The most beautiful train routes in the United States

The journey can be as beautiful as the destination!

When travelling we tend to view the journey to our destination as a necessary evil, not something to be savored. But when was the last time you took a train ride you truly enjoyed? One where you weren't constantly scrolling through your social media feeds or fast asleep with your headphones blasting your soundtrack du jour.

Forget road trips where you sit in endless traffic, squinting at Google Maps to find an alternate route while brushing Doritos crumbs off your thighs. Or when the god of travel sticks you next to a red-faced screeching tot on every single flight. Train travel can be about experiencing natural beauty in the comfort of wide cushioned seats and the hypnotic whirring of the wheels hurrying over the tracks—if you let it. Try one of the following trips and luxuriate in the serenity and ease.

Amtrak's California Zephyr

Those craving a West Coast road trip without the traffic should check out this train route. In just over two days, the California Zephyr takes you across almost 2,500 miles of unadulterated American ecological splendor. Starting in the heart of Chi-town (Chicago) and ending up at San Francisco Bay, you'll chug through old mining ghost towns, Denver's imposing Rocky Mountains, the Ruby Canyon and finally, the breathtaking Sierras. For the price (under $200 one way), this expansive journey is not to be missed.

Grand Canyon Railway

When this railway was built in 1901, the Grand Canyon was unknown to the majority of the world. Just 44,000 people visited in 1919 when it first opened. Today over 5 million tourists annually arrive from all over the globe to marvel and explore its craggy depths. The Grand Canyon Railway offers a more relaxed, scenic way to arrive at the park in style—without the stress of fighting the crowds. (Don't worry; you'll have plenty of opportunities to be surrounded by people once you start your hike.) You'll glide through silvery pine forests and unfettered expanses of vast desert, often catching a glimpse of local wildlife like condors, elk, and deer. Should the views start to bore you, take some time to listen to the tips your car host will divulge for visiting the canyon itself. You'll also get to experience a "train robbery" complete with bandits and a horse chase. It's the perfect combination of entertainment and passive enjoyment.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

This Colorado-based railroad was originally used to transport freshly mined silver; its hairpin curves and narrow width were crucial for hugging treacherous mountain bends. Its curves add a jolt of adrenaline to the pure joy you'll experience as you watch the thrashing Animas River and the sky-high cliffs of the San Juan National Forest rush by. At times during your ride you'll be close enough to spit on the canyon's rock walls (but don't), while at other points you'll feel like you're gunning across an invisible track with nothing but the bottomless chasms beneath the wheels.

Sunset Limited

Soak in stunning panoramic views during this ride, which kicks off in the town that invented overindulgence. Starting in New Orleans and going all the way to Los Angeles, you'll get to watch the bayous slowly transform into a scorching desert, where the only signs of life are the occasional scuttling insect. Park guides are happy to narrate your journey during peak season, and you have the option to hop off and explore Saguro or Big Bend National Parks to stretch your legs and get personally acquainted with the beauty of the American Southwest.

Alaska White Pass & Yukon Route

This high-flying narrow rail trail is not for the faint of heart. Reaching heights of almost 3,000 feet in just 20 miles, the train skates over sky-high trestles, glaciers, waterfalls and an aptly named "Dead Horse Gulch." (Once you see the gulch you'll understand.) You'll enjoy an ongoing narration during your three-hour ride in the comfort of a vintage passenger coach, during which time you can marvel at the incredible lengths the original gold-seekers went to seek their fortune. It's tough territory out there, but luckily all you have to do is relax.

Cass Scenic Railroad

In 1901, the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company founded the company town of Cass, West Virginia for the many loggers it employed. Over 100 years later you can ride on the same steam-powered cars that used to haul timber down from the mountain to the mill—only you'll be traveling in much more luxurious accommodations. You'll journey to the top of Bald Knob, West Virginia's third highest mountain in 4.5 hours, feasting your eyes on spectacular views and wildlife the entire way. The tracks follow a steep 11% grade slope, so be prepared to literally sit back and enjoy the show.

