What to do when you live and breath choo-choo

Trains, trains and more trains!

My little one is so obsessed with trains that it’s hard for me to determine whether or not someone his age can actually like something THAT much, or if I’m really just fueling this choo choo fire! We live and breath choo choo in our house. Anything and everything can become a train track, bridge, or tunnel, even in the darkest hours of the night. Sometimes I wonder if people might think Thomas is my second child.


It’s amazing to me that two simple words can almost stop a tantrum right in its tracks…..ALL ABOARD!! But the smile that this machine brings to my little guy’s face just tempts me to introduce him to anything train related in the city. Surprisingly, we’re not the only ones with this obsession and there are a number of free or inexpensive options around San Diego to have a fun, family, train-filled day!


Kennedy enjoying the train table at the Barnes & Nobel, Santee

Poway/Midland Railroad – Wow. This place is awesome. We just visited for the first time a few weeks ago and already can’t wait to go back. The Poway-Midland Railroad “is a full-size, narrow-gauge railroad which carries passengers aboard vintage and antique railroad equipment in Old Poway Park.” You can ride a different style of train almost every weekend (the trains don’t run on the 2nd Sunday of the month) for just $0.50 per child and 1.50-$2.50 per adult (depending on which train is running). Make sure you check out their hours & fares before planning your trip. You may enjoy heading up on a Saturday morning when you can also experience the Poway Farmers market from 8am – 1pm.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Jensen Photography

Photo courtesy of Shannon Jensen Photography

The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum has two locations: La Mesa & Campo
The La Mesa station is open to the public on Saturdays from 1 to 4 PM, offering train depot tours at no cost to you! The train display, just outside, can be viewed any time, any day of the week!

The Campo facility is open on the weekends from 9am – 5pm, with train departures at 11am and 2:30pm. This unique station offers vintage train rides with locomotives and cars from the early 20th century. The Golden State train is the Museum’s classic weekend excursion that has been operating since 1986. You depart from the Campo depot for a 60-minute ride on the historic San Diego & Arizona Railway. You can even ride in the cab of the locomotive with the Engineer!! Spaces are limited and tickets are $40 per person. Only two riders are allowed in the cab at a time, so this is a very special opportunity, perfect for a birthday surprise! An adult ticket will run you $18, children 3-12 run $9, and the tiny tots under age 3 are free. Bonus: Check out their special holiday trains, such as the Bunny Express, Pumpkin Express, and Santa Train.

Chula Vista Live Steamers – Open on the 2nd weekend of the month from 12pm – 2:30pm, your little one can ride a steam or diesel train at no cost (although donations are appreciated).

The next public days are: Saturday May 14th 12pm – 2:30pm and Sunday May 15th from 12pm – 2:30pm

Trackless trains of San Diego – This is the perfect quick train fix for your younger kids & toddlers. The trackless train runs in three different shopping centers throughout San Diego: Plaza Bonita, North County Fair & Parkway Plaza in El Cajon.

Tip: Buy the punch card for future rides or round 2. Cost is $17.50 for the punch card and gets you a buy 5 and get 1 free deal.


The trackless train at Parkway Plaza, El Cajon


Carlsbad Outlets Train
If you have your kids in tow, you can’t get them through the Carlsbad Outlets without a ride on the kiddie train. At just $3 per kid and $2 per adult, this will give you “cool mom” points for the next few days!.

The Coaster.  Take a day trip with the family and ride the coaster.  The Coaster runs between downtown San Diego and Oceanside, with a total of 8 stops. It takes about an hour to ride the full route one-way and almost any stop will bring you to a cute coastal town where you can grab lunch or walk to the beach. Adults ride for $11 round trip and children 6 and under are FREE

Station Tavern. Beers & tots while you’re kid plays on the train/trolly? Enough said!!!


San Diego Model Railroad Museum at Balboa Park. This indoor model railroad exhibit is the largest in North America and one of the largest in the world! So it’s no doubt that your train lover will be amazed! With beautiful freelance representations of routes in and around San Diego, you will find something new almost every time. Hours are Tues – Fri from 11am – 4pm and on the weekends from 11am-5pm. Adult tickets are $10 and children 5 and under are free. Of course, our favorite time to go is on free museum Tuesday (the 1st Tuesday of every month)! Make sure to check out their fun toddler friendly hours! Finger painting Friday and StoryTime hour are on Fridays from 11am – 12pm. Check out their meetup page for more fun activities. This might also be worth checking out their model railroad summer camps for kids!

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While you’re in Balboa doing the train thing, make sure you stop by and ride the train at Balboa’s miniature railroad. This quick 3 minute ride takes you aboard a model G16 through a mock tour of San Diego where your little engineer will see animal sculptures along the way and get to hold their breath as they go through the tunnel! The train runs on the weekends from 11am-4:30pm and is $3 per person.


Another great option is the Old Town Model Railroad Depot. Not quite as big as the Balboa exhibit, but just as cool, and free (donations are encouraged)! Open most days from 11am-6pm, your little train enthusiast can enjoy this AMAZING display of various landscapes including mountains, tunnels, farms, and city. Depending on the season, they even decorate with Halloween & Christmas displays. The attention to detail is unreal, and the sweet men working there are excited to give you a personal tour of the exhibit. There are a number of stools for the littles to stand on, and even a few buttons for them to push, which make different things happen.

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San Diego Botanic Garden offers residents and visitors year round beauty to explore. Gardens and trails, events and activities. Adults pay just $14, children $8, and infant/toddlers under age 3 are free. The park is open 9am – 5pm and the first Tuesday of the month is free to San Diego residents! There is something for everyone to enjoy, but in this case, don’t forget to pay a stop at the train display, featuring our beloved Thomas!



We hope you get out there and enjoy some of the wonderful sights & activities that our city offers! Let us know if there is anything we missed that you can share with your fellow train enthusiasts!

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