Magical Holiday Train Rides in the Bay Area and Northern California
Photo: Napa Valley Wine Train
There's something magical about taking a special holiday outing with the family on a train! While the popular Polar Express train ride at the California State Railroad Museum sold out back at the beginning of 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 the Polar Express Train Ride at Railtown 1897 in the Gold Country. But get your tickets as soon as you can—most of these rides will sell out.
The Santa Train returns to the Napa Valley Wine Train for another season of Christmas fun for the whole family. Embark on an interactive musical journey to the North Pole, accompanied by some of Santa's best friends. The 90-minute ride to Santa's workshop includes games, musical entertainment, sing-alongs, and a teddy bear toy for kids, as well as hot cocoa and cookies. Enhance your visit with a special LED wristband and smartphone app! Of course Santa and his friends will be available for photo ops, too.
Santa Train fares start at $49 (it gets more expensive as Christmas approaches). The Santa Train leaves the station in Napa at 5 pm daily between November 19 and December 28, 2018, and additionally at 7:15 pm from November 23–25, December 1, 2, 8, 9, 14–23, and 26. (No trains on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day). Call (800) 427-4124 or visit their website to book tickets.
The California State Railroad Museum's sister organization, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, offers a holiday Polar Express train ride and tickets are still available! Located in the Mother Lode town of Jamestown, about a three-hour drive from the Bay Area, Railtown 1897 offers an hour-long train ride to the North Pole with hot-hot-hot chocolate, cookies, characters from the Polar Express story, and Santa himself, who will give each passenger a silver sleighbell.
Tickets cost $50 per peson, $200 for a table of four, and $70 for first class seating. Children under 2 are free but must be seated on an adult's lap. Rides take place Friday and Saturday, November 23 and 24 and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 30–December 16. Many days are sold out, so check their website for availability.
Ride through the East Bay's Niles Canyon at night on the Train of Lights, and enjoy music, refreshments, and holiday cheer! Trains, decorated for the holidays inside and out, depart from Niles at 4:30 pm and Sunol at 7:30 pm every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the holiday season (no trains on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day). Tickets cost $30 and up, depending on car. Trains leaving from Niles are sold out, but tickets are still available for some rides departing from the Sunol depot. Order tickets and learn more on their website.
The renowned Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains offers a variety of festive holiday train rides this winter.
Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train
Board vintage excursion cars, decorated with thousands of colorful lights, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a holiday train ride you'll never forget. Roll through the streets of Santa Cruz while enjoying hot cider, singing Christmas carols, and listening to live musical entertainment. You can even send your letter to Santa to the North Pole via train! The Holiday Lights Train runs on November 23 and 24 and December 1, 2, 8, 9, and 15 to 23. Tickets cost $33 for adults 13 and older and $27 for children 2 to 12. Order tickets and learn more on their website.
Holiday Tree Walk
Ride Roaring Camp's daytime steam train to the top of Bear Mountain. At the summit, sip hot cider and walk through a holiday wonderland of beautifully decorated Christmas trees. Bring a new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots and get a $2 train ticket discount per donated toy. Tickets cost $29 for adults and $22 for children. Holiday Tree Walk trains run on November 23, 24, and 25 and December 1, 2, 8, and 9. Order tickets and learn more online.
On December 3, board Roaring Camp's Chanukah Train at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a one-hour train ride on a vintage excursion car decaorated with lights and Chanukah decorations. Play dreidel, enjoy kosher refreshments, and listen to Chanukah stories as you ride through the streets of Santa Cruz. $33 adults, $27 children. Book tickets here.
Make your visit to Santa Cruz a mini family getaway! Check out our guide to where to stay and what to do for family fun here.
Magical Christmas Trains
The Skunk Train and the Sacramento RiverTrain offer festive Magical Christmas Train rides this holiday season. Enjoy a 90- or 60-minute ride with Santa and his elves, who will personally stop by your table, cookies, and hot chocolate in a souvenir mug. Skunk Train rides depart from the Mendocino County towns of Fort Bragg or Willits and Sacramento RiverTrain rides depart from West Sacramento.
Sacramento trains start November 23; Skunk Train dates TBA. Tickets start at $39–$49 for kids and $44–$54 for adults; infants under 2 and dogs $10–$15. Check schedules and order tickets for each location via the links above.
The Western Pacific Railroad Museum in the Plumas County town of Portola offers festive Santa Trains on December 8, 14, 15, 21, and 22. Enjoy homemade cookies, hot cider, coffee, and hot chocolate. Kids can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. Train rides usually start at 5 pm and continue until everyone gets a turn. Ticket details TBA. Portola is approximately a one-hour drive north of Truckee.
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