Amtrak Cascades

Even if you haven't seen the Twilight movies, which feature gratuitous shots of the lush Pacific Northwest forests, close your eyes and imagine the all-encompassing greenery you'll observe on this trek from Eugene to Vancouver. Once you reach Seattle, the green gives way to the magnificent Puget Sound, and on a clear day you might be able to catch a glimpse of the imposing Olympic Mountains glowering from afar. If you take the train to its ultimate destination in Vancouver, you'll get to admire the picture-perfect Salish Sea, at times riding so close to the edge you'll feel like you're skimming the water itself.

Nantahala Gorge Excursion

Try a 44-mile scenic journey that takes you past the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers, over the brilliant Fontana Lake, and that finally deposits you at the legendary Nantahala Gorge. Choose from either the first class car, where you'll get to drink in the verdant backdrop through large picture windows over brunch or lunch, or the Premium Open Air Gondola, with half-height walls that allow for soft breezes to ruffle your hair as you travel.

Enjoyable train travel, once reserved for members of high society, is now available to all those traveling throughout the United States. Whether you're traveling on a sleek liner zipping along a river, or a restored vintage car trundling up a mountain, there's sure to be a trip that will turn you into a believer that the journey can, in fact, be the destination.

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Love books? Love coffee? Love music and love revolutionary social change? Then these bookstore-cafe-venue-movement incubator hybrid hotspots are for you.

Certainly there are thousands more radical multidisciplinary spaces that exist around the world, spaces on all different continents where extraordinary things are taking place. But each of these spaces has made the bookstore-cafe model unique, making possible the kind of revolutionary thinking our world so desperately needs.

COVID-19 has been difficult for each and every one of us, and times are not exactly easy for bookstores, so give them some love if you can—and enjoy learning about them and dreaming of the day when you'll be able to spend the morning drinking coffee and reading, the afternoon planning the revolution and the evening moshing to the latest queer folk band.

1. The Moon Singapore

Coconuts

The Moon Singapore

Over the Moon

Singapore's The Moon is dedicated to highlighting stories: "so many wonderfully talented authors, creators and makers who may have slipped under the radar of the mainstream." Focused on women and artists of color, this extraordinary bookstore cafe also offers an event space open to private bookings and free community events, some of which have included DJ lessons, cat adoption drives, theatre performances, meditations, Christmas movie marathons, clothes swaps, art therapy sessions, Lunar New Year gong baths, queer women's book clubs, zine-making and self-care sessions, sessions about writing and the climate crisis, yoga and tarot courses, and so, so much more.

The space also offers a communal lending library, a tarot reading station, and of course, infinite worlds within its selection of books.

The venue's staffers, referred to as Moon Maidens, "hail from diverse backgrounds" and "have included social workers, DJ's, psychology trainees, illustrators, film makers and even a budding aerospace engineer."

2. The Canvas Creative Venue

The Canvas Cafe Basement

The Canvas Cafe Basement

The Canvas Cafe was intended to be a blank canvas, a space where creatives and community members could come together and create. "At The Canvas Cafe, we galvanise Londoners to connect, and to create positive change," its website reads. This London joint was founded in 2014 by puppeteer Ruth Rogers, and has always focused on giving back. It began its efforts at doing social good by committing to supporting local farmers.

In 2015, the space began hosting weekly Tuesday night talks on mental health and well-being. They became a certified Happy Cafe, gifting a room next to their garden to the Museum of Happiness for a year-long residency and committing to Action for Happiness's 10 Keys to Happier Living, and soon began offering free health and happiness-based events such as pay-it-forward supper clubs.

In 2017 they launched a Community Hub effort, which provides space for people who want to create free events that benefit the community in exchange for a donation to a program that provides food to homeless people. The 100% vegan cafe also runs a Hot Meals for the Homeless campaign and hosts 50-60 creative events per month in their "secret basement space that supports artists and creatives."

