Traveling by Train: A Review of Amtrak Capitol Corridor

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Traveling by Train: A Review of Amtrak Capitol Corridor

Due to my work schedule and my husband's need to be close to his job, I've travelled by Amtrak on the Capitol Corridor line at least twice a week for about eight months now. I fancy myself quite the expert on this train line. Here is what I've learned.

I actually find the trains quite attractive. 

I actually find the trains quite attractive. 

Capitol Corridor is a 168 mile passenger train route that runs in Northern California between San Jose, a previous capital city of California, and Sacramento, the current capital.

Map borrowed from  Capitol Corridor's website.

Map borrowed from Capitol Corridor's website.

The caboose! 

The caboose! 

While there is no station stop for San Francisco, there are several that offer easy access to The City (NEVER 'Frisco, NEVER San Fran). Richmond Station connects to a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, so the exit for the train is just steps away from hopping on San Francisco's version of the subway. It takes around 30 minutes to take BART from Richmond to the City. The Cafe Car (car 3) sells discount BART tickets, so that adds savings on top of the convenience. Another option is the Emeryville Station. At Emeryville, there is a free bus that connects Amtrak passengers to San Francisco. Finally, the closest station to San Francisco is Oakland Jack London Station. This station does not have a BART connection or bus connection, but being that it is the closest distance-wise, taking a taxi, Lyft, or Uber is feasible. In addition to these options, my favorite way to access The City is the ferry. It runs from Jack London Square every thirty minutes or so. Be sure to check the ferry schedule. It costs $6.60 for a one-way ticket, but if you have a Clipper Card (which can be used on BART, the Cable Car, the bus system and more) it is only $5.

My most frequent route is between Oakland Jack London Square and Davis. This route takes about one and a half hours. In my eight months of riding Amtrak, I've only seen the train be more than five minutes late on one occasion. The trains tend to run exactly on time, so make sure to arrive at the stations early! They will not wait for you!

One of my monthly parking passes for the Davis Amtrak station. It got a little rainy during the soaking wet winter of 2017.

One of my monthly parking passes for the Davis Amtrak station. It got a little rainy during the soaking wet winter of 2017.

 

Parking at Amtrak stations varies. Some stations do not have attached parking lots. Oakland Jack London has a parking garage right by the station. For $13 per day, you get secure parking steps away from the tracks. Very convenient. In Emeryville and Davis, parking is free in an outdoor lot. Simply park your car in the adjacent Amtrak lot, then go get a paper pass from the ticket window by showing your valid ticket, and then place the paper pass in your dashboard window. In Davis, the parking lot is reserved for Amtrak customers from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., so be sure to park before it gets too close to 6:00 p.m., or it will be nearly impossible to find a spot. The Davis Amtrak station is right in the downtown area, so the lot is extra-convenient for the college student crowd. There is an overflow lot, but it is four blocks away, costs around $10 per day, and is quite stressful to find. I linked it here though in case someone is in a pinch. I do not recommend the overflow lot. As a bonus, the Davis Amtrak station will give you a longer monthly parking pass if you have a long-term ticket. This saves a ton of time and energy if you are a frequent traveller. 

During the week, Capitol Corridor trains run about every hour, but be sure to check the schedule. Weekend trains are less frequent, unless there is a game at Levi's Stadium. There is a train station right by the stadium, and taking Amtrak is a very popular choice for 49er fans. When buying tickets, there are several choices: one-way, round trip, and multi-ride. One-way and round trip tickets are self-explanatory for anyone who's ever ridden a train or plane before. However there are two options for multi-ride tickets. The ten ride ticket on Capitol Corridor is valid for a 45 day period. The ten rides are nontransferable. The person whose name appears on the pass must be the person using the pass. No sharing! For the ten ride ticket, the purchaser picks two stations. In my case, Davis and Oakland Jack London. Then the purchaser can travel one-way between the two stations ten times (or five round trips). What's great about it, is I don't need to reserve a seat or time. I can just hop on whatever time I like on whatever day I want during the travel period. The flexibility is really awesome for my crazy work schedule! Also, the ten ride pass saves about 30% off buying the equivalent in one-way tickets. For example, my ten ride ticket between Davis and Oakland Jack London is $165. A one-way ticket is $27, and ten one-way tickets are $270 (there is no discount for round trip tickets). That's a $105 savings! The price of a one-way drops to $16.50.

