Without a doubt, the birth of my daughter Jude signaled a need to prepare for many things in life as a new mom, most importantly, the proper care and love necessary for someone so special. As she grew older, my learning increased as well—from things mundane and sartorial, all the way over to things peculiar and intriguing. Jude’s fascination with trains clearly falls into the latter category.
Not that my child’s gender would have mattered the least bit. Naively, I thought I’d be dealing with at best endless tea parties and at worst going broke over wardrobes of princess costumes. Still, I like to think that Jude’s attraction to trains is more than just a product of genius marketing by a company who created the allure of a bright-eyed, gentle smiled, albeit totally reticent Choo-Choo named Thomas and his many friends. I do admit there is something mesmerizing about watching a miniature model train making its way across bridges, through tunnels and around mountains in an enchanting, imaginary land where trees are always blooming and pond waters forever clear. And I didn’t even grow up with train sets.
At her young age, I’m pretty sure Jude’s fascination is hardly as romantic: less about travel and more about being able to control something, push something and ride on something. Whatever the case, I know Jude and I are not alone. For this reason, and for you parents and L.A. kids who are in the same boat, here’s a list of train-related activities and resources in L.A. that I hope covers a variety of ages, stages and fascinations. Enjoy!
Union Station Family Tour
Given by the Los Angeles Conservancy
L.A. Union Station
800 N. Alameda Street, Los Angeles; (213) 623-2489
4th Saturday of each month
Cost $5 kids; $10 adults
This is the first walking tour of the L.A. Conservancy that is designed specifically for families! An offshoot of the adult tour of the historic Union Station that is 2 ½ hours long, this 45 minute mini-version is geared to the interests and attention spans of kids 7-11 years old. Kids a little younger might enjoy coming along for the ride and older kids may still find it interesting. The tour is clearly about architecture of the site, colorful materials and shapes that go into the building, the awesome waiting room and the history of the locale. But any true train aficionado in the making would appreciate this fun adventure. The tour does not involve a train ride, but it ends on a train platform where the kids can see the trains stop and go. At the end, each child will receive a Kids Guide to Union Station published by the L.A. Conservancy complete with activities, games and more history of the train station.
Travel Town Museum and Railroad
5200 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, 90027; (323) 662-9678
Monday-Friday 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $2.50 per person; 18 months and under FREE
Travel Town museum and train yard was the brainchild of parks and recreation employee and train lover Charley Atkins. It opened in 1952 as the home of retired steam engines and interesting old railroad cars. Today, the train yard museum is a delight to behold, with locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, passenger cars, interurbans and motorcars.
Travel Town is perhaps one of the better kept secrets in Griffith Park, because it never appears to be overcrowded. Just the right amount of people for a leisurely day. A miniature railroad ride will take you around the perimeter of Travel Town two times. Guests are still allowed to climb into the engine rooms of a few of the trains, and the empty passenger cars are also open for entering. To make your child’s birthday, host his party in one of the World War I vintage passenger railroad cars or on one of the picnic areas surrounded by trains.
Los Angeles Live Steamers
5202 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, California 90027 (323) 662-8030
11 am – 3 pm
Cost: FREE but donation appreciated ($3 suggested donation)
The Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad is right next door to Travel Town in Griffith Park and is fully operated by the Los Angeles Live Steamers club of train enthusiasts for the purpose of educating people in railroad history and lore and also to further the avocation of live steam, gas-mechanical and electronic railroad technology.
The Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad operated a 7½” gauge model trains for the general public to ride from every Sunday (except for the Sunday before Memorial Day and the first Sunday in October). Don’t miss this free ride a 1/8 scale miniature steam, diesel or electric locomotive.
Kids ‘n Trains Program
Now through August 27, 2009 (reservations must be made 30 days in advance)
Ages: 3-18 and chaperones
Cost: $6 per person
Want to suggest a train-related field trip for your child’s school? Have a large playgroup and want to incorporate a train ride? Are you the self-designated activity organizer for your and your friends’ kids? Amtrak Kids ‘n Trains is a deeply discounted group rate designed for youth groups to ride anywhere along the Pacific Surfliner Zone 1 route which runs from Los Angeles north to San Luis Obispo. Designed as both an educational and entertaining experience, the requirements of the program are that there are at least 20 people in the group (kids and chaperones), at least one adult chaperone (or more) for every 6 kids and advance reservation application at least 30 days before your trip. If Amtrak approves the trip, everyone in the party will pay the same low price of $6.