3. The Housing Works Bookstore

Housing Works NYC

Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

The Knot

Housing Works is a non-profit that fights HIV/AIDS, and their Soho bookstore and bar has become an iconic NYC establishment. Staffed largely by volunteers, almost 100% of the store's profits go towards fighting disease and improving the lives of New Yorkers through prevention, testing, community care and much more. The cafe/bar/establishment hosts nightly arts events (during non-COVID times) as well as weddings and many other events.

4. Cafe Con Libros

Cafe con Libros is an intersectional feminist community bookstore in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This tiny but beautiful space hosts reading groups for womxn (as well as specific groups for women of color), runs a podcast, and works to share its values with the world.

"We were born from and are guided by the lush cannon of Black Feminist thought producers and activists; the space endeavors to be intersectional, inclusive and welcoming of all who stand with and on behalf of the full human rights of womxn and girls," its website reads. "We seek to advance and uplift stories of womxn and girls around the globe who are redefining the word feminist and feminism with every day, ordinary culturally informed acts of resistance and love."

Part of the space's charm is in its intimacy. "It's a space for folks to come connect and, with it being so small, community members need to be comfortable sitting with strangers. Conversations naturally begin, overlap, and intersect. On so many levels, it's an organic process facilitated by natural light, calm decor, and proximity," said its founder in an interview with LitHub.

5. Politics and Prose

Politics and Prose

Politics and Prose

The Southwester

Washington DC's Politics and Prose is an independent bookstore and "cultural hub" that promotes independent thought. The now-famous store is a pit stop for famous authors, and is popular for its author events and Q&As. The gigantic space frequently hosts a wide variety of events. It also features an Espresso Book Machine, which is capable of printing self-published or out-of-print books on-demand.

6. Red Emma's

Red Emma's

Red Emma's Bookstore Cafe

indyreader.org

Red Emma's is a "worker cooperative behind the restaurant, bookstore, and community events space...dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace."

    It describes itself as a "radical" project; it's a bookstore with a commitment to revolution. Inspired by "the DIY anarchist spaces that have started to spring up like mushrooms across the globe in the past few decades," its website reads, Red Emma's builds "on long traditions of underground bookstores, hobohemian hangouts, and Utopian alternatives." As an "info shop" it's dedicated to interrupting "filter bubbles", exposing people to new ideas, and above all helps to bring people together to dream and scheme on how to turn information into a weapon in the fight for a better world."

    Red Emma's is organized as a worker's cooperative, meaning there is no boss—everyone who works for the collective has an equal share in its future. It relies on a consensus-based decision-making method and supports its individual factions (like its bookstore and cafe) as individual factions.

    Since its inception, the cafe has branched off into other spaces, including a community arts venue called 2640 as well as the Baltimore Free School, a place that offers 100% free courses to anyone.

    The store is named after Emma Goldman, an anarchist, feminist, and revolutionary who played an important role in developing anarchist philosophy in North America.

    7. Monkeywrench Books

    Monkeywrench Books is an "all-volunteer event space, literature distro, and social hub in Austin, TX." Describing itself as "a unique community resource within Austin for anyone who's ever questioned the status quo," it hosts countless events, reading groups, and speakers, and aims to be a progressive hub for Austin thinkers.

    8. ​More Than Words

    More than Words Boston

    More than Words

    More than Words

    More Than Words is not only a bookstore—it's also a nonprofit enterprise that directly empowers kids who are homeless, involved with the foster care system, or court-involved to gain experience and skills working and managing a bookstore and event space.

    Located in Boston, MA, More Than Words offers paid jobs to kids, who work 20 hours a week at the stores learning customer service and technology and who also work a second paid job attending workshops and site visits that help them plan out future schooling, work, and life courses. The kids work on sourcing and selling used books for the shop and learn marketing skills that help the business thrive while also helping them gain valuable skills.

    In addition, the organization's South End space is available for rent for screenings, events, and more, which the youth employed there help run and coordinate.

