Train Rides and Railroad Adventures for Kids in the Bay Area and Northern California

April 3, 2017

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.

North Bay

Sonoma TrainTown, Sonoma

This scale railroad in the town of Sonoma has been delighting families since 1958. In addition to the train, pulled by scale steam and diesel engines, there's a petting zoo, miniature Western town, kid-size carnival rides, snack bar, and gift shop. Read more about TrainTown. 20264 Broadway, Sonoma CA 95476, www.traintown.com

Sonoma TrainTown Railroad

Howarth Park, Santa Rosa

This sprawling park in Santa Rosa features a miniature railroad with a not-very-scary Haunted Tunnel and bridges. The park also boasts playgrounds, a carousel, hiking trails, a lake, a snack bar, and even an animal barn with friendly farm creatures to visit. Read more about Howarth Park. 630 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa CA 95405, www.howarthpark.com

Train at Howarth Park Santa Rosa

Western Railway Museum, Suisun City

The Western Railway Museum near Suisun City in Solano County offers rides on historic electric interurban trains and vintage streetcars. With museum admission you can ride the trains as much as you like! Special events here include the popular Pumpkin Patch Festival in October and wildflower excursion trains in April. 5848 Highway 12, Suisun City CA 94585, www.wrm.org

San Francisco

The Little Puffer, San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo offers rides on the Little Puffer Steam Train, pulled by a beautifully restored, century-old miniature steam locomotive. It's a must-do activity when you pay a visit to the zoo! 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco CA 94132, www.sfzoo.org

East Bay

Redwood Valley Railway, Tilden Park, Berkeley

Located at the south end of Tilden Park in Berkeley the Redwood Valley Railway features incredibly detailed miniature live steam engines. 12-minute train rides take you through the railroad's namesake redwood forest. It's a magical experience! Read more about Tilden Park and the Redwood Valley Railway. Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Lomas Cantadas Road, Berkeley, www.redwoodvalleyrailway.com

Redwood Valley Railway Tilden Park Berkeley

Outback Express Adventure Train, Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo's miniature railroad was re-worked with an Australian theme, and the ride takes your by down-under creatures like emus and wallaroos. Riders can also take in some amazing views of the Bay Area during the trip. 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland CA 94605, www.oaklandzoo.org

Oakland Zoo Outback Adventure Train

Niles Canyon Railway, Fremont

This heritage railway runs full-size trains pulled by historic locomotives through Niles Canyon, in the East Bay near Fremont. Real steam locomotives are used from the Nile station on select Sundays from April through August, with diesel engines the remainder of the time. Their annual Train of Lights is a beloved holiday tradition! 37029 Mission Boulevard, Fremont CA 94536, www.ncry.org

South Bay

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, Los Gatos

The legacy railroad engineer Billy Jones—a personal friend of fellow train buff Walt Disney—this miniature railroad operates out of Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos. Families can take an exciting train ride pulled by a scale steam or diesel engine, ride a restored antique carousel, and more. 233 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos CA 95032, www.bjwrr.org

Further Afield

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Jamestown

Located up in the Gold Country town of Jamestown, Railtown 1897 is a must-visit destination for all railroad fans of all ages. Used as a filming location for countless Hollywood westerns, it offers rides pulled by real vintage steam trains, including its flagship, the 1891 Sierra Number 3. Make sure you tour the 19th-century roundhouse and shops, too. It's well worth the trip up to the foothills. Read more about Railtown 1897. 10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown CA 95327, www.railtown1897.org

Railtown 1897 Jamestown

California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento

Sacramento's California State Railroad Museum is another mecca for railroad enthusiasts young and old. This sprawling museum tells the story of trains in California from the Transcontinental Railroad to the present day. After touring the museum and its amazing collection, take a ride on an excursion train pulled by a historic locomotive that departs from the nearby passenger terminal in Old Sacramento. Their popular Polar Express train ride during the holidays is something you have to do at least once! Read more about the California State Railroad Museum. 125 I Street, Sacramento CA 95814, www.csrmf.org

California State Railroad Museum

Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton

This heritage railroad in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains offers steam-engine drawn train rides through the redwood forest or even all the way down the mountain to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Roaring Camp Railroads is also home to countless events including a Civil War re-enactment, mock train robberies, a holiday lights train, and the ever-popular Day Out with Thomas, starring everyone's favorite tank engine. 5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton CA 95018, www.roaringcamp.com

Skunk Train, Mendocino County

The Skunk Train operates from the Mendocino County towns of Fort Bragg and Willits and offers rail excursions through the redwoods, up mountains, and along the Noyo River in vintage railcars and trains pulled by diesel engines or their 1924 Baldwin steam locomotive. Events include a Christmas train, a Father's Day BBQ, and the Pumpkin Express. 100 Laurel Street, Fort Bragg CA 95437 or 299 East Commercial Street, Willits CA 95490, www.skunktrain.com