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Where to Watch Trains

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Two-year-old wants to see trains

November 2001

Does anyone know of a good place to watch trains go by? I'm looking for something local, not a schlep, for my 2-year old's passion. Thanks Rebecca


Jack London Square

In Oakland, the trains roll along the street on the Embarcadero, passing Jack London Square, and the passenger trains stop at the Amtrak station right there, so you can sometimes see them when they are stopped on the tracks. Have fun! Bay
Oh yes, we've spent many hours watching trains around here, sometimes 2 trips per day for my obsessive 2-3 year old. We love Jack London, where there are plenty of other things to do while waiting for the train. You can park in the train station parking lot or just anywhere on the street in the area, and walk along the tracks on the sidewalk, as the train goes right down the middle of the street. Most of the conductors got to know my son, as he was there daily, and they always waved enthusiastically, and tooted, when they passed us on the street. There are also boats to see, ducks to feed, plenty of space to run around (and Starbucks for Mom!) Raissa
I take my train-crazy son to Jack London square frequently. We run around the whole area, watching boats and playing at the fountain, and on the big grassy meadow by the ferry dock, and then when we hear the ding-ding-ding sound of the railroad crossing going down, we know it's time to run over to the closest intersection and watch the train go by. There are benches right at the corners by the railroad tracks and sometimes we just hang out there and wait for the trains. On Sundays there's a farmer's market and in the evenings we sometimes have dinner at Hahn's Habachi, which is quite kid-friendly (Korean food) and has windows from which you can see the trains pass. dashka
For full-size trains, some friends recomended Pizza Uno down by Jack London Square and it works- at a typical weekend dinner, we see 4 trains go by, while seated in the restraunt. I'd give the pizza a B, good, not great, while the service varies from C to B. Its a big place with few waiters/waitresses. But for the younger train buff, a definate hit. AND fire-trucks drive by from time to time, I think they clean and test at the end of the grass strip one block further north.
Jack London Square is great for train watching. You can watch trains anywhere along the tracks (Cost Plus to the Station south of Broadway). You can look down on trains at the station on the walkway over the tracks. Trains run every few minutes (it seems). Another place you can see them from is the kid section of Barnes and Nobles. That way you can read books until you hear a train coming. Mary

Niles Canyon Railway

(see also recommendations for Niles Canyon Railway)

Second best [after Jack London Square], the Niles Canyon Railway up Niles Canyon, which has a number of operating engines and cars, $5-7 to ride, and smelly if the diesel exhaust blows into the car you're in, but if it blows in one way, it won't the other, and the ride is about 45 minutes worth.


Steam Trains at Tilden Park

(also see more recommendations for Tilden Park)

For smaller trains, the Steam Trains at Tilden Park are well worth riding, the round house has a viewing gallery you can look at the other engines from and you can just watch real live steam loco pull cars out of the station if not actually riding in the cars. Its the best miniature train within 100 miles north or south.

ALSO, further along past the ticket window and under a bridge, there's a watching spot for the even smaller tracks of the Live Steam Club, who have 7 1/2", 4 1/2", etc, gauge, engines and rolling stock. Its hit or miss if you'll see anyone there, sometimes you do, sometimes not, but the 1/4 size train has regular hours and is worth the trip. $1.50 a ticket, the ride is longer than Oakland Zoo and prettier than Train Town in Sonoma.


Books

Rockridge library stocks a good video called "Big Trains and Little Trains", shot in the San Diego area and ranging from models up through commuter diesels. Much nicer than "There Goes A Train", although if you can take Dave, the trains are pretty ok in that one too. Our train buff is 4 3/4. Bill

Dowling Park in Albany

I consider myself somewhat of an expert on this subject having been through two train mad boys (well, one fanatic and one a bit less obsessed.) The best and safest place I ever found was in Albany! It is Dowling Park which we first spotted from a train itself. Dowling is a bit hard to find. Enter University Village and then travel in a Westerly direction on 9th Street as far west as you can go until you get to a parking lot (where the road turns). Park in the lot in the guest spots at the end then walk west through a gate. There is a sign for the park. The park itself borders the train tracks and yet is completely fenced in. There are climbing structures to play on while waiting for the trains and a eucalyptus tree which is a wintering spot for Monarch butterflies. It is absolutely the best train spot. Lucy

Dreamland at Aquatic Park

Full reviews for the excerpts below can be found on the Dreamland page


Dreamland, the Robert Leathers playground at Aquatic Park in W Berkeley is a fabulous park .... mcherman
During his train phase, my son loved the playground at Aquatic park ... Deborah
My son is also train obsessed. A good spot is the great park along the estuary near University Avenue. The train usually comes by 4 or 5 times while there. Kristi
Another good spot is Dreamland playground at Aquatic Park in Berkeley-- there are railroad tracks just behind the park, so you can see the trains go by without leaving the playground. dashka
A great place to spot trains is at Aquatic Park in Berkeley (can't remember the newer name for it), south of University, between the area west of 4th Street, and the water. One fence runs right along the train tracks west of 4th Street. Trains go by quite frequently. This is just one of the many kid-pleasing features of that park. Jane
Its' especially good at Dreamland ...

