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! You'll find plenty of other opportunities in the Bay Area and Northern California to celebrate the holidays on board a train, including Polar Express Train Rides at both the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and 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 Santa and his holiday friends. The 90-minute ride to Santa's workshop includes musical entertainment, games, sing-alongs, and a Jolly Bear ornament for kids to take home, as well as hot cocoa and cookies. Of course Santa and his friends will be available for photo ops, too.
Santa Train fares start at $59.99 per person; it gets more expensive as Christmas approaches. The Santa Train leaves the station in Napa at 5 pm daily between November 19 and December 23, 2019, and additionally at 7 pm from November 29–30 and December 1, 7, 13–23, and 26. (No trains on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day). Call (800) 427-4124 or visit their website to book tickets.
Enjoy a ride on this historic electric railway near Suisuin City and visit Santa at Santa's Village! Fun family activities include a bounce house and activity tables. Hot cocoa, marshmallows, cookies, and popcorn included. Participants will get free conductors hats while supplies last.
Santa Trains run on December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, and 22; trains depart hourly beginning at noon, with the last at 5 pm. Tickets: $20 general, $10 museum members. More info and tickets
This popular holiday tradition usually sells out by mid-October, but as of publishing time we confirmed that there still are a some tickets available for rides in early December. If you're interested, get your tickets soon because they always sell out.
Climb on board a train pulled by a historic streamlined diesel locomotive from the museum's collection and read along with Chris Van Allsburg's classic holiday story as you and your family make your round-trip journey to the North Pole. Meet Santa Claus, the Train Conductor, and the ghostly Hobo. Sing Christmas carols, drink hot-hot-hot chocolate, and eat cookies—served by dancing waiters, of course. Each child attending receives a special gift of a silver sleighbell, and children (and adults, for that matter) are encouraged to wear their pajamas.
Ride in the coach cars ($45–$50 per person), first-class El Dorado Observation Car ($65–$70 per person), or reserve a table for four in the first class Audubon Dining Car ($260–280). New in 2019 is the Sleigh Ride Car, a converted open-air car that offers a fantastic view of your trip to the North Pole; tables of four cost $160–$180. Tickets are available online only.
The California State Railroad Museum's sister organization, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, offers a holiday Polar Express train ride and tickets are also 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 person for coach cars 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 29 and 30 and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, December 6–22. 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 29 and 30 and December 1, 7, 8, 9, and 14–23, with a New Year's train from December 26–31. Tickets cost $33 for adults 13 and older and $28 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. Santa himself will also pay a visit. Bring new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots and get a $2 train ticket discount per donated toy. Tickets cost $29 for adults and $23 for children. Holiday Tree Walk trains run on November 29 and 30 and December 1, 7, and 8. Order tickets and learn more online.
This December, 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. Date, time and price TBA. More info 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 22; Skunk Train holiday trips start on November 29. Tickets start at $39.95 for kids and $49.95 for adults; infants under 2 and dogs $10.95. 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 7, 13, 14, 20, and 21. 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 (usually until around 8 pm). Portola is approximately a one-hour drive north of Truckee.
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