Sacramento Rail Haven: Five Essential Train Journeys in California

By: Janet Fullwood

January 20, 2014

Ever since the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 with Sacramento at its western terminus, the California capital has been a major crossroads for rail travel. These days, it’s also a pilgrimage destination for rail buffs from around the world who come to indulge their nostalgia at the California State Railroad Museum and settle back for a ride on one of the region’s many excursion trains. Take a look at our five favourite train journeys in California for a little locomotive-inspired holiday inspiration.

California State Railroad Museum

Children will delight in the enormous model-train exhibit. Oldsters will spin tales about “dinner in the diner” as they walk through a 1936 Santa Fe dining car. And everyone who visits the California State Railroad Museum will come away impressed by the meticulously restored rolling stock, the historic dioramas and the lessons to be learned about the part railroads played in opening the American West.


Just outside, in the Old Sacramento historic district, excursion trains pulled by locomotives from the museum’s collection travel a leisurely, six-mile route.


125 / Street, Sacramento, Ca 95814; (916) 445-7387

River Train | Five Essential Train Journeys in California

The Sacramento River Train crosses a trestle © Chris Hart


Sacramento River Train


Locals are the first to admit that the scenery between West Sacramento and Woodland is, well, rather boring. But the same can’t be said of the Sacramento River Train, which attracts a multi-generational clientele for sunset dinner trips, Sunday brunch rides, murder-mystery excursions, mock train robberies, wine-tasting trips, dance parties, farm-to-fork itineraries and seasonally-themed holiday departures.


Entertainment is always an element on the three-hour trips. And if you can’t go anywhere without your dog, know that on most daylight journeys, Fido is welcome to join you in the open-air observation cars.


341 Industrial Way, Woodland, CA 95776; (800) 866-1690

Wine Train | Five Essential Train Journeys in California

A toast to the Napa Valley Wine Train © Janet Fullwood

Napa Valley Wine Train

The storied Napa Valley is only an hour and change from Sacramento, and one way to enjoy it is aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, a restaurant on wheels that travels a 36-mile, round-trip route between the towns of Napa and St. Helena. From lavishly restored, vintage Pullman cars, passengers enjoy glimpses of vineyards and sprawling estates as they sip and sup.


All packages include wine and multiple-course gourmet meals. Choose a lunch excursion over a dinner trip to enjoy daylight views. Afterwards, work off the calories with a stroll around Napa’s hip and walkable downtown.


1275 McKinstry St., Napa, CA 94559; (707) 253-2111

Western Railway Museum | Five Essential Train Journeys in California

Sunset ride on a vintage interurban train at the Western Railway Museum © Janet Fullwood

Western Railway Museum

Well into the mid-20th Century, electric streetcars and interurban trains connected people and places throughout Northern California. Their legacy is celebrated at the Western Railway Museum, about 45 minutes from Sacramento. Among experiences included in admission are 10-mile, electrically powered trips through rolling hills over the original main line of the Sacramento Northern Railway. Streetcar rides offer another way to experience vintage equipment, and there’s lots more to see on the extensive grounds.


5848 Highway 12, Suisun City, CA 94585; (707) 374-2978

Railtown 1897 | Five Essential Train Journeys in California

Sierra No3, an 1891 steam locomotive, has appeared in dozens of Hollywood movies and TV shows © Michael Espineli/California State Railroad Museum


The Movie Railroad

About 100 miles southeast of Sacramento, Railtown 1897 is a state historic park in a bucolic rural setting. There’s lots to see and learn, but for most visitors, the highlight is a ride on the “Movie Railroad” so called because hundreds of Hollywood films, television shows and commercials have been filmed here.


Sierra No. 3, an 1891 steam locomotive, is the museum’s most famous piece of equipment, having starred in classic television shows including “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” and shared the big screen with Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood and many other Hollywood stars. Visitors can watch film clips on a monitor before boarding vintage equipment for a 45-minute ride.


Just 10 minutes away, Columbia State Historic Park is a must-see Gold Rush-era town with hotels, restaurants and 1850s themed shops.


18115 Fifth Ave.,Jamestown, CA 95327; (209) 984-3953


Nice to Know

Amtrak operates up to 18 trains daily in each direction between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s also a crossroads for Amtrak’s long-distance Coast Starlight and California Zephyr service.

Partnering with Delta means we can connect you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada, booking flights to Sacramento couldn’t be easier.

What’s your favourite excursion-train ride? Share your recommendations with us below.


Janet Fullwood

Janet Fullwood didn’t see the ocean until she was 10 or a mountain until she was 15, but once she started traveling, there was no stopping her. In her personal life and professional career, Janet has traveled to 80 countries on seven continents and written about everything from hot-tubbing in Antarctica to threatened cultures in Yap. Her professional career has included more than two decades as a newspaper journalist specializing in travel and tourism. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor contributing to a broad spectrum of magazines, newspapers and websites. Janet is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Outdoor Writers Association of California and North American Snowsports Journalist Association. She lives in Sacramento.

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