It's hard to resist the romantic notion of riding the rails in a car pulled by an old-fashioned steam locomotive. It's something that captivates most kids—and many adults, too. Fortunately for railroad-obsessed kids and their parents, we have plenty of opportunities to take a real train ride in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California, even if it is on a working scale-model! Many of these train rides are a short distance away, and some are great excuses for a day trip or weekend getaway. All of them are a lot of fun! Whether it's a miniature scale railroad or the full-size real deal, the sights and sounds of a train ride are unforgettable.
Keep in mind that many of these railroads keep to seasonal schedules, and rides are often weather permitting. Some offer train rides on weekends only. Make sure you check their websites or give them a call before you plan your visit.
The Polar Express Train Ride on the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway. Photo courtesy Premier Rail Collection
There's something magical about taking a special holiday outing with the family on a train! While the popular Polar Express train rides at the California State Railroad Museum and Railtown 1897 sold out way back in October, you can still find plenty of other opportunities in the Bay Area and Northern California to celebrate the holidays on board a train, including and all new Polar Express Train Ride in Santa Cruz. But get your tickets as soon as you can—most of these rides will sell out.
While miniature railroads like Sonoma TrainTown are fun for train buffs young and old, eventually you have to move up to experience the real deal. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, in the Tuolumne County town of Jamestown, offers families the chance to see what a real working railroad looks like and, better yet, to experience a ride on a historic, century-old steam train. Railtown 1897 was one of the many state parks slated for closure in 2012, but due to the efforts of the park's many passionate supporters, it remains open for all of us to enjoy.
A three-hour drive from the Bay Area, Railtown 1897 is a fantastic destination for a family weekend getaway, especially when combined with some of the other Gold Country attractions in the area, like Columbia State Historic Park. If you're thinking of getting in one last road trip before summer vacation ends, this could be the place to go.