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Christopher Hall on a boat, picture

Miniature Trains in California

Posted by Christopher Hall on October 01, 2014
Little Puffer Steam Train at San Francisco Zoo, picture
Photo credit
Photo: May Woon
Photo caption
When San Francisco Zoo’s Little Puffer was lovingly restored in 1997, it was retrofitted to run on natural gas.

When the umteenth episode of Thomas the Tank Engine no longer keeps the kids in thrall, it's time for a miniature train ride. Small-scale, passenger-hauling railroads offer kids live encounters with the romance of the rails, often on meticulously crafted and historically accurate trains. It's "all aboard" for kids and grown-ups alike at these five pint-size rail rides.

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Los Gatos, Calif.

This nearly mile-long ride through Oak Meadow and Vasona Parks features 1/3-scale steam or diesel locomotives, an engine house, a depot, and a bridge spanning Los Gatos Creek.

Little Puffer Steam Train San Francisco, Calif.

Built in 1904 and one of only three 22-inch gauge steam engines left in the world, Little Puffer hauls four passenger cars for a one-third-mile ride around the San Francisco Zoo.

Griffith Park & Southern Railroad Los Angeles, Calif.

One of two miniature rail operations in sprawling Griffith Park, the GP&S runs 1/3-scale reproductions of classic American trains of the 20th century—including Pullman-style coaches—on a mile-long track.

Redwood Valley Railway Oakland, Calif.

Established back in 1952, the 15-inch gauge Redwood Valley Railway takes passengers on a 1.25-mile steam train ride in gondola cars along a scenic wooded ridge in Tilden Regional Park.

Balboa Park Miniature Railroad San Diego, Calif.

Built to a 1/5 scale and operated by the San Diego Zoo, this railway offers three-minute, half-mile rides through a grove of eucalyptus trees.

This blog post was first published in October 2014 and updated in February 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.