Sonoma Train Town in Napa Valley, California - A Family Amusement Park with Steam Engine Trains and Gentle Rides

Trains and Rides for Young Children and Pre-Schoolers

Yesterday I took a journey into a gentler time of amusement parks: I visited Sonoma Train Town.

I am a baby boomer who remembers the Bill Bryson times of the fifties and sixties. Regarding amusement parks in particular, this means a park without a humongously expensive entrance pass, without a sprawling parking lot requiring a tram to get one to the park entrance, and with moderately-paced gentle fun (in contrast to getting into a frenzy to do everything.)

A view of parked, real, train cars to explore.
A view of parked, real, train cars to explore. | Source

A Model Railroad Dream - Miniature Kid-Sized Trains

This park features plenty of scaled railroad track for several similarly scaled engines to pull a miniature train through acres of forest. The engine on duty for my visit was deisel-powered, however there is a steam engine on some days. I estimate that about 50 children and adults can ride at a time for a 20-minute long adventure. Let me re-emphasize miniature. My 50-year-old brother and I (50 plus) shared a bench seat and our ample bottoms filled the entire area.

Many have never ridden a train. This is your chance to hear the clickety-clack of wheels going over track and to look at the scenery sliding by on either side. As a bonus, there are several TUNNELS! and BRIDGES! to traverse. The creator of this park had a vision and a love of the entire train passenger's experience.

Mild Rides Ideal for Young Children

This park is so ideal for pre-schoolers through elementary age children because it has enough experiences to entertain, but not so much that a child is worn out and not full of dangerous, scary, thrill rides that teens and beyond seek.

In addition to the train ride, these rides go for one ticket per person across the board: airplanes gently circling, a scrambler, flying chairs, carousel, roller coaster, ferris wheel. In my mind, these are the classic rides for an amusement park. Furthermore, they are fixed, permanent rides inspected by the state. (I live in an area where traveling carnivals sometimes have safety issues with their rides.) On some rides, children under a specified height must be accompanied by an adult.

The advantage to this is that a family and pick and choose which rides to enjoy, to repeat, or to skip, and not feel cheated that it did not get its money's worth.

Good Petting Zoo

Sometimes petting zoos can be a little disappointing. Not here! All the animals were hungry and they all were acclimated to humans. Feed dispensing machines similar to gumball machines were set up to deliver a small handful of feed for a quarter. All the animals roam in a fenced pen, but joyfully come up to the fence when a trainload of passengers stops to visit (the zoo is accessed on the train ride.) We saw llamas, goats, and sheep.

Child-Sized Village

One feature which absolutely delighted me was also at the petting zoo stop along the train ride. The park has built about seven or eight replicas of old western buildings which are scaled for four-to ten year olds. It is the perfect pretend-play set: a jail, church, general store, one-room schoolhouse, saloon, the newspaper and telegraph office, and probably more which I am forgetting. This complements the petting zoo stop (maybe ten minutes?) because if a preschooler decides the animals deserve only 120 seconds of his attention, there is something else to do with the time. I wonder if during the non-peak seasons whether preschools and kindergartens may bring their classes to spend time there. The accuracy and details given to these buildings deserve to be exploited for educational purposes.

Shady Cool Woods

The entire complex is full of trees. Again, I find this merging of nature and rides to be old-fashioned and I love it. Who thinks that baking oneself on a macadam lot adds to the amusement park fun? Thus, I was very surprized to learn from the Train Town web site that the park was created on a cow pasture, and all the trees have been added. It looks so natural. Furthermore, trains definitely pass through forests, so this enhances the model train ride experience.

Gift Store

There is a gift and snack store which is appropriately scaled to the rest of the operation: Not too small, not too large,...just right. Families can purchase train whistles and engineer caps, hot dogs, fires, and drinks.

Three Thumbs Up


If I had three thumbs, they would all be up on the review of this amusement park. If you are in that are and have younger children...or if you are an incurable train lover, plan to visit here.

Text copyright 2011 Maren Morgan.

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Comments 2 comments

Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

This park sounds wonderful, and definitely my speed!


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thanks. It was a delightful find for me!

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