Advice about Traveling on Trains with Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Short Amtrak Getaway with 3-year-old

April 2015

My husband and I want to take our 3 1/2 year old son on a short getaway by Amtrak this summer for a couple days. We have never taken Amtrack and our boy loves trains. We don't have a ton of money to spend, and are not going to rent a car once we are there, or lug a carseat with us. So we want somewhere that once we arrive by train, we can easily walk or bus from the station to our hotel and the center of town; and then be able to easily walk from our hotel to restaurants and fun outings with our little boy. Somewhere where the main attractions are basically right there close to the center of town. (We will bring an umbrella stroller). Have you done this? Where is this place?? We love the coast, which is an automatically fun outing, but we are open to other places within a few hours train ride too that have young kid friendly fun. Thanks! Family wants to ride the rails

I don't have advice on a specific destination (we've been to Sacramento on Amtrak, which is a nice day trip but I don't know that there's enough there to warrant spending the night, and on longer trips like LA and Oregon - actually one of the Oregon destinations might be pretty walkable, if you're up for a longer train ride), but I did want to say that you should buy your tickets as early as possible - Amtrak fares increase exponentially as it gets closer to the date of the trip, for some reason, till it gets to the point where they're even more expensive than flying. In many cities the Amtrak station seems to be in a less-than-desirable part of town, not always someplace you'd want to walk through or stay, so you might want to consider a cab or bus from the train to a hotel with walkable entertainment, which will greatly expand your options. JP

Sacramento! We did this very trip last year with our 3.5 year old son. It took about 2 hours to train from Oakland/Jack London station to Sacramento. The Sacramento train station is right in old town Sacramento so you will not need to rent a car. We stayed at the Embassy Suites - buffet breakfast, pool, and affordable. Staying there meant we could walk around Old Town, visit the amazing train museum and just be tourists. It was a really enjoyable overnight for us, and we might just do it again. So nice to go someplace without a car. hobo mom

I don't know much since I haven't done it myself. But I've hoped to...there's a cool railroad museum in Sacramento that is within walking distance from the amtrak station there. Seems like a pretty perfect day trip: take the train to a train museum. Have fun! faye

Take the train to the train museum in Old Sacramento. The perfect trip! Anon

It might not be best for summer, but how about Old Town Sacramento? Amtrak has a station right there. Bonus for the train-crazy are the California State Train Museum, and the Sacramento Southern Railroad historic excursion trains.

We didn't do this with our kids, but the grandparents went off for a non-driving weekend there and had a good time. Chris

Take Amtrak from Emeryville to Sacramento. From the Sacramento station you can walk to the great train museum and also Old Town Sacramento. We used to make a long day trip of it (first train up/last train back). There are probably hotels in Old Sac where you could spend the night too. Our then train-crazy boys loved it and so did we. Train mom

A great train experience is to take Amtrak from Oakland to Sacramento. The old town is home to one of the best train museums in the country. They have locomotives from early steam engines to more modern engines. It is an awe inspiring experience for grownup train lovers too. The old town is a historic preservation/recreation of Sacramento in the 1800s gold rush era. Lots of touristy shops but the old saloon is beautiful and the hardware store is really interesting. Downtown also is home to the state capital and has a pretty park with nice old trees. Very walkable. Also look into the Skunk train which runs from Willits to Fort Bragg. You would have to drive as it is not on the Amtrak line but could be a future train adventure. Train lovin mom

If your son enjoys trains, it's just a short hop to Old Sacramento and the fantastic Railroad museum. Amtrak drops you literally right there. The area is pretty tourist-focused, but fun. If you take Amtrak's Capitol Corridor train, there is a 2-4-1 coupon in the Chinook coupon book (if you don't have that, probably someone on BPN has one free for you). Yeah the train!

Sacramento seems ideal for this. The Amtrak station is located right next to the Old Sacramento historic district and the California State Railroad Museum. The Capitol is there, which has a museum. There are lots of hotels in easy walking distance. It isn't far to the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, Sutter's Fort and there seem to be a lot of parks in the area. Carrie

You can take Amtrak from Emeryville to Sacramento, where there's a railroad museum and a fun old town, as well as the Capitol, etc. The train station is right downtown.

If you want to ride a little farther, you can get off in Truckee. Again, the station is right in the middle of town.