The Amtrak App looks like this when it's open.

The Amtrak App looks like this when it's open.

It's easy to search for one way, round trip, and multi-ride tickets on the app.

It's easy to search for one way, round trip, and multi-ride tickets on the app.

Passes bought on the app are available for instant download and are savable to Apple wallet. Then the conductor can quickly scan it!

Passes bought on the app are available for instant download and are savable to Apple wallet. Then the conductor can quickly scan it!

Is taking Amtrak expensive? Well, not as expensive as you might think. The average non-hybrid car gets about 24.8 miles to the gallon, and the trip between the two stations is 69 miles. The average price of gas in California at the time of writing this post is $2.935. So it would theoretically cost about $8.17 just in gasoline to make the trip. (Here is a link to a Fuel Cost Calculator if math is hard.) Plus there is a toll of $5 for northbound traffic on the Carquinez Bridge. You're over halfway to the price of one-way on a discounted ten ride ticket, so when you account for the stress of driving, the wear and tear on your vehicle, and the risk of accidents, in my opinion it is a wash between the two. Plus, if your vehicle is less efficient, or it requires premium gasoline, the cost will go up even more. But most persuasive, I find driving this particular stretch of I-80 very stressful. It is stop and go traffic the whole way, not my idea of a relaxing way to commute. 

A typical seat with the tray table down. My 13-inch MacBookPro fits easily. This was during a busy time based on the progress bar.

A typical seat with the tray table down. My 13-inch MacBookPro fits easily. This was during a busy time based on the progress bar.

The seats on Amtrak trains are comfier then a coach airplane seat. They also have much more leg room. They either have a table or a tray table that folds down, and every seat has access to an outlet. That plus the free wifi makes getting work done on the train so easy! The wifi does get extremely slow during peak times. The worst I've seen it was during a Friday train at 4:00pm. It was pretty much unusable. Thankfully, the vast majority of the time it is quick enough for productive tasks that do not involve a lot of data. Streaming is obviously out of the question. 

There are four tabled seating areas in the middle of each car that have sets of two seats that face each other. Then behind the table areas are rows with two seats on each side. There is a descent amount of overhead space, but suitcases must be stored on the lower level. There is not enough room to put them overhead, unfortunately. The conductors frown on suitcases upstairs, and they will ask you to move your bag if it is blocking a seat. The lower level of the train car is for handicapped seating, the restrooms, and bag storage. 

Train car three always houses the Cafe Car. It sells snacks, a few pre-made sandwiches, and beverages, including alcoholic beverages! The selection is slim, but it will tide you over on a long trip. Many people do not realize this, but it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own food on the train. The only restriction is no alcohol and no eating your own food in the Cafe Car. You are also not allowed to warm your food up in the Cafe Car due to health code restrictions. I love bringing salads and snacks on the train, especially if I manage to snag a seat at one of the table areas. 

Seating areas.

Seating areas.

I find traveling by relaxing and productive. I highly recommend it! I see a lot of children during my journeys, and it could make for a great mode of transit on a family vacation. If you have the option, go for it!

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part III: What We Ate

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part III: What We Ate

There is no better way to experience a new culture than eating their food! Michael and I tend to plan our trips around great meals, so food was one of the most important activities for us. Here are a few highlights of our favorite meals!

One morning, a little bird joined us for breakfast

One morning, a little bird joined us for breakfast

The breakfast buffet at the St. Regis is the stuff of dreams. I could eat at that breakfast buffet every day for the rest of my life. It had everything you could imagine. Fresh fruit and fruit juices, pancakes and waffles, omelet station, cold cuts, grilled vegetables, Hawaiian pork, dumplings, even breakfast salad. I wanted to eat there every day. We nearly did! The buffet is set up daily in the Makana Terrace, and guests can dine inside or outside on the terrace. We obviously opted to dine outside. 

 

Breakfast from the buffet at Makana Terrace. Paired with a guava mimosa!

Breakfast from the buffet at Makana Terrace. Paired with a guava mimosa!

Quick pic of the trailer as we were driving by.

Quick pic of the trailer as we were driving by.

