February 8, 2013 by Jools Stone
Layover? Delayed boarding? Make the most of it, says Lynne Williams with these handy hints for how to keep yourself out of mischief in and around some of America’s finest railway meccas.
Sometimes you, the train traveler, might have a few hours to wait before making a connection. Or, arriving at the train station, you may find that the train has been delayed for a number of hours. Rather than sit and wait, allowing your fury at Amtrak to overtake your enjoyment of your trip, leave the terminal and spend some time enjoying the city that you are in.
Before leaving, however, confirm the time that the train will be leaving. If a departure time has not yet been scheduled, find out the earliest time that the train will leave. Then check your bags or place them in baggage storage and go check out the city. If you are leaving on a train where you will be checking your bags, there should be no problem with checking them early. However, if you will be taking your luggage, or at least part of your luggage, onto the train, be aware that stations have difference capabilities for checking or storing luggage. Fortunately, most city stations have baggage storage or lockers, and I’ve so noted below.
OAKLAND, CA (checked baggage service, baggage storage, no lockers)
The Oakland Amtrak station is at exciting Jack London Square. Walk over to the Square and visit the First and Last Chance Saloon, which has been in continuous operation since June 1883. There are also museums, restaurants, shops and boat rentals at Jack London Square.
CHICAGO (checked baggage service and lockers, no baggage storage)
Chicago’s Union Station is a grand train station, completed in 1925, after ten years of construction. Right outside of Union Station, on the river side, you can catch the Water Taxi and travel to Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower), Navy Pier (April through November) and the Museum Campus, including the Field Museum, Aquarium and Planetarium.
PHILADELPHIA, PA (checked baggage service, baggage storage, no lockers)
About .8 miles from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is the Franklin Institute, offering a wide variety of exhibits, including Railroad Hall, which features a grand old steam locomotive that can be boarded by visitors.
NEW ORLEANS (checked baggage but no baggage storage or lockers)
Within a half mile (ten blocks or so) of the New Orleans Amtrak Station are three spectacular institutions – the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the National World War II Museum and the Louisiana Childrens Museum. Something for everyone!
LOS ANGELES (checked baggage, baggage storage, no lockers)
Right across the street from Los Angeles’ beautiful mission style train station is Olivera Street. Called El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, it is the oldest part of the City of Los Angeles and contains 27 historic buildings and a traditional Mexican style plaza.
SEATTLE (checked baggage, baggage storage, no lockers)
Walk a few blocks from the train station to Pioneer Square and take the Underground Tour, beginning at Doc Maynard’s Tavern. In 1889, the city was rebuilt after a big fire, and what used to be the ground floors of buildings are now underground. This tour is lots of fun.
PORTLAND, OR (checked baggage, baggage storage, no lockers)
About a mile away from the Amtrak Station is the Oregon Historical Center. Open seven days a week, the center includes very interesting displays about Oregon’s pioneer past.
NEW YORK CITY (Checked baggage, baggage storage, no lockers)
Head out to the beautiful Morgan Library. Pierpont Morgan was a prolific collector of art and antiquities, ranging from Egyptian art to Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains. I was thrilled when I stumbled across a journal entry in which Henry David Thoreau wrote about a cat-and-mouse chase he had with a loon on Walden Pond. This is one of my favorite New York City museums, and even a brief visit will be rewarding.
BOSTON, MA (checked baggage, baggage storage, no lockers)
Just a few blocks from South Station is the traditional Chinatown Gate, located at the intersection of Beach Street and Surface Road. Here you can join up with the wonderful Chinatown Food Tour. The tour is two and a half hours and you will visit a bakery, a barbecue shop, an herbal pharmacy, a market with exotic produce ending the experience with a Dim Sum Luncheon. Reservations required.
About the Author
Lynne Williams is a long time train traveller in North America and Europe. Her blog, www.thetraintraveler.net, presents destination pieces, guide information about various trains and hints and tips for travelling by rail. She lives in the US, in Bar Harbor, Maine.