All aboard! The best holiday train rides near San Diego are preparing to leave the station. Enjoy the delightful tradition of going on a festive Christmas train ride with your little elves this season. Everyone will love the magic of rolling down the tracks with Santa Claus––while sipping hot cocoa, devouring cookies, hearing Christmas stories and singing with carolers. Read on for where to book this memorable holiday event. Tip: Tickets go fast, so grab yours today!

Irvine Park Christmas Train

'Tis the season to board the Christmas Train! Depart the twinkling train station at historic Irvine Park. Then, travel to the North Pole to meet Old St. Nick, where littles can recite their wish list while you take a photo. Afterwards, you'll head home on the train through the mystical tunnel of lights to arrive back at Santa's Village. Note: You must buy tickets online in advance.

Dates: Nov. 29-Dec. 23
Cost: $20/person (for train); children 24 months and under free
Tickets available online starting Nov. 4 at 8 a.m.

Irvine Regional Park
1 Irvine Park Rd.
Orange, CA 92869
714-997-3968
Online: irvineparkrailroad.com

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The Polar Express

Do your little elves love the Polar Express story? If your answer is a resounding 'yes,' then this train ride complete with a golden ticket is definitely worth the drive. The magical story comes to life when the train departs for a round-trip journey to the North Pole led by a cast of professional actors. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the classic story as they are whisked away on The Polar Express™ for a magical one-hour trip to meet Santa. Once on board, car hosts will work their way through the coach and punch golden tickets before hot chocolate and a delicious cookie are served by dancing chefs. Passengers then read along with the classic children’s book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg. Santa and his helpers board the train to greet passengers and each guest is given the first gift of Christmas. During the trip, characters on each car lead fantastic onboard entertainment – just like in the film! Each guest will take home a keepsake sleigh bell and souvenir golden ticket in addition to the wonderful memories made on this magical trip. Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride.

Fillmore Station
Dates: Nov. 14-Dec. 29
Cost: $50-$85/adult; $45-$80/child; Children 2 and under free on lap
362 Main St.
Fillmore, CA 93015

Perris Station
Orange Empire Railroad Museum
Dates: Nov. 30-Dec. 29
Cost: $45-$65/adult; $40-$60/child; Children 2 and under free on lap 
2201 S. A St.
Perris, CA 92570
Online: socalthepolarexpressride.com

photo: NCTD Coaster

Coaster Holiday Express Train

Jolly old St. Nick is visiting the North County Coaster this year (and he's bringing lovely princesses too!) There will be carolers, garland and delightful decorations aboard this 65-minute magical train ride departing from the Oceanside Transit Center. Little elves can tell Santa what they want for Christmas during the trip. Be quick to purchase online or in Oceanside––tickets sell out quickly!

Dates: Dec. 7 & 8; 14 &15
Times: 10 a.m., Noon & 2 p.m.
Cost: $20/person

North County Transit District
195 S. Tremont St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
Online: gonctd.com/holidayexpress

North Pole Limited

Hurry! This magical train ride to the North Pole sells out quickly––so purchase tickets as soon as you can! Once aboard, you'll find plenty of little elves running around this locomotive singing merrily. Make a list (and check it twice!) to be ready when Santa and Mrs. Claus hop aboard. You'll drink cocoa and eat cookies while listening to a Christmas story. Remember to dress your little one in his/her best holiday pajamas for this dreamy trip to meet jolly old St. Nicholas.

North Pole Limited Trains: Nov. 29-Dec. 21; Fri. & Sat.
Cost: From $35/adult; from $25/child (3-12 years old); $10/toddler (2 and under on lap)

Campo Depot
750 Depot St.
Campo, CA 91906
619-478-9937 (weekends only)
Online: psrm.org

Christmas Train at Poway Park

Not only is it a holiday train ride, it's an entire extravaganza! Poway's Christmas in the Park event has everything from a tree lighting and horse-drawn hay and pony rides to bountiful food, festive music, crafts and of course a grand visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Hop on the steam locomotive train for a ride around the park, and marvel at the model trains too. Be sure to show up for this festive, charming celebration that feels like you've stepped back in time.

Date: Dec. 14, 3:30–8:30 p.m.
Cost: Free

Christmas in the Park
Old Poway Park
14134 Midland Rd.
Poway, CA 92064
858-668-4576
Online: poway.org

Sugar Plum Express

Take a train ride to Holiday Village to meet Santa and get your pic with jolly St. Nick! Remember to bring some money for the unique gifts and goodies and extra activities including a holiday jolly jumper and carousel ride, picking out a fresh-cut tree, walking through a winter wonderland and seeing Santa’s workshop. Even more, you can admire the koi fish, goats and birds on site.

Dates: Nov. 30-Dec. 22; Sat. & Sun.
Cost: $20/adult; $10/child; Kids one and younger free.

Fillmore & Western Railway
364 Main St.
Fillmore, CA 93015
Online: fwry.com/holidaytrains

—Nikki Walsh

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