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Disclaimer: This piece is made possible by Sacramento RiverTrain.  Contact our advertising team to learn more.

Trains don’t have to be destination trips – the trip can be the destination. At only two hundred years old, it seems like the train has managed to ingrain itself in our collective consciousness. It’s become a symbol of industry and exploration, spanning westward across over a continent while curly-mustachioed villains tie damsels to its tracks. As children, we chugga-chugga-choo-choo’d along with our toy engines, and I dare you to find a kid who can’t tell you a thing or two about Thomas.

BART and Amtrak may exist for the commute, but what should we do if we want to stop trying to catch up with the rest of the world and slow down for a change? Where should we turn if we’re looking to remember the experience that trains were meant to be?

For those longing for the sway of the car and the rattle of the tracks, the Sacramento RiverTrain will deliver, conductors in overalls, the open-air leap between cars, and a chance to see a side of Sacramento few people do. 8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-178-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-141Given the chance, who wouldn’t climb the engine and pull the rope to make a train horn blow? The Sacramento RiverTrain gave me that opportunity. I chose to pass the baton to my seven-year-old son who, all grin and glasses, turned a gentle tug into a bellowing war cry.

You don’t need to be a train nerd to enjoy this two-hour, 14-mile round trip between West Sacramento and Woodland, though you may want to bring your sea legs. The sudden jerk of cars into motion was like hurling a heavy piece of history into the present, followed by a rhythmic chug through a canopy of oaks along the river.

The RiverTrain typically runs most weekends throughout the year, but according to Train Manager Kirk Williams, the tracks have been operating since the early 1900s, when the Northern Sacramento Railroad ran a passenger train between Sacramento and Woodland.   

The passengers may have changed, but the views remain. The leisurely pace of the RiverTrain Excursion, the most basic train ride of the company’s many themed excursions, affords snapshot views of the river, while a patchwork of dry yellows, browns, and varying shades of green unfurl westward.8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-74

8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-76The views alone – intimate within a copse of trees, expansive in the open air – are worth the price of a ticket, but the train cars are also a hodgepodge of historic curiosities. Each of the train’s cars has been repurposed – a former Amtrak passenger car, a freight car, an old commuter car whose seats once were lined like the interior of a bus. My son ran through each compartment, admiring the pressed-tin roofs, and then commenting on the oddly raised level of another. He hesitatingly leaped between them like between stones in a river – an unavoidable quirk of the design, according to Williams.8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-55The tough part is the transition between them,” admitted Williams. “They’re all made by different manufacturers, so they don’t marry well.”

But the unlikely marriage works. The art deco interior here, the paisley couches there, with the oaks outside and fresh air brushing passengers’ hair, all tied together by a musician with guitar moving through the cars strumming, appropriately enough, Old Crow Medicine Show’s, “Wagon Wheel.

General admission costs $29 ($19 for a child, $10 for your dog), but trust me, pay the extra 25 bucks for a premium ticket. It comes with a meal and generous samplings of local wine and craft beer from breweries like Sudwerk, Track 7, and Rubicon.

8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-50Premium passengers are given five tickets, each of which can be exchanged for an approximately 5-ounce sample. Mine were graciously poured by our server, Loma.8-12-16-sacramento-rivertrain-sacramento-91You’ve got to come on the Beer Train,” she tells me. “It’s the same train, but longer, with a live band, [and] four different breweries that bring on two beers each.”

As I finished my Bike Dog Double IPA, my son devoured a chocolate chip cookie the size of his face. For parents, the River Excursion is kind of like a playground on wheels, except, you can trust your child to run off with their newfound friends as you relax.

While Williams and I chat in the open-air car, my son runs up asking if he can explore the train. I tentatively give permission wondering if Williams will think I’m a liberal parent, but he laughs.

Well, it’s hard to get lost.

Williams is right, of course. My son isn’t going anywhere. He’s safe among the other families. Then again, this train is as a good a place as any to get lost, sipping a beer, watching the river flow, and not giving a second thought to where you’ve got to be.

The RiverTrain Excursion runs every Sunday until November, but the Sacramento RiverTrain is a year round train with multiple different trips every single weekend. Click here for ticket information.

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