Trains are popular in many families. Kiddos and grown-ups alike marvel at all things train-related. Whether you’re interested in learning about the history of trains, want to get up close to an actual train, and/or are looking for some fun miniature train rides, this list has plenty of ideas for you.
Taking kids to see trains or model trains can be a super fun and rewarding experience for the whole family. Model train displays often feature intricately detailed miniature landscapes, complete with tiny buildings, people, and vehicles. The trains themselves are also often highly detailed and can range from historic steam locomotives to modern high-speed bullet trains.
Seeing a real train up close can be awe-inspiring for kids, as they can witness the sheer size and power of these machines. They may also be fascinated by the different types of trains, such as freight trains, passenger trains, and high-speed trains. Additionally, taking a train ride can be a thrilling experience for kids, as they get to see the world from a new perspective and travel to new destinations.
Overall, taking kids to see trains can be a great way to teach them about transportation, history, and engineering, while also providing a fun and memorable experience.
21 Places to See Trains in Southern California
Angels Flight Railway
350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90071
Angels Flight has the distinction as being “the world’s shortest railway.” Enjoy a short ride between Hill Street and Grand Avenue on a method of transportation that is more than 100 years old. Angels Flight is open seven days a week, from 6:45 am to 10:00 pm. The fare is $1 each way.
800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA
No list about trains would be complete without mentioning Union Station, described as “more than a bustling transportation hub in the heart of the city,” but also a “true cultural hub.” You can plan a trip taking Amtrak or stay more local and ride Metrolink which provides “rail service between five Southern California counties.” Union Station is open to the public daily 4:00 am to 1:00 am.
Travel Town Museum
5200 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA
Travel Town is a definite must-see for train-lovers. Learn about railroad history in Los Angeles as you wander around and observe the more than 40 historic railroad locomotives on display. In addition, families can take a ride on a miniature train, the Griffith Park Railroad, which circles around the Travel Town complex. (Tickets for the train ride — $4 for riders 12+, and $3 for children 11 and younger as well as seniors 65+.) Admission and parking are free. Travel Town is open seven days a week, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, closed on Christmas Day.
Griffith Park and Southern Railroad
4400 Crystal Springs Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90027
Not far from Travel Town, you’ll find Griffith Park and Southern Railroad. The miniature train here “travels over one mile of track, across a bridge, through a forest and the Old Western Town.” Be sure to check the website for the most up-to-date information regarding hours. Different hours apply during the holiday season, and they do close for lunch on weekdays. (Train ride fares: $4 for adults; $3 for children 17 and under and seniors 60+.) Tickets are only available on-site.
Los Angeles Live Steamers and Railroad Museum
5202 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90027
You’ll find the Los Angeles Live Steamers and Railroad Museum adjacent to Travel Town Museum. The facility’s mission is to “educate the public in railroad history and show live steam, gas-mechanical and electric railroad technology in actual operation.” Public rides on 7 1/2” gauge model trains are offered on Sundays from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. (Riders must be at least 34” tall. While rides are free, a suggested donation of $4 per rider is suggested. Fun fact – Walt Disney’s Barn (the actual barn that was in Disney’s backyard in Holmby Hills) is on-site.
Pasadena Model Railroad Museum
5458 Alhambra Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90032
The Pasadena Model Railroad Museum was founded back in 1940 and “operates one of the largest HO scale model railroads in the world, the 5000 square foot (70’ x 72’) Sierra Pacific Lines.” Periodically throughout the year, the Museum hosts Open Houses which are open to the public.
Pacific Railroad Society Museum
210 W. Bonita Ave., San Dimas, CA 91773
“Pacific Railroad Society is one of the oldest rail enthusiast organizations the United States.” The Museum used to be a Santa Fe Railroad Depot, which means a visit there is a bit like stepping back in time. “From the old-fashioned waiting room to the genuine station agent’s office and signal equipment, there’s lots to see. Knowledgeable docents are on hand to explain the highlights and offer in-depth historical context.” The Museum is open to the public on the first and third Saturday of each month from 10 am to 3 pm. Families are encouraged to call first to confirm the Museum’s hours.
15151 Bledsoe Street, Sylmar, CA 91342
People think of cars when they think of the Nethercutt collection, but they’ve got a spectacular 1937 Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson Locomotive and 1912 Pullman Private Car on display as well. Painstakingly restored and available for tours, these train cars are impressive. The Pullman car was custom built by Pullman in Chicago, Illinois for Clara Baldwin Stocker, the eldest Daughter of local Pioneer “Lucky” Baldwin.
El Dorado Frontier
El Dorado Park
7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach, CA 90808
El Dorado Frontier is not widely known. However, it’s a fun place to visit, especially if your kiddos like train rides! You’ll feel as if you have stepped back in time and are visiting an old Western town. The El Dorado Express features “a mile-and-a-half track layout on a one of a kind train built over 60 years ago. A wonderfully narrated story along with an original music score sets the tone, while telling an educational story about the history of the Gold Rush in California.” Open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Balboa Park Miniature Train
1800 Zoo Place, San Diego, CA 92101
While you’re in Balboa Park, be sure to take a ride on the Miniature Train. Families will enjoy a “three-minute, half-mile loop through four acres of Balboa Park.” Additionally, this rare, antique train is one of only around 50 remaining G16 models.” The Miniature Railroad is open weekends and holidays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Tickets are $3 for each rider.
