Location: Balboa Park (3 Miles Northeast of Downtown San Diego)
Open Daily: 11AM – 4PM (5PM on Weekends). Closed on Mondays.
Cost: $8 ($1 for Kids 6-14, $6 for Seniors 65+, $3 for Students, and $4 for Military)
Features: World’s Largest Indoor Model Railroad Display
San Diego Model Railroad Museum Highlights: Model train enthusiasts from around the globe are attracted to the largest display of model trains in the world, hosted by the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. There are four local railroad clubs that provide the majority of the work and funding for the model train displays. Consider setting aside at least an hour to enjoy the museum; more if you are a train buff. (Note: While visiting the Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park, you may also be interested in taking a ride on the Balboa Park Miniature Railroad.)
When to Visit the Model Railroad Museum
Admission on the first Tuesday of every month is free to San Diego County residents. If you want to avoid the crowds, it is best to avoid this day, especially during the summer months.
- Pick up the Museum brochure on your way in. It provides a map of the Museum and will note over two dozen highlights to see. There are six hallways worth of exhibitions to enjoy.
- If you bring kids under 4 feet tall, you may need to pick them up occasionally to help them see some of the train displays. The displays are generally up on platforms and behind glass. The exhibits with a higher platform do provide a few steps where kids can stand to get a better view.
- The Toy Train Gallery is the most popular among kids, especially when they find the feature that allows them to control the coal trains. Each day, different members bring their own trains to run on this double-decker layout.
- There are display descriptions and videos that provide history of the railways featured in the exhibits. Members of the local model railroad clubs are often available to take questions from visitors.
Model Railroad Exhibits – There are five model railroad displays at the Museum. All focus on railways in the southwest, which faced the challenges of varying topography from traversing high mountain passes to the oceanfront urban areas along the California coastline. As part of your museum visit, you will see a rare collection of Lionel and American Flyer cars from the 1920′s to the 1950′s. There is also a display that describes the influence of women on the railways. Visit the model railroad exhibits page for more details and photos.
Model Railroad Store – Model railroad buffs, and those who want to find gifts for the railroad hobbyists in their family, can find books and other gifts in the Model Railroad Museum gift shop. The gift shop will ship items.
Model Railroad Library – The Museum’s volunteers maintain a collection of books, magazines, and other artifacts related to the history of model railroading. The collection is searchable online.
Food – There is a cafe in the Casa de Balboa building, which houses the Model Railroad Museum. There are additional cafes near the entrances of some of the other museums in Balboa Park. If you are looking for something more than what is offered in a cafe, Balboa Park’s Prado Restaurant is more of an upscale full service restaurant. You can read more about the food options on the Balboa Park web site.
No Smoking is allowed in or around the Model Train Museum.
Summer Camps & Birthday Parties – The San Diego Model Railroad Museum sponsors a number of activities geared towards the newest model train hobbyists including Summer Camps for those in 1st through 8th grade. You can also make your child’s visit all the more memorable by hosting their birthday party at the Museum.
Information on Visiting the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Admission Prices: (Costs are Approximate)
- Parking is Free
- Standard Fee is $8; ($6 Seniors 65 and over).
- $1 for Kids 6-14; $3 for Students.
- $ 4 for Military with I.D.
- Memberships are available. The family membership offers a great deal.
- General Admission is Free for San Diego County Residents on the 1st Tuesday of each month.
- You can also visit for free on Tuesday and Friday evenings when the local railroad clubs update their displays. You can visit by entering through the back door of the building. Visit the information page for more details.
- Passport to Balboa Park – Pay one low price for a Pass that will allow you one entry into each of thirteen participating Balboa Park Museums. You have seven days to use the Park Pass once you begin using it. Tickets cost $39 ($21 for kids ages 3-12). For an additional fee, you can add a discounted San Diego Zoo Best Value ticket. Also note, the Passport to Balboa Park Pass allows you to watch an IMAX movie at the Science Center. Passport to Balboa Park tickets can be purchased online.
Directions from Google Maps to 1649 El Prado in San Diego, CA 92101. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is in the lower level of the Casa de Balboa building, which is also home to the Museum of Photographic Arts (shown on the Google Map) and the Museum of San Diego History.
Parking – There is a small parking lot behind the Casa de Balboa building. You can access it by turning from Park Boulevard onto Space Theatre Way. Pass by the parking lots for the Science Museum and at the end of the driveway you will be in the Casa de Balboa parking lot. If this lot and the lots for the Science Museum are full, the next best option is to find street parking or head south on Park Boulevard towards downtown and take a left on Presidents Way where you will find large parking lots. It will take you 20 minutes or so to walk to the Museum.
You can also take the free Balboa Park Tram from the large parking lots, which starts near the end of the Presidents Way driveway. Get off at the Prado stop near the Balboa Park Information Center and walk down the Pedestrian Mall to the next building past the Information Center.
Traffic – Unless there is a major event at Balboa Park, which occurs a few times during the year, getting in and out of the Railroad Museum is relatively easy using Park Boulevard. If you approach Balboa Park using southbound SR-163, traffic occasionally backs up a little over a mile before reaching the Park Boulevard Exit, which is the same exit for the I-5 northbound. However, the delay will only take a few extra minutes. Likewise, if you are planning to get on SR-163 northbound after leaving the Model Railroad Museum, plan on a short delay during the mid and late afternoon hours as a few entrance ramps merge together before reaching the highway. (Learn how to get the latest traffic updates.)
Transit - Buses serving Balboa Park drop passengers off on Park Boulevard near the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. The stop is underneath a pedestrian bridge, which you can take to reach the Casa de Balboa Building along the Pedestrian Mall. (See San Diego Transit Information for the downtown transit map, which includes Balboa Park, and information for the online Transit Planner.)
You can also get off the bus at Presidents Way to catch the Free Balboa Park Tram. The Tram starts at the end of the driveway, on the east side of Presidents Way and circulates every 10 minutes from here to the main circle at the Prado stop, near the Balboa Park Information Center. The Casa de Balboa Building is the next building past the Visitor Information Center. The Tram runs from 8:30AM – 6PM daily with extended hours during the summer and special occasions.
Balboa Park Map – The map shows a listing of all Balboa Park Museums, attractions, bus and tram stops, and places to eat. You should also print out the Balboa Park Tram Map from the City of San Diego. It is not as detailed but is helpful because it includes names on each of the buildings. With the other map, you need to use a map key to find the name of a building.