California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento
Every young child in the Sacramento area knows the train museum: the huge, shiny engines on display; a real locomotive cab you can pretend to drive; the model trains winding through detailed landscapes; the toy train tables upstairs; and, of course, actual train rides!
Located in historic Old Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum is a favorite destination for families, as well as anyone else interested in trains. If you want to learn about the history of railroads in California, you can take a tour, read the displays, or watch a movie. But if you are a kid, you can also just enjoy running around the spacious museum and exclaiming at all the trains housed within its walls, before settling down for some playtime with the Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains.
Many of the docents are former railway employees who work at the museum out of sheer love of those wonderful trains. (Many are volunteers). These older gentlemen are so sweet and knowledgeable, and kids get a kick out of seeing them dressed as conductors and engineers.
The train museum is located at 125 I Street (at the corner of 2nd and I Streets) in the California state capitol, Sacramento. You can find directions to the museum on its website.
The train museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. It can be quite crowded on the weekend, although less so if you go in the morning. Also keep in mind that there are occasional events like Sacramento Museum Day that draw large crowds.
The cost of admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6-17, and free for those 5 and under. This is very clever, as it is usually the little ones that drag the adults there!
If you drive there, you will also need to pay for parking. If you are lucky enough to find street parking, you will need coins for the meters, and most are limited to 90 minutes. It is easier to park in the parking garage just across the street, and the hourly rates are reasonable. (We usually pay about $6). I love the convenience, but I have friends that make the long walk over the I Street Bridge in order to use the free parking there.
If you live in the area, consider purchasing a membership. The train museum memberships are the most affordable of any I have found in Sacramento. We love the Caboose Club, which is a steal at $25/year. The membership actually belongs to the child (12 and under). They and an accompanying adult get free admission and train rides, so you can go as often as you like!
One of the biggest attractions is the train rides, which are available every weekend from April through September. It is a 45 minute scenic round trip and is one of my favorite parts of visiting the museum. Keep in mind that no strollers are allowed on the train, and there are no bathrooms, so be sure to make a pit stop at the depot first!
There are special train rides before Halloween and Christmas (not included in the membership, though members get to book their tickets before the general public). Because of the cost, we have never gone on the Polar Express, but it is very popular and always sells out quickly. We went on the Spookamotive ride before Halloween, though, and it was tons of fun! All the workers are in costume, as are most of the kids. The train is decorated with all kinds of spooky fun, and all the kids get a little toy.
We always spend a lot of time looking at the model trains, which run through landscapes dotted with detailed buildings, trees, and twinkling lights. My favorite is the hot air balloon!
For train lovers, it is a big thrill to get to walk through the many trains on exhibit at the museum. There are dining cars, sleeping cars, and engine rooms where kids get to sit in the engineer’s seat and pretend to operate the controls.
As far as my son is concerned, no trip to the train museum would be complete without a trip upstairs to play at the train tables. There are several large tables covered with Thomas trains and tracks, plus one table with model trains that the kids can stand in the middle of while the trains race around them.
Where to Eat
As in most museums, once you are inside there is no food allowed. There are water fountains throughout the museum, but otherwise no drinks are allowed either. Luckily, since the museum is located in popular Old Sacramento, there are plenty of places to eat nearby, most of which validate parking with a minimum $5 purchase. Be aware, though, that unless you want to go to a sit-down restaurant (we love La Terraza!), most of the small shops only accept cash. There are a few cash machines located throughout Old Sac, but most charge a fee. If you have the cash, though, it is fun to explore the small food shops scattered among the many colorful stores in Old Sacramento. Your kids will love walking on the wooden board sidewalks and seeing the horse drawn carriages in this district.
We hope you enjoy your next trip to the California State Railroad Museum, located in historic Old Sacramento! If you visit, we would love to hear about it, so please leave a note in the comments. Does your child love trains?