One of our favorite lunches was also one of our most authentic: A Hawaiian Plate Lunch! We got ours at Hanalei Taro and Juice Company. They have an adorable trailer and shed in Hanalei that serves everything from smoothies and acai bowls to full plate lunches like ours. They take the farm to table mentality very seriously, and only use ingredients from their farms or locally sourced. The plate was absolutely delicious. We got the King Kalo plate so we could try some of everything. It had Kalua Pig, Chicken Lau Lau, macaroni salad, rice, poi, and a piece of taro mochi cake for desert.

Traditional Hawaiian plate lunch from  Hanalei Taro and Juice Company .

Traditional Hawaiian plate lunch from Hanalei Taro and Juice Company.

Summer rolls. These were both vegan and gluten free.

Summer rolls. These were both vegan and gluten free.

Another excellent lunch was at Caffe Coco in Wailua. We stopped there on the way to Princeville after we landed at the airport in Lihue. It was such a bright and cheerly little stop that provided some much needed healthy fuel. They have a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, and most things can be made gluten free as well. I just loved their cute little patio!

Caffe Coco  in it's colorful glory.

Caffe Coco in it's colorful glory.

Outdoor patio at  Caffe Coco . I clearly loved this place, and could not decide on just one photo!

Outdoor patio at Caffe Coco. I clearly loved this place, and could not decide on just one photo!

The most unique place we ate was a popup restaurant called Kauai Ono. To get seats at the communal table, you must reserve well in advance. They only serve dinner a couple nights per week and only when the weather is nice. We found this place on Yelp, and we were blown away! It is run by a chef who cooks with local Kauai ingredients from a mobile kitchen. He then brings out your multi-course meal for you to enjoy as you sit under a huge tent. If you have any food allergies or particular preferences, they are very accommodating and prompt you of this type of information when you call to reserve. One guest next to me was vegan, and her food looked equally as delicious and creative. Alcohol was bring your own, so we brought some of our wedding wine. We had a blast trying all the courses and meeting other people. Most of the younger couples were also honeymooners, so it was fun to talk to them about their plans for the week. Kauai One was definitely a highlight! 

Kauai Ono . There is no point in describing what we ate, as it changes seasonally and depending on availability. Do bring bug spray and wine though! 

Kauai Ono. There is no point in describing what we ate, as it changes seasonally and depending on availability. Do bring bug spray and wine though! 

There are so many more delicious things we ate that are not featured here, like Sushi Girl Kauai,  Kauai's Best Shave Ice, and Hukilau Lanai!  Kauai really surprised us with their fresh, local food. They too take meals very seriously! 

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part II: Kauai is Beautiful

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part II: Kauai is Beautiful

All of Hawaii is breathtakingly beautiful, but there is something magical about Kauai. It feels much more wild and exciting; a natural kind of beauty.  We tried to soak in as much of Kauai's scenery as possible during our trip. As I've said before, my husband is the adventurous one, but I too love finding unique ways to appreciate new destinations.

A small waterfall on the hike to Queen's Bath.

A small waterfall on the hike to Queen's Bath.

On our first full day in Kauai, we drove less than a mile and a half to a small parking area near the trail head for Queen's Bath. I am not joking when I say the parking area is small. There is room for maybe seven cars. We arrived at 10am and got the last spot by some miracle. I highly recommend arriving earlier that that or just walking from the St. Regis. 

Queen's Bath is an incredible natural wonder in Kauai. It is a tide pool surrounded by lava rocks that captures ocean water and creatures at high tide.

The hike to Queen's Bath is almost as beautiful as the tide pools!

The hike to Queen's Bath is almost as beautiful as the tide pools!

A very busy Queen's Bath! This was about as close as I wanted to get.

A very busy Queen's Bath! This was about as close as I wanted to get.

The hike to the water is very quick and easy, it took maybe ten minutes. We spent at least an hour walking around the lava rocks and enjoying the views.  

Another tide pool near Queen's Bath.

Another tide pool near Queen's Bath.

Scary sign number 2

However, Queen's Bath is extremely controversial.  Most tour guides do not recommend going there. Our hotel concierge strongly discouraged us from going. Due to the unpredictable nature of high tide and the lava rocks lending a false sense of security, there have been some deaths from drowning associated with this tide pool. There is a rather menacing sign that warns that 25+ people died. We decided to go and hike but not swim. I think this was a good decision. There were swimmers when we were there, but it does look quite dangerous and I do not consider myself a strong swimmer.

Scary sign number one.

