If your mini conductor goes off the rails for all things trains, these San Francisco train rides and Bay Area train museums will entertain the entire family
Some kids like riding bikes, others prefer getting out on the water, and then there are those littles who love nothing more than a locomotive adventure. Luckily, the Bay Area is full of opportunities for mini conductors to get their fill! From being in awe of magnificent miniature train exhibits to climbing aboard life-size ones, we are putting you on the right track with this list of the best places for kid-friendly train rides and adventures—and many a great venue for a birthday party!—all over San Francisco and beyond! All you have to do is choo-choose your favorite outing and have a blast.
Cable Car Museum
This stop will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the city’s famous Cable Cars. The bottom level offers a peek at the cables that make the whole system work and upstairs, you can explore the mechanics of the cars themselves and see exactly what goes into powering them. The best part is, admission is free!
1201 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA
SF Railroad Museum and Gift shop
By allowing kids to take control of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar model, this compact and free museum near the Ferry Building offers a feel of what it's like to drive a streetcar Hop aboard any of the historic F Market streetcars (along Market St. and the Embarcadero) for a front door drop-off. Be sure to check out their train-tastic gift shop.
77 Steuart St.
San Francisco, CA
Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train
Located inside the San Francisco Zoo, a ride on the Little Puffer is the perfect way to take a walking break, and still observe a variety of animals from the cars. At more than a century old, it has a fascinating history, including being one of three of its kind in the world. Rides are $7, not included with zoo admission, and children under three ride free with a paying adult.
Sloat Blvd at the Great Highway
San Francisco, CA
Little train-lovers will love a stop at the always-free Randall Museum. The museums basement houses one of the largest model railroad layouts in California, that you can run with the push of a button. Kids can also enjoy hopping aboard the Randall Pacific Caboose. Good to know: the museum is temporarily closed due to Covid-19, check their site for updated info.
199 Museum Way
San Francisco, CA
Golden State Model Railroad Museum
This amazing collection of model trains and railways recreate the terrain of Northern and Central California in detail. The miniature trains run Sundays from noon-4 p.m. Admission is between $3-5, children 4 and under are free and families get in for $10.
900-A Dornan Dr.
Point Richmond, CA
Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society
Your train-lovers are in for a treat at the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, from mountains to drawbridges and an evening scene, complete with a thunderstorm—they’ve recreated tons of routes for train travel. This epic model is only open to the public a few times a year, so check out their schedule for specific monthly dates. Fun fact: six and under are free, as are scouts who come in uniform!
2751 Buena Vista Ave.
Walnut Creek, CA
Niles Canyon Railway
History comes to life on this old-school railway and museum that runs south of Pleasanton and makes a round trip between Fremont and Sunol. You can choose to ride a diesel or a steam engine, and even rent out a caboose or whole train for your next event. Be sure to check out their locals favorite Holiday Train of Lights in November and December.
37105 Vallejo Way
Redwood Valley Steam Train
High up on the hills above Berkeley, this mini-train winds through the redwoods of Tilden Park. You’ll travel over bridges and through a tunnel on the 15-minute round trips. Tickets are $3.50 for adults/children, ages two and under ride free and a five ticket family pack is $14. Open weekends all year round and summer weekdays, weather permitting.
Grizzly Peak Blvd. and Lomas Cantadas Rd.
Golden Gate Live Streamers
If you visit the Redwood Valley Steam Train on a Sunday, you’ll likely get a bonus ride. That’s when the Golden Gate Live Steamers let the public take a spin on their small-scale model trains. They run Sundays noon-3 p.m. (weather-permitting)—rides are free, but donations are appreciated.
Located just below the boarding area for the Steam Train
Ardenwood Historic Farm
Within this fully functional farm is a short railway operated by Ardenwood’s Railroad Museum, that takes you from one end of the property to the other. On board, you'll find staff and docents dressed in period costumes taking you back to when railroads connected the East Bay’s farms to towns and cities. Rides are included with admission, so your little passengers can ride as many times as they'd like. Admission ranges from $2-6 depending on month and day, children under four are free.
34600 Ardenwood Blvd.
Outback Express Adventure Train
Like the Little Puffer, this train is located within a zoo and can be accessed without buying an Oakland Zoo admission. You will still spy a few of the wildlife, as the train travels through the Australian exhibit (hence the name). Rides are $3/person, children under two ride free, however, you will still need to pay for zoo parking.
9777 Golf Links Rd.
Jolly Trolly at Children's Fairyland
For the tiniest train aficionados, take a ride on the Jolly Trolly, the oldest ride at Children’s Fairyland. This kid-size train travels through the parks Old West Junction area and through a tunnel and is always a hit with the itty-bitty crowd.
699 Bellevue Ave.
Related: 20 Totally-Free Museums in the Bay
Roaring Camp Railroads
Roaring Camp hosts several events throughout the year, including its annual Thomas the Tank Engine Days. This railroad in the mountains travels through Redwoods and over trestles, take a ride to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and back for an extra-fun day of adventure.
