Christmastime at the Tilden Steam Trains - 510 Families
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Christmastime at the Tilden Steam Trains

The Tilden Park Steam Trains transform into a toddler-friendly Santa Train (assuming you can find parking, which is a pretty big assumption). Here’s the good, the bad, and the jolly of it. 

Santa on the steam train
Santa on the steam train | Photo: Kat Choi
Steam train at Christmas
Holiday decorations in the woods and on the train | Photo: Kat Choi

Tilden Park Steam Trains Holiday Outing

Decorated with twinkling lights, tiny snowflakes, and Christmas ornaments on some of the evergreens along the route, the steam trains in Tilden Park are extra Christmasy in December. You can ride them in 2021 on December 11, 12, 18, and 19 from 11 am – 7 pm, weather permitting.

Santa Claus rides on a special train on a looping track and waves to the gathering children with a friendly smile. You should not expect lap sitting or special conversations with the Big Guy, because he stays on the train.

Christmas decorations in the trees
Christmas decorations in the trees, some of them | Photo: Kat Choi

I arrived around 3:20 pm and two trains were running instead of one. Though I found the waiting time to be the same as usual (about 15 minutes), but we spent less time getting on and off. The attendants were all in cheery moods.

steam train at christmas
Tilden steam trains decorated for Christmas | Photo: Michele Yuen

Nightime is a different story. While the pretty lights and overall magic of the location are far more special when it gets dark, it’s also much colder and the line and wait time is far far longer. Julie arrived with her 3-year-old at around 5 pm on a Saturday and didn’t end up boarding the train until 6 pm. That’s a long wait in rather chilly temperatures for a five minute train ride (Emergency purse M&M’s helped with the wait).

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people standing in line at night
A very very long line around 5 pm at the Tilden Steam Train | Photo: Julie Herson
steam train at night with lights
The magic of the lights and sounds at the Tilden Steam Train are difficult to capture with an iPhone | Photo: Julie Herson

Steam Trains Holiday Hours

Weather permitting, the steam trains are open with holiday decor on Saturday and Sunday, December 11, 12, 18, and 19 from 11 am – 7 pm. The trains usually close at dusk so the night rides are especially thrilling with the Christmas lights on.

Beginning on December 26, the train returns to regular wintertime hours and close at 5 pm or dusk (whichever comes first).

Holiday rates are the same and your punch card will still work

$3.50 per ride or $14 for 5 rides. FREE for under 2 years. Buying 5 tickets is recommended to save time in line.

For more info, visit their site>

Holiday Steam Trains Parent Tips

  • Buy tickets in bulk, 5 tickets for $14. It is a better deal. The card machine takes long time to process funds, so cash can be quick and easy for purchase.
  • Bundle up. Our mild California winters feel the chilliest in the shaded woods on a moving train. Wear all your cozy clothes and bring an extra blanket.
  • To beat the crowds and holiday chaos, aim for early morning or naptime (between 3pm and 5pm). Lunchtime and evenings are especially busy.
  • Parking can be a bummer, so head to additional parking at back (this requires bit of walk to platform but is doable depending on who you brought along). If your timing works out, you might be able to find parking just in time for when people are leaving.
  • Nighttime riders will appreciate glowsticks or even headlamps for visibility to and from the parking lots. It can be really dark and treacherous walking along the roads after sunset.
  • Bring a snack, maybe even some sweat treats to keep spirits up during the long wait.

For an extra magical day, hop in the car and pair with the Christmas Merry-go-round (you can warm up with cocoa there)!

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[Photo Credits: Kat Choi and Julie Herson as noted]

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2 thoughts on “Christmastime at the Tilden Steam Trains”

    1. They do not take advanced reservations. You can buy your tickets in person at any time they’re open and use them for the Christmas train (same tickets as for the regular train). So unfortunately there’s no way around the line.

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