From Sonoma County to Reno, sans traffic

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If You Go

Basic round-trip coach fares on the Zephyr (Davis to Reno and return) are $98 during the week and higher on weekends. Seniors over 65 receive a 10% discount, kids 2 through 12 ride at half price (under 2 ride free), and U. S. military personnel, spouses and dependents save 10%.

Make a reservation at www.amtrak.com. After paying, you’ll be emailed an e-ticket as a PDF attachment. You can either show the barcode on your phone to the conductor, or print out the ticket and bring it with you.

Each passenger can check two bags for free and also carry aboard up to two bags. The Zephyr has a snack bar where you can purchase sandwiches, beer and other items. The dining car serves a sit-down lunch on the way to Reno with numerous selections and wine by the glass.

Where To Stay

Hallmark Inn, 110 F St., Davis. Rates range from $159-$229. A buffet breakfast is included in the room fee. hallmarkinn.com

Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia St., Reno. The on-site restaurant, the Roundabout Grill, is excellent and eye-catching. Rooms are large and most offer great views over Reno to the mountains beyond. Rooms start at $135.

Thing To Do

Nevada Museum of Art, 160 W. Liberty St., Reno. Exhibits that grab your imagination and make you think. Highly recommended. nevadaart.org

National Automobile Museum, 10 S. Lake St., Reno. Automobiles become high art in this wonderful museum. automuseum.org

For an adventurous, no-hassle, and incredibly scenic winter getaway, just hop Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Reno, Nevada.

I did just that a few weeks ago. I’d never visited the “biggest little city in the world,” but riding the rails over snow-laden mountains and spending a couple of days exploring a new destination sounded like fun. And it was.

Running for 2,438 miles between Chicago and Emeryville, the California Zephyr is Amtrak’s second-longest route. A Superliner, the train offers reserved sleeping cars, plush and comfy coaches, and a Sightseer Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows. The daily eastbound Zephyr to Chicago departs Emeryville shortly after 9 a.m., pausing briefly to load/unload passengers at seven stations before chugging into Reno in mid-afternoon. For Sonoma County residents, the nearest boarding stations are Emeryville, Richmond, Martinez, Davis and Sacramento.

We opted for Davis, which turned out to be a great choice. The depot there — a beautiful 1913 Mission Revival building listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is tucked away on the edge of the small, walkable downtown and offers free parking to ticketed train travelers.

Most North Bay residents could make the 10:36 a.m. departure time at Davis by leaving home a couple of hours in advance, but you might consider starting your getaway a day early by driving up to Davis in the afternoon and spending the night. That’s what we did, booking a room at the well-run Hallmark Inn next door to the depot. It’s quiet, friendly and a tasty breakfast buffet is included in the cost of the room.

Time passes quickly in Davis, a friendly college town that’s loaded with shops and eateries within walking distance of our hotel. If you have time, the impressive Manetti Shrem Museum of Art is a 10-minute drive away on the University of California campus. Through April 14 it’s hosting a Bruce Nauman exhibit, “Blue and Yellow Corridor,” to coincide with a Nauman retrospective at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

We arrived in the late afternoon, so skipped the museum. Instead we browsed a few interesting shops, enjoyed excellent modern Italian cuisine at Paesanos, and then took in a new release at nearby the Regal Cinema.

The next morning we checked our bags at the station, placed the free parking permit we’d been given on the car’s dashboard, and were set to board when the Zephyr pulled in right on time. Our reserved seats on the coach’s upper level were wide recliners, extremely cushioned and comfy, possessed a huge amount of legroom, and the storage space above had ample room for the day bags we’d carried on board. Since the seats are up high and the windows unobstructed, the view is wide open.

We sat back, relaxed, and let the scenery flow by. For most of the trip, the train parallels Highway 80. At the beginning, the highway is visible but then it vanishes except for an occasional sighting. After the Zephyr leaves Sacramento, farms begin making an appearance; they gradually change into vast stretches of open land. Distant hills become close-by mountains, and then the train starts climbing. In winter months, the world quickly turns white once the ascent begins.

We sat for a while in the comfy chairs of the Sightseer Lounge, gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows at soaring fir and pine trees backdropped by thick drifts of untouched, glistening snow. Eventually we emerged from the forest and below, lit by the sun and stretching for nearly 3 miles, lay the icy blue waters of Donner Lake, rimmed on the far side by mountains. It was a breathtaking sight.

If You Go

Basic round-trip coach fares on the Zephyr (Davis to Reno and return) are $98 during the week and higher on weekends. Seniors over 65 receive a 10% discount, kids 2 through 12 ride at half price (under 2 ride free), and U. S. military personnel, spouses and dependents save 10%.

Make a reservation at www.amtrak.com. After paying, you’ll be emailed an e-ticket as a PDF attachment. You can either show the barcode on your phone to the conductor, or print out the ticket and bring it with you.

