A Day At The Travel Town Museum – Los Angeles, CA
Have you ever met a preschooler who didn’t like trains? Yeah, me neither. Children and adults alike seem to be fascinated by the large work horses, chugging coal and belching out smoke as they traverse the countryside.
Personally, I had ever really had an appreciation for them until my son came along. Now my world is filled to the absolute brim with steam engines and railways; Thomas and Friends, Dinosaur Train, and the Polar Express are all regular favorites in my house.
I love exploring new places with my kids and while visiting family in Los Angeles recently, I was strapped for ways to occupy my jet lagged 4 year old that would truly grip his attention, so you’ll completely understand my excitement to find the Travel Town Museum!
Located on the north end of Griffith Park, the Travel Town museum is hidden gem and a great off-the-beaten-path attraction for children, or the general train enthusiast, in greater Los Angeles.
WHY DO WE LOVE TRAINS SO MUCH?
Retro train travel is romantic. It feels like you’re stepping back in time to an era without smartphones or urgency. (Or, let’s be honest, labor laws.)
As a train passenger, you ride through the countryside, swaying with the rocking motion on the tracks, looking out the window, perhaps taking a nap.
Harry Potter rides the Hogwarts Express in his cozy cabin eating magical chocolates with his friends through misty hills of the Scottish Highlands.
Dumbo spreads his wings as he flies behind in his private car of Casey Junior the Circus Train with his mama on board. (See? This is my kind of train repertoire).
Not to mention the endless supply of westerns and thrillers that have shaped our perceptions of train travel. Has anyone here seen Snowpiercer?? Still haunts me.
But however romantic it seems to be, modern train travel for the most part has been relegated to underground metro trains or seen as a slow, inefficient alternative to air travel. It could be argued that the reasons why trains are so enjoyed today are the reasons why they aren’t used for mainstream transportation anymore.
THE TRAVEL TOWN MUSEUM
The Travel Town Museum was established in 1954 as a project dreamed by Recreation and Parks employee Charley Atkins, and began with just one steam locomotive to decorate Griffith Park. The intent was to create an imagination space for children to fuel their curiosity about trains. Through donations over the years, the Travel Town Museum has expanded and changed to include many different types of travel vehicles, to include fire engines and war planes, which have since been relocated to various museums around the country.
Travel Town makes you feel like you’re stepping back through time to an age where rail was king. When everything traversing the country made the trip in a train car, from passengers to freight.
Walking around the giant machines elicits daydreams of steaming through open countryside, winding through mountains and valleys. Perhaps a wayward traveler has jumped on to hitch a ride.
Or maybe there’ll be a fistfight on top of the caboose as it’s speeding towards a tunnel and they have to flatten themselves against the roof of the car before it’s too late.
Or perhaps two lovers are parting. They embrace one last time before one climbs the steps and waves out of the door as the train pulls away. The other runs down the platform, trying to keep up, but the train gains speed until finally it leaves the station and fades into the distance.
ADMISSION AND ATTRACTIONS
So yeah! The museum! I was completely surprised to discover that this wonderful attraction, as part of the LA