Ready to take your little railroad conductor on an adventure far beyond the train table tracks? We’ve found 10 terrific train rides from a quick zip on a rare, antique model G16 to an hour-long adventure on the Golden State and a cab ride in the locomotive with the engineer. Read on to see where to get on the right track for a choo choo excursion your kiddo will treasure.

photo: San Diego Zoo

Balboa Park Miniature Railroad

Located right outside the entrance of the world famous San Diego Zoo, hop on board for a 3-minute ride on a model G16 (a rare antique -- there are as few as fifty currently remaining)! It’s a half-mile mini tour of the San Diego region through four acres of Balboa Park, with signs letting you know what part of town you're traveling through (such as “East County”). Cuddle up to over-sized stuffed animals who ride on the train and enjoy the view. Your little conductor will enjoy spotting zoo animal sculptures and going through a long tunnel before the train ride ends.

Balboa Park Miniature Railroad
1800 Zoo Pl.
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: balboapark.org/attractions/miniature-train

Hours: Fri., Sat. & Sun. (and holidays) 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Tickets: $3/person;  Free/1 year and under

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LEGOLAND Express Train

While there's so much to see and do at this theme park, a true train enthusiast won't pass up an opportunity to ride a train, even at LEGOLAND. The LEGOLAND Express is located in Fun Town and makes two laps on a circular track through a farm with LEGO brick crops, including carrots and corn. Unlike many other LEGOLAND rides, there are no height requirements to ride the LEGOLAND Express! However, kids under 36”, must be accompanied by a responsible rider who's 36" or taller.

LEGOLAND California
1 LEGOLAND Dr.
Carlsbad, Ca 92009
Online: legoland.com

Poway-Midland Railroad

Although their Steam Loco is currently out of service, kids can still climb aboard the trolley car or speeder train at Poway-Midland Railroad. The narrow-gauge railroad operates only on Saturdays and Sundays, making it the perfect weekend activity for your little train operators. The Depot Store sells train tickets in addition to Thomas & Friends merchandise.

While the train ride is approximately a 5 minute, 2-lap route around Old Poway Park, it's just the right amount of time to decide what to explore next. There’s something fun for everyone at Old Poway Park: good eats at the Hamburger Factory restaurant or Farmer’s Market as well as craft shows, local history and year-round family fun. Plus, it's a great place to take family photos!

Click here for for the train schedule.

Old Poway Park
14134 Midland Rd.
Poway, Ca 92064
Online: powaymidlandrr.org

Hours: Sat.: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. & Sun. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
CLOSED: Second Sunday of each month
Tickets:  $1/kids; $2.50-$3.50/adults

Safari Train at Westfield UTC Mall

Clickety, Clack ...  You'll find this adorable red, mini stream engine tucked between Sears and Pottery Barn at Westfield UTC mall, considered one of the kid-friendliest shopping centers in San Diego. With safari-themed scenery, your jungle explorer will find mini animal sculptures and an elephant water fountain along the ride. The ride may last for several minutes up to 10 minutes depending on the number of kiddos waiting in line outside the ticket hut. Post train trip, fuel up at Shake Shack and grab a sweet treat at Sugarfina.

Westfield UTC Mall
4545 La Jolla Village Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92122
858-546-8858
Online: westfield.com/utc

Tickets: $3 for 1 ticket; $15 for 10 tickets

The Coaster

The COASTER is a commuter train that runs north and south along the San Diego County coast from the Santa Fe Depot in downtown to Oceanside. Plan to stop in one of the coastal communities and pack a picnic to enjoy at the beach. Or, just enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean along the route.

Begin by planning a trip by checking out the COASTER's online schedule. It should be noted that fares vary from start-to-end zone. For example, an adult round-trip fare from downtown San Diego to Oceanside (through 3 zones) is $11. Kids 5 and under ride free.

Chula Vista Live Steamers

A club of railroad hobbyists called the Chula Vista Live Steamers run miniature steam and diesel engine trains on the second Sunday of the month. No train fare is required, but donations are greatly appreciated. The miniature trains typically run on the second weekend of the month from noon to 2:30 p.m., but be sure to check the schedule and online calendar in advance.

Sweetwater & Rohr Park Railroad
4548 Sweetwater Rd.
Bonita, Ca 91902
Online: chulavistalivesteamers.org

Pacific Southwest Railway Golden State at Campo

Your rail buff will be on cloud nine at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum located in Campo, East County San Diego. The Golden State Limited rides through the back country scenery of San Diego County and along the Mexican border, crossing the Campo Creek Viaduct and entering into International Tunnel #4. It's a 12-mile round trip ride that lasts about 1 hour. You can also treat your train fan (age 6 and up) to a cab ride in the locomotive with the engineer by making reservations in advance for $40 for a round trip. Only two riders are allowed in the cab at one time.

After your train ride, visit the train museum and view a large collection of steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars and cabooses.

Visit the Master Train Rides Calendar to plan your trip.

Fares for the Golden State train ride: adults/$18; kids ages 3-12/$9; kids under age 3/free

Insider's Tip: Buy tickets now for the Bunny Train ride which sells out quickly!

Pacific Southwest Railway
750 Depot St.
Campo, Ca 91906
619-478-9937
Online: sdrm.org

Westfield North County Mall Train

You'll board this trackless train on the mall’s level 3 near the Dining Court.  After your train ride, your little engineer will be thrilled to shop the nearby Totally Thomas’ Toy Depot stocked from floor to ceiling with Thomas & Friends toys, games and art supplies! If you need to find a limited-edition Thomas train or a perfect birthday surprise for your train collector, this is your store.

 

Westfield North County
272 East Via Rancho Parkway
Escondido, Ca 92025
Online: westfield.com/northcounty

 

Train hours:
Mon.-Fri. 11:00 to 7 p.m.
Sat. 11:00 to 8:00
Sun. 11:00 to 6:00
Tickets: $4/per person/per ride. Kids 6 months and younger are free.

Westfield Plaza Bonita Mall Train

Catch this trackless train on the first floor of the mall near Macy’s. After your train ride, the whole family will enjoy the nearby John’s Incredible Pizza Co. featuring a tasty all you can eat buffet, rides, games and attractions. And pay a visit to the Disney store upstairs, where your little ones will love to see their favorite characters including Mickey Mouse, the Disney Princesses, Pooh and so many more.

 

Westfield Plaza Bonita
3030 Plaza Bonita Rd.
National City, Ca 91950
Online: westfield.com/plazabonita/

Train hours:
Mon.- Fri. noon to 8 p.m.
Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tickets: $4/per person/per ride. Kids 6 months and younger are free.

Carlsbad Premium Outlets Train

After scoring deals at nearby Disney Store and Kate Spade outlet, it's time to reward your patient train crew with a well-deserved train ride on a mini steam locomotive replica: The Choo Choo Express located right off center court between Aeropostale and Calvin Klein. Tickets cost $3 per train ride and $2 for an adult to accompany a kiddo (and kids under 3 must be accompanied by an adult). At the end of your ride, head to the Disney Store Outlet, GAP Kids & Baby, Gymboree, Carter's, OshKosh B'Gosh to shop.

Don't forget that this outlet mall is close to many other family favorite attractions in the area including The Flower Fields, LEGOLAND and Museum of Making Music.

Carlsbad Premium Outlets
5620 Paseo del Norte, Suite 100
Carlsbad, Ca 92008
Online: premiumoutlets.com

Where do you take your little conductors for train rides? Share in the comments!

––Christina Q. Cross & Beth Shea

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featured image: Theophilos Papadopoulos via flickr