Northern California is a railroad buff’s paradise, as there are many steam and diesel locomotives still in operation today. Your choices range from luxurious dinner trains through Napa Valley Wine Country to relaxing trips through the California Redwoods. For railroad fans who want a behind the scenes look, there are museums where you can view massive locomotives and almost every other kind of railroad equipment.
The California State Railroad
The California State Railroad Museum is located in Sacramento. Excursion trains run through Old Sacramento in April through September. The Museum's other train option, Sacramento Southern Railroad runs a 6-mile loop along the levees of the Sacramento River. The locomotives can be either steam or diesel, depending on the tour, and the rolling stock consists of vintage passenger coaches and converted freight cars.
Check the California State Railroad Museum Foundation website for information about special excursion trains, such as the Halloween Spookomotive Train Ride in October and The Polar Express in November and December.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is located in Jamestown, in the heart of California's Gold Country. The park features a preserved roundhouse and locomotive repair shop, both of which are still functional and guided tours are available.
Many movies and TV shows have been filmed at "The Movie Railroad," including High Noon, Unforgiven, Death Valley Days, and Petticoat Junction.
Steam-powered excursion trains run every weekend from April to October. Trains depart the Railtown Depot on the hour for a 6-mile run through the Sierra foothills. Special and seasonal trains, such as Santa's Starlight Express, operate at other times during the year.
Western Pacific Railroad Museum
The Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola houses a large collection of locomotives, rolling stock, and a collection of items from the historic rail line. Among the collection is the UP 6946, the largest diesel locomotive ever built, and historic equipment from the famous California Zephyr. The Museum is a great "hands-on" place for kids, with touching and exploring encouraged.
Train rides are conducted on diesel locomotives, and there are also special seasonal trains, such as the Santa Train in December.
Sacramento River Train
The Sacramento River Train offers a number of options for 28-mile, 3-hour trips along the Sacramento River. Trains board in Woodland, just north of Sacramento. Depending on the trip you choose, this excursion train offers brunch, lunch, and dinner in two dining cars.
There are numerous special trains throughout the year - check the website for the calendar and trip details.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train is the height of luxury and takes riders on a trip to St. Helena and back, and of course, stopping at wineries along the way. The views are wonderful, and each guests’ ticket includes a four-course meal. The train offers special events such as “Rock the Rails” where they bring in popular musical acts to perform on the train and private twilight tours as well.
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
This tiny railroad spans only 4 miles, but what it lacks in distance, it makes up with gorgeous vintage steam trains bustling through majestic redwoods.
Sierra Railroad Dinner Train
Fancy a murder mystery dinner? How about brunch? The Sierra Railroad Dinner Train is located between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park and offers a wide variety of themed train rides through the beautiful Central Valley countryside.
Fort Bragg Skunk Train
The name may not appeal to everyone, but the Fort Bragg Skunk Train has plenty of family-friendly, nature-themed train rides that can last up to four hours.
Roaring Camp Railroads
If you have dreams of spending some time at the beach, ride the Roaring Camp Railroad from the Santa Cruz Mountains, through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, all the way down to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.