Do the Locomotion
Getting your train fix may- or may not - involve leaving the station
Chuck Koehler Photography
You don’t have to go far to indulge a love for trains. Sure, a trip along the tracks can make for a perfect afternoon with the kids, or even a weekend getaway. But train lovers will also get into our area’s miniature trains and historic railway museums. Whatever your interest, we have you covered—so climb aboard any of these great train experiences.
Riding the rails
Napa Valley Wine Train
Three-hour excursions on this luxury train with domed viewing cars include fine wines and a four-course meal. During Family Fun Nights, the kids are entertained in a separate train car while parents enjoy their leisurely dinner. For laughs and fun, try the Murder Mystery package; if you are looking for a romantic evening, check out the Moonlight Escapade. Cost: $50–$150, depending on the package; 1275 McKinstry St., Napa, (707) 253-2111, www.winetrain.com.
California State Railroad Museum
The state capital is home to a great railway museum that includes everything from a permanent exhibit of roughly 1,000 toy trains to rides on a genuine steam-powered engine. The best way to get there? Ride an Amtrak train from the Oakland, Emeryville, or Martinez stations to the Old Sacramento station, then walk the two blocks to the museum. Families might want to check out Gold Rush Days (August 31–September 3), in which much of Old Sacramento turns back its clock to 1849. Cost: adults $8, children 6–17 $3, kids under 5 free. The museum is located at the corner of Second and I streets, Sacramento, (916) 445-6645, www.californiastaterailroadmuseum.org.
Niles Canyon Railway
This charming working railroad operates Sunday mornings and afternoons, offering riders an opportunity to traverse beautiful Niles Canyon between Sunol and Fremont. What sets this railway apart is its operator—the Pacific Locomotive Association—which is dedicated to preserving the small-town railway as it was between 1910 and 1960. Requested donation is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for kids 3–12; kids under 3 ride free. Sunol Depot, 6 Kilkare Rd., Sunol; Niles Station, 37001 Mission Blvd., Fremont, (925) 862-9063, www.ncry.org.
Martinez Amtrak Station
The remodeled Amtrak station near Martinez’s quaint, historic downtown is fun to visit and a great place to start an easy day trip with kids. Ride the rails south, and see views of the Carquinez Strait that are not visible by car. Get off in Emeryville to walk around the public market or IKEA, or ride all the way to Jack London Square. A round-trip ticket from Martinez to Oakland/Jack London Square is $22 for adults and $11 for kids 3–15 riding with an adult; kids under 3 ride free. 601 Marina Vista Ave., Martinez, (800) 872-7245, www.amtrak.com.
The Steam Trains at Tilden Regional Park
Perfect for young kids, one of four steam engines at the park whisks you away on a 1.25-mile scenic ride along the Redwood Valley Railroad. An extra perk: You can bring your dog on the train for no extra charge. Cost: single $2, family $8. Located at the south end of Tilden Park, at the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Lomas Cantatas, Berkeley, (510) 548-6100, www.redwoodvalleyrailway.com.
Golden State Model Railroad Museum
Operated by the East Bay Model Engineers Society, one of the oldest and largest groups of its kind in the nation, the museum features three types of model trains that travel along tracks covering 10,000 square feet. Trains run only on Sundays, but the museum is open for viewing on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Cost: adults $4, seniors and kids under 12 $2, families $9. 900-A Dornan Dr., Point Richmond, (510) 234-4884, www.gsmrm.org.
Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society
With mountainous layouts up to 10 feet high and 4,300 feet of track, the model railroad in Walnut Creek is a marvel. Boasting multiple track styles, such as modern diesel and electric traction lines, the exhibit is open for public viewing on certain weekend days and Friday nights. Cost: adults $3, seniors and kids 6–12 $2; kids under 6 free. 2751 Buena Vista Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-1888, www.wcmrs.org.
Museum of the San Ramon Valley
Legendary folk singer and boxcar rider Woody Guthrie, who once wrote a song called “Danville Girl,” would have loved this restored Southern Pacific depot. The former train station is now a charming museum, featuring permanent exhibits about the San Ramon branch line, which ran from Martinez to Pleasanton from 1891 to 1978. There’s even a 1950s caboose for kids to climb on. Located at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Prospect Road, Danville, (925) 837-3750, www.museumsrv.org.
Vic Stewart’s is a high-end steakhouse inside Walnut Creek’s circa-1891 Southern Pacific train depot. The restaurant has seating in a 1901 Pullman car, complete with lamp-lit elegance. Needless to say, this beats the snack car on Amtrak. Dinner nightly. 850 S. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 943-5666, www.vicstewarts.com.