California State Railroad Museum
Full Price Admission Cost: $12 adults; $6 for kids 6–18; kids under 6 are free
WWWW Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This museum is an absolute gem of a place that will be loved by all, but especially by railroad enthusiasts. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here, and recommend visiting if you ever find yourself in the Sacramento area.
When you do visit, you’ll want to begin with the short film shown throughout the day, which is perfect for giving you a bit of backstory. The theater that shows this film has entrances on both the top and bottom floors. While you’re waiting for the film to begin, be sure to check out the exhibits surrounding the upstairs theater entrance, including the high-speed train simulator.
Once the movie ends, the screen raises and you can exit through one of the doors hidden behind it. The exhibits beyond tell the story of how the railroad began and are really quite interesting. You’ll also find the numerous life-size train engines and cars on this floor. Be sure to walk through all of them and feel free to ask staff questions.
After checking out the bottom floor, head up to the third floor. This is where the toy train exhibits are located. Here you’ll learn a bit about the history of model railroads, and you can watch some detailed model trains make their rounds. Additionally, there are several train tables with tons of tracks and train cars (including those from Thomas the Tank Engine) for young visitors to play with.
This museum was a highlight of our stint in California. Our son had a great time, and my husband and I actually learned a few things ourselves.
- Train rides are available. Be sure to get details before you go if you want a ride.
- The museum hosts special events such as storytimes. Be sure to check out your options during the planning process.
- There is no free parking. We ended up in a nearby garage that cost $13 for the day.
- There are restaurants within walking distance of the museum, as well as an outdoor picnic area. No food can be eaten inside.
- This museum is located next door to the Sacramento History Museum. You could probably do both in one day if you got an early start.
Books to Read
- Train: The Definitive Visual History by DK/Smithsonian
- The Big Book of Trains by DK
- Steam, Smoke and Steel: Back in Time With Trains by Patrick O’Brien
- John Henry by Julius Lester
Videos to Watch
- The Orphan Trains Documentary
- John Henry
- How Steam Trains Work
- History Channel: Transcontinental Railroad
- The Railroad Journey and the Industrial Revolution: Crash Course History
Activities to Do
- Build a model railroad using a train set or some craft supplies from around the house.
- Practice shapes and colors with preschoolers using these train-themed activities.
- Create your own electromagnetic train.
Things to Discuss
- What would the world be like if trains had never been invented?
- What do you think it would be like to ride one of the first trains?
- Which type of train is your favorite and why?
Other Area Attractions
Below are some of the other great attractions in this area. We try to keep things affordable, sticking to free and cheap attractions and/or museums and zoos on reciprocal lists. If an attraction is affiliated with a reciprocal program or offers free admission, I have noted that beside the attraction listing. To learn more about saving money using reciprocal programs, see this post.
- Powerhouse Science Center Discovery Museum (ASTC and NARM)
- Sacramento Children’s Museum (ASTC and ACM)
- California Automobile Museum (NARM)
- The California Museum (NARM and Time Travelers)
- Sacramento History Museum (NARM and Time Travelers)
- Verge Center for the Arts (NARM)
- Crocker Art Museum (NARM)
- Sacramento Zoo (AZA 50% off)
- Sutter Fort State Historic Park (Time Travelers)
Closest Places to Stay on a Budget
- Thousand Trails: Lake Minden RV Resort (23.1 mi)
- Passport America: Imperial Manor MHC and RV Park (16.9 mi)
- RPI and Thousand Trails: Ponderosa RV Resort (46.6 mi)
Related Attractions in Other Areas
- Illinois Railway Museum – Union, IL
- Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania – Ronks, PA
- Lake Superior Railroad Museum – Duluth, MN
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