Have fun! We love the train! Alison

I am just following up with some ideas besides Sacramento for a trip on Amtrak. You have to go pretty far south to find an Amtrak station anywhere near the ocean, so there's not many options on the coast. They do have bus connectors to a few coastal destinations, like Monterey (from Salinas). Lots to do there. San Luis Obispo is a cute college town, with buses to Morro Bay and Pismo Beach available, but those trips would be at least an hour each way. Santa Barbara is probably the closest stop that's actually on the beach.

If you just want a day trip - Martinez is close by & there are kid-friendly activities walkable from the station:

San Jose is also a short trip and has some great museums for kids that are easy to get to from the station. (Children's Discovery Museum, The Tech) A

How about the sweet little town of Carpinteria? It's just south of Santa Barbara. The station is a few blocks from the town center. The beach is a few blocks from that. It's all very walkable. You can take the 15 minute train ride into Santa Barbara for the day if you get bored with the beach and cutesy shops. Our family drove there several years ago and rented a cottage. We'd love to take the train on a future trip there. Have fun!

In addition to the Sacramento trip, we have also gone to Martinez. It has a sweet Main Street, we get lunch and ice cream, then head back. J

Where to take Amtrak for 2-year-old birthday party

Nov 2006

My son, like many toddlers his age, is obsessed with trains. We've spent many a day at the Tilden Park steam trains. He turns 2 in December, and given the weather risk here in Berkeley at that time, we thought an indoor birthday party would be smart. But why not on a train? We could catch the train in Emeryville or Berkeley and head north perhaps for a fairly short trip -- like 1 hour or less each way. Any ideas? Anyone know if there are fun spots in Suisun or Martinez that are in a short walking distance from the train stations in those towns? Has anyone done this -- a birthday party on the train? The party-goers will be mainly adults with perhaps 4 toddlers. Alternative ideas would also be great -- like I understand there is a great steam train ride near/through the Santa Cruz mountains? Thinking maybe something closer (but not Tilden since we do that commonly) would be fun. Thank you! Holly

If you are open to other ideas, the Sunol-Niles Canyon historic train is a lot of fun. It's not too far from the Berkeley area - about 30-40 min car ride. The ride itself roundtrip is about 1 hour. They have party rentals on the train. When we went on it, they had wine tasting (there's a whole wine country developing out this way) so that made it extra fun for the adults! Here's a web link Amy

I don't know how many kids you're planning to invite to your 2 year old's birthday party. But if it is just one friend or a few family members, you should consider taking Amtrak to Sacramento. There is a stop in Old Town Sac that is right across from the Train Museum. It is a surprisingly fun museum for the whole family. There are big train cars of every variety housed in a big warehouse-type space. You can go into many of them. I took my kids a few years back when they were 3 and 7, and they had a fabulous time. We did not take Amtrak, but I know others who have and enjoyed it. It's worth checking out

Hi - we have done the trip from either Emeryville or Berkeley to Martinez as a birthday party, and there is a great park about a block away. There's even a walk from the Martinez over a hill to see the water, but the park itself is quite great for a picnic. I don't know of indoor places in martinez though. Martinez is just the right amount of time on the train each way, a bit less than an hour I think.

If you have more stamina, you can go to sacramento - closer to 2 hours but a nice ride, and go to the train museum which is indoors and great cause you can go in all these old trains.

We have done the bday party thing on the train, and if it's not crowded we got a whole car top level, had snacks and presents there and everything. GREAT for the right kids, and they have a blast, very relaxing for you too as no driving, just a bit of cleanup before arrival.

Allow a bit of time n case the train is delayed but normally those routes are within a half hour of schedule. remember to get the AAA discount. (from berkeley you have to have tickets ahead of time though, or pay a premium to buy them on the train, so Emeryville is easier in that way as a departure station)

Have fun! isabel

It's not on Atrak, and is a little bit of a drive, but you should check out Train Town in Sonoma. Of course, it's a little weather-dependent, but that's what raincoats are for! It has a lovely train ride, and a very low-key amusement park (just a few rides, including some good kiddie-ones, and a great ferris wheel). If you take Amtrak all the way to Sacramento, you can go to the Railroad Museum there. It takes about two hours to get there, but that could be a good time to have cake (there are tables ont he train), walk around the train, maybe buy a snack in the dining car. The museum is within walking distance of the Sacramento train station. Of course, this would have to be a full-day activity, and maybe a little pricier than you had in mind. The museum is in ''Old Sacramento'', which is also nice to walk around.

