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
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 schedules and information at www.roaringcamp.com.
The Side Shows
Cave Train: 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 10 times.
Shadowbrook Funicular: This beautiful restaurant nestled in an overgrown hillside 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.
Other Tips for Your Visit
There are a lot of other 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 has outdoor seating, pizza and pasta, and a family-friendly, casual vibe. Pono Hawaiian Grill is another laid-back spot with garden seating, live music, and great Hawaiian treats like poke, wings, and kalua pork.
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 at Picnic across from the boardwalk or at their shop downtown.
[All photos by Karen Merzenich, all rights reserved]