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Ride the rails in 2017 on California's 10 best train excursions

These 10 California train adventures give you views you just can't get from a road trip in the car...

California has no shortage of breathtaking, bucket-list-worthy road trips (um, PCH, need we say more?), but if you’ve already criss-crossed the state by car or perhaps want a scenic “road trip” without the hassle of driving, one of these 10 California train excursions should be part of your next California vacation...

(Cover Photo: Nick Chill)

Skunk Train

THE train line to explore the beautiful redwoods of northern California, the Skunk Train has been traveling the 40-mile “Redwood Route” since the late 1800s. Today, they offer multiple options from their 4-hour ride departing from Willits to their shorter 1-hour scenic adventure from their Fort Bragg depot. Our personal favorite, however, is the Sunset BBQ Excursion. This trip runs through the summer and features a full-on-feast of tasty BBQ right next to the Noyo River as redwoods tower all around.

The Pacific Surfliner

Not only is the Pacific Surfliner an efficient way to travel back and forth from all the attractions in Los Angeles and San Diego, but the view out the window is something you’ll never forget. Why sit in traffic on the highway when you can watch the waves crash into the shore from a comfy seat on the Pacific Surfliner?

Napa Valley Wine Train

Planning a tour of Napa Valley can be overwhelming… So many wonderful wineries. So many top-notch dining options. What if you just combined it all into one unforgettable train excursion? That’s what the Napa Valley Wine Train does. With options ranging from dinner to winery tours to 4-stop wino adventures, there’s an option for everyone’s tastes. Between the scenery, the train, and the dinning options, the Napa Valley Wine Train may be the most impressive tourist train line in America.

Fillmore & Western Railway

If you’re looking for a trip that’ll take you far away from the hustle and bustle of the city and back to another era, a ride on the Fillmore & Western Railway will do the trick. Whether it’s one of their regular weekend excursions through beautiful California farmland or one of their special events like their “Murder Mystery” rides, you’ll enjoy traveling in their vintage coach and dining cars, several of which have been featured in major motion pictures.

Poway-Midland Railroad

With a lineup of antique railroad equipment that’ll make any train guru’s mouth water, the Poway-Midland Railroad has been taking the folks of Poway on rides through Old Poway Park for a few decades now, and the secret is finally getting out. While their beloved steam locomotive is going to be out until late 2017 for a boiler rebuild, their San Fransisco Cable Car and Speeder are still up and running. At the remarkably low price of $3.50 for adults and $1.00 for children (or $2.50/$1.00 for the Speeder) a ride on the Poway-Midland Railroad is a super affordable way to create a memorable day for the family.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

For just a little more than the price of park admission, you can spend over 45 minutes riding through beautiful California countryside as a steam or diesel engine pulls you past the water tower from the old TV show, “Petticoat Junction,” and finally back to the depot. Once back at Railtown, there’s plenty more to see and do from interpretive exhibits to a tour of one of America’s last surviving roundhouses. From history to scenery and more, a visit to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park offers something for everyone.

Central Coast Flyer Train

Note: We believe they're currently closed.

Ok, so you’ve done the Pacific Coast Highway? Now, take the train. The Central Coast Flyer runs from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo and back as the tracks hug the beaches of Hollister, Cojo-Jalama and Sudden ranches, and Point Conception. You’ll also get a good view of the rocket launch sites at Vandenberg AFB and plenty of wildlife, all from the comfort of one of their restored vintage coaches. With a travel time of roughly 5 hours, it’s an excellent weekend activity for Californians and out-of-state tourists alike.

River Fox Train (Sacramento RiverTrain)

If you’ve been to Sacramento, you know the importance trains played in the city’s history, and today you can ride the rails too on the Sacramento RiverTrain as it ambles out of town, over the Fremont Bridge, and into the Yolo County Wildlife Refuge. Not only will the views out the window inspire, but their huge number of trip “themes” will keep you entertained. From beer and wine tastings to their “Wild West Excursion,” there’s a perfect train trip for every age and interest on the Sacramento RiverTrain.

Oh, and now they have rail bikes!

Sierra Dinner Train

Sister to the Sacramento RiverTrain, the Sierra Dinner Train is operated by the Sierra Railroad in Oakdale, CA, the 3rd oldest railroad in all North America. The Sierra Railroad has been dubbed the “movie railroad,” and for good reason. Everything from High Noon to Back to the Future has been filmed on its rails. With their dinner train, you too can ride the historic Sierra Railroad, all while enjoying a first-rate meal and similar entertainment options as the Sacramento RiverTrain.

Roaring Camp Railroads

With narrow-gauge trains running through the beautiful redwoods or right up to the always-stunning beaches of Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp Railroads might be the most impressive narrow-gauge railroad company in operation today. Using some of the oldest narrow-gauge steam engines still in use, Roaring Camp Railroads takes passengers on an adventure back to the logging days of the 1800s. Really into trains? For a pretty reasonable fee you can actually be “engineer for the day,” and assist the Senior Engineer for an entire day.

So while a scenic road trip through California is always a blast, we think you’ll agree a trip by rail has to be on the bucket list as well.


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