For a short Amtrak ride, get on at the Richmond BART station, then get off at Jack London Square (about 1/2 hour). At Jack London Square, you could go to a book store, for pizza, or take a ferry ride.

On Amtrak, kids under 2 ride free, and kids two and up are half-fare. AA members also get discounts R.K.

We've done this several times and it is so EASY! Take Amtrak to the train museum in Old Sacramento. When you get off the train in Old Sacramento, you only need to walk about 50 yards and you are at the train museum. The ride is NOT too long (about 2 hours) for the two-year olds b/c there's a lot to see along the way, the novelty of being on Amtrak keeps 'em going for a while and many will sleep on the way home! The train museum is FANTASTIC! ngp [at]

Take the Amtrak from Emervytille station to Sacramento. At the end of the line, walk a few blocks to the Sacramento train museum. The steam train ride through the redwoods at Roaring Camp in Santa Cruz is very scenic, but the cars are open-air, so it's probably not something you want to do with a 2 y.o. in December. Definitely check it out in the spring or summer CC

We took our then-3-year-old on an Amtrak train trip from Emeryville to Martinez. It was great! It's not too long - maybe 40 minutes? - and there is a big public park right there at the Martinez station with a lot of play structures and running around room. We played at the park for a while, found a place near the station to get burgers, and then came back home. It was a low-stress parent-pleasing experience that will also please train buffs. Ginger

Hi! What about BART? My kids love to ride on BART are there are several fun destinations: 1) SFO (the people movers, air travel museum, restaurants); 2) Embarcadero Center (glass elevators in the Hyatt, walking around Embarcadero Center); 3) Downtown Berkeley (Habitot, children's section of the Berkeley Library) Helena

It's more than an hour away (closer to 2) but the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento is a great place to visit by train. The museum is about a two-block walk from the station. It has great exhibits (lots of old engines and rail cars) that kids can look at, walk through and, in some case,climb on, and there's a nearby restaurant (the Silver Palace) in a historic rail station with a cheap and kid-friendly menu. There are also plenty of nicer restaurants on the river and in Old Sacramento. And it can be fun to watch the boats go by and the drawbridges go up and down.

If Sacramento is too far, and it's a nice day, there's a nice park at the Martinez Marina, a short walk from the station. There's also a hot dog place near the station, and several restaurants downtown, but many are closed on weekends. Mike

Take the kids to the Train Museum in Sacramento! It's the perfect day trip for a train-crazy two-year-old, like mine was. You leave from Emeryville @ 8 a.m., have a beautful, scenic ride that's the perfect length - about 2.5 hours - long enough to enjoy exploring the dining and observation cars, and short enough to get off before boredom sets in.

Then the train museum is only a short, one-block walk from the station. You'll have time to explore it and get lunch at one of the many kid-friendly places along the historic Sacramento River Walk before catching the train home, which leaves around 2 p.m. You arrive in Emeryville @ 4 p.m., before anyone is so worn out they melt down.

I think having a birthday party on the train is a great idea. Wish I'd thought of it when my little engineer was two! Trainster Mom

I haven't been there myself and am not sure how close it is to an Amtrak station, but there is the Western Railway Museum in Suisun, which has vintage cars and offers a 1 1/2 mile loop trip on site.

If the kids are really into trains, then taking Amtrak to Sacramento to the train museum (right next to the station) is a great daytrip. It's about two hours each way, which for our two year old seemed short with so many things to see from the train. We also did this for our three year old's birthday with just one friend (three kids, including older brother) and it was ideal... a bigger group of younger kids might be harder. If the weather is iffy having a huge indoor train museum as your destination could be helpful.

