Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Sightseeing

Visiting the California Railroad Museum

During a long weekend in Sacramento with my older two kids, we visited the California Railroad Museum. It is located on the north end of Old Town Sacramento in a brick building (part of which is actually an old roundhouse, which is super cool).

Admission to the California Railroad Museum

The California Railroad Museum is managed by the State Park system. Adult admission is $12, while kids between 6 and 17 ring up at $6. Kids 5 and under are free.

The museum didn’t feel busy when we arrived, but there was a line of several people.

In the meantime, we decided to examine the small steam engine that greeted us.

The kids were excited. I don’t believe either have ever traveled by train, and they were very interested in seeing what trains were all about. After paying the admission, we decided we’d explore the place floor by floor.

First Floor

All the coolest stuff is on the first floor. Ok, that may have already spoiled floors two and three. But it’s true. You can’t really stick full size locomotives or railcars on the upper floors without some more serious engineering, so it follows that all of those at ground level. Which makes the first floor the coolest.

The first section focuses on the history of the railroad in California. Specifically, it highlights the Transcontinental Railroad. As a kid, this was a section of history I thoroughly enjoyed, and the fascination with the race to span a continent has not faded. I started to read every part of the exhibit.

California railroad museum

The kids quickly grew bored of this and ran ahead while I was engrossed in the details of the Central Pacific Railroad, the company racing eastward from California. If you’re not familiar with this section of American history, the Federal government offered financed the construction of the railroad by offering $16,000 per mile of track. The Central Pacific Railroad was the company constructing track eastward from California, eventually meeting the Union Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah.

The kids eventually arrived to drag me further into the museum. I seriously could have spent most of an hour in the first rooms.

The railroad revolutionized the economy in California by linking the Golden State with the rest of the country. The next area focuses on the development and impact of the railroad in our own state. One section in particular highlights Sacramento, including it’s role in the Pullman strike.

california railroad museum

Further along there are a variety of locomotives and railcars, some historic, others new.

You are able to walk inside several. One of the kids’ favorites was the bullet train.

I also enjoyed the mail car. There were park staff inside who explained how the sorters managed the mail as the train clicked along the track, picking up new bags and delivering sorted ones.

Dining and Pullman coaches

The most interesting cars at the California Railroad Museum were the Pullman sleeper car and the dining car. I’d read about Pullman cars and knew that they were the standard for sleeper cars in their time, but it was way cooler to actually experience one!

The general layout resembles Amtrak’s modern Roomettes. I may be dreaming, but the beds in the Pullman look both wider and more comfy. You lose the privacy of the modern version, though, as you only have curtains to block out your car companions.

Connected to the Pullman sleeper is an exquisite dining car from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe named “Cochiti.” It has quite the kitchen! No, the cook is not real.

Displayed in the car are a large number of china sets from various trains. Unlike air travel where every pound counts, train china was designed to be beefy so it wouldn’t slide off the table as the train swayed.

There was also a menu displayed. If only prices were still this reasonable. Caviar for $1.75, anyone?

We spent a good amount of time on the first floor, but eventually it was time to check out the other sections of the California Railroad Museum.

Second Floor

The second floor of the museum contains some exhibits on high-speed rail, the museum theater, and…the simulator. This was a big hit with the kids. Both of them were up for waiting in line to drive a simulated Japanese bullet train. This might not sound as thrilling as an airplane simulator, but it was still fun for them.

The goal of the simulator is to take the train from one station to the next. You get to release the brakes and pull out of the station, carefully managing the throttle based on what section of track you’re on.

Later, the simulator skips to full speed, which is approaching 200 mph!

Finally, you get to stop the train at the next station. The goal is to park it as perfectly as possible and at the end it’ll tell you how how far off you were.

I as so engrossed watching my kids that I completely forgot to take pictures. Sorry.

Third Floor

The third floor of the California Railroad Museum is geared toward both kids and collectors. There are a large number of model trains displayed in cases, including many of the pieces that you’d use to set up a really nice diorama.

Maybe alluding to the Empire Builder Amtrak service?

There are also several full dioramas featuring moving trains at various scales. We enjoyed watching these.

The last section is the children’s play area. You also get a good view of the first floor laid out below you.

At the very end we stopped for a bit and played with the toy trains. There were a bunch of other kids there and it was sorta wild, so my two ended up wanting to head out pretty quickly.


