Santa Cruz Guide for Kids who Love Trains - 510 Families
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Santa Cruz Guide for Kids who Love Trains

Our guest writer is Karen, mom to one train-obsessed three-year old in San Francisco (among her many other talents).

Do you have a small person in your house who can’t get enough of Thomas, Chuggington, and every other chugging choo choo out there? I do, and we recently spent a train-themed weekend in Santa Cruz. Here are the details.

The Main Attraction: Ride Through Redwoods

Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz is awesome for Bay Area train lovers
Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz is awesome for Bay Area train lovers

Roaring Camp Railroads: If you have a little train-obsessed person in your household then I highly recommend a visit to Roaring Camp Railroads. There are a couple of different options: you can drive to the camp in Felton, which is located inside the beautiful redwoods, and take a real steam train in the forest there. Or, you can get a diesel train with open cars that leaves from the beach boardwalk, drives through town, and heads up and back into the redwoods. Sitting in an open car as the narrow gauge train winds through the redwood trees is magical no matter what your age.

Roaring Camp offers holiday themed trains like the Polar Express, and they even have special days during the year where they dress the trains up like Thomas! Super cool for future conductors. See our report on Roaring Camp Railroad.

See schedules and information at their website >

The Side Shows: Special Smaller Trains around Santa Cruz

Cave Train in Santa Cruz is awesome for Bay Area train lovers

Cave Train Adventure (Beach Boardwalk)

There is a train ride inside the boardwalk that is open to people of all ages. It’s called the Cave Train Adventure and it hasn’t changed since 1961! It’s beyond kitschy with its caveman theme and black lights, but my train lover was enamored with it. We had to ride it about ten times. (Currently closed for Covid-19 but other Beach Boardwalk attractions are operating)

Shadowbrook in Santa Cruz is awesome for Bay Area train lovers

Shadowbrook Funicular (Capitola)

Shadowbrook is a beautiful restaurant nestled in an overgrown hillside that has been open since 1947. The best part? To get down to the restaurant from the parking lot, you can take a crazy old funicular! It’s clanky and creaky and so much fun for a train buff. The restaurant seems to be on the fancy side, but it is openly and unabashedly kid-friendly, with an extensive children’s menu, activity book, and even the chance to pull a prize out of a hat after dinner. Website >>

Other Tips for Your Visit to Santa Cruz with kids

Whitney and Karen both spend way too much time browsing on Airbnb.
Whitney picked out this beach house for a Santa Cruz getaway >

airbnb in santa cruz
Rental beach house with a front yard fire pit that overlooks the ocean view | Photo: Carl via AirBnB

Baby gear and beach gear are included with this place and it is just a two-block walk to the beach. A five minute bike ride takes you to a cool lighthouse worth exploring. Another five minutes and you’re at a butterfly sanctuary.

There are a lot of great kid-friendly restaurants in Santa Cruz, too.

Zachary’s is our go-to breakfast place, with a cheap kids’ menu and great stuff for mom and dad. It gets crowded, so go on the early side. For lunch or dinner, Kianti’s Pizza & Pasta Bar has outdoor seating and a family-friendly, casual vibe.

And in case you have a warm weather weekend, I had better tell you that the best locally made ice cream is from the Penny Ice Creamery – you can get it to go at their shop downtown.


[All photos by Karen Merzenich except one by Carl via AirBnB, all rights reserved]

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