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 on certain weekends, 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.

Our friend, Julie, brought her four little ones on a Saturday evening and the crowds were enormous and her kids were totally spent. After so much wrestling with her 17-month old over walking through the dark parking lot “by mah-suff” and the thirty minute wait for the seven minute ride, the charm was not quite worth it this time.


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Julie says:

The line to board the train was epically long. It snaked all the way back to the parking lot, and it was a “thick” line — not single file, but with full families. It didn’t move as quickly as it normally seems to, even with two trains running.

My older two boys (8- and 6-years old) were pretty patient and enjoyed the train ride, especially the novelty of being there at night. My littles (3 and 1) would have benefited from an afternoon visit instead. My one-year old seemed scared and overwhelmed by it all. My three-year old was excited, but I think he would have enjoyed a shorter line (re: not so patient while waiting in the 30 min line).

Steam train decorated for Christmas at night
Steam train decorated for Christmas at night | Photo: Julie Herson
Steam train decorated for Christmas at night
What it looks like when you try to take a photo of the train at night – LOL | 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>


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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.

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

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

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