If your little one can’t get enough diesel, steamers and all things choo-choo train in their life, you need to experience one of these field trips with your little trainspotter. Between encounters with the real thing, several narrow-gauge novelty train rides and even a couple of kid-appropriate museums of railroadiana, these are our favorite destinations for the biggest railfan.
photo: Union Station
Los Angeles Union Station, Downtown
Don’t miss this downtown Los Angeles landmark for an up-close look at real trains moving people in and out of our city. 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 St. for a restorative quesadilla.
800 North Alameda St.
Griffith Park Trains, Los Feliz
Professional Train Tip: There are three 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 to the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, which sometimes 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 horses. 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 Dr.
Open: Daily at 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost per ride: $2.75
photo: L.A. Live Steamers
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 Dr.
Open: Sun. only, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.,
Cost per ride: $3
photo: Nadia Q. via Yelp
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 ride 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 Dr.
Cost: Free to enter; train rides are $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 boxcar.
2137 West 250th St.
Open: Thurs. through Sun., 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.,
Cost: $4 for adults, $2 for children
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 a feast of 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 St. terminus, but you can also park at the Ports ‘O’ Call shopping center if you’re willing to take a slightly longer walk to your station.
Viaduct St. & West 22nd St.
San Pedro, Ca
Open: Fri. through Sun., Noon – 9:30 p.m.
Cost per ride: $1
Where do you and your choo-choo loving little one like to enjoy trains in Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below!
—Jennifer Arrow & Andie Huber