We expect a slow but steady return to normal living as summer arrives and pandemic concerns ease. What’s the ticket to appreciating the journey as well as the next vacation destination?
In 2021 Amtrak celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the passenger service navigates 21,400 miles of rail through 500-plus destinations. Chicago’s Union Station is Amtrak’s fourth busiest, and serves as a perfect starting point for adventure. Book a 90-minute hop to Milwaukee, an 11-hour overnight to Memphis, or something in between.
A ticket to ride means noticeably more leg and elbow room than the average airline seat, while the Amtrak app tracks real-time train performance and capacity. Make ticket changes without incurring a penalty (although a fare difference may apply) at amtrak.com.
Consider these five summer jaunts:
At least six trains glide into downtown daily; walk or ride a free streetcar (thehopmke.com) to hot spots like the edgy Harley-Davidson Museum, which engages kids and nonriders as well as HOGs. The Milwaukee Art Museum’s architecture defines the city and lakefront, and water lovers can kayak or canoe in downtown rivers. Shop Third Ward boutiques, a bobblehead museum, or Cheesehead factory tours for pure whimsy. Ride a Brewers Line bus to Miller Park on game days.
After the four-hour train ride check into the classy Amway Grand Plaza, then take the free DASH shuttle to major museums (don’t miss the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum) and lively downtown neighborhoods. Book a brewery tour (try Brewery Vivant, in a former funeral home) or visit Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Come September, ArtPrize immerses the city with quality art—indoors and out—thanks to monetary prizes and grants for artists.
The 5.5-hour ride ends near century-old Union Station, transformed into a retro-hip mix of lodging, dining, and entertainment (anchored by the St. Louis Aquarium). Free light shows, set to music, happen daily. Take light rail to Busch Stadium, the Gateway Arch (a national park), or the National Blues Museum—or hoof it to City Museum, an odd 10-story fun house in a repurposed shoe factory and warehouse. Don’t miss trying local specialties like toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake.
Reach Missouri’s majestic Union Station in roughly seven hours. Nearby is the spacious and poignant National World War I Museum. Take a free streetcar (kcstreetcar.org) to downtown fountains, dining and entertainment in the Power and Light District, or the Arabia Steamboat Museum (a sunken cargo ship restored from pioneer times). Two neighboring sites are a cab ride away: the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. Above all? Save room for barbecue.
After the 10-hour ride stay at Central Station Hotel, close to the National Civil Rights Museum and site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Another vibe: funky Memphis Pyramid, home to woodsy Big Cyprus Lodge, Bass Pro Shops’s megastore and restaurant-bar with prime Mississippi River views. Take $1 trolley rides (matatransit.com) to reach the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Peabody Hotel’s twice-daily duck parade, or Beale Street’s neon-bright music venues. Cab it to the world of Elvis at Graceland.
Photo courtesy Amtrak