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. bjwrr.org.
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. sfzoo.org.
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. griffithparktrainrides.com.
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. redwoodvalleyrailway.com.
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. sandiegozoo.org.
This blog post was first published in October 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.