Fresh from a quiet evening and invigorated by the beauty of Queen's Bath, we tackled the world-famous Na Pali coast the next day. Several months in advance, we booked a seventeen mile kayak tour with Napali Kayak. Yes, seventeen miles. We only brought a disposable waterproof camera, so the photos are very poor quality. This would have been the perfect time for a Go-Pro camera!

The best pic we got from that dang disposable camera.

The best pic we got from that dang disposable camera.

The Kayak trip started bright and early. We met in Hanalei at 6:00am to check in. Hanalei is only about ten minutes from the St. Regis. We waited about a half hour for the group to arrive, but we didn't wait around too long! In fact, our group ended up leaving without one couple. While were waiting, we packed dry bags with our supplies. Here is what I recommend bringing:

  • Waterproof shoes: the sand gets HOT and there were a few occasions where we were dragging our kayak to and from the trailer
  • Water: so much water. At least 3 liters. We each brought two 1.5 liter bottles. That was about the perfect amount.
  • Sunglasses: it is so bright on the water. Bring one of those nerdy sunglass straps too so you don't lose them in the ocean.
  • Rash guard with SPF: this saved me. It is nearly impossible to apply enough sunscreen. Plus, as strange as it sounds, there were times I was cold.
  • Towel: I used it to dry off during lunch of course, and I sat on it during the ride home, but I also used it to cover my feet when I noticed they were getting too much sun.
  • Dry clothes: I did not bring dry clothes to change into. This was a mistake. I had to ride an hour in my wet and sandy swimsuit. It was not fun.
  • Sunscreen: bring the highest SPF you can find. Bathe in it. 
  • Cap: to shade your face.
  • Protein bars: Kayaking works up a serious appetite. 
  • Seasickness meds: I took non-drowsy Drammamine before I started, I had a sticky patch behind my ear, and I STILL got sea sick for about a thirty minute period. The open ocean is rough, and if your stomach is at all inclined to sensitivity, BRING THE MEDS.
  • Camera: don't just bring a waterproof disposable camera. Bring a Go-Pro or similar waterproof camera. The views are breathtaking and once-in-a-lifetime. 

Next, we all loaded into a shuttle bus to Haena Beach Park, about fifteen minutes away. They oriented us to the kayak and gave us tips on piloting them. The stronger person goes in the back, so I of course dove for the front of the kayak.

After one mile of kayaking, there is a place to bail out. This is the last chance go to back for the entire seventeen miles. I made sure to take a moment and truly access how I was feeling. Thankfully, I felt good, so I pressed onward, and I'm so glad! I am a fairly fit person who works out at the gym around five days a week, but I am not a pro kayaker. In fact, this was the first time I had ever kayaked. My husband, however, is an experienced kayaker. He was a lifesaver in steering the boat for us. It was a tough day! We got back to our car at around 7:00pm. But I did it and was able to keep up with the others. If you are determined enough and in descent physical shape, you can complete the trip. It was about five hours to paddle to the sandbar for lunch and another three or so to the end from there. The guides provided a picnic lunch, pointed out dolphins and sea turtles and took us through sea caves. It was by far the most memorable days of our trip!

The next day, our muscles ached, but thankfully we had a plan to see Kauai without exerting any physical energy: helicopter ride!

With our chopper.

With our chopper.

There really is no way to compare seeing the mountains and waterfalls by air. We loved having an experienced guide who pointed out all of the attractions and shared interesting tidbits about the island. However, zipping down Na Pali coast so soon after slogging the seventeen miles in a kayak left me with some mixed feelings. Especially since I was still sore! 

Na Pali coast by air. My iPhone was in a plastic waterproof case, and it gave my photos a kind of soft-focus effect. Kind of strange, but I don't hate it.

Na Pali coast by air. My iPhone was in a plastic waterproof case, and it gave my photos a kind of soft-focus effect. Kind of strange, but I don't hate it.

Princeville from above.

Princeville from above.

The helicopter ride was a short one hour, but it was so worth it. We rode on a Robinson R44 with the doors off to maximize the pretty views. Our tour company was Muana Loa Helicopters because they offered a private helicopter ride. 

End on a waterfall! 

End on a waterfall! 

There are so many incredible hikes in Kauai, but I'm going to end our adventures post here. There are better sources for discovering good hiking trails, and I wanted to focus on three somewhat different activities. Stay tuned for Part III!

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