Visiting The California State Railroad Museum In Old Sacramento

California State Railroad Museum Sacramento

My daughter is in seventh grade this year, which in our school district means one thing: the Seventh Grade Marine Biology Trip To Fort Bragg, California. My husband Brian was a chaperone and the two of them took off for a week of fun and adventure, leaving Carter and I home alone.

To make the week home with me extra special, I planned a ditch day for Carter so we could play hookey and visit the Railroad Museum in Sacramento together. Our single ditch day turned into three days, but that story’s for another post!

We used to visit the California State Railroad Museum often when he was a toddler, especially in the winter, but it had been years since we’ve visited and he didn’t remember it. We were pretty excited to check it out again!

The California State Railroad Museum

Just walking in the entrance had Carter excited. There is a train right in the lobby for kids to check out while you wait in line to get your ticket. Plus, he saw a penny machine in the gift shop door — he collects flattened pennies from our adventures, so this was a big deal.

Located in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the Railroad Museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars, along with thousands of smaller artifacts and a variety of exhibits in its 100,000 square foot main exhibition facility.

Exhibits include:

  • The Transcontinental Railroad: Linking California with the U.S.
  • Developing California, Making America: Mobility, modernization, and a free society
  • Railroad Work, Railroad Life: Human enterprise and a changing America
  • Travel By Train: Passenger travel during railroading’s Golden Age
  • American Icons: Steam locomotives of various sizes and the golden Lost Spike
  • Small Wonders: Toy trains, children’s activity area, and rotating exhibits

Visiting The Railroad Museum With Kids

It was quite a different experience visiting the Railroad museum with an interested older kid instead of crazy toddlers and little kids.

Before the kids would run around looking at everything and touching everything, and rushing us from exhibit to exhibit. Then we would eventually end up at the Thomas The Train play area for at least an hour. But this time, Carter was interested in reading the plaques and signs, talking about the history and how things worked, and sharing trivia with me, and he even had some questions for the docents.

The one thing that didn’t change? How much we love checking out the trains up close!

While several of the passenger cars were roped off so you could only peek in a window or door, Carter had a blast going inside the engine of a few trains, and walking through a swaying Pullman car, feeling what it was like to travel on a moving train. The locomotives were our favorite part of the museum — especially the gorgeous C. P. Huntington, Southern Pacific Railroad Steam Locomotive No. 1. But I would be remiss in not mentioning the quality of the museum exhibits and artifacts on display.

There were interesting things to look at and read about everywhere we turned, and the toy train exhibit was really fun to spend time in — Carter was fascinated with the toy train exhibits and we spent a lot of time just pressing different buttons to make the trains move through the displays and look at the tony cities and villages built. This time however, we skipped the giant hands-on Thomas The Train play area.

Plus, Carter and I were pretty excited to find some photographs and history about the famous Summit Tunnel at Donner Summit — we hiked through that tunnel on a family adventure last year!

Whether you’ve got little kids and toddlers, or older kids and teens, the California State Railroad Museum is a must for anyone who is even a little interested in trains and California History. We’re already planning another visit with Natalie and Brian so Carter can show them all the cool stuff he found and we want to take the train ride together as a family.

Just know that if you do have little ones, you may want to prepare for your exit. When Carter was little, and every time we left, he’d grip the tables at the Thomas The Train play area, screaming and crying — and he never wanted to put the toy trains down. Eventually we’d have to pick him up and carry him out as fast as possible!

And of course, on the way out, we stopped by the Museum Gift Shop and made a few flattened pennies for his collection.

What About You?

Have you ever visited the Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento? What was your favorite part? Any tips? Have you rode the train or done any of the holiday train rides? I’d love to hear from you!

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