Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Trains are wonderful—but sometimes don’t they feel too big? Kids love miniature trains, and luckily the Bay Area has several places to ride them.
TrainTown Railroad in Sonoma: For those who feel most miniature train rides are over before they start, check out TrainTown’s four miles of track! The 20-minute ride incorporates a brief stop at a tiny town and petting zoo, going over bridges and through everyone’s favorite: tunnels. “TrainTown was perfect for my son,” says Linda McCabe of Windsor. “He was unable to handle being in lines at a young age. The lines at the post office or bank made him go into meltdowns, so I knew Disneyland was out of the question. TrainTown had just enough for him to do and see, the lines weren’t overwhelming and he had a great time. We went there about five times or so when he was a tyke, and I would highly recommend it for families with small kids.” The train is handicap-accessible, and there’s also a small collection of amusement park rides. Established in 1968, this place has been wowing kids for almost 50 years. www.traintown.com
Redwood Forest Steam Train at Roaring Camp in Felton: These steam engines are historical 1890 narrow-gauge locomotives, some of the oldest still running in America. Plus, seasonally you may ride a full-sized Thomas train: “That was like Disneyland to our son!” says Carol Siner Spiess of Pilot Hill. http://www.roaringcamp.com/steamtrain
Redwood Valley Railway in Tilden Park, Orinda: Ride a cute steam train through beautiful redwoods, now on weekends from 11 to 6, weather permitting, and in summertime all week long. Additionally, the Golden Gate Live Steamers run a miniature train on Sundays from noon to 3, a short distance below the Redwood Valley’s loading station. See website for more.www.redwoodvalleyrailway.com and http://www.goldengatels.org/
If you can go farther afield, a miniature train rides a short track in Folsom (“the only 12-inch gauge railroad remaining in the U.S.,” says the website). http://www.folsomvalleyrailway.com/
See model trains (no riding except if you are a N-scale human) at the Golden State Model Railroad Museum in Point Richmond. Open Wednesdays and weekends, but trains only run on Sundays. Check website for more, http://www.gsmrm.org/.
Also check out the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, described as the most mountainous track, which makes for fun amphitheater-ish viewing. http://wcmrs.org/
Of course, Sacramento’s California State Railroad Museum is required for any families with train enthusiasm. “The train museum in Old Town is awesome! I took my son Dally when he was almost 5, and he especially enjoyed the train cars that we could walk through ... and I loved looking at the historic menus in the dining cars!” says Newcastle resident Erin McCabe. The museum contains an impressive snow sheds display and a vast Thomas the Tank Engine play area for the smaller set. “It’s a beautifully designed place where you can get the feeling of the size and power of a train. They have docents dressed as porters to answer questions,” says Oaklander Judith Offer. https://www.californiarailroad.museum/
Oaklander Gene Anderson recommends the Western Railway Museum outside Suisun City. “I especially love it because it has working equipment and has gear from both the Key System and the Sacramento Northern Railway,” he says, noting that his grandfather worked for the SNR. The Bay Area’s incredible Key System of streetcars was dismantled in 1948; today you can ride some of those cars at the museum and think how cool it would’ve been to jump on the trolley and be downtown in minutes. http://www.wrm.org/
You can also ride full-sized trains at Niles Canyon Railway; Sacramento resident Jennifer Mason Wolfe recommends the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir (sleep in a caboose!); there’s the worrisome-named Skunk Train in Fort Bragg; a sweet, old-fashioned mini-train at Casa de Fruta (where you can also pan for gold) in Hollister ... and let’s not even get started on Napa’s Wine Train (but kids may not appreciate the “turned” grape juice).
Erika Mailman is a Northern California freelance writer. Reach her at Erikaeditor@cs.com.