    9. Moon Palace Books

    Moon Palace Books

    Moon Palace

    Publishers Weekly

    "Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis was one of few businesses spared Wednesday night as some protesting over George Floyd's death turned into rioting," reads one recent new article about Moon Palace Books, so you know this place is a good egg. The bookstore may have been spared in part because it was displaying a large sign that read, "Abolish the police," and its resident cafe, Geek Love Cafe, was making pizzas for protestors throughout the week; it also has begun refusing to allow police officers to use its parking lot.

    Moon Palace is a cafe-music venue-bookstore-consignment store. Its dedicated local following helps maintain its music venue, cafe, and of course, book haven.

    10. harbook

    Harbook

    Harbook

    perfectstyle

    The city of Hangzhou, China has seen a rise in bookstore-cafes over the past few years, and harbook is one of its most striking. Elegant postmodern design defines this bookstore, which is a combination of a "bookstore, café, and contemporary Scandinavian furniture showroom by way of Normann Copenhagen," a place that "blends aspiration with tradition."

    Hangzhou's wave of bookstore-cafes are part of gravitation to what Roy Oldenburg calls a "third place," a place that is neither home nor work but something else, something in-between or neither, something where people gather and congregate, something entirely new and full of possibilities.

    Ahhh, summertime. The sun is out, the smell of barbeque is in the air, and your pockets are stuffed to the brim with all of your essentials.

    When we think of summer, we often think of comfort and relaxation. But this summer, I realized that stuffing my pockets before I left the house was the antithesis to a stress-free and relaxing day. I would dig important items out of air-tight pockets or fumble around with an assortment of cards only to find the one I was looking for after 2 and half minutes of chaos.

    One of my least favorite parts of summer is the lack of pockets (yes, seriously). In the colder months, you can layer-up and add another three or four pockets to your wardrobe. In the summer, you're stuck with the four small pockets sewn into your pants.

    I didn't realize how much this bothered me until, one day, I spent 5 minutes trying to find my credit card at the farmer's market. My hands were full from all the food I was holding and my giant iPhone, and my wallet was so bulky and overpacked that I could barely tug my credit card out. I could feel everyone in the long line behind me getting frustrated, and then someone actually shouted out, "hey buddy, you're holding up everybody here!"

    Days later, I saw a friend of mine at a barbeque. I told him about my farmer's market fiasco and showed him my genius solution - a rubber band around my cards.

    "Why would you do that when you could just buy an Ekster wallet?" he replied. I didn't know what he was talking about until he pulled out a sleek caramel brown leather card case. I liked how compact it was, and then he started showing me all of the wallet's nifty little features. It has a quick card access mechanism that allows you to fan out all of your cards with a simple button click.

    Just playing with the quick access button was addictive, but my friend brought up two more points I never considered.

    He first mentioned how crime typically spikes in the summer and how more people attempt to use RFID (radio frequency identification) to scan your wallet and steal your credit card information. Ekster includes RFID blocking technology to prevent these mishaps and keep you safe.

    The other thing he mentioned was how often he lost the wallet during the summer. Remember when I talked about the lack of pockets? That's why.

    Ekster wallets have the option to add a tracker card that links up with Chipolo, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can track the location of your wallet from your phone (and vice versa). Never lose your wallet again.

    I was sold. I got my Ekster in sleek black leather, and after using the card pop-up feature I know I'm never going back. If you're looking to ditch that bulky mess of a wallet, then check out Ekster's diverse offering of smart yet sleek wallets.

    SUMMER SALE: For a limited time only, Ekster is giving away 25% off your entire order. Follow this link and use code SUMMER25!

    What does every boy band member need after stepping off the stage in front of thousands of hysteric fans?

    Food! Through their years touring the world, these musicians have dined at restaurants all over the globe and sampled every cuisine under the sun, and now they're applying their passion for food to business. From New Kids on the Block singer Donnie Wahlberg's Wahlburgers burger chain to BTS' Kim Seokjin's seiromushi spot in South Korea, we took a look at the increasing number of restaurants owned by boy band members around the world.


