San Jose, California - a stop along the Amtrak and Caltrain rail routes.
San Jose is a very popular spot for conventions, events, sports, and business travel. The city of San Jose is fairly close to the southern end of high tech Silicon Valley. It is right at the southern most end of the San Francisco Bay where the rail lines and highways of both the San Francisco Peninsula and the eastern side of the bay meet. The San Jose Diridon Station is the ONLY station that is served by both Amtrak and Caltrain.
Heading north out of the San Jose Diridon Station, Amtrak heads up the eastern side of the bay up to Oakland. Heading north out of the San Jose Diridon Station, Caltrain goes up the peninsula to San Francisco. Thus, if you want to get to any of the peninsula cities, this is the place to change trains! However, if you want to get to San Francisco proper, Amtrak will provide you with connecting bus service out of either Oakland - Jack London Square or out of Emeryville.
Whenever I attend a convention in San Jose, I always stay at a motel that is along the light rail line. Some of the hotels near downtown San Jose are fairly expensive. For example, the last convention that I attended was held at the Fairmont Hotel and their discounted convention "special" rate was over $165 per night (1998)! A few miles up the light rail system, the motels range between $50 and $70 per night.
Below is the Best Western of San Jose at 1414 North First Avenue. The rack rate was $69 per night, but I got it for $62.50 with my Auto Club discount. Although I'm sure it doesn't have the amenities of the Fairmont, I don't mind missing them for a savings of about $100 per night! The Best Western is a very clean and comfortable motel.
Below is the picture of the VTA Light Rail vehicle which was going right by the front of the Best Western.
Directly next door to the Best Western is a Denny's Restaurant that is open 24 hours. The Vagabond Inn is next to the Denny's, an E-Z8 Motel is next to the Vagabond, and then the Homestead Village which rents weekly studio apartments is across the street from that. So, there is quite a bit to select from right in this area if you are seeking inexpensive accommodations!
If you'd like accommodations that are a step up from these motels, then there is a Wyndam Hotel also right across from the same VTA Light Rail station! One additional inexpensive motel that is immediately next to the south side of the Wyndam Hotel is the Executive Inn.
If you would like somewhere different to eat other than Denny's, there are a lot of restaurants either in the area or along the light rail system. If you walk south along First Street until you get to the end of the block of the above motels and then cross at the light rail station, you will find both Chinese and Japanese restaurants. There is also a very interesting Moroccan restaurant on the same side of the block as the motels.
So, how do you get from Amtrak to these motels? The San Jose Diridon Station is served by both the Amtrak Coast Starlight and the Amtrak Capitols. The northbound Coast Starlight arrives in the early evening and the southbound Coast Starlight arrives mid-morning. There are several Amtrak Capitols and they serve the station throughout the day.
The following comments are retained here for historical purposes only. The VTA Winchester Light Rail Line 902 now goes right into the Amtrak San Jose Diridon Station.
To get to the light rail system, you need to take the Caltrain once stop south to Tamien. The Caltrains pretty much run all day with about 30 minutes to an hour between each train. The Caltrain operates until about 11:30pm in the evening, even on Sundays, so you should usually be able to catch the Caltrain even if the Coast Starlight is running a bit late. The fare on the Caltrain is $1.25 to get to Tamien. If the Coast Starlight arrives real close to the departure time for the Caltrain, then don't bother to go into the station to get your ticket. Just board the Caltrain and pay the $1 surcharge for buying onboard at a staffed station. I don't think it is worth the wait of 30 minutes to an hour if you miss the train.
Once you get to Tamien, you can purchase a one-way ticket for about $1.25 or an All Day Pass for $2.50. Except for the day of my arrival, I usually purchase an All Day Pass every day and am then free to travel wherever I need to go on the light rail all day long! Don't worry about the times on the light rail system. As of January 1998, it now runs 24 hours a day!
Take the light rail 8 stops north to Gish. Once you get off the light rail vehicle, look across the street and you will see the Best Western! Look one building to the north and you will see the Vagabond Inn and the Denny's. Look beyond that for the E-Z8 Motel. One block to the south of the Best Western you will see the Wyndam Hotel.
