Wow! What a great way to have a big adventure and still be home in time for dinner… not that I have the energy to cook after such a full day! There is something about traveling by public transit that really immerses you into a place. From interacting with strangers to being reliant on the schedule of the train, we really felt like travelers. Today we took the train with my mom (Gogo) from Fresno to Hanford, explored the historic downtown and it’s yummy eats, and then hopped back on the train, arriving in Fresno at 3:30pm. This day trip really should be on every Fresnan’s bucket list, and we were very excited to check it off ours! Here are all of our tips, tricks, and takeaways from our train trip to Hanford.
Wear: comfortable shoes and lots of sunscreen if it’s a nice day. The walk from the train to town is pretty sunny, and Civic Center Park has some shade but there is likely to be lots of time in the sun.
Pack: a spare set of clothes for the kids, wipes, compact toys/books for the kids (for while you wait for the trains to arrive and on the journey). Also remember, whatever you take, you have to load on and off of the train. We opted not to bring our stroller and the kids did great on the walk but it was a little slower.
Cost: Amtrak – if booked online ages 13 and up $10 (round-trip), children 2-12 are $5 (round-trip), and infants 0-2 are free. (Special discounts for seniors, military, AAA, etc.). Lunch at Zaytoona for two adults and two children was about $40. Ice cream at Superior Dairy, single scoop $6, two scoops $7.35, three scoops $8.
Hours: We took the 9:48 am train to Hanford and the 2:47 pm train to Fresno. There are lots of other times available so check the Amtrak schedule to see what works best for you. Arrive at least thirty minutes before departure time.
Parking: Amtrak has a parking lot off of Santa Fe Ave. When you check in at the train station they will provide a parking permit that needs to be placed in the windshield.
1. Catch the train to Hanford.
This trip requires a little planning ahead. The day before our adventure I went to Amtrak’s website to find out the train schedule and buy tickets. I got the info but had a little trouble buying tickets, so we decided we’d just get them at the station in the morning. There were tickets available just before our trip but they were more expensive than if I’d bought them online the day before. (Lesson learned… I should have persevered.)
Once you have your tickets you can wait for the train inside the station or along the tracks. This was a popular time to travel and it was pretty crowded but we kept the kids close and enjoyed the beautiful spring morning.
*Our kids are very sensitive to the loud trains, so as soon as we knew the trains were approaching we had the kids cover their ears.2. Enjoy the ride.
Once the train gets out of Fresno, riders get views of orchards and farms that showcase Central California’s agriculture. The kids were excited to look out the window for the entire thirty minute ride. They also enjoyed being free in their seats, not being strapped into their car seats!3. Walk to downtown Hanford.
Downtown Hanford is just a few blocks from the train station. It’s an easy walk, though the streets are busy so keep the kids close. At this point I was concerned that I should have brought our stroller, but in retrospect I’m glad we didn’t have more to load onto the train… the kids (almost 2 and almost 4) did great, and learned a bit more about road safety.4. Enjoy an early lunch or picnic.
If you’re okay with eating at eleven, I’d recommend it. The restaurants got busy by noon and we had time to make room for our ice cream. Hanford has a variety of restaurant options, but after a quick Yelp review, I decided we’d try the Mediterranean restaurant, Zaytoona. We ordered the Vegetarian plate and Chicken Kebobs. They were both delicious and way too much food. I am a big fan of Mediterranean food, and this might be the best I’ve had.Every single dish was incredibly flavorful without being overpowering or too oily… and the hummus!!! It had a deliciously indescribable smokiness that I’m already craving more of. I highly recommend this restaurant!!5. Explore the downtown area and make room for ice cream.
The downtown area is made up of a few blocks of shops, restaurants, and businesses. We didn’t go into any of the stores but the kids enjoyed looking at all of the window decorations in the storefront windows. Once you reach Douty Street and 8th Street, you will see a block of beautiful old buildings all surrounding an open park area. This green space is Civic Center Park. It has lots of benches, pathways, and a water fountain, but no playground. However, the kids loved running around and playing in the grass and it was a great place to relax.6. Attempt to make a dent in a double scoop of Superior Dairy ice cream.
Once we rested a bit we crossed the park and made our way to the Central Valley Mecca of ice cream… Superior Dairy. We had been warned that the scoops of ice cream were huge but we wanted to try a couple flavors so we got a two-scoop-mountain of strawberry and cookie (cookies and cream). The ice cream was really good, but I think what makes the experience so special and a Valley treasure, is the fact that this ice cream shop has been here since 1929 and it just feels historic. Plus ginormous bowls of ice cream are pretty awesome too! (For the record, we didn’t come close to finishing this ice cream dome.)
*Today definitely seemed busier than usual because of Spring Break, but based on our experience it seemed like the rest of the train travelers ate lunch and then ice cream a little later. We went to Superior Dairy at about 12:30 and it was busy but there were tables available. By the time we left at around 1pm, there were no tables and a line was growing outside the restaurant.7. Let the kids play in the park and burn off the mountain of ice cream.
If you go to Superior Dairy around 12:30 like we did, you’ll have about an hour to kill before walking back to the train station. This was one of the other aspects that really made this trip feel like we were traveling. We couldn’t just hop in our car and go home after ice cream. We had to slow down and enjoy the town a little while longer. We chose to play in the grass and soak in the beautiful day. (If we go again, I think we’ll bring a ball or frisbee or something easily packed that would be fun to play with in this great open space).8. Take the kids to the public potty before trekking back to the train.
As any parent of a potty trained child knows, one of the biggest stressors of traveling is finding bathrooms … and finding them fast! Thankfully there was a decent restroom right in the middle of this park!! The bathroom closes at 2:45pm so it seems to be provided mostly for train travelers visiting for the morning. 9. Wait for the train and reflect on your awesome day!
Both of our trains were a bit late today, but we didn’t have anywhere to be so it was just fine. The only challenge might have been entertaining the kids but they were content with car sales magazines and watching people and trains. By this point we were all sun-drained and tired but it was well worth it after a fantastic day of local adventure!
*B is actually saying “cheese” for the camera. She was so tired but refused to take a nap because she didn’t want to miss any part of our fun outing.