If a shorter ride is more appealing I'd shoot for Davis because the downtown is so walkable and there's a big park maybe not too far where they have the farmers market, but I don't know anything about Suison, etc - Charis

Cross-country train trip with 2 kids

May 2002

We're (me, my wife, our kids aged 11 and 9)contemplating a cross- country train trip this summer, from (major east coast city of your choice) to Emeryville. The notion of sitting in a coach seat for 3 days is unnerving (probably de-nerving) but sleeper accomodations are SO expensive. We thought about springing for ONE sleeper room and kind of trading off. I'm curious to know if anyone on the list has attempted such a thing, and if so, how did it go? How did you handle it? Thanks. E.

We recently traveled overnight (24 hrs) from the Bay Area to Seattle and back on the Coast Starlight with our 2-year-old while I was very pregnant. I would not have considered it without getting a sleeper. Your kids are older, so naps are not an issue as they were for us, but having private space to retreat to was invaluable. The coach seats are very comfortable, but you have no place to put your stuff (you're only allowed 1 carryon there), and you do all your living out in public.

We got a ''family sleeper'' on the way up, which had two adult beds and 2 kids' beds; bathrooms and showers were outside in the hall. That was great because you have a relatively large space with windows on both sides of the car. On the way back, we had a (more expensive) ''deluxe sleeper,'' which included bath and shower; that was definitely not worth it.

Also consider that as a sleeper car passenger you get all your meals included; it might be hard to bring 3 days worth' of food for all of you, and you can't count on being able to leave the train at stops to resupply. Coach passengers can eat in the dining car at dinnertime, if there is space, which is not always true.

Finally, I should say that we didn't sleep very well on the train; the sound of the tracks and the jiggling and clacking of the cars, which I thought would be romantic and soporific, was sleep- shattering. But the tot slept fine, and it would have been worse in the recliner seats. VM

My family went on a train ride from Modesto California to Boston and back when I was sixteen. I had three other siblings with us along with our mom and dad. The siblings were 13, 10, and 7. Let me just say from experience I would get one sleeper and switch off. It was quite an adventure for the kids, and an exausting trip for my parents. We didn't have a sleeper and slept on the seats, below the seats, etc. Just a few tips, get the first seats of the train, they have much more leg room, and your young children can sleep on the ground if they want to. We had fun going to the movies at night, going to the window car and seeing the sights. Bring books and little binoculors, and your imagination. We had a good time and I will always have those memories, but glad that it was a once in a lifetime trip, too. If you would like to email with more specific questions, feel free. kristi

We traveled cross country (and up and down country) via Amtrack when my oldest son was 10 months old (he's now 11 years), so our situation was a bit different than yours, but we had a FABULOUS trip. We still rave about it. It was definately expensive, but really fun. With 4 of you it may be a scrunch in the economy sleepers, but they also have ''family sleepers'' with extra beds. The west coast trains are newer and the sleeper compartments are a bit more ''compact'' ie:cramped, but do-able. You can walk around on the train, go to meals in the dining car, go to the observation car...the east coast trains (Chicago and east) are (were) older trains and the regular sleeper had longer beds and also floor space, so maybe the four of you can sleep feet to feet, 2 to a bed, or roll a mat onto the floor. Also the older trains had the bathroom in the room. The west coast trains had bathrooms (showers too) down the hall.The scenery is great from a train. Are you going straight east? When we did it there was a deal that you could make 3 stops for the same price...somehow we were able to go from Oakland to Denver, to to Chicago, take the train from Chicago to New Orleans, New Orleans up to Montreal (with a 5 hour stop in DC), then Boston to Seattle, Seattle to Oakland. That somehow was considered 3 stops. The trip took us 6 weeks with visiting and sightseeing. Again, I highly recommend train travel...also your kids are old enough that they can schlepp their own strollers, diaper bags, toys, etc. Have fun, June

I think a sleeping compartment on the train for three nights is worth the expense. I remember a trip my husband, daughter, and I took to Nebraska. We thought our own little room was so cool! The seats opened out to become beds, and there were more beds overhead. We had a little table and room for our big green cooler of extra food. We could move about and had quiet time to read, talk, relax...and REALLY sleep. I was pregnant then and enjoyed knitting for the new baby. In contrast, on another train trip home from Nebraska, my sister and I each took a coach seat. Was that miserable. We were so uncomfortable, even though we found a couple of vacant seats so we could stretch out. I think I wore something in rayon, definitely not the best material for an overnighter. Those two trips have very different 'auras' in my memory today. Bonnie

Friday's (5/24/02) Wall Street Journal had a good article about overnight train travel. (weekend section, page 9.) The article included prices, differences between train routes, questions to ask, etc. It sounded like fun! Melissa T

Overnight train travel with 4 and 6 year old?