An alternative way to get from the San Jose Diridon Amtrak Station is to take VTA bus #68. This bus serves both the San Jose Diridon Station and the VTA Light Rail Paseo De San Antonio Station. The bus runs about every 20 minutes during the day and about once per hour in the evening. Alternatively, you can walk from the San Jose Diridon Station to the VTA Light Rail. It is about a one mile walk. To do this, take a left and head north on Cahill Street as you leave the San Jose Diridon Station. Take a right onto Santa Clara Street. You'll walk quite a way down this street first passing the San Jose Arena, then the Guadeloupe 87 Freeway, and then Hotel De Anza. Take a right and walk just a few steps when you get to First Street. You will find the Santa Clara VTA Light Rail Stop right there.
More Information (added 08/19/98): I was just looking at the VTA bus map and found additional ways to get to First & Gish Streets, where these hotels that I mentioned above are located. If you arrive into the San Jose Diridon Station between 8:30 AM and 2:30 PM on a weekday, Bus Route #11 serves the San Jose Station and terminates right at First & Gish Streets! You can't get more direct than that! Unfortunately, this bus only operates between 8:30 AM and 2:30 PM weekdays. Another option is to that Bus Route #180 from the San Jose Diridon Station. This is the bus that goes to the Fremont BART Station. However, it also goes up First Street until it gets to the freeway, which is just a couple of blocks south of Gish Street. You can either walk the last two blocks or transfer to the Light Rail anywhere along First Street.
If you will be arriving or leaving the San Jose area by airplane, the San Jose Airport is very close to this area. The very next stop on the Light Rail is the Metro/Airport Stop! To travel between the airport and the Light Rail system, take Bus Route #10. You will find bus stops at the airport and at the Metro/Airport Light Rail Station. It is several blocks between the Metro/Airport and the Gish Street Light Rail Stations, but it is not a very difficult walk. If you plan to purchase a Light Rail Day Pass anyway, then you might as well just take the VTA Light Rail one stop to Gish!
To get to downtown San Jose from any of the hotels that I mentioned above, just take the light rail south. With the light rail running about every 10 minutes for most of the day and the journey to downtown only taking 15 minutes, you should be able to reach most of the important locations in San Jose from those motels in under 30 minutes. There are many light rail stops located convenient to downtown, the convention center, and other points of interest. If you were to take the light rail north, it would take you to Great America Amusement Park, Old Ironsides, and the Santa Clara Amtrak Capitols Station.
Along the light rail route there are bus connections to points throughout San Jose and surrounding cities. There is even a bus from San Jose Diridon station that can take you to the Fremont BART station which is the subway system that serves the East Bay area and San Francisco.
Now that you know how to get from these motels to the San Jose Diridon Station, you can get to just about anywhere in the Bay Area! As mentioned above, you can take a bus from the station to BART, the Caltrain up to San Francisco, or the Amtrak Capitols up to Oakland - Jack London Square, or even all the way to Sacramento, the home of the California State Railroad Museum! Amtrak also provides a bus that connects the San Jose Diridon station with the Amtrak San Joaquins at the Stockton Station. And ... the Altamont Commuter Express will be running soon that will provide rail service between San Jose Diridon Station and Stockton during commuter hours.
Just a little side note: The Caltrain does not quite make it all the way up to downtown San Francisco. But, there is another light rail station directly across from the northern most end of the Caltrain line that will take you right into the heart of San Francisco. From there you can make an easy connection with the BART system or the ferries (including a ferry over to Oakland - Jack London Square!).
The photographs below are of the San Jose Diridon train station, inside the waiting room and outside the front of the building and outside on the platform. You can see a number of Caltrain trains from the station and one Amtrak California train.
There is a small store inside the station that serves beverages and food in addition to newspapers, magazines and a number of useful travel items. From the front of the station you can see the old baggage section of the station that is no longer used for that purpose. There is almost always a number of Caltrain trains that can be seen from the platform.
