in the Bay Area.

To get to Santa Cruz from San Francisco, take the Caltrain commuter train down through Silicon Valley to San Jose Diridon station, where you change for the Highway 17 bus to Santa Cruz. Since the schedules are a little complicated, here are some prime connections. On weekdays, the 7:14am and 7:59am express trains from San Francisco ($8.75 one-way) connect well to the Santa Cruz bus ($5 one-way), as does the 10:07am local train -- but the local takes 91 minutes compared to the 59-minute express. On weekends, the 9:15am local train has the best connection. The bus from San Jose to Santa Cruz takes about an hour.

Your total train and bus time each way comes to about two hours if you take the express train and a little under three if you take the local, including transfer times.

Photo Caption: Santa Cruz Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California
View Next Slide
Baltimore, Maryland. Frommers.com Community
Just 45 minutes away from Washington, Baltimore is speckled with historic and revitalized neighborhoods such as Fell's Point, Mount Vernon, and Camden, along with a harborfront shopping center and an aquarium.

Baltimore and Washington are connected by frequent MARC trains that take just about an hour. The Penn Line goes into Baltimore's Penn Station, closer to Mount Vernon and Johns Hopkins University; the Camden Line ends up close to Camden Yards and the harborfront attractions. Both lines cost $7 each way.

Photo Caption: Baltimore, Maryland
View Next Slide
Oak Park Green Line El station, just outside Chicago. reallyboring
At the end of one of Chicago's famous El lines is a living museum of great American architecture -- the neighborhood Frank Lloyd Wright and his acolytes designed in Oak Park. Just take the Green Line El from the Loop to the "Harlem" stop for a half-hour ride, with trains leaving every 10 minutes ($2.25 one-way).

For a formal tour, your first stop should be the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio at 951 Chicago Avenue (www.gowright.org). Guided tours run Mondays-Fridays from 11am-4pm ($15 per person); the museum suggests that you buy advance tickets online. The museum also offers both self-guided and professionally-guided tours of the historic district.

On an old but still accurate community-run website (www.oprf.com), you can find your own Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour, or you can stop by the Oak Park Visitor's Center (1010 Lake Street; www.visitoakpark.com) for other free maps and guides.

Photo Caption: Oak Park Green Line El station, just outside Chicago
View Next Slide
House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. cseesman
The historic fishing town outside Boston long-ago embraced its reputation as Witch City, USA, and between the city's goofy witchery theme park and its more sober nautical history, Salem can easily fill a pleasant afternoon. Salem on Halloween, especially, is a sight to behold, drawing costumed tourists from hundreds of miles around (http://hauntedhappenings.org).

Getting from Boston to Salem is cheap and easy. It's a half-hour ride on hourly trains from Boston's North Station, with the ticket costing a mere $5.25 each way.

Photo Caption: House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts
View Next Slide
Platform at Metropark along the Northeast Corridor line, New Jersey Transit. PhillipC
Boston and Washington are just a little bit too far from New York City to make good day trips. But Philadelphia? Perfect.

There's a cheap way and a fast way to arrive in Philly by train. The cheap way is to take the hourly New Jersey Transit trains, with a change of train in Trenton; that takes about 2½ hours each way and costs $15.50 (or $31 round-trip).

The fast way is the also pretty much hourly Northeast Regional Amtrak trains. One-way trips only take 1 hour and 20 minutes but cost $35-$60 (or $70-$120 round-trip).

To get to the starting points from 30th Street Station, exit the train station and cross the street to the Blue Line subway, where a quick ride takes you to 2nd Street station for the Old City area.

Visitors from New York should know that high-class dining is a great value in this town: places like Morimoto, Buddakan, and Alma de Cuba are much less expensive (and less snooty) than their Manhattan equivalents. Outside the Old City area, the gigantic food-mall of the Reading Terminal Market, the historic Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, and the newly-hip Northern Liberties area are some favorites.

Photo Caption: Platform at Metropark along the Northeast Corridor line, New Jersey Transit
View Next Slide
Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner in San Diego. MR38
This one goes both ways. Los Angeles and San Diego are fortunate enough to be connected by fast, frequent Amtrak train service that makes it a joy to travel between the two cities. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner trains leave just about hourly, and take about 2 hours 45 minutes each way. The views along the Pacific coast are epic, making this one of the most scenic train trips in this set of day trips.

If you're doing a day trip from LA to San Diego, Amtrak has stops in Downtown and Old Town, and special connecting buses you can book with your ticket that can take you straight to the San Diego Zoo or Sea World.

But don't fear San Diego's transit system if Amtrak's bus schedules don't work for you. The frequent #7 bus from Broadway and Union Street, four blocks from Amtrak's downtown station, will take you to the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. The San Diego Trolley direct from the station (or a 15-minute walk) can take you to the Gaslamp District, and the #9 city bus from Amtrak's Old Town San Diego station gets you to Sea World and Pacific Beach.

If you're traveling from San Diego up to LA, the Red Line subway can bring you to Hollywood or Universal Studios and the Big Blue Bus #10 can take you all the way to Santa Monica. No rental car needed.

Tickets between LA and San Diego cost $36 each way.

Photo Caption: Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner in San Diego
View Next Slide
advertisement
advertisement