1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, 91011 (818) 949-4200
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: $3 (plus garden admission)
The 1/8 replica of a diesel train at the Descanso Gardens Enchanted Railroad is a favorite among kids and lives up to its name as it winds through scenic gardens and vine trestle tunnels. While you are at the gardens, check out the more than 34,000 camellia plants descended from plants put in the ground nearly 80 years ago under the shade of the Oak forest. Many of these camellias are more than 20 feet in height.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, 91355; (661) 255-4100
10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Cost: Online special $26; Kids under age 2 FREE; Check some Coke cans for $19.99 discount ticket offers
Less than a year ago Thomas the Tank Engine set up shop at Six Flags Magic Mountain and his Thomas Town has been a hit ever since. A real life-sized Tidmouth Sheds houses Thomas and friends and kids have the option of riding number 1 himself or his friends. Little Percy’s roller coaster tracks will draw big laughs from the kids. Even Cranky is part of the action with his very own fountain water play area. Any mildly interested Thomas fan will not be disappointed.
Fillmore & Western Railway Company
Father’s Day Vintage Train Ride and BBQ Lunch
351 Santa Clara St., Fillmore 93015; (800) 773-8724
Sunday, June 21
11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Cost: $47 Adults; $26 Youth Ages 4-12; $23 Child Ages 2-3; FREE under age 2
Less than an hour drive from downtown Los Angeles will bring you to the self-proclaimed “Train Town” of Fillmore, CA. The town features movie trains, passenger excursions and dinner trains. Three derelict steam locomotives and seven 19th Century passenger and freight cars were restored to create the Short Line division of trains for use in Hollywood movies. In the latter half of the 1980s, Short Line was used in over seventy feature films, television series and commercials. Today, operations have expanded from movie work and limited passenger trips to regularly-scheduled daytime passenger excursions and Saturday Night Dinner Trains. Train rides during holidays include a Fourth of July dinner train complete with a fireworks display and a Father’s Day lunch journey where you can treat dad to BBQ tri-tip on a vintage train ride through scenic “Heritage Valley.” Check out the website for more information on the different train rides available and more details on the Father’s Day excursion.
Griffith Park & Southern Railroad
4400 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, 90027; (323) 664-6903
Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $2.50 per person
This miniature train ride right next to the ponies has served the public in Griffith Park since 1948. Youngsters of all ages enjoy the experience of riding the Freedom Train or the Colonel Griffith. The track stretches over a mile and takes the rider past pony rides, through a lush green meadow, through an old Western town, and past a Native American village, across a bridge, through a forest and the Old Western Town.
Southern California Live Steamers Miniature Railroad
2100 Washington Ave., Torrance, 90510
Saturday, June 7 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday, June 20 Noon – 3 p.m.
(Future public run days to be announced on the website. Check the site directly for updates)
Take a free train ride on a real miniature railroad while learning about steam and diesel locomotives. The mission of the Southern California Live Steamers is to educate the public about the country’s rich railroad history and promote interest in the hobby. The railroad is located in the southeast corner of Wilson Park in the city of Torrance. This busy railroad gives an average of 1800-2000 rides each free public ride day. Help support the mission of the club by making a donation on their website.
Allied Model Trains
4371 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, 90230; (310) 313-9353
Monday – Saturday
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Allied used to be the largest train store around, complete with serious collections for hobbyists and starter toys for kids. Its old location in Culver City housed two train tracks that ran the perimeter of the store. In it’s new location, it has downsized quite a bit but its love for trains still as large as ever. Visit the store for hundreds of model train manufacturers while your kids are occupied on the Thomas table. If you want to see a little of the store’s history, just cross the street into the camera store that took over Allied’s old building and see the G gage trains still running on the tracks around the building’s interior perimeter.
Big Red Cars
The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront
East 22nd St and Miner St., San Pedro, 90731
Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Noon to 9:30 p.m.
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (when cruise ships are in Port)
Cost: $1 all-day fare includes unlimited rides and is transferable for free rides on a shuttle bus, which connects passengers to Cabrillo Beach.
This vintage trolley is a fun ride for the whole family and will take you 1 ½ miles along the shops, restaurants, museums and attractions along the waterfront in San Pedro. The trolley is a rebuilt, former Pacific Electric right-of- way, with a traditional 600-volt DC overhead trolley wire. The Red Cars have beautiful wooden seats with brass fittings and the wood paneled car interiors with open air windows and vintage product advertisements simulate the feeling of riding a Pacific Electric Interurban in the 1920′s.