If your little one is in that phase where everything is all choo-choo all the time and you need to escape a house littered with Thomas the Tank Engine toys, try one of these field trips for a change of pace. The vast expanse of Los Angeles contains a multitude of train-related attractions, including a couple variations on the real thing (yes, we do have a train station in this city!), several narrow-gauge novelty train rides and even a couple of kid-appropriate museums of railroadiana. Read on for our top five recommended destinations for your little railfan.
1. Los Angeles Union Station, Downtown
Don’t miss this downtown Los Angeles landmark for an up-close look at real trains! Just march right through the lobby and into the tunnel beneath the platforms, check out the schedule to see which tracks have trains leaving soon and walk up the ramp of your choice to see full-size trains in action. Dozens of Amtrak and MetroLink trains use Union Station daily, and your kids are sure to get an eye-full and ear-full of real train experience. (Honestly, it’s deafening on the platforms, so consider bringing earplugs if you or your kids are sensitive to loud noises). In addition to overdosing on trains, don’t miss the historic architecture of the building itself. If you or your kids enjoy local history, take along a copy of Los Angeles Conservancy’s Kids’ Guide to Union Station. Want more? Consider following the tunnel all the way to the far side of the station where you can check out the Red and Gold Line subway stations. If you’re hungry after all those transportation-related thrills, visit nearby Olvera Street for a restorative quesadilla.
800 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, Ca 90012
Open Daily, Free
2. Griffith Park Trains, Los Feliz
There are not one, not two, not three but four totally separate opportunities for train rides at Griffith Park.
Griffith Park & Southern Railroad
If you have to pick just one train destination at Griffith Park, go first to the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, which runs two trains at a time around a scenic track that includes a tunnel, a trestle bridge, a Wild West street and a corral full of real live horsies. There’s plenty of parking, plus a concession stand, snack bar and a gift shop, as well as a small space-flight simulator and the nearby Griffith Park pony and wagon rides.
4400 Crystal Springs Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Open Daily, $3
L.A. Live Steamers
The Live Steamers train ride is a bit different than other local train rides in that passengers straddle the train rather than sitting on bench seats in a car. That means that this ride is a more adventurous and risky than usual, so without exception, passengers must be at least 34 inches tall to enjoy the Live Steamers ride.
5202 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Sundays only, 11:00 am – 3:00 p.m., $3
Best for 3 and up
Travel Town Museum & Railroad
No consideration of train tourism in Los Angeles would be complete without a mention of Griffith Park’s venerable Travel Town. Generations of Angelenos have visited the collection of historic rail cars and ridden the Travel Town Railroad around the perimeter of the museum. While Travel Town might not be as interactive or as up-to-date as some other local children’s attractions, it certainly deserves the respect due any facility of such age and long-standing significance. Be sure to visit the well-stocked gift shop, which is a great resource for train-related toys.
5200 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Open Daily, Free, train rides are $3
L.A. Zoo Choo Choo Train
If you’re already at the zoo, check out the L.A. Zoo Choo Choo train, which runs on weekends and holidays across from the World of Birds show near the South American animal enclosures. Decorated with cheerful cartoon animals, this train runs in a simple loop in a small park filled with kid-size picnic tables.
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Open Daily, $4 adults, $2 kids (above the regular zoo admission fees)
3. Lomita Railway Museum, South Bay
The Lomita Railway Museum is truly an undiscovered gem for Southern California families! Hidden in a residential neighborhood in the little-known South Bay city of Lomita, this diamond in the rough is bulging with train history, educational dioramas, and hundreds of models depicting train cars from the 1830s to the present. The museum is housed in a 19th-century New England small-town train depot replica, and after you purchase your tickets at the old-fashioned train-ticket counter, the enthusiastic and well-informed staff will welcome your little ones with some background on the museum, while demonstrating the facility’s genuine train lights and whistles. Tear your kids away from the Thomas train table set up near the gift counter, head out to climb through the well-appointed historic caboose and engine, check out the semaphore, the push-car and the water tower, and then maybe enjoy a picnic at one of the two train-centric parks next door, which together feature a contemporary caboose, a tank car and a box car.
2137 West 250th Street
Lomita, Ca 90717
Open Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, $4 for adults, $2 for children
4. Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line, San Pedro
This adorable restored Pacific Electric Red Car line doesn’t go terribly far–there are just four stops along the waterfront in San Pedro–but the ride is rich in both nostalgia for adults and in sights and sounds for the little ones. Kids can expect to see cruise ships, fireboats, heavy guns retired from naval warships, statues, museums, giant cranes, piers, marinas and a well-landscaped waterfront recreation area along the route; adults will appreciate the beautifully refurbished interior of the trolley car. There is ample free parking is at the 22nd Street terminus, but you can also park at the Ports ‘O’ Call shopping center if you’re willing take a slightly longer walk to your station.
Viaduct Street & West 22nd Street
San Pedro, Ca 90731
Open Friday through Sunday, 12:00 pm – 9:30 pm, $1
5. Trackless Train Rides, West Los Angeles
If you aren’t ready to head out on one of the train-centric field trips described above, try the tame yet toddler-thrilling Trackless Train, which runs four days a week at different farmer’s markets around west Los Angeles. On Wednesdays, for example, the train (which actually runs on tires) takes advantages of the network of asphalt “tracks” criss-crossing Westchester Park to create a fun tour under trees and around the lawns. The Trackless Train runs Tuesdays at the Manhattan Beach Farmer’s Market, Wednesdays at the Westchester Farmer’s Market, Saturdays at Playa Vista Farmer’s Market and Sundays at the West Los Angeles’ Farmer’s Market.
Let us know in the comment section below where you and your choo-choo loving little one like to enjoy trains in Los Angeles.
— Jennifer Arrow