Family, Learning, Travel

California State Railroad Museum: The Best of the Best

For this post, I am going BACK in time…to January 13th of 2011, which also happened to be a Thursday! So Throwback Thursday in many ways. I am reusing this post that needs to see the light of day, and adding a bit to it as well. Most of the post is retained as is; we visited when my kids were 8 and 5 years old. While I am sure we will all enjoy visiting this museum today, it will be a whole different experience.

As for my son, he recently took the Coastal Starlight from San Luis Obispo to San Jose on his way home for the holidays (California and the railroad again during the holidays 11 years later – another coincidence!!), and he now says he prefers taking the train over the bus!!

California State Railroad Museum

[January 2022 update: This whole section is from January 13, 2011. I just made a few updates for timings/rates where applicable.]

California State Railroad Museum

We finally did it! We visited a museum in the state Capital. This had been a visit long planned and we had been putting it off. Over the holiday break, we decided we need to do this. For our first museum visit, we picked the California State Railroad Museum.

I called ahead and asked how long it would take to see the museum and was told that most people see it in 4 to 5 hours. We left the bay area around 9.30 am after breakfast and reached just a little before noon (bad traffic just before we hit Sacramento).


They have ample parking available in the Old Town area where the Railroad museum is. You have street parking and parking garages too. Parking in the garage right near the museum (Old Sacramento Garage) is a reasonable $8 $13 for the whole day (6 am to 6 pm).

Guided Tours

We walked in just in time for a tour that was starting. Our tour guide ‘Dan’ was extremely enthusiastic and involved everyone during his tour. Adults and kids alike enjoyed the tour. He made otherwise seemingly mundane information fun. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and during the tour, we learned a little about the history of the museum, the history of the railway system in the U.S. and the Lost Golden Spindle as well as other interesting tidbits.


We then stepped out for lunch (you can walk in and out of the museum after you have purchased your tickets – when we walked back in, the staff at the ticket counter remembered us and waved us back in without checking our tickets) and ate at a sandwich place recommended by the staff at the museum – it is on Front Street in old town Sacramento and like most shops and restaurants there, quaint, rustic and warm. The food was excellent too. I definitely recommend this place.

The Museum Tour Continued

We walked back to the museum and started our self-guided tour now, exploring every nook and corner – the trains displayed there are all very well maintained. Many of them are operational as well. All of them are like bright, new copper pennies – shining and, clean.

The coolest part of the tour for all of us was walking in the Pullman sleeper car model; this was kept on rollers which meant we felt like we were really traveling by train as we stepped in. The included sound and light effects simulating train travel made it all the more fun; we loved it and walked back in and out of this a few times more.

They have life-like displays of passengers and railway staff in these models. They have a wonderful display of model trains (both working and display only) on the second floor; this kept the kids entertained for quite some time.

We did one last round on the simulated models and stopped at the museum shop to browse before we left. They have everything related to trains, obviously – calendars, books, models, Legos, toys, music, videos and more.

Website information for the Railroad museum:

Old Town Sacramento

We ended by a walk around Old Town Sacramento; that deserves a post of its own so that will come sometime in the future. We are looking forward to our next trip to the capital – our next museum – the Aviation Museum. 

January 2022 update. While we are yet to visit the Aviation Museum, we have visited many other sights in Sacramento over the years since this post was first written. I will write about those in future posts here, hopefully this year! The trip to the Railroad Museum did lead us to something else wonderful; a railroad trip on the California Zephyr a couple of years later.

The Best of the Best

The California State Railroad Museum appears on many Top Ten Railroad museums lists (at least for North America and the US); it is consistently listed at the top two or three positions, and I believe it is deservedly so (having not visited other museums, I am just biased here!)

And Now, the End of This Post

Have you visited this museum? Or other railroad museums? Do share your thoughts and recommendations?

2 thoughts on “California State Railroad Museum: The Best of the Best

  1. Thanks for posting this link in my blog. Sounds like an authentic tour and I like your pictures too.

    When we took the ride on the Tottenham train, the engineer told stories including one about a ghost train.
    If I ever go to Sacramento, I might have to look up this museum.

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