Each passenger can check two bags for free and also carry aboard up to two bags. The Zephyr has a snack bar where you can purchase sandwiches, beer and other items. The dining car serves a sit-down lunch on the way to Reno with numerous selections and wine by the glass.

Where To Stay

Hallmark Inn, 110 F St., Davis. Rates range from $159-$229. A buffet breakfast is included in the room fee. hallmarkinn.com

Whitney Peak Hotel, 255 N. Virginia St., Reno. The on-site restaurant, the Roundabout Grill, is excellent and eye-catching. Rooms are large and most offer great views over Reno to the mountains beyond. Rooms start at $135.

Thing To Do

Nevada Museum of Art, 160 W. Liberty St., Reno. Exhibits that grab your imagination and make you think. Highly recommended. nevadaart.org

National Automobile Museum, 10 S. Lake St., Reno. Automobiles become high art in this wonderful museum. automuseum.org

Before we knew it, we pulled into Reno, picked up our bags on the platform, and headed out on foot to our hotel, two blocks from the station. On Google Maps, Reno had appeared to be so compact and easily traversable that we’d decided to forego a rental car. As it turned out, that was a good decision. We never once needed or wanted a car.

The Whitney Peak Hotel couldn’t have been a better choice. It’s got a cool modern vibe, big and well-done rooms, a super-helpful front desk, an innovative restaurant — and there’s not a single slot machine in the place. And all this comes at a moderate price.

We dropped our bags in the room and took off exploring. The Truckee River runs through the heart of downtown Reno, providing a reliable way to orient yourself. Many streets with walkways cross the bridge, and the city plaza, with its huge sculpture of a whale, edges the river on the north between Center and Virginia Streets. Also on the north side is River Walk, a paved walkway that’s a great place for a stroll even in winter. Along it’s length or nearby are restaurants, bars, art galleries, theaters, historic monuments and more, and there are numerous spots to sit a spell and watch the river ease by.

Over the next two days we often walked back and forth across the bridge as we checked out a few of Reno’s compelling attractions. We had two Grand Favorites: the National Auto Museum and the Nevada Museum of Art.

At the National Auto Museum, more than 200 automobiles, dating from the 19th century right up to the present day, are arranged into galleries based on era. Surrounding and interwoven with the cars are historic artifacts and reconstructed scenes from that particular time. For example, a “street” in the 1950s gallery had an old-style movie marquee showing “Rebel Without a Cause” and a drugstore facade with a soda fountain. Parked along the street were impeccably restored 1950s autos, trucks, even a fire engine.

A few highlights from the collection: a 1933 Cadillac Phaeton/Fleetwood owned by Al Jolson, a rakish 1933 Auburn Speedster, and an 1892 Panhard & Levassor Voiturette.

The Nevada Museum of Art describes itself as “a museum of ideas,” and it is. Every room on every floor presents a new idea, another way to look at the world, a different perspective on something familiar. Among other things, exhibits here introduced me to the astonishing contemporary earthwork, Roden Crater, by James Turrell, and the early photography of Anne Brigman, who influenced Alfred Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe. Through Feb. 10, “Art of the Greater West” displays indigenous artistic practices and cultures ranging from Alaska to Patagonia; it’s a compelling exhibit.

And icing on the cake for this museum: it possesses an excellent, French-influenced restaurant, Chez Louie, with simple but elegant food at modest prices (the classic French onion soup, $9, is done perfectly and is a meal in itself).

Other Reno attractions we enjoyed were shopping for bargains at the Patagonia Outlet (near the auto museum); taking in “Perfect Little Planet,” an amazing Full-Dome planetarium show at Fleischmann Planetarium; and sipping cocktails during a cabaret show in the Eldorado Resort Casino.

But there’s so much more to do here in winter.

Other venues include the National Bowling Stadium, where you can have your game assessed by a computer-aided tracking system, check out historic bowling equipment, and wander through the Hall of Fame. The Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, with a hands-on science center and scads of activities for kids, is a great place for families. And the Keck Museum displays mineral and geological specimens of Nevada, such as gold ore, amethyst, quartz, and copper. It’s also got a fossil collection.

If you’re skiers, head to Mount Rose Ski Resort, known simply as “Mount Rose.” It’s got the highest base elevation — 8260 feet — in the entire Tahoe region. You’ll need a car to get there, as it’s about 20 miles distant, but it offers everything from beginner’s slopes to The Chutes, the longest continuous vertical in North America. And from high atop the mountain, the views are spectacular.

If you enjoy gambling, Reno’s got all the action you could want right downtown, including Club Cal Neva, Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Resort Casino, Sands Regency Casino, Harrah’s Reno and Club Cal Neva. Some of Reno’s best restaurants are found inside casinos, by the way (we had very good pho at Pho Mein in the Eldorado).

By the time we returned to Davis, we were sold on train getaways. No fighting traffic or messing around with chains. Just snuggle into a comfy seat, unpack the picnic lunch, relax and enjoy the scenery.

Best thing? Back at Davis, we wheeled our suitcases out of the depot, and within three minutes we were driving out of the parking lot and heading home.

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