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Home | Magical Holiday Train Rides in the Bay Area and Northern California

Magical Holiday Train Rides in the Bay Area and Northern California

Photo: Roaring Camp Railroads Santa Cruz Holiday Lights 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.

Western Railway Museum Santa Train, Suisun City

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.

Trains depart hourly in December beginning at noon, with the last at 5 pm. Open Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $20 general, $10 museum members. More info and tickets

Polar Express Train Ride, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento

This popular holiday tradition usually sells out by mid-October, but as of publishing time we confirmed that there are still tickets available for rides in November and 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 open-air Sleigh Ride car ($180–$200) or the first class Audubon Dining Car ($260–$280). Tickets are available online only.

Polar Express Train Ride, Railtown 1897, Jamestown

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 seating. Children under 2 are free but must be seated on an adult's lap. Rides take place Friday–Sunday, November 26–December 19. Many days are sold out, so check their website for availability.

Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights, Sunol and Niles

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. Order tickets and learn more on their website.

Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Trains, Santa Cruz

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. Trains depart from in front of Neptune's Kingdom at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Holiday Lights Train runs November 26–27, December 4–5, 11–12, and 17–23. 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. 2021 details TBA.

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, Fort Bragg, Willits & Sacramento

The Skunk Train and the River Fox Train in Sacramento 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 River Fox Train rides depart from West Sacramento.

Holiday trips on both railroads start on November 26. 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.

V&T Candy Cane Express, Virginia City NV

This railroad experience is not in California, but it's just an hour or so away from Tahoe and definitely worth the drive. Board a festively decorated train and take a scenic 45-minute trip on the 150-year old Virginia & Truckee Railroad route, while enjoying hot cocoa or cider, candy canes, and cookies. Ride through the enchanting Candy Cane Tunnel and listen to a reading of “'Twas the Night Before Christmas”. You might even see wild horses along the way! Train rides take place from November 26–December 19.