    Donnie Wahlberg

    Chef Paul Wahlberg always knows when his brother, Donnie Wahlberg, is in town. How? A mass of fans will turn up to their Wahlburgers restaurant chain, signaling that the New Kids on the Block singer is on his way!

    "I know Donnie's coming because the Blockheads come beforehand," Paul tells us. "The message gets out there, everyone comes and that unity is amazing."

    Donnie and Paul teamed up with actor brother Mark Wahlberg to launch their first Wahlburgers in Massachusetts in 2011, and the business, now global, was also the focus of reality TV series, Wahlburgers.

    "My mother [Alma] and Paul wanted nothing to do with doing a TV show," Donnie admits. "They recruited me to keep Mark off of their backs because Mark was pushing really hard."

    Five years later, Paul and Alma had a blast on the A&E series and continue to welcome viewers to Wahlburgers, which offers family-inspired items like Mark's favorite Thanksgiving Turkey Burger. Donnie's wife, Jenny McCarthy's mixers line, Blondies, has been incorporated into the bar menu, and Donnie frequently stops by various branches while touring with NKOTB.

    "We've all grown up with them," says Paul, about how 'Blockheads' have influenced business. "Fans have been fantastic and to see what Mark and Donnie give back is what makes me happiest. They try to bring as much joy and happiness to everybody, which is what I live for in the restaurant business."

    Mark Wahlberg and Donnie Wahlberg pose with brother and chef Paul Wahlberg at the trio's restaurant chain Wahlburgers. Mark Wahlberg and Donnie Wahlberg pose with brother and chef Paul Wahlberg at the trio's restaurant chain Wahlburgers.Wahlburgers/A&E

    Jordan Knight

    Donnie's bandmate, Jordan Knight, is also familiar with the wave of Blockheads that can sweep in for a bite and a selfie. He encounters fans at his Milton, Massachusetts, Italian restaurant Novara (of which he's a part-owner), but it's a different story when there's a NKOTB event in town. "The day after our show at Fenway Park, the place was a mob scene," Knight told us after the 2017 gig. "For whoever came from out of town, Novara was their next day's event. It was pretty cool."

    While Jordan had never entertained dreams of entering hospitality, his interest was sparked when Tony DiRienzo, chef/owner of Abby Park (a restaurant he has long been visiting with his family), mentioned opening another spot.

    "I was excited they were doing it and wasn't even thinking about investing, then they showed me the site and the discussion came up and I jumped at the opportunity," he says. "The timing, where it was, the ambience and everything just felt good."

    Jordan's must-try dish is the chicken parmesan meatballs, while cocktail-loving fans should check out the New Fig on the Block.

    New Kids on the Block singer Jordan Knight at his Milton, Massachusetts restaurant Novara with chef Tony DiRienzo. New Kids on the Block singer Jordan Knight at his Milton, Massachusetts restaurant Novara with chef Tony DiRienzo.Anna Ivanonva Photography

    Jacob Underwood

    O-Town's Jacob Underwood teamed up with his siblings to buy into the San Diego area's Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room, a once booming grill-your-own steakhouse and live music venue. The musician plans to revive the tired venue and its "Palm Springs/Frank Sinatra/mid-century vibe."

    With no hospitality background, the family partnered with a local company to manage the day-to-day, while they focus on finding out what regulars want and commence small but powerful changes – like fixing chipped bar tops, reassessing lighting and deciding how many bacon items on the menu is too many (current offerings include bacon chocolate cake)!

    Jacob is particularly passionate about making the Turquoise Room a more inviting place for musicians, using his expertise from O-Town, who were formed on MTV's Making the Band in 2000 and released their latest record, O.T.W.N. in 2018.

    "My experience in production and putting on shows is really handy when I'm trying to bring more atmosphere to the bar," he says. "For example, lighting goes a long way when you're trying to create a mood and memory."

    "And, I don't know much about ordering/prepping food, but with O-Town, we've eaten at more restaurants than most people do in a lifetime … steakhouses across the planet! It's fun to take ideas we've seen and amplify them or apply them to the vibe we're creating here."

