Can we talk about trains? My little boys are all about trains. When my oldest was one, the best way to get him out of the house was to talk about the choo choos we would see: real train, BART train, train table, it didn't matter (but there had to be trains).
I could easily talk him into leaving Totland if I said we were going to go to Target for some train spotting. In fact, I was nervous to accept a hand-me-down train table for fear of losing that leverage to get out of the house. I needn't have worried, we picked up a used train table, and he was still happy to go anywhere to see trains!
Trains you can ride
Our part of the Bay Area has many options for train enthusiasts to ride the rails in many sizes and forms. You could easily spend all your free time tracking them down (Hee hee, I said “track”).
- Steam Trains in Tilden Park
- Miniature Trains via Redwood Railway (Summer season only)
- Fairyland Jolly Trolly
- Zoo Train at Oakland Zoo
- BART to the next station or the end of the line
- Pixieland Train
- Great Amtrak adventure (destination: Martinez!)
- Niles Canyon Railway (anytime or for the holiday Polar Express)
- TrainTown in Sonoma
- Roaring Camp Railroad outside of Santa Cruz (including some side trips while you're there)
- Weekend locomotive getaway to Sacramento
- Hop aboard the streetcar at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City
Best places for trainspotting:
To get your train lover out of the house, promise a visit to some of these destinations. It worked for me.
Aquatic Park Playground (AKA Dreamland): Right on the marina path at the end of Bancroft, this tucked away playground is nearly fenced in. It goes silent every time a train screams past both because the trains are deafening from this proximity and also the kids stop playing to watch.
Albany Target: Seriously, do some shopping and then watch for trains. If you want to blow your kids' minds with how cool this outing is, get cocoa at the Starbucks before the waiting begins. (Here are my insider tips for parents at Albany Target)
Tacubaya on Fourth: If we're out for a tasty dinner, we can sit on the patio and watch for trains. Whee.
Point Pinole Regional Shoreline: There's so much to do in Point Pinole – take a short hike, play on the playground, splash in the water, walk the pier, or wait for trains.
Jack London Square: We love watching for trains here because we can get up close and personal with the train gates. Up, down, ding, ding, ding!
Emeryville Station: If all else fails and we didn't see any trains on our outing, I will swing by the closest train station on the way home and say, “oh, look a train” because it never fails that there's at least one parked here.
A few words about train tables:
If your child is nuts for trains, it can be helpful to know of a few strategically placed train tables throughout the East Bay so you can get your errands done. Snippety Crickets is great in-between haircuts, Five Little Monkeys on Solano is a fun favorite, Jeffrey's Toys on Fourth Street is a quick stop between shops, and the train table at Barnes & Noble Bay Street gives you time to read while your kids race Thomas around the tracks.
Let us know of some others around town and we can build a mash-up map so we're never far away from the rails!
[Photo credits: Anna Azimi and Heather Flett]