Feb 2002

I am contemplating a train trip from NM to the Bay area with my two energetic sons, 4 and 6, to visit their Dad over spring break in March. (We are separated.) I have looked at Amtrak's website, and it seems from the photos and illustrations there that the acommodations are okay, a double sleeper for the three of us looks like it would work. I am wondering though, if I am being unrealistic about 24 hours on a train with my boys. They have traveled often by plane, and are great in the air, but that is usually a much shorter haul. We would leave ABQ in the evening, arrive in LA the next morning, then change trains and head up north, arriving about 7:30 p.m. Does anyone have any recent experience with Amtrak and children? Reliability, convenience, child-friendliness, comfort, safety, cost, etc.? Are there any activities available on the trains for kids? Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks. Melissa

We traveled from Berkeley to Seattle with a 4-yr-old and a 1-yr-old; it was tolerable but would have been much more enjoyable with a 4 and 6 yr-old. A train is more like a car than a plane, in that you can *see* a lot more from the train than you can from a plane. Also, you can walk up and down the train as much you need to get some exercise. There is also (at least on our train - call Amtrak about yours) a kids car where there were some toys and sometimes a video; there was also a small movie theatre playing Shrek which we watched twice in one day.

I wouldn't look forward to changing trains in Los Angeles but once you get through that headache the rest of the day should be nice. Have fun!

Oh, one more note of caution: the dining car fills up quick so get there 5 minutes early for meals (waiting an extra 90 minutes once was murder); and have some healthy snacks on hand just in case. John

I travelled to Denver several years ago with my (then) 9 and 6 year old. It was WONDERFUL! As a single mom, it allowed me to really relax and enjoy the journey. It was costly but the vacation started the moment we got on the train, not after we got to our destination. We saw incredible scenery, and the ability to get up, walk around, go to the site-seeing car, dining car, snack car, use the facilities was great. The staff would let us know if we would be at a stop for a few minutes, so we could de-train and get some fresh air and exercise; some stops even had small local-flavor stands where we could shop. Another big plus: the luggage restriction was virtually nil (it's a TRAIN!) and we had access to our bags/ice chest anytime. (That may have changed recently.) The 6 year old spent much of the trip beside me; the 9 year old soon found a peer group and hung out with them in the snack car playing cards. Since then we've gone to San Diego and are making plans for another train vacation sometime this year. Be prepared for the trip to take longer than scheduled: AMTRAK is notoriously late. However, I can't recommend it highly enough. Lori

I have taken two Amtrak trips. The first from Chicago to Oakland when my son was 5 months old and the second from Oakland to Sacramento with my 2 year old and 2 month old sons.

Convenience - schedules are limited Child-friendly - I find train travel easier than car or plane travel because you can walk around and don't have to sit in car seats. Comfort - comfort is costly. The double sleepers are REALLY small. The deluxe sleepers are great, but very expensive. Safety - People are very friendly on the train and I felt safe - you can leave your stuff at your seat and it won't get stolen. I was worried about my 2-year old bumping his head when he walked around when the train was in motion, but he didn't.

You might want to take a short trip to Sacramento and test things out. Good luck! Helena

Hi Melissa, I am actually from NM so I had to answer your question. We travel a lot on Amtrak. They are wonderful! They are great to kids. The service is outstanding and we always have a great time. My son is much younger than your boys and doesn't have a long enough attention span for a movie, book, or a toy. We usually make up several small goodie bags that we give him at strategic milestones throughout the trip (and keep one or two things in case we are delayed). They have small toys, coloring books, stickers, snacks, and other age appropriate items inside to keep him distracted and happy.

One of the last trains we were on had a kid's room with loaner books, movies, games, etc. The Amtrak family rooms are large, but I don't think they have their own bathroom. The rooms with their own toilet/shower are small, but cozy and it's really nice to have your own facilities especially in the middle of the night. There is an observation car, and a club car where we usually play cars, or read. It's nice to move around to the different cars and get out of your room for awhile. As a child I traveled to California from NM on the train and it's one of my fondest memories. I hope if you take the trip it's fun for you all.

