Consistently ranked as one of the best railroad museums in the country, the expansive California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento presents 19 meticulously restored “iron horse” locomotives, plus period-perfect railway cars, many open for one-of-a-kind walk-throughs. Incredible attention to detail—authentic china and silverware in dining cars, velvet and finery in the Pullman sleeping cars, a charmingly stubby wooden caboose—give you a sense of what it was like to travel by train before cars became king.
What to Do at the California State Railroad Museum
Numerous exhibits detail the ways that railroads shaped the lives, economy, culture, and history of the Golden State. Learn about the role Chinese immigrants played in the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad, see more than 1,000 vintage toy train cars, and immerse yourself in the story of the famous, final “golden spike” that was used to ceremoniously complete the construction. Kids will enjoy being able to step aboard Pullman-style sleeping cars, a dining car filled with railroad china, and a replica of a railway post office. There’s even a high-speed train simulator that allow visitors to feel what it’s like to pilot a modern high-speed train. Guided tours of the museum are offered daily, and seasonal special events include the “Spookomotive Train Ride“ on weekends in October, and November/December’s Polar Express Train Ride, which offers adventure-seeking visitors ‘travel to the North Pole’ after hobnobbing with Polar Express characters. The trip ends with tasty treats and a visit from Santa himself.
Excursion Rides at the California State Railroad Museum
On spring and summer weekends (April–September), the museum offers excursion rides every hour on the popular Sacramento Southern Railroad, which chugs along the banks of the Sacramento River right through Old Sacramento. Take in the view from a first-class observation car, a closed coach, or an open-air gondola (guess which one kids like best).
California State Railroad Museum Locomotive Collection
The California State Railroad Museum’s locomotive collection consists of 19 steam locomotives dating from 1862 through 1944. Though only a portion of the collection is on view at any given time, perusing these mighty machines and their accompanying exhibits is a great way to gain a better understanding of how they contributed to and helped shape California history, and the ways in which they themselves evolved through the decades.
California State Railroad Museum Virtual Tour
If you’re curious to see how the ultra-wealthy traveled by rail, the museum’s virtual tour of the “Gold Coast” railroad car is a must. Take in 360-degree views of the various living and working quarters of the Georgia Northern No. 100 car, including the kitchen, parlor, main bedroom, and dining room.
California State Railroad Museum Hours and Tickets
The museum is open seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For ticket prices, visit their general information page.
More Things to Do in Sacramento
While you’re in the capital city, you’ll want to check out some of the other attractions in town. Take a tour of Old Sacramento and explore the city’s riverfront, an entire neighborhood that is a National Historic Landmark and dotted with restaurants, Old West–themed shops, and historic buildings. About a mile upriver from there, you’ll find the Sacramento Museum of Science and Curiosity (MOSAC), where hands-on exhibits that explore science, technology, engineering, art, and math will fascinate visitors of all ages. For outdoor activities, there’s the Sacramento Sunday farmers’ markets, or go on a tour of the city’s many colorful and masterfully rendered murals. For more recommendations, check out the favorite Sacramento haunts of former Sacramento Kings center, Willie-Cauley Stein.