We live less than 2 blocks away from the CalTrain station and the kids love to watch it go by. I’ve been promising them a train trip since we first moved to California, but I was having a hard time finding a route that is both desirable and affordable. A friend suggested we check out Roaring Camp Railroad for a play date and it ended up being the perfect fulfillment of my promise! I still want to take them on a real Amtrak trip, but I think I bought myself some time!
Tourists have been taking the train from Roaring Camp to Santa Cruz since 1875. The beach train takes an hour each way and drops off at the historic Santa Cruz Boardwalk, one of the last classic seaside amusement parks in the world.
The train to Santa Cruz cost $25 per person since we were there during a “Kid’s Fare” special. Normally adults would pay $31. Up front it seemed a little steep, but I was happy in the end. They did charge $10 for parking though, which I was not thrilled with.
Before our train left, the kids played with some toy trains set up in the re-created 1880s logging town. Also, as part of their summer free heritage events, the kids learned how to make candles. Each child had a wick to dip, alternating between wax and cold water.
We almost missed the train but had plenty of seats to choose from once we boarded. There was an entirely open-air car, a car with a sunshade, and an interior car decorated for Christmas. We chose the shaded car and sat on the benches ready for a trip through the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The redwoods were amazing, of course, and the conductor gave a running commentary on the history and ecology of the area and the railroad.
I don’t have many pictures because there were no seatbelts and I had to keep the kids from tumbling off the side, but the San Lorenzo River was beautiful. Looking down the steep hill to the river, we could see hikers and swimmers waving up to the train.
Before we reached Santa Cruz we went through a 900-foot tunnel in pitch blackness. I’m talking can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness. I had my arms around the kids and kept kissing them, but they seemed to do fine. Except for some reason K kept his ears covered the whole time!
Arriving at the beach was a huge hit! We went to the first car and sat on the floor as we were arriving. It was so easy to imagine making the trip 100 years ago and excitedly pouring from the train onto the boardwalk. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the kids were stoked for the beach.
We only had an hour on the beach and we definitely didn’t want to miss the train! The kids got right to work digging in the sand and splashing in the waves. They don’t waste a second of beach time!
The ride back was more subdued since the kids were tired, but it was just a really pleasant ride. The train isn’t so loud as to prevent conversation or so fast as to be uncomfortable. It’s leisurely in every way.
They also have a Steam Route which involves an 1.5 hour loop through the redwood forest. I’d like to try this one out, but I was really very smitten with the Beach Route and will likely take that one again next time we have guests in town. Also tempting are the special events like the Great Train Robberies or the Moonlight Train Dinner Party.