Kids and toy trains are a match made in heaven. If you have a train lover in your family, you’ll want to start plotting out your nation-wide trip to check out these, the best model railroad exhibits in the nation.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego, Calif.
At 27,000 square feet, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is one of the largest indoor model railroad museums in the world, offering miniature representations of California railroads that reconstruct everything from the tiles on the Train Depot to the napkin holders inside the tiny restaurant. Occasionally, volunteers and club members come together to run the models as if they are on an actual timetable, reconstructing the historical background behind the model trains.
For more than 40 years, the annual Trainfest has been delighting model train lovers of all ages. More than 60 operational model railroad layouts (some that are built in a suitcase, and some that measure 60-feet-by-80-feet) stand next to “how-to” demonstrations for hobbyists. Lower exhibits let even small children watch the trains, while kid-specific activities like a Thomas the Tank Engine bounce house, train tables and a rideable indoor train provide endless entertainment.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Located in a former train station, the miniature landscape of the 174-foot-long Chattanooga Choo Choo model railroad reconstructs Chattanooga and the Cumberland Mountain country. Browse the Tennessee landscape while reading about the history of Chattanooga trains. To complete your trip, ride a trolley around the Chattanooga Choo-Choo area and then stay overnight in a private railroad car.
The Great Train Story
The journey between Chicago and Seattle may be a long one, but you can experience it for yourself at the Great Train Story Model Railroad. As the trains pass through the Midwest, the Plains states, the Rockies, and the Cascades, you can help them reach their destination by building a mountain tunnel, raising and lowering a drawbridge, and loading lumber on a train car at interactive stations along the track. Chicago and Seattle architecture, including the Sears Tower and the Space Needle, and authentic models of houses in the city are intricately reconstructed, the details of the model lending themselves to scavenger hunts or games of I Spy.
Since its founding in 1946, more than 9 million visitors have visited the Duke Energy holiday train exhibit in the Cincinnati History Museum, which displays some of the oldest model trains ever produced. During the holiday season, the trains, laid out amidst snowy winter scenes featuring moving parts and miniature people, travel over 100,000 scale miles. An interactive play area lets children create their own train display, and Santa often appears both in the model train scenes and in person at the exhibit.
Carnegie Science Center: Miniature Railroad and Village
Reconstructions of iconic locations such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Forbes Field (complete with 23,000 fans) set the scene at Carnegie Science Center’s miniature railroad and village in Pennsylvania. Realistic animated scenes depict how people lived, worked and played from 1880-1930, a period that spans from the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the Great Depression. Originally exhibited in Christmas Eve in 1920, this railroad exhibit remains one of Pittsburgh’s most popular holiday displays.