I've seen lots of tips on the web at various parents sites for long trips. You might have some luck with them also. Good luck, Bridget

Four of us traveled by train from Oakland to Seattle last August. My daughters were 4 years and 18 mo. We had a great time. Lodgings are crowded and expensive, but also tons of fun. Trains often get delayed for hours, however most folks (passengers and staff) are really nice. The two bed sleeper rooms on the Coast Starlight were very small. There was little to no room to stand in them once the beds were pulled out. Most people climbed into the top bunk from the hallway. You should check the width of the bed to see if it is even possible for two of you to share a bed. We rented a more expensive sleeper with one large and one small bed and a toilet/shower in a closet in the room. My husband got the upper bunk. The girls and I shared the big 3 foot wide bed below. There are other options for 4 beds. Each train (e.g., Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, etc) has its own particular sleeper car set up. Out 4 year old used the upper bunk for play space during the day.

If you stay in one of the sleeper cars, your meals are included. We also had use of a lounge car and a room where they show movies. Everyone on the coast starlight had access to the more crowded playroom. You also have priority for seatting in the dining car - if you choose to use it. Next time we will ask for room service mroe often as you can get your food much faster than waiting for a dining car table!

We liked haveing the sleeper as it was much quieter than the coach, and it was less crowded with folks.

Make your reservations as soon as you can. See if they take an AAA discount.

We hope to do it again...once we save up enough money! Suzanne

Taking a baby on the train in New York

Aug 1999

I will be taking a trip to New York in October. We will fly round trip through JFK, but will be spending part of our time in up-state New York. I will be travelling with my mom and my 9mo baby (age at time of trip). We are currently weighing the option of renting a car and driving up-state (and back) vs. taking a cab to Penn Station and taking the train. Does anyone have a recommendation as to which is better with a baby and a car seat? If we rent a car I know I can buckle him in and he will be safe. What about the cab and train? I read on this list that lots of cabs don't have belts, but can't remember if that applied to US or foreign cities. I have never taken a train, other than BART or the Subway, are real trains the same, with no seat belts? Rose

The last time I rode one of the trains going to upstate, there were indeed no seat belts. If you rent the car at JFK, it will be expensive but you can head straight up from there and cross the river farther up. The position of JFK gives you a serious headstart over taking a cab all the way to the center of the city and then waiting for a train. Plus you'll have transport when you are upstate. I'd vote for car, if it's not prohibitively expensive (2-way cab won't be cheap either). Heather

Trains have much to offer. Last summer my wife and I took our two kids (ages 4 and 8 at the time) on an Amtrak from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, New Mexico and back to visit old friends. The train trip was fantastic. The seats were roomy, we could wander around the train, read, watch the beautiful scenery go by, or play games (we made sure the kids had plenty with them). The trip one way was 17 hours. The train left L.A. at 8:00 pm, so we spent a good part of the trip sleeping. In the morning we had breakfast in the dining car, with the beautiful scenery of northern Arizona to gaze at out the window as we ate.

Of course, traveling with a 9 month old would be different. Every baby is different, of course, so you will be the best judge of how your 9 month old might handle a car trip, but I know that our youngest couldn't stand being strapped into a car seat for much more than about 45 minutes. Before we moved to California, he couldn't even handle the drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque (about one hour). Consequently he made even short trips miserable for everyone. In contrast, the freedom from having to concentrate on driving, and the freedom to move about, that the train provided made for an enjoyable and relaxing trip for all of us. Hope this helps. Carl

All of the cabs I've ridden in the USA--SF, LA, DC and NYC have had seatbelts in the back seats--I think it's the law. Some drivers act impatient when I take the time to strap in a car seat, but--tough. Most drivers seem to have their own kids or grandkids, and are very understanding.

I have never seen a seatbelt on a train, and I've travelled on quite a few, although never the line you're planning to do. In general, the idea on a train is that it is safe to move around at all times--there shouldn't be any reason to really need a seatbelt. In addition, on a train, you typically have good access to the floor, so you could set up the carseat there, and wedge it in well--it won't go anywhere.

My two cents on which mode of transport to take would probably be the train, because you can easily move around on a train to care for the baby and/or yourself. Plus no driving stress on unfamiliar roads. Meg