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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 Trains, Suisun City

Take a magical winter train ride followed by a visit with Santa Claus, who will give each child a festive golden bell to signify the first gift of the Christmas season. Guests will receive a complimentary cup of hot cocoa or coffee, and gourmet cookie provided by Journey Coffee Company while they wait for Santa. You can also write your very own letter to Santa and make your own handcrafted ornament in the visitor center.

Trains depart hourly in on select days December 1–17 from noon to 5 pm. Tickets: $20 general, $10 museum members. Tickets usually sell out. More info and tickets

Polar Express Train Ride, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento

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 ($80 per person), first-class El Dorado Observation Car ($100 per person), or reserve a table for four in the open-air Sleigh Ride car ($320 or the first class Audubon Dining Car ($400). Tickets are available online only. Polar Express train rides take place November 24–December 20, 2023. This popular holiday tradition usually sells out by mid-October, so if you want to go make sure you order tickets now!

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, too! 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 $80 per person for coach seating. Children under 2 are free but must be seated on an adult's lap. Rides take pl ace Friday–Sunday, November 24–December 17. Purchase tickets online.

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! Tickets go on sale Saturday, October 7 at 10 am.

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 $35 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 at 5, 6:30, and 8 pm. The Holiday Lights Train runs November 24–26, December 2–3, 9–10, and 16–23. Coach tickets cost $44.95 for adults 13 and older and $32.95 for children 2 to 12; first-class tickets are $59.95 and $45.95. 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 and enjoy winter-themed activities. Santa himself will also pay a visit. The Holiday Tree Walk takes place November 24–26 and December 2–3, and  9–10.

Chanukah Train
Share in Chanukah traditions and ride the train through the streets of Santa Cruz listening to Chanukah stories, playing dreidel, and enjoying kosher refreshments provided by Chabad by the Sea. December 7 at 5:15 and 6:45 pm.

New Years Holiday Lights Train
Bring in the new year aboard the New Years Holiday Lights Train. Ride vintage train cars beautifully decorated with holiday lights through the streets of Santa Cruz. Light-up hula hoopers and a live DJ will keep spirits bright and help bring in 2024 right. December 26–31, 

Skunk Train Christmas Tree Train, Willits

The Skunk Train in Mendocino County presents a reimagined Magical Christmas Train experience this holiday season. Enjoy seasonal treats and decor on a journey through the redwoods to Mr. Skunk's Giant Christmas Tree, a decorated redwood along the line, which also serves as the workshop for Santa Mr. Skunk. Rides depart from Willits.

Magical Christmas train rides start on November 25. Tickets start at $59.95, VIP tickets $94.95, infants under 2 are free, and dogs are $10.95. Check schedules and order tickets on their website.

River Fox Magical Christmas Train, West Sacramento

The River Fox Train in Sacramento offers festive Magical Christmas Train rides this holiday season. Enjoy a festive ride with Santa and his elves, who will personally stop by your table, cookies, and hot chocolate in a souvenir mug. River Fox Train rides depart from West Sacramento.

Trips begin on November 24. Tickets $59; infants under 2 $10. Check schedules and order tickets on their website.

WPRM Santa Trains

The Western Pacific Railroad Museum in the Plumas County town of Portola offers festive Santa Trains on December 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16. 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 Lake Tahoe.

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 weekends from November 24–December 17.