Spending the 4th of July weekend up in San Francisco is becoming something of a annual thing for us lately. Except for last year, 2016, which we spent it in Albuquerque New Mexico, my parents and I were up in San Francisco for the 4th of July weekends in 2014, 2015 and again this year 2017. Last year when we spent the 4th of July weekend in Albuquerque, we took Amtrak’s Southwest Chief back to Los Angeles. That train was 5+ hours late arriving into Los Angeles Union Station due to the lead engine of the train breaking down. For that 5+ hour long delay, I was given a $200.00 voucher good for future travel on Amtrak. My parents and I decided to use the voucher before it expired by redeeming it for roundtrip tickets on Amtrak’s San Joaquin from Bakersfield to San Francisco.
Currently, Amtrak San Joaquin trains have a special going, where if you buy 1 full fare ticket, you can take up to 5 companions with you for 50% off. In order to take advantage of this offer, you just go through Amtrak San Joaquin portal here: Amtrak San Joaquin Special and click on the link before booking. I almost made the mistake of not clicking on the link which would have cost me an extra $90+ dollars by booking directly at Amtrak.com. The special link page is part of Amtrak.com but the link on the page triggers the discount when booking.
This was our third time taking Amtrak San Joaquin to San Francisco. My parents live up in Northern Los Angeles County so flying would entail driving at least 1.5 hours or more south in traffic to LAX, and driving all the way to San Francisco would entail the misery of a long tedious drive in stuck in holiday traffic on the freeway. So we drive to Bakersfield Amtrak Station, which is about an 1 to 1.5 hour drive up north where we park our car for free and then take the train rest of the way to San Francisco. It is a nice carefree ride on the train and we arrive just before lunch time in the city via thruway bus connection from Emeryville Station.
The total journey up north and into San Francisco is scheduled for little over 6 hours from Bakersfield. The train is equipped with WiFi and a Cafe Car selling both hot and cold food and a variety of beverages including alcohol and beer. Amtrak’s WiFi does not allow any video streaming, but the cell signal along the route is strong throughout the route. The seats aboard the train are first come first serve but since we are taking the train from Bakersfield, which is the starting station, finding the seats we want is not an issue. My parents and I have always sat in the group seating with the table which allows us to converse, eat and sleep. Sitting on the train for 6+ hours together facing each other one tends to catch up on whats been going on more than when sitting across from one another.
Around halfway through the ride up to San Francisco, I felt like having a snack so I went to the Cafe Car and grabbed myself and my dad some ice cream and some chips and soda. When we first boarded, my mom was hungry so she and I went to the Cafe Car after departing Bakersfield to purchase a hot chicken sandwich along with couple of cups of coffee and two cups of hot water for the cup of noodle that she brought along. Except for the coffee I did not eat anything when we first departed Bakersfield and now I was starting to feel hungry. While not the best food for breakfast, the ice cream, chips and soda kept me satisfied until lunch in San Francisco.
At one point, the train did get full and passengers boarding at stations down the line could not find seats together. Many of those passengers sat in the dining car until seats freed up at Fresno and Stockton Stations. Fresno is a major station on the route and there is usually a big turnover in passengers at Fresno Station. Stockton Station is a major Amtrak Thruway connection point so there is a big turnover in passengers at Stockton as well. A group of passengers boarded the train with us in Bakersfield that were celebrating one of the ladies 50th birthday in San Francisco. At first they were a little loud, but they eventually fell asleep or took the party to the Cafe Car so there was really no issue. It was hard not to eavesdrop on their conversation sitting so close, but I tried really hard not to laugh or show any signs that I was hearing everything that was going on.
Once the train arrived at Emeryville Station, pretty much the whole train emptied out since Emeryville is the Amtrak Thruway Bus connecting point for stops inside of San Francisco. We found our bus, had our tickets scanned and boarded the bus and found ourselves three free seats on the bus. The bus was already pretty full with passengers who boarded ahead of us so my parents and I were not able to sit together. Emeryville Station is located right next to the Oakland Bay Bridge, which allows the Thruway Buses to get on the bridge quickly bypassing any traffic via dedicated bus lanes. Our stop, the Temporary Transbay Terminal, was the first stop for our Thruway Bus. By the time the bus departed Emeryville Station to the time that we arrived at the Temporary Transbay Terminal look less than 30 min.
Once we collected my luggage from the bus luggage hold, I hailed an Uber to take us the rest of the way to our hotel, the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins up on Nob Hill. The train journey was relaxing and much less stressful than if I had driven my parents and myself up all the way to San Francisco. My dad, who is 67 years old gets tired really easily driving so any long distance driving would be done by me. Also when one considers the cost of parking at the majority of San Francisco Hotels, which at the hotel we are staying at is $65+ per day, taking Amtrak is a great value.