There’s something about riding on a train that’s just… cool. And to ride along with your family, friends, or significant other while celebrating the holidays is all the better. During the month of December several local train companies festoon their vintage passenger cars with thousands of lights and ornaments and host a rolling Christmas party. So if you’re looking for some romantic weekend getaway ideas or something fun to do with the kids while they’re on break, take a look at my train of thoughts below (oh my that’s a bad pun).
Napa’s Santa Express Train
Join Saint Nick and his merry band of carolers as they travel by train through Napa Valley. Designed especially for kids with short attention spans, the Santa Express Train take a 90-minutes round-trip journey from the Napa to Yountville and back, offering plenty of time for kids to sit on Santa’s lap and make him hyper-aware of what gifts they want. The train will also be serving food and drinks, including hot chocolate for the kids and stronger stuff for adults. There’s an afternoon train departing a 4pm from December 13-14, then a morning train departing at 9am from December 18-24.
Sacramento & Sierra Christmas Trains
Every year’s end the Sacramento RiverTrain hosts a hugely popular holiday event where the RiverTrain is transformed into the Sacramento Christmas Train. The celebration starts the minute everyone boards the train in Woodland (about a 15-minute drive from Sacramento), and continues with a leisurely trip along the Sacramento River while Santa, elves, storytellers, and musicians entertain the lucky kids. Hot cocoa and cookies are in abundance, and you’re even welcome to wear pajamas (well, the kids are welcome). Hey, I grew up near Woodland. How come my parents never took me on this?
The same outfit that runs the Sacramento Christmas Train also runs the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train, which also hosts an annual Christmas Train featuring Santa, elves, musicians, storytellers, cocoa, and cookies. The only difference is the scenery (rolling foothills instead of river views) and the station location: Oakdale, a small Central Valley farming and ranching community about 30 miles southeast of Stockton.
Niles Canyon Railway’s Train of Lights
If you live in the Bay Area and want to take the kids on a Christmas Train ride that’s a bit closer to home, head over to the Sunol Depot (off Hwy 680 south of Pleasanton) or Niles Station in Freemont and hop on board the Niles Canyon Railway’s Train of Lights. Four times a night the brightly decorated holiday train—covered with thousands of festive lights—winds through Niles Canyon on a 75-minute round-trip ride either from Fremont to Sunol or from Sunol to Fremont and back. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, with seats located either inside or outside. It’s run by a non-profit charitable organization made up entirely of volunteers who love this historic locomotive.
The Christmas Train to Willits
Each Christmas season the venerable Skunk Train in Willits (about 20 miles north of Ukiah on Hwy 101) is transformed into a rolling Santa’s sleigh, complete with Santa and his elves listening to children’s wishes, strolling musicians and engaging storytellers, hot chocolate and homemade cookies. They’ve even strung lights on the redwood trees as the train passes through the forest. The 90-minute trip is truly a magical experience that even gets harried adults—who can wear their holiday jammies as well—in the holiday spirit.
New Years Eve on the Napa Wine Train
One of the most leisurely ways to view the Wine Country is aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, a rolling restaurant of vintage-style cars—each finished with polished Honduran mahogany paneling and etched-glass partition—that makes a scenic journey through the vineyards of Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena. Now imagine that same trip but throw in 1) a sparkling wine reception with oysters, caviar, and live music; 2) a 5-course gourmet dinner on the train; 3) a sparkling wine toast at midnight, and 4) dancing and drinking to live music under the requisite disco ball until the wee hours of the night. Now that’s a party! Heck, they even throw in a souvenir photo and shuttle service from selected hotels.
For more tips and ideas on fun holiday getaways throughout Northern California, log onto LocalGetaways.com. Or add your own comments and advice to our Holiday Train Trips blog. We’d love to hear from you.