    O-Town's Jacob Underwood bought into the Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room with his siblings. O-Town's Jacob Underwood bought into the Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room with his siblings.Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room

    Kim Seokjin

    BTS' Kim Seokjin (aka Jin) and his big brother opened Ossu Seiromushi in Seoul, South Korea in 2018. With simple décor and cute ornaments, the eatery specializes in seiromushi, a Japanese method of steam cooking. Diners are served a box with vegetables, pork, and beef, which is steamed at the table in around 13 minutes. "Being BTS' Jin's brother, he could've made any café or restaurant and so many fans would still come. But even if you're not a fan, it's like, 'Oh my god," raved YouTuber Sara Vi about the food in a video blog review.


    Jin at Ossu Seiromushi


    Lance Bass

    For Lance Bass, opening the doors of his own sports bar, Rocco's, in the LGBTQ+ hot spot of West Hollywood, California, was completely "nerve-racking."

    "It took us a long time to get it open," he says. "There were a lot of permits to sort and that block is insanely-popular. Our corner was the only one that sat dead for years, so it's nice to see it all lit up, inviting and feeling safer."

    Rocco's was already an established sports tavern throughout LA, with Bass having frequented the Studio City spot before the opportunity arose to invest in the first of many upcoming LGBTQ+ versions of the bar. And, while Bass continues to juggle countless other projects, he recognizes the importance of remaining involved with business operations.

    "Especially at the beginning because you never know exactly what the community wants, and that neighborhood is very fickle," he says. "We were lucky because there's other Rocco's, so we trained everyone quickly and they were perfect by the time we opened for Pride. It was so much fun."

    While Bass' *NSYNC background no doubt attracts fans, he's finding Rocco's WeHo to be more of a local hangout. "It's not very touristy, which is great because that's exactly what the neighborhood wanted, so I don't promote it to my fans. I've definitely noticed our regulars are very local and that makes me happy."

    Lance Bass at his West Hollywood bar and restaurant Rocco's WeHo. Lance Bass at his West Hollywood bar and restaurant Rocco's WeHo.Rocco's WeHo.

    Brian McFadden

    The Westlife and Boyzlife crooner is no longer "Flying Without Wings," thanks to his Dublin, Ireland wings joint Wishbone, which has now opened its second branch. McFadden launched the business with pals, including chef James Stimpson, who used to whip up amazing chicken wings after their nights out. "We kept telling him he needed to open up a restaurant as they are incredible," McFadden told Kilkenny People. "He spent many months formulating the best way to marinade, coat and cook wings to give our customers wings like no others."

    The restaurant serves up sticky BBQ wings or southern fried chicken tenders with dips like Cajun jalapeno mayo. For sweet-toothed diners, the menu offers salted toffee apple or spiced orange flavored wings, and McFadden's favorite – Ferrero Rocher cheesecake.

    Joey Fatone

    *NSYNC's Joey Fatone had some fun with his surname while launching hot dog joint, Fat Ones, but the menu is where fans can truly get to know the musician.

    "Fat Ones is a combination of who he is, where he's from and where he's been," says Fat Ones Orlando owner Brian Connor. "All of our features are an homage to Joey, from the 'Angelo' (Joey's character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and the 'Baritone' (his singing style) to the 'Bensonhurst' (where he was born) and the 'Fat One' (his nickname in school)."

    Fatone's love for hot dogs stemmed from growing up in New York and eating Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs at Coney Island, followed by shaved ice, which Fat Ones also serves up.

    Connor says Fatone is a "great" business partner, who meets with fans, provides giveaways, and boosts the restaurant's social media presence. However, he notes the eatery's success is due to more than Fatone's boy band background.

    "Joey has so much success in his career and *NSYNC's only a portion of that. We get contacted by fans every day who listen to his podcast, watch him on Impractical Jokers, or love him in Big Fat Greek Wedding."

    *NSYNC member Joey Fatone enjoys a meal from his hot dog spot Fat Ones. *NSYNC member Joey Fatone enjoys a meal from his hot dog spot Fat Ones.Fat Ones.