Best Places to Take Toddlers to Ride Trains in the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley)

Jolly Trolley at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, CA
Jolly Trolley at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, CA | Source

Don't Stop That Train, I Don't Ever Want to Get Off...

My son, now 2 and a half, has always loved trains. I think he took his first ride on the BART train when he was only a few months old (if not sooner). Over the years, we learned about all the best places to ride trains in the East Bay (Oakland and Berkeley). I was never able to find a comprehensive guide of where to ride trains with toddlers, so I thought I would put some of my hard-earned knowledge to use by putting one together for others. I can't possibly pick a favorite, and I'm not sure if my son could either, though he did make up his own song about the BART train. I hope this guide helps others enjoy the many trains in the area as much as we did!

Unlimited rides on the Jolly Trolley are free with admission at Children's Fairyland in Oakland
Unlimited rides on the Jolly Trolley are free with admission at Children's Fairyland in Oakland | Source

Children's Fairyland Jolly Trolley (Oakland)

The basics:

  • Location: Children's Fairyland, Oakland (downtown)
  • Cost: $8 per person ages 1 to 100 for park admission, trolley rides are free with admission (as many times as you want!)
  • Length of train ride: under 10 min
  • Waiting in line: often you have to wait less than 10 min, rare that you have to wait longer

My son has been riding the jolly trolley at Fairyland since he was 6 months old. The cars are pretty small, but you can fit an adult or two and a kid or two in each one. You just go around a little part of the park two times, and they ring the bell at a railroad crossing. The cars all have different colors, so by the time he got to be 2, he was expressing preference for the purple one - luckily that one was always available for us! It's located right by the snack area, so it can be fun to ride the train and then get a snack and then go for another ride. There is also a little station your toddler can stand at and watch the train go by.

Train at Oakland Zoo (Oakland)

The basics:

  • Location: Oakland Zoo (south of downtown Oakland off 580)
  • Cost: $1.50 per person over two per ride (kids under 2 are free, but accompanying adult still has to buy a ticket)
  • Length of ride: 10-15 minutes
  • Waiting in line: usually have to wait 10-20 minutes depending on when the last train left. They seem to depart every 30 min or so.

This is a pretty long train so there always seems to be enough room for everyone. The drivers are really nice and have sometimes let my son play around on the engine for a minute in between rides. The train is officially called the "Outback Express Adventure Train" and takes you through the Australian Outback area of the zoo where wallaroos, kangaroos, emus, and other animals roam freely. It's a really fun ride and kids just love it, and love talking about all the animals they saw. Only draw back is sometimes you do have to wait a bit to get on the train - I always try to remember to bring plenty of snacks for the wait! Also, the nice thing about the rides area of the Oakland Zoo is that you don't have to pay admission to get into that section. We went a lot so we always combined it with a trip to the zoo (with our membership - well worth it) and bought a book of ride tickets which makes it even cheaper.

Toddlers love riding the BART train, and it can take you to many useful places all over the Bay Area
Toddlers love riding the BART train, and it can take you to many useful places all over the Bay Area | Source

BART Train (Oakland and Berkeley)

The basics:

  • Location: Oakland, Berkeley, and throughout the Bay Area
  • Cost: Depends on where you are going. Cheapest ride is $1.75 if you're going just one stop. Longer trips can be $5 or more. If you get on and off at the same station (and ride the train for however long, but don't exit at whichever station you get off at to turn around) you are supposed to buy an excursion ticket which is around $5. Children 4 and under ride for free.
  • Length of ride: Depends on where you are going.
  • Waiting in line: Just have to wait for the next train to arrive, generally trains come every 7 or 8 minutes or less.

I felt sort of odd putting the BART train as its own category, but my son rode it a ton ever since he was a little guy and he always loved it. He loved looking around and smiling at people and people usually got a kick out of seeing him on the train. He lightened up many a commuter's day. The best stops for kid oriented activities in walking distance of the BART station are Downtown Berkeley (walk to toy store, book store, library) and Rockridge (walk to Market Hall grocery and bakery, toy store, book store, taqueria). Sometimes if we were going on a real train binge we would ride the BART train to Rockridge and walk to Rockridge Kids and play with the train table. You can also travel into San Francisco pretty easily from the East Bay - much better than being stuck in traffic with a screaming toddler in the back seat!


Tilden Park Steam Trains (Berkeley)

The basics:

  • Location: Tilden Park, Berkeley (towards the south entrance of the park)
  • Cost: $3 per ride for people over age 2, or $12 for a 5 ride ticket. Kids under 2 ride free. They finally accept credit cards to buy tickets!
  • Length of ride: 10+ minutes.
  • Waiting in line: People sort of informally line up to wait for the train all along where the train pulls up. It's not a bad idea to make sure you're in line, they can fill up on busy weekends, and you can end up waiting for a while.

Gorgeous ride through the redwoods in Tilden Park (the train is officially called the Redwood Valley Railway). There are mostly open cars to ride in, but also some covered cards with open sides. It's a real steam train. Very popular destination for people visiting from out of town, I feel like there is often a majority of grandparents on the train. My son always enjoyed this ride, but I would not say it was his favorite. There isn't a lot to do around the train, so you usually have to drive to a different part of Tilden to do other activities. I almost think it's more enjoyable for the adults because the redwoods are just beautiful.


Please Share Other Ideas...

I hope that this guide is helpful for other parents and their train-loving toddlers. If you know of other great places to right trains in the East Bay, please share them in the comments!

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