Steam rose from the rain-soaked concrete at the Emeryville Amtrak Station, where I was boarding a morning train to HI Sacramento hostel. Inside the train car I overheard a young woman with an indeterminable European accent ask another passenger which was the side with the best views. “This side,” he said, meaning the left side facing the tracks and a couple of tall hotel buildings, so that’s how I chose my own seat. Taking a train ride, even if it is just two hours like this one from San Francisco neighbor Emeryville to California’s capital, is a fantastic way for travelers to get from one destination to the next and really experience the landscape in between. There’s something serene and romantic about watching the world go by in slow motion, and if you’re visiting San Francisco, it’s a good idea to tack on a trip to Sacramento just for the journey alone.
The train pushed forward from the station and soon the city sights gave way to green park land followed by the blue-grey waters of the Bay stretching out to what seemed like infinity outside the wide window. As we headed north towards Richmond, I almost forgot where exactly I was headed because the coastline we were hugging could have been oceanic, and this part of the Bay Area could have been anywhere in the world. The sun played hide and seek with threatening rain clouds, casting magical beams through the trees we passed and I imagined taking this ride again in the summer when San Francisco isn’t quite warm enough and Sacramento boasts endless sun.
While Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi and outlets to plug in a phone or laptop, I found myself totally unable to tear my eyes from the view outside, not even to check out the dining car, which the conductor announcement promised had breakfast treats and hot coffee. After a couple of quick stops to pick up more passengers, it was over the bridge in Martinez and onto the gold and green fields that are characteristic of this part of Northern California. We passed a sugar cane factory, lone farm houses, rows of young trees lined up in their orchards and land visibly soaked by recent torrents of rain. We passed through small suburbs and past graffiti walls and picked up more people in the college town of Davis. And then, before I knew it or was even ready for it, the Sacramento skyline rose up as the train crossed a bridge over another swollen river. For two hours I had felt lost in another world, but seeing the red-bricked station and the city skyscrapers brought me back and reminded me that there was still more adventure to be had.
Train to Sacramento from San Francisco: The logistics
If you’re staying at any HI San Francisco hostel, there are a few easy ways to get to an Amtrak station in the East Bay:
- Take one of the Amtrak connecting busses that pick up and drop off passengers at various locations in San Francisco, including a stop downtown on Market Street and at Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Take the BART train to Oakland 12th Street Station and walk 15 minutes to the Jack London Square station, where you can grab an Amtrak train.
- Take the ferry to Jack London Square from San Francisco and get an Amtrak train from there.
Visit Amtrak.com/capitol-corridor-train for information on prices and departure times (the earliest departure is at 5:35 a.m. and the latest leaves at 10:20 p.m.). Bikes are allowed on board, so bring yours along to explore Sacramento!
HI Sacramento is a short walk from the Amtrak station.