A Train Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles

Featuring Union Station’s 2017 Summer Train Fest

Travel Town – Griffith Park – Los Angeles | Photo credit: Krista

There is something about trains that captivates people of all ages. The clickety-clack of the rails, the whistle blowing, or the steam billowing. Whether they are full-size train engines and cars or detailed scale model train displays, trains fascinate many of us. Los Angeles, California has several places for train lovers to see trains up close and experience them in unique ways. Some are special events while others are open year- round. This post is a Train Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles.

In this post:

1.      Special Train Fest Event at Union Station – July 15, 2017

2.     Year-Round Things to See & Do at Union Station

3.     Places to see in the neighborhoods near Union Station

4.     L.A. “Train Day” sites inspired by Sheldon Cooper

5.     Other train destinations in Griffith Park (near Union Station)

Special Event – July 15, 2017:

What:           Summer Train Fest

Where:         Union Station Los Angeles, CA

When:          Saturday, July 15, 2017 from 12 noon to 6 p.m.

Cost:             Attending the event is free. Tickets available to tour the inside of the Santa Fe 3751 Steam Locomotive. Parking fees will apply.

You are invited to take a nostalgic journey through time as Union Station’s Summer Train Fest rolls into L.A.’s historic downtown venue on July 15th. This first ever festival is a free family event and will feature rare, vintage train engines and cars that have been beautifully restored. In addition, there will be model train displays, a Kids’ Zone, and period costumes that will take you on a journey through time.

Union Station – 800 North Alameda St. – Los Angeles, CA 90012 | Photo credit: Courtesy of Union Station

This festival will be held throughout Union Station and will showcase exclusive and rarely seen train cars from Metrolink and Amtrak and others including:

  • Santa Fe 3751 – 1927 Steam Locomotive
  • Overland Trail – 1949 Club Lounge train car with passenger lounge, bar, and barbershop
  • Pacific Trail – 1950 fully restored passenger car w/ 44 seats
  • Tioga Pass – 1959 Business Car w/ lounge, sleeping quarters, dining room, and kitchen
  • National Forum Pullman Car – 1956 Sleeper Car from the Pacific Railroad Society Inc.

Tickets will be available to tour the inside the Santa Fe 3751 Steam Locomotive. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $10 for children (5 to 18 years old), and children under age 5 are free.

Train enthusiasts can enjoy a variety of model trains and special tutorials from the Los Angeles Model Railroad Society and Pasadena Model Railroad Club, along with a Kids’ Zone from Griffith Park Travel Town. There will also be tunes from award-winning harmonicist Ross Garren. The train station’s South Patio will come alive with L.A.’s premier food trucks and music from some of the city’s hottest DJs. Local vendors, including Skylight Books, Train Shack, and California Operation Lifesaver, will offer model train supplies, train-themed merchandise, and train-safety education/awareness throughout the event.

Check in at the Union Station Information Booth for a festival map and a free Event Passport. The first 1,000 guests to complete the passport will receive a commemorative Summer Train Fest pin. Union Station’s Summer Train Fest is hosted by Metro in partnership with Metrolink and Amtrak. Visit Eventbrite to register for the free event. For additional information, including parking information, visit the Union Station website. Details about Train Fest are also on the event’s Facebook page.

Year-Round Things to See & Do at Union Station:

L.A.’s historic Union Station is a fully functional train station with many things to see and do year-round.

Union Station’s Ticket Concourse Room | Photo credit: Krista

  • Events & Happenings:  Union Station hosts a rotating collection of unique events, cutting edge performances, evocative music, unprecedented art exhibitions, and thought-provoking cultural programing showcasing the diversity of entertainers, artists and innovators throughout Los Angeles. These events are hosted by Metro Art Presents and many of them are free and open to the public with no tickets or reservations required. One example of a Metro Art Presents event was the “Californialand” slide show by Charles Phoenix that we attended in April. It was a fun evening in the Ticket Concourse room, a unique and beautiful venue.
  • Dining & Amenities:   Union Station is home to several unique dining experiences including the renowned Traxx Restaurant and grab-and-go eateries. The station also offers many amenities such as a shoe shine, a bike share, Dodger Stadium Express (buses to Dodger baseball games), and Hollywood Bowl Shuttles (during the summer season). For up-to-date information, check the website or sign up for email updates.
  • Art & Architecture Tours:   Several art and architecture tours are offered on a regular basis. Details and additional information can be found on the Union Station website.
  • Transportation Hub:   Trains, buses, taxis, and more! Many different modes of transportation are available at Union Station. Whether you are seeking a train to travel cross-country or a taxi to travel across town, Union Station is your hub for many of your transportation needs.