Our visit to the California Railroad Museum made for a great half day excursion. I enjoyed reading the history of the railroad in California, seeing a variety of rail cars, and watching my kids enjoy themselves. I highly recommend the California Railroad Museum as a must-see if you are ever in the Sacramento area!

Wandering through Old Town Sacramento

Having made numerous drives to the foothills of the Sierras to visit family, I’ve passed through Sacramento many times. However, I’ve never actually stopped and truly visited our state capital. My last pass through Sacramento involved arriving on a bus from Reno and catching a train to San Francisco after United canceled my flight. Not a very fun experience.

old town sacramento

It was definitely a lot more fun getting to see the historic section of Sacramento a few weekends ago with our older two kids. We spent some time wandering the streets during our first afternoon in the area, followed by a second visit the next day to see the California Railroad Museum and walk the area some more.

General info on Old Town Sacramento

Old town Sacramento is sandwiched between Interstate 5 and the Sacramento River. I wondered what impact the freeway would have on our experience, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. It is elevated and shielded well enough.

The main section of Old Town Sacramento is  roughly 4 blocks by 2 blocks. You can lazily walk the whole circuit in 20 minutes. There are plenty of neat old buildings and shops to browse, like in any historic downtown.

Parking is fairly easy, but you will have to pay. We spent $4.50 the first day at a metered spot in one of the lots on the south end of Old Town Sacramento. The second day I footed the full $10 at the garage that sits underneath the freeway, which is enough for as long as you’d like to visit. Parking is one of those things I hate paying for and try to avoid. But sometimes it’s not possible.

Walking the Tower Bridge

After wandering around for maybe fifteen minutes, I decided to take the kids to the bridge first before hitting some shops on our way back. The Tower Bridge across the Sacramento River is at the south end of old town, and it affords some pretty cool views of the area.

The bridge is over 80 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a vertical-lift bridge, and I believe it is still operational.

From the bridge we got great views of Old town. Everything right up on the river is significantly elevated due to the flooding sometimes experienced by the Sacramento River. If you want a fascinating read, check out this article on the California Megaflood, a disaster that no one every talks about.

There is actually a hotel right in the middle of Old Town Sacramento: the Delta King, located in the historic riverboat bearing the same name (which you can see in the photo above). If you have the money to shell out, consider booking a stateroom as part of your visit. Not sure you could get any cooler than that!

After a jaunt across the bridge and back, it was time to hit up a few of the shops.

First up: candy, of course

With these two kids addicted to sweets, it makes perfect sense that the first shop we visited was Candy Heaven. I made a point of telling the kids that we were “window shopping”, if that is possible with candy.

I’m not sure if it is typical for Candy Heaven, but they offered each of us two free samples from any of the bins with a certain color tag. To the kids chagrin, these were generally the smaller of the candies. I had to remind them that the store was giving them to us. For free. After probably 15 minutes of scouring every corner of the store and deliberating, they finally settled for a couple pieces of assorted hard candy.

Later, we ended up getting a couple caramels as a snack in a different store. This was after a visit to a toy store as well, that had a neat old arcade and some trains clattering above your head in different areas.

Food Old Town Sacramento

We didn’t eat in old town our first evening, although there were a good number of places to choose from. Our second day we hit up a pizza place called Slice of Old Sacramento. As far as pizza goes, it was good. Price was fair. Pizza is one of the few things that I’ll judge a bit harshly, so I’m sure most would enjoy it. We passed up another place called Annabelle’s Pizza and Pasta based on its poor reviews.

I made good on a promise to get the kids ice cream on our second day. There is a great little place that is part of Candy Land (not Candy Heaven) on complete other side of Old Town Sacramento. the kids promptly shared their ice cream with each other. No germaphobes in this house.

There are a number of other cafés, bars, and ice cream places to choose from, including a Mexican place and a Chinese establishment. So you really have your pick.

California Railroad Museum

The California Railroad Museum is located on the northern end of Old Town Sacramento in a large brick building. Part of it is actually an old roundhouse, which is extra cool. There are several locomotives and railcars on the first floor, a good number of which you can explore.

The museum is part of the State Parks, and admission is $12 for adults and half that for kids 6 to 17. Children under 5 are free. I’ll cover our experience at the railroad museum in its own post.


The state capital of California is definitely worth visiting for a couple hours. Make it a solid half day or more if you visit the California Railroad Museum. You could easily combine some time in Old Town Sacramento with a morning at the Sacramento Zoo, or maybe touring the state capital, if your kids are up for an completely full day of seeing the sights.