A Train Lover’s Paradise: Riding the Rails to Sacramento

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    For most of us, a train ride is a method of transportation, a means to an end. For my four-year-old son, a train ride IS the destination. A few days ago, he told us that he didn’t want to live in San Francisco anymore; he wanted to live on a train.

    If you, too, have a little train lover in your life, let me tell you about the journey of a lifetime we took last weekend.

    The trip began with a ride on the Capitol Corridor train departing from the Emeryville Amtrak station on Friday morning. This was the best departure station for us, a short drive from the city, with a covered parking garage in what seems to be a safe location. We bought train tickets ahead of time and surprised the boys with them when they woke up. For the first time—ever—we didn’t have the chase them out the door that morning!

    We arrived about 30 minutes early, and they loved watching all the trains pass through the station. One of the conductors even let us briefly hop aboard one of the sleeper cars on a train destined for LA to take a peek around. When our train arrived, we hustled to get all of our baggage on before the doors closed. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that our large-ish stroller fit with ease. The two-hour trip to Sacramento passed as if it was two minutes long. My husband and I were really impressed with how new, clean, and comfortable the seats were. The windows are huge and perfect for catching glimpses of the cows, geese, farms, windmills, other trains, and many more sights whizzing alongside of us.

    train lover's paradise, taking the train to sacramento

    When we arrived in Sacramento, we walked to our hotel, the Embassy Suites. Perhaps not the ideal choice for a peaceful night’s sleep, but it had the most incredible views of the river and the Sacramento Tower Bridge (“The Golden Bridge” we called it, for obvious reasons). It is a “vertical lift” bridge, meaning the center section raises and lowers each time a large boat needs to pass underneath.  This frequent occurrence is preceded with a loud siren, which, in our hotel room, set off equally loud shrieks of delight as the boys raced to the windows to watch all the action below.

    Our location adjacent to Old Town Sacramento was wonderful for seeing the local sights, though being about a quarter mile from a train station, we also heard loud train noises all day and into the evening.  Luckily, our two-year-old is a very solid sleeper, but if you have mid-day naps to worry about this might not be the hotel for you.

    train lover's paradise, taking the train to sacramento
    train lover's paradise, taking the train to sacramento

    Old Town is an adorable area, not more than four blocks by two blocks in area. It’s full of fun restaurants, bars, historical sites, candy shops, and the main attraction: The California State Railroad Museum.  Even my husband was enamored with the enormous locomotives housed within this building. The museum is home to everything from a Thomas the Train playspace to a giant steam locomotive dating back to 1901 and weighing in at over a million pounds. Personally, my attention span waned after about an hour, but my boys literally could have stayed here all day.  

    We had booked 11:00 tickets on the Sacramento Southern Railroad’s excursion ride along the Sacramento River, so hustled to get to the boarding area in time.  If there is ever a time to buy a First Class ticket, this was it. We rode in the French Quarter lounge car, a 1950s era car that has been meticulously cared for over the years. Our stewards rolled out little snack and drink carts and offered us tours of the crew’s quarters. Amazingly, all the staff on this ride are volunteers. Train lovers talking to train lovers! I’m not sure who was happier, the mostly-retired set of volunteer crew who just loved to tell kids stories of train history or the kids who felt like royalty with all of the attention.

    Trains, trains, trains … and a few glasses of wine.  

    No vacation is complete without a nice glass of wine or two.  We found a cute wine bar, Whired, which offered a decent selection of wines by the glass and tapas-style nibbles. We also ate at Joe’s Crab Shack on the river: mediocre food but we sat outside and watched all the action on the riverfront. Simply sitting outside on an early-April evening is a novelty for us San Franciscans, so we certainly weren’t complaining.

    Our trip concluded with the second leg of our round-trip Capitol Corridor train ride home. Walking down to the cafe car, we encountered the Sacramento River Cats (minor league baseball) mascot, Dinger!  He was walking up and down the aisles high-fiving people and playing peek-a-boo with kids. A totally unexpected capstone on a wonderful weekend on the rails.

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