Places to see in the neighborhoods near Union Station:

  • Olvera Street – Directly across the street from Union Station is Olvera Street. Known as the “birthplace of Los Angeles”, Olvera Street is a block-long narrow, tree-shaded, brick-lined Mexican Marketplace with street vendors, cafes, restaurants, and gift shops. It was created in 1930 “to preserve the customs and trades of early California.”
  • Chinatown – Less than a mile away from Union Station is L.A.’s Chinatown. The original site of Chinatown was where Union Station is today. In the 1930s, Chinatown was relocated to its current site. One option for reaching Union Station is to take the Metro Gold Line and get off at the Chinatown Station. Be sure to explore the shops and restaurants of Central Plaza.
  • The Original Philippe – Philippe’s is home to the original French dipped sandwich since 1908. It is located less than a half mile away from Union Station on North Alameda Street. We visited Philippe’s on Charles Phoenix’s Downtown L.A. Walking Tour and it was a special treat. A visit to Philippe’s is unforgettable, but be sure to come hungry!

L.A. “Train Day” sites inspired by Sheldon Cooper:

If you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you may recall the scene when Howard asks Raj if he has any special plans with his sister, Priya, while she is in town for one day (Season 4, Episode 6). Sheldon chimes in:

“I always tell people, if you have only one day in Los Angeles, make it a train day. The fun starts with brunch at Carney’s in Studio City, a hot dog stand in a converted railroad dining car. Next stop, Travel Town, an outdoor museum featuring 43 railroad engines, cars, and other rolling stock from the 1880s to the 1930s. Finally, we’re off to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for dinner at, that’s right, the Hollywood Carney’s, a hot dog stand in a different converted railroad dining car.”

If you’d like to recreate some (or all) of Sheldon’s suggested train day, here are the places you’ll want to include:

  • Carney’s (Studio City) – About 20 miles away from Union Station is Carney’s in Studio City. The hot dogs and chili are not to be missed!
  • Travel Town (Griffith Park) – Travel Town is an outdoor museum that is about 10 miles away from Union Station. It is open daily, except Christmas, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. (depending on the day of the week). Travel Town is approximately 10 miles away from Union Station.
  • Carney’s (Hollywood) – About 10 miles away from Union Station is the Carney’s in Hollywood. You may not want to eat Carney’s twice in the same day like Sheldon, but if you do there is plenty of variety on the menu.

Travel Blogger Sonia, of The Sonar Ping, wrote a fun recap of her day recreating Sheldon’s Train Day. You can read her post from January 2014 here.

Other train destinations in Griffith Park (approx. 10 miles from Union Station):

  • Walt’s Barn – Walt Disney loved trains and built the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in the backyard of his home in Holmby Hills, California. He had a barn built that served as a workshop and where he could remotely control the switches on the track for the train. The train at Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park is 1/8th scale track, the same scale that Walt had at his home on Carolwood Drive. In 1999, the barn was relocated to Griffith Park, near Travel Town. It is open on the 3rd Sunday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking is free, and admission is free. Donations to the Los Angeles Live Steamers Museum are accepted and suggested. Walt’s Barn is filled with his personal railroad history, history of Disneyland, and many interesting miniature live steam and other models. It is also known as “the birthplace of Imagineering.” Additional information is on The Carolwood Foundation website.
  • Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum (LALSRM) – Founded in 1956, L.A. Steamers was started by train enthusiasts and is located near Travel Town in Griffith Park. L.A. Steamers operates 7½” gauge model trains for the public to ride from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday (weather permitting), except for the Sunday before Memorial Day and the first Sunday in October. This railroad museum survives solely on donations by fans who visit and ride the trains. A suggested donation is $3 per person. L.A. Steamers also has extensive layouts for 4¾”, 3½”, G, and #1-gauge model trains on display. Additional information is on the LALSRM website.

Los Angeles has many places to see and events to experience for train lovers of all ages. If you’re looking for a family event for this coming weekend, be sure to check out the Summer Train Fest at Union Station on July 15th. There are more things in this guide than could possibly be done in one day. However, Union Station is a good place to start and many of them are near, or a short drive away from, this historic train station.

Are you a train enthusiast? What are some of your favorite memories of trains? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an invitation and press release for the Union Station Train Fest event mentioned above with the understanding that I would mention it on my blog. The event is free and open to the public and I received no compensation nor complimentary tickets to the paid tour of the Santa Fe 3751 Steam Locomotive. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.