Since its inception in 1982, the San Diego model railroad museum has stoked the fire of young imaginations for decades. The US does not have another accredited railroad museum. It has six permanent exhibits and a constantly rotating exhibit over 27,000 square feet.
The Museum resides in Balboa Park, one of the best places to visit while in San Diego. The park has 16 other museums, multiple gardens, and of course, the San Diego Zoo. However, the Model Railroad Museum is a must-visit for families with children who love trains.
Each of the permanent exhibits features a historical train and track. A different railroad club or local model train expert operates each of them. When visiting the museum, you and your family can learn about the history of the rails in California and see the topography and track of a classic steam train. These are the permanent exhibits:
- The Tehachapi Pass
- The Cabrilla Southwestern
- The San Diego and Arizona Eastern
- The Centennial Railway Garden
- Pacific Desert Lines
- The Toy Train Gallery
Each exhibit (plus the floating temporary exhibit) displays a working model train. The Toy Train Gallery includes a first-person camera view of the fantasy landscape, run by a camera on the front of the engine. If you love model trains and a learning opportunity, the San Diego Museum is a must-see.
Here are some highlights of the museum:
- Running trains
- Enormous dioramas
- Landscapes and scenery
- Details in the layout and decorations
- History and education
Top 5 Things To Know About the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Of course, the museum is a no-brainer if you have a kid who adores traveling by train. However, before you head there, you should know some more about how the museum works. Here are the top 5 things to know about the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
Hours and Pricing
You can visit the museum Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m-4 p.m.
Tickets cost $13.50 per adult, $9 for seniors, military, and students (ages 12-17 and 18+ with a valid student ID), and $6 for children 3-12. Children under three visit for free, and the museum often runs deals or special events that reduce the price of tickets.
If you’re a resident of San Diego County you and your family can visit for free every first Tuesday.
Although the museum has six permanent exhibits, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum will often host a traveling exhibit. These exhibits change every few months, but past exhibits have focused on certain aspects of trains, such as the hobby of building model trains and the various passenger cars throughout history.
Library and Gift Shop
Once you’ve looked at the model trains and learned about the history of model trains, you can head to the library for more information or the gift shop to buy souvenirs. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum has a small but quickly expanding library on the topic of trains and model trains.
There is also an online library and book donation page. As the museum tries to preserve the art of model train building, they are working towards a digital archive as well.
Workshops and Summer Camps
If you are a local, you can take advantage of more than just the free Tuesday ticket price. The San Diego Museum of Model Railroads also offers a school workshop for middle schools and high schools. The workshop focuses on grade-appropriate learning and review games and the history of the railroad industry.
You can enroll your kids in summer camps available through the museum as well. These camps meet at the museum and go through the basics of train building. They delve into the history of the trains in the area and explore the dioramas further.
Other Things To Do in the Area
You should probably plan to spend a couple of hours at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. However, you can plan an entire day at Balboa Park, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and the gardens within the park or heading to the zoo in the afternoon.
Seventeen museums make up Balboa Park, including the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Once you’ve looked at your fill of train cars, you can head to another museum, catch a taxi to SeaWorld, or find the opportunity to travel further afield. Either way, there is plenty to do around the museum, especially in Balboa Park.
Why We Love the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
We love Balboa Park in general – it’s the perfect place for any kid’s interest. Between the gardens, the zoo, and the museums, you’ll be able to find the perfect learning opportunities for kids of all ages. However, one of the best-hidden gems in Balboa Park is the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
The museum holds a special place because you can adapt the information to any age. A toddler might simply enjoy watching the trains go by in the dioramas. However, an older kid can do some research and learn about the history of a specific train or the hobby of building model trains.
The best part about the train museum is its attention to detail. Each of the train models sports beautiful and accurate information and painting. You’ll see historically accurate train routes manned with a moving, working model train. It’s a memorable experience, especially for the children.
Of course, your young train enthusiast will get the most enjoyment out of this museum. However, you should visit even if your kids don’t rave about trains. They can see several stimulating exhibits, some activities, and lots of information to take in. If you want a less expensive way to spend an afternoon in San Diego, this museum is a great choice.
The Model Railroad Museum is one of the best-hidden gems in Balboa Park. Next time you are in San Diego, stop by and give the large dioramas and peaceful atmosphere a try. The trains are more than worth the price of admission.
Grab your discount tickets here
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