Berkeley's Aquatic Park

Berkeley's Aquatic Park is a great place to watch trains go by. It is also fun to take kids on Amtrak. Amtrak stops in Berkeley and Richmond (same site as Richmond BART). Stops in Martinez, Suisun, Davis, Sacramento all have nice walks and parks/sights nearby. HalfDink
Go to Aquatic Park in Berkeley (near the freeway/water) for a great view of trains all afternoon long....

BART

My 2+ year old boy is infatuated with trains, any trains. So here are my recommendations - all inexpensive: Take him on a BART ride either out to the burbs or into S.F. and back. My son loved it! When you near the East Oakland station show him the Union Pacific train yard below the elevated tracks, and he can see the freight trains. Maya

Train Stations

I recommend taking the train from Berkeley to Martinez and back. You hop on and buy a ticket on the train. Across the street from the train station in Martinez is a large regional park with play structures. This is a great are for trains. Tons of different things to do. But check out Dowling Park. You'll love it. Lucy
Emeryville MarketPlace and Jack London Square both have train stations. Lots of trains coming and going and at Everyville Train Station there is a bridge you can walk over above the tracks. Chris
Go to the China Station stop in Berkeley at the foot of University Avenue and 3rd Street, or to the Emeryville station to watch trains go but. For a total fun/train fix go to the Railroad Musieum in Old Scaramento - fun for small kids - can climb around etc. Renee
There's a bridge over the tracks at Emeryville, near the Emeryville train station and the shopping centre and movie theatre complex. Good place to see trains going by underneath. Also there is a train track close to the shops and restaurants in Jack London Square in Oakland. Hannah
My son was obsessed with trains between the ages of 2-5. A great place to watch trains is at the Emeryville Amtrak station.
Another idea is to go to the Amtrak station at Jack London Square - trains come in and out and you can even get the schedule on-line. Kristi
My son was even more partial to the Emeryville station, right near Borders and the MarketPlace in E'ville. YOu can take an elevator up to a walkway/bridge that crosses over the tracks and trains below, and the conductors are sometimes game enough to call out "All aboard!" upon request. If your kid is up for it, you could even take the train from Jack London to Emeryville and back. For variety, we also head down to Aquatic Park playground (at the very bottom of Bancroft street, turn left, it's right on the water), a wonderful community-built playground unlike any other in the area (except the new community park in Rockridge, designed by the same firm). The train tracks run right behind the playground, so it's a great place to play and watch trains, lots of space to run, sand water, the works. That's about it for us locally. Have fun! Raissa

Train Stores

There used to be a model train store in the El Cerrito Plaza called Kit & Caboodle (I'm not sure if it's there anymore) but they have model trains running; and the hardware store on University near Oxford has a large department of model trains. Sue
Ace Hardware in downtown Berkeley has tons of model train supplies in the basement, plus a train running around elevated above the main floor.

Fourth Street in Berkeley

The 4th Street shopping area in Berkeley has freight trains and Amtrak trains that pass on a regular basis. Good place to watch is the outdoor seating area near Peet's. Katia & Nick
Anywhere along fourth street is good, since the tracks run just to the west of it. Alysson

Various Other Places

Pt Pinole park (bridge near parking lot is over tracks) gerry
Freight and Amtrak passenger trains roll out of Richmond through Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland. Each town has places to see them.

Albany at Buchanan Street

In Albany, drive West to the end of Buchanan Street and, just before the bridge to 580/80, swerve to the right alongside the bridge - it's the end of Buchanan Street. Go one block and park. The train tracks go underneath the bridge, and you can walk right up to them.

Berkeley at Gilman

In Berkeley, the same trains cross Gilman down near the freeway. You can park on Gilman and see them.

Train Museums & Clubs

Model trains: We've driven by but never stopped at the model train clubhouse on the way to Point Richmond. There's always the trains both downstairs and upstairs at Ace Hardware at the top of University in Berkeley. Ask a clerk to turn them on- the downstairs pair can be turned on by customers. Best of all is the model train club in the old station house just north of Niles along Mission Blvd. Not sure the name, they're open 1st and 3rd Sunday every month or something like that. Free to walk around, but donations appreciated. The upstairs is a railway museum AND 'N' gauge layout covering severl rooms, the entire downstairs is an "HO" layout that can accomidate three trains with 60+ cars EACH at the same time- a lovely work in progress. Plan to spend at least an hour. There are picnic tables outside and an old cabose on the south side of the building. A real train rolls by from time to time. This station is further north than Niles Station, a mile or 2. Bill
Niles (an older part of the city of Fremont, not a separate city) has a train club and you can take your son for a ride on it a couple of times a month, usually on the weekends. I'll find out the number. They also have a shop/museum telling the history and selling souvenirs like trian whistles nd conductors caps. Marianne
Th Golden State Model Railroad Museum in in Pt. Richmond, near the Plunge, "has operating model railroads in 3 different scales." I haven't been, but I've heard that it is great. However they are only open a few hours a month. contact them at www.GSMRM.org or 234-4884. Jennifer
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