Fullerton Train Museum
200 E. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, CA
At the Fullerton Train Museum, families will have the chance to walk through the collection of historic railcars, “all of which are maintained in their ‘in service’ condition.” The collection includes “two 1940s Union Pacific lounge cars in period décor and a 1951 fully restored Santa Fe streamlined sleeping car.” The Museum is open on the first and third Saturday of each month, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Admission is free.
Irvine Park Railroad
1 Irvine Park Road, Orange, CA 92869
Take a drive to Orange County and visit the Irvine Park Railroad. Irvine Park Railroad is a one-third scale train taking riders on a twelve minute ride through Irvine Regional Park. (Fare is $6 per person; children 12 months and younger are free.)
Lomita Railroad Museum
2137 W. 250th St., Lomita, CA 90717
“The Lomita Railroad Museum was the first of its kind west of Denver, Colorado,” and is modeled after the Boston & Maine’s Greenwood Station at Wakefield, Massachusetts. The Museum focuses on the era of the steam engine. You’ll find a Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive on display, as well as a 1910 Union Pacific Caboose, just to name a couple of the trains on-site. Admission is free. The Museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Orange County Model Engineers (OCME)
Goat Hill Junction Railroad
2480 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
You’ll find the Orange County Model Engineers in Fairview Park. They operate a 7.5-inch gauge railroad “known as the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad,” and has close to 5 miles of track winding through the park. “A variety of trains run on the track and represent 1.5-inch, 2.5-inch and 3.75-inch scale equipment.” Free public rides are offered on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month, weather permitting. (Riders must be at least 31 inches tall and able to walk.) Each ride takes about 12 minutes.
Pacific Southwest Railway Museum
750 Depot St., Campo, CA 91906 and
4695 Nebo Dr., La Mesa, CA 91941
Pacific Southwest Railway Museum has two facilities, “with over 120 pieces of equipment and artifacts on display” between the two locations. The Campo location, the Museum’s main facility, offers “vintage train rides with locomotives and cars from the early 20th century.” You’ll find a large assortment of railroad equipment here including steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, and passenger cars. An admission fee does apply as well as a separate price for train rides, and is open Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The La Mesa location is open on Saturdays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm and offers free admission. Details are available online.
12100 Mora Dr., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Families can visit the City of Santa Fe Springs’s Railroad Exhibit each day from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm. “The railroad exhibit tells the story of the City’s railroad history through the careful restoration of the Santa Fe Railway depot, tracks and signals.” You’ll see a restored steam locomotive as well as a refrigerated boxcar and caboose. The exhibit also includes a rose garden and picnic area.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
If you’re planning a family trip down to San Diego, be sure to schedule time to visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The Museum spans over 27,000 square feet and features both indoor and outdoor exhibits. You’ll find several permanent exhibits including the Southern Pacific-Santa Fe Tehachapi Pass, the Pacific Desert Lines, and the Centennial Railway Garden to name just a few. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. (Tickets are $13.50 for adults; $9 for seniors 65+, students 12-17; $6 for children 4-11; and free for toddlers 3 and younger.)
South Coast Railroad Museum
Historic Goleta Depot
300 N. Los Carneros Road, Goleta, CA 93460
The South Coast Railroad Museum “focuses on the history, technology, and adventure of railroading.” The Goleta Depot was “built by the Southern Pacific in 1901 during completion of the Coast Route joining San Francisco and Los Angeles.” In fact, the Goleta Depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
Southern California Live Steamers Miniature Railroad
2100 Washington Ave., Torrance, CA
Southern California Live Steamers hosts Public Train Ride Days at Wilson Park on the first Sunday (11:00 am to 3:00 pm) and third Saturday (12:00 pm to 3:00 pm) of each month. Learn about steam and diesel locomotives, and enjoy a ride on a miniature railroad. Be sure to check the website for special events held periodically throughout the year.
Southern California Railway Museum
2201 S. “A” Street, Perris, CA 92570
The Southern California Railway Museum was formerly known as the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Here families will explore the “West’s largest collection of railway locomotives, passenger and freight cars, streetcars, interurban electric cars, buildings and other artifacts dating from the 1870’s.” Multiple special events are planned throughout the year; be sure to check the website for details. Parking, entry to the grounds and exhibits are free. However, there is a fee to take a ride on one of the select trains and trolleys running on the weekend. Check the website for details.
And a Bonus: A Former Train That is Now a Restaurant
8351 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069 and
12601 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
Carney’s advertises itself as “probably the best hamburgers and hot dogs in the world.” With two locations — one on the famous Sunset Strip and one in Studio City — there’s a very good chance you’ve driven by the famous yellow train. This family-owned establishment was founded in 1975. An old Pacific Railroad passenger train was converted into a now-very-well-known restaurant known for their hamburgers and hot dogs. Make sure to save room for a frozen chocolate dipped banana.
Wendy Kennar is a mother, writer, and former teacher who has lived her entire life in the same Los Angeles zip code. You can read more from Wendy at her website WendyKennar.com where she writes about books, boys, and bodies (living with an invisible disability).
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