When I had a chance on my trip to San Jose the week of August 16, 1998, I did some exploring of the VTA Light Rail System. They are still adding more track and stations, but I traveled every bit of every route that is operating currently. If you want to travel the whole system, just get on at any station and head north until you get to the end of the line at the "Old Ironsides" Station. Then, head south until you get to the "Santa Teresa" station at the other end of the line. To cover the entire system, you will have to get off at the "Ohlone/Chynoweth" station and transfer to the Almaden Shuttle for a quick round trip down to the "Almaden" Station and back. Then, reboard the northbound VTA Light Rail Vehicle at the "Ohlone/Chynoweth" Station and get off at your point of origin. You've now covered the entire system!
The VTA map shows that they are working on extending the northwestern section of the rail line out to the Mountain View Caltrain Station. They are also building a new line that will head northeast out of the Tasman Station. I would also assume there are some plans to extend the very short Almaden extension at some time in the future.
Along the VTA light rail line I discovered additional lodgings and places to eat. There is a Hyatt Hotel at the Airport/Metro Station and a Westin Hotel and Hanford Hotel at the Great America Station. There is a CoCos Restaurant at the Airport/Metro Station and a number of places to eat such as a Subway Sub Shop, a Carl's Jr. and an Indian Restaurant at the "Lick Mill" Station. There are also a few eating places at the Bonaventura Station. There are a LOT of hotels and places to eat near the downtown San Jose area that the Light Rail serves, but if you want to find something outside the downtown area, then the places that I mentioned above are about all that are convenient to the Light Rail. It seems the area around First and Gish Streets has the greatest number of hotels and places to eat along the Light Rail Line outside of the downtown area. There is even a place just a couple of blocks from here with a sign that says: "Light Rail Lounge / Pool & Darts!"
I found the shuttle between the "Ohlone/Chynoweth" and "Almaden" station pretty interesting. They use just a single VTA Light Rail Car. The train just goes back and forth between the 3 stops on this line all day long! There is just this one light rail car on this route. When the car gets to the end, the driver comes out of his booth, goes to the booth at the other end of the car, and heads back again. I asked him if this was what he did all day. He said: "Yes, a pretty easy job." I hope they rotate the drivers on this route. It must get pretty boring after a while!
The VTA light rail cars themselves look very new and clean on the outside. However, on the inside, the windows of every car in which I have been so far has been covered with graffiti! The graffiti is not in pen or paint, but rather is scratched into the plastic windows. I have as yet to see any window on any of these light rail cars that wasn't greatly covered with these scratch marks. Surprisingly, I have yet to see any graffiti on any other part of the car! I have never seen any graffiti on any of the walls in the car nor have I seen any vandalized seat cushions. All the vandalism seems to be restricted to just scratching onto the plastic windows.
There seemed to always be plenty of seats for everyone on the VTA Light Rail Trains, even during the rush hour. If I were to take a rough eyeball guess, I'd say they ran at close to 80% capacity during peak commute hours and close to 50% capacity during the off-peak mid-day hours that I used them. This is quite a change from my trip to this area a couple of years ago. There seemed to be "standing room only" every time I took the VTA Light Rail! But, since then, they have increased service to operate every 10 minutes during most of the day and to operate around the clock. This added capacity seems to have solved the overcrowding problem quite well!
Even though I saw a lot of people, especially kids, dressed in what appeared to be "gang clothing," I never saw a hint of trouble in any of my travels. I have a feeling that this manner of dress is more of a style or a fad. Although the graffiti is rampant on all of the glass surfaces of the Light Rail Vehicle, I never saw anyone bothering anyone nor causing any kind of trouble. The only hint of illegal activity that I ran into was a group of kids, dressed in gang attire, discussing where it was easy to get away from the police when they got spotted using their skateboards in a "no skateboards" area!
Click here for a few photos that I took from the corner of Gish and First Streets, plus a number of additional photos that I took in the San Jose Diridon Amtrak / Caltrain Station. A couple of the photos show the VTA Light Rail Vehicle right in front of the Best Western San Jose Lodge. You can see the motel sign right above the top of the LRV. Another photo displays the #11 Bus Stop Sign clearly showing the "Caltrain Station" destination! There is also a photo of the Chinese and Japanese Restaurant signs that are also right at the corner of Gish and First Streets.
Click here for additional photos. These photos were taken in Sunnyvale and include a few pictures of the Caltrains and the Sunnyvale Caltrain Station. Sunnyvale is just a short distance up the Caltrain line from San Jose.