If your little one is basically loco for locomotives, check out our must-visit list of train museums, rides and stations in and around Los Angeles. From a ride aboard a mini model train to a chance to meet Thomas (as in Thomas the Tank Engine), it’s full steam ahead!
Southern California Railway Museum
File this destination under "worth the drive" (without traffic, it's about an hour from LA). In addition to bi-annual appearances by Thomas and Percy (part of the Day Out With Thomas tour), the Orange County museum also has the West’s largest collection of railway locomotives, passenger and freight cars, streetcars and other artifacts dating from the 1870s. The museum operates a railway where visitors can ride on the historic trains and trolleys that helped shape the Southern California.
Hours: 9a.m.-5p.m.; railway open from 11a.m.-5p.m. on weekends only and special events
Cost: All-day train ride pass, $12 for ages 12 and up; $8 for ages 5 through 11; free for ages 4 and under
2201 South A St.
Travel Town Museum & Railroad
Generations of Angelenos have visited the collection of historic rail cars and ridden the Travel Town Railroad around the perimeter of this free museum. While Travel Town might not be as interactive or as up-to-date as some other local children’s attractions, it's located in a grassy, relaxed area of Griffith Park and is a great place to spend a couple hours or host a train-themed birthday party. Be sure to visit the well-stocked gift shop, which is a great resource for train-related toys.
Open: Weekdays, 10a.m.-4p.m.; weekends, 10a.m.-6p.m. (Mar.-Oct.) and 10a.m.-5p.m. (Nov.-Feb.)
Cost: Free to enter; train rides are $3
5200 Zoo Dr.
Griffith Park & Southern Railroad
Also part of Griffith Park's train rides, this station often runs two locomotives around a scenic track that includes a tunnel, a trestle bridge, a Wild West street and a corral full of real 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.
Open: Daily, 10a.m.-5p.m.
Cost per ride: $3
4400 Crystal Springs Dr.
L.A. Live Steamers Railroad Museum
The train ride at this Griffith Park spot is aboard a 7½" gauge model train, which makes it about an eighth the size of a standard train. You sit on top of it, straddling the train car, as opposed to inside it, as you cross bridges, pass through tunnels and alongside miniature towns. Know before you go: Passengers must be at least 34-inches tall to enjoy the ride. While there, be sure to also check out Walt's Barn, where Walt Disney originally ran his own model trains.
Open: Sun. only, 11a.m.–3p.m.
Cost per ride: $3
5202 Zoo Dr.
Calico Railroad at Knott's Berry Farm
If you're headed to Knott's Berry Farm, be sure grab a seat on the Calico Railroad, which has been at the park since January 12, 1952. The locomotive is an authentic Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge train that was used in the early 1900s. Warning: The train has the highest crime rate in all of Orange County (wink, wink), as notorious bandits stage hold-ups on every ride.
8039 Beach Blvd.
Los Angeles Union Station
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. (It can be a bit deafening on the platforms, so consider bringing earplugs if you or your kids are sensitive to loud noises).
800 North Alameda St.
Lomita Railway Museum
This museum is an undiscovered gem for Southern California families. Hidden in a residential neighborhood in the South Bay city of Lomita, it's full of 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 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 historic caboose and engine, 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.
Open: Thurs. through Sun., 10a.m.–5p.m.,
Cost: $4 for adults, $2 for children, free for children under 2
2137 W. 250th St.
—Andie Huber & Shannan Rouss
featured photo: woodleywonderworks via flickr