5401 Graham Hill Rd.
Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History
Located inside the Caltrain depot in Santa Clara, the South Bay Historical Railroad Society operates this museum. Displays include artifacts, paraphernalia and two working model railroad lines. Museum is free and open to the public on Tuesdays nights and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
1005 Railroad Avenue
Santa Clara, CA
Central Park Bianchi Mini Train
This delightful tiny train gives rides around San Mateo's Central Park for $2 a ride. It runs between 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. on weekends year round and daily during the summer.
50 E 5th Ave.
San Mateo, CA
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
For just $2/person (2 and under are free) this historic, 1/3-scale railroad loops around Oak Meadow Park. This locals go-to has plenty of attractions to keep your group busy all day. Visit the park in December for a special holiday ride during their annual lights exhibit.
233 Blossom Hill Rd
Los Gatos, CA
Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
TrainTown is a hit with railroad lovers of all ages. The passenger train takes visitors through tunnels and over bridges before stopping at a miniature town and petting zoo (bring quarters for food). The park also offers a concession stand, a train themed gift shop and several amusement rides. Admission and parking are free and tickets are sold for individual attractions.
Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum
The lovely restored building at Shoreline Park captures the past in two museums. The ground floor houses the detailed operating HO-scale model that shows Tiburon, the railroad town c. 1900 to 1910, and upstairs is the Depot House Museum, where the stationmaster’s family lived. The museum is open weekends 1-4 p.m. and on sunny Sundays in October-April. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
1920 Paradise Dr.
Ride the SMART
For your North Bay adventures, ride the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit or SMART train, as the locals call it. With stops from Larkspur to Santa Rosa, you and your little travelers can sit back and enjoy the Marin open-space views.
600 Larkspur Landing Cir.
This 138-acre park is home to a carousel, animal barn and train ride. The simulated 1863 C.P. Huntington steam train takes guests on a quarter-mile ride through a tunnel, pond, over a bridge and into the forest. Must be 42 inches tall to ride alone, children 12 months and under ride free.
630 Summerfield Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
Just 10 minutes from the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park is the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offering train rides, gold panning, an on-site museum and well stocked collectibles gift store. Their 1-hour narrated "The Logger" tour and 3-hour "Moonlight Special" are popular with families and offer boxed lunch and dinner options.
56001 Hwy 41
Fish Camp, CA
California State Railroad Museum
Take the Amtrak to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, just a block away from the Old Town stop, you'll find trains, refurbished cars, an elaborate model railway and a room with a whopping EIGHT train tables. For an additional fee, you can also take a ride along the Sacramento River on weekends during the Summer. Children 5 and under ride free.
125 I St.
Western Railway Museum
Chug on out to Solano County to check out the dozens of railcars, engines and trolleys housed in this one-of-a-kind museum. Kiddos can climb on cars in the giant sheds out back and hop aboard one of the trains or streetcars for a ride around the hills. Be sure to check out their calendar for their Halloween and Christmas events.
5848 State Hwy 12
Suisun City, CA
Railroad Park Resort
45 minutes past Redding is Railroad Park Resort where you'll find glamping at its finest. Accommodations include vintage railroad cabooses that sleep up to five, with fridge, microwave, full bathroom, WiFi, on-site pool, a nearby creek for exploring and a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner in a rail car.
100 Railroad Park Rd.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Located in Jamestown on the way to Yosemite, this Gold Rush hot spot is a destination for California train lovers. One of the highlights is a guided walking tour of the Park’s authentic, working railroad roundhouse and air-powered turntable. Visit on the second Tuesday of every month for a behind-the-scenes tour or take a ride on weekends during the warmer months. Be sure to check out the Polar Express In December.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
10501 Reservoir Rd.
The Napa Valley Wine Train
While this train is usually used for wine-tasting, it transforms into the Santa Express every winter. Riders are treated to games, music, hot cocoa, fresh-baked cookies and a visit from the big man himself along the journey.
1275 McKinstry St.
The Skunk Train
The Skunk Train has been transporting passengers for over a hundred years on the world-famous Redwood Route, with depots in Fort Bragg and Willits, in beautiful Mendocino County. The railbikes at Fort Bragg, available March-November, are a must. While in Fort Bargg, stop by the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad , admission is free with your Skunk Train ticket. Visit in November and December for a ride on the Christmas Trains that include cookies, hot cocoa and a visit with Santa.
Fort Bragg and Willits Depots
Western Pacific Railroad Museum
This exciting, hands-on museum offers train rides, a "Run-A-Locomotive" program that allows you to rent a vintage diesel locomotive and operate it on museum grounds, a Pumpkin Express in October and Santa Trains in December.
700 Western Pacific Way
Additional reporting by Melissa Bouse & Kate Loweth