If you have a fascination for trains, whether historic or modern, full size or models, Los Angeles has museums and attractions to feed your railroad fantasies.
LA's biggest and best-known train museum is Travel Town at Griffith Park. This free museum has examples of trains from various time periods lined up on tracks like a railroad station. You can climb around on some of them. There's also an exhibit hall with additional railroad and transportation artifacts and memorabilia. Travel Town is on the north (Valley) side of Griffith Park off Zoo Drive. A 16 gauge Train Ride operates around the perimeter of Travel Town. The engine has been replaced, but the cars are from a steam train Gene Autry ran on his Melody Ranch. Open daily except Christmas day.
Los Angeles Live Steamers
Los Angeles Live Steamers is a non-profit association of miniature railroad fans also in Griffith Park, not far from Travel Town. They're not the mini trains you put under your Christmas tree, but rather 7 1/2 gauge model trains that you can sit on and ride around a scenic track most Sundays of the year from 11 am to 3 pm. They also have exhibits of historic train cars and the original Disney Barn, transported from LALS member Walt Disney's estate, where he operated his own miniature trains. Tours of the Disney Barn are offered by the Carolwood Foundation on the 3rd Sunday of the month.
Griffith Park and Southern Railroad
The Griffith Park and Southern Railroad is not a museum, just a train ride, offered by the same company that runs the Travel Town Train Ride. It's on the southern side of Griffith Park near the pony rides. It's an 18 1/2 gauge track, so the train cars are a little bigger than at Travel Town. They alternate several different trains built from the 1950s to the 1990s. There is a fee for the ride, but entering Griffith Park is free.
The Lomita Railroad Museum doesn't have that many full-size train cars, but they have a really cute depot building modeled after a station in Wakefield, Massachusetts. They do have a 1902 Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive and Tender and a 1923 Union Oil Tank Car. The museum was founded in 1966 by Irene Lewis, in honor of her late husband Martin, with whom she built a company to manufacture miniature steam-operated locomotives. Several of these are on display.
The tiny town of Lomita is south of Torrance, about 20 minutes from LAX or Long Beach, or half hour from Downtown LA.
San Pedro Red Cars
The Pacific Electric Red Car Trolley Line used to operate from Los Angeles to San Pedro and Long Beach. The last remaining vestiges of the Red Cars run along a strip of the Los Angeles Waterfront in San Pedro. The Red Cars run on weekends and when cruise ships are in port.
LA's Union Station, built in 1939, continues to be the hub of train travel in Los Angeles. Amtrak, Metrolink commuter trains, and the MTA Metro subway all have their hubs here. But you don't have to be taking a train to appreciate the beauty of the building, especially its interior. There are walking tours offered once a month by the LA Conservancy.
Disneyland is a hefty ticket price if all you want to do is ride the Disneyland Railroad, but if you're headed there anyway, a ride on Walt Disney's pet train project is a must. In addition to Locomotives 1 and 2, which were custom designed and built by Walt's personal company for the park opening in 1955, three antique steam engines have been added. Depending on the day, you might find the 1894 Fred Gurley Engine 3, the 1902 Ward Kimball Engine 4 or the 1925 Ernest S. Marsh Engine 5, all constructed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The antique Fred Gurly Engine 3 is the oldest engine running at any Disneyland park. The Disneyland Train Station is also equipped with an interesting selection of authentic antique and vintage railroad equipment from lanterns and clocks to a 1930s instructograph.
It's a bit of a drive from Los Angeles (about an hour and a quarter up to two hours, depending on traffic and where you start), but for die-hard train fans, the Orange Empire Railway Museum has the largest railroad and commuter rail collection in the West. There are nine acres of trains, depots, a diner, a hobo camp and anything else you can think of associated with the railroad. They have over 200 locomotives and train cars including a large collection of Pacific Electric Red Cars and LA Railway Yellow Cars as well as lots of Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Santa Fe Railway trains.
On weekends, you can ride streetcars, trains, and trolleys on the museum railway system, and all the exhibit buildings are open. On weekdays, the grounds are open for free but many buildings are closed. If you want to see the indoor exhibits on a weekday, you can book a private tour.
The Fairplex Garden Railroad and Rail Giants Museum
The Fairplex Garden Railroad at the LA County fairgrounds in Pomona is one of, if not the largest garden train in the world with over 9800 feet of track that can accommodate up to 30 trains at once. The G-gauge track runs through a variety of old west environments from mining and logging to industrial developments, agriculture, and towns. The model railroad operates primarily during the Los Angeles County Fair in September when visitors have a chance to operate the trains along some of the tracks. Otherwise, they have a free Public Run Day on the 2nd Sunday of each month (subject to change).
Rail Giants Museum is operated by the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Southern California Chapter at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. The exhibit includes some of the country's most well-preserved locomotives and rolling stock. They also operate the Historic Depot Gift Shop and our Library Archive. Open the second weekend of each month from 10 am to 3 pm.
The Calico Railroad is an original Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge train from the early 1900s with several car configurations that has been an attraction at Knott’s since 1952. You have to pay park admission to ride. You're sure to be held up on your journey by the Ghost Town bandits who raid every loop around the park.
The Santa Fe Depot, built in 1930, also known as the Fullerton Train Depot, has been completely restored from the exterior to the lunch counter. It's like stepping back in time. It's not a museum, but there are two vintage cabooses parked at the station. A Metrolink train ride from Union Station to Fullerton Depot takes about 35 minutes and costs about $16 round trip. Amtrak trains run the same route in a few minutes less and cost 50% more.
There are cute restaurants and a community theatre within walking distance of the Depot. It's just a few more minutes to Anaheim if you want to go ride the Disneyland Train. There's a Rail Travel Meetup Group that meets monthly across from the Fullerton Depot.
Santa Fe Depot also hosts the Southern California Railroad Days festival each May. The event features rail equipment exhibits, model trains, memorabilia, food, and music.
Caboose Corners' El Dorado Express is a restored 1946 park train that offers rides on weekends from March through October at El Dorado East Regional Park in Long Beach. The train is located on the east side of the park just north of Wardlow, but you have to enter the park from Spring Street. There is a fee for the ride and an additional per car fee for entering the park.
Irvine Park Railroad is a 1/3 scale family train ride at Irvine Regional Park in the city of Orange in Orange County. There is a fee to enter the park and a fee for the train ride. Additional attractions at the park include pony rides, horseback riding, bike and surrey rentals, paddle boats and the Orange County Zoo.
The historic Saugus Train Depot was relocated to William S. Hart Park in Santa Clarita in 1980, where it became part of Heritage Junction Historic Park. Also on site is the 1900 Mogul Locomotive 1629, which, after being retired in 1957, appeared in numerous movies and TV shows.