Kids of all ages have long been fascinated with trains and railways. Despite advances in transportation technology, train travel continues to captivate the interests of kids to this day. This curiosity extends beyond the trains themselves and encompasses all aspects of railroading, including rail construction, train operation, and maintenance of rail cars. The best way for kids to experience trains and railroading is through actual rail travel and, luckily we have many options for train rides for kids in Sacramento.
SACRAMENTO TRAIN RIDES FOR KIDS
Train travel offers a unique and exciting experience for kids. Once aboard, children marvel at the sights and sound emanating from these huge, incredible machines. If you’re looking for train rides for kids in our region, you’re in luck! Sacramento has many great train operators offering short excursions in the area. We’ve put together the best bets for one-day train travel opportunities for kids.
SACRAMENTO SOUTHERN RAILROAD
This railroad is an excellent option for parents looking for a short train ride for kids. The railroad runs from April through September and offers six tours per day on weekends. Each ride is 45-minutes long and departs hourly between 11 am and 4 pm. Departures leave from the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot in Old Sacramento (on Front Street between J and K Streets). This railroad has been in operation for more than three decades and is sure to delight both young and old alike. This popular railroad uses two types of locomotives, their Granite Rock No. 10 steam locomotive, or one of the vintage diesel locomotives from the California State Railroad Museum’s collection. The trains pull closed-coach cars, open-air gondolas, and an observation car.
SACRAMENTO RIVER TRAIN
For a slightly longer train ride for kids, this railroad lets kids combine their fondness for adventure with their interest in trains. Designed with young riders in mind, many of these unique rail experiences give children the opportunity to embark on an exciting adventure right from their own backyards. Riders board the train in West Sacramento and enjoy a three-hour ride while taking part in the themed experience. Riders can choose from adventures such as the “Great Train Robbery” or the “Wild West Dinner Train”, or families can choose a holiday-themed ride for Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and many more. The Sacramento River Fox Trains run on weekends throughout the year.
BEYOND SACRAMENTO – TRAIN RIDES FOR KIDS
While Sacramento offers exciting options for train travel with kids, several other train tours operate in nearby communities. If your kids have already experienced the fabulous trains in the Sacramento area, or if you’re looking for something different for your family, check out these other short rail tours.
OAKDALE SIERRA RAILROAD
Just over an hour south of Sacramento, you will find this popular rail operator in Oakdale. This family-friendly railroad offers kids a historic and picturesque destination for their next train adventure. The railroad is one of the top five oldest railroads on our continent and has been used in many movie productions. The tours offer fun and entertainment for all ages and, depending on the tour, can include food and interactive shows. Their themed train experiences include specialty excursions such as Sunday Brunch trains, Sunset Dinner trains, Wild West trains, and an assortment of holiday-themed trains.
RAIL TOWN TRAIN RIDES
Kids will love this fun trip behind one of the historic steam or diesel locomotives as they chug along the railways through scenic byways. Departing from the Depot Platform at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, this 45-minute round-trip excursion takes into the rugged hillsides of California’s historic gold country. Tickets are available for purchase on-site at the depot.
YOSEMITE MOUNTAIN SUGAR PINE RAILROAD
Kids can take a ride into history with this exciting train trip that winds through the woods of the Sierra National Forest. Trains depart from the depot in Fish Creek on Highway 41. This excursion is modeled after the powerful steam locomotives that once ran through the area to haul timber to California’s central valley. The railroad also offers special family-friendly trips throughout the year, such as the Moonlight Special BBQ Dinner Train, a three-hour program that includes a campfire, entertainment, and a BBQ dinner.
THE SKUNK TRAIN
Families with a more adventurous spirit may opt to take the drive to Willits in Mendocino County to experience the untamed, natural beauty of California’s Coast Range onboard the famous Skunk Train. This railroad offers several tours ranging from one-hour to half-day excursions. All of the tours offer themed, scenic views upon fully restored rail cars that have been returned to their original 1800’s glory.
OTHER TRAIN TRAVEL OPTIONS WITH KIDS
Train tours are a fun excursion for families, but our railways can also be used as a means of travel rather than a destination. Northern California has plenty of options for fitting train rides for kids into your family’s travel needs.
Touted as the best way to get around northern California, Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor lets families skip the traffic and parking hassles and use the train instead. Taking the train between Sacramento and the Bay Area (and beyond) is convenient and affordable, and service is frequent enough to meet any travel itinerary.
BAY AREA RAPID TRANSIT (BART)
Families traveling in Northern California can also take advantage of regional rail options and save themselves the hassles of parking, congestion, and tolls. Next time you’re planning a day trip to the San Francisco bay area, consider using the rails and take Bay Area Rapid Transit trains for part of your trip. BART trains use electricity instead of locomotives, but these trains offer children a new and exciting travel experience. Instead of driving to your bay area location, park at one of the BART stations and take the train. We recommend making the short drive to the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station and using their onsite parking lot. Then, hop aboard BART and use their trains for your family adventure. BART is easy-to-use, affordable, and reliable.
TRAIN MUSEUMS AND ATTRACTIONS FOR KIDS
Families seeking to add a bit of education to their kids’ interest in trains and railroading have many options for interactive learning and observation:
CALIFORNIA STATE RAILROAD MUSEUM
Sacramento is home to the renowned California State Railroad Museum, a must-visit park for train enthusiasts of any age. The museum is located in Old Sacramento and is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Visitors learn about engineering, industry, history, and design of trains and railroads. Kids love the hands-on experiences and activities of the exhibits, which are displayed in the 225,000 square museums. The facility features beautifully restored railroad cars and locomotives, which illustrate the rich railroad history in California and the West.
WESTERN RAILWAY MUSEUM
A quick drive southwest of Sacramento, visitors will find the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City near Fairfield. Kids will love visiting the 50 historic cars and other interesting exhibits on display at this 22-acre site. The museum features historic railway exhibits, vintage streetcar and interurban train rides, a large shaded picnic area, a museum gift shop, and a café.
RAILTOWN 1897 STATE HISTORIC PARK
Another wonderful option is the museum at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in historic Jamestown. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the park and roundhouse, or opt for a guided tour led by a park volunteer. The park also offers a “Junior Ranger” program that provides education for kids age 7-12.
SAN FRANCISCO RAILWAY MUSEUM
Families of junior train enthusiasts looking for train rides for kids should also consider a visit to the San Francisco Railway Museum. This site features a museum and offers rides on vintage rail transit cars on Market Street. Kids of all ages take delight in the rumbling, swaying streetcars and enjoy learning about the railway history. In the museum, they’ll see the positive impacts that the railways have made on the quality of city life. The museum also features a full-sized exact replica of the motorman’s platform which lets kids experience what it was like to be at the controls. Exhibits also include historic artifacts, informative displays, and rare photos of rail technology development.
PLANNING TRAIN RIDES FOR KIDS
Kids of all ages and interests will enjoy visiting any one of these railroads or museums. Parents looking for train rides for kids have a variety of options and can choose from one of the quick family excursion in Sacramento, or venture to one of the other northern California sites or museums to experience and learn about the historic railways of California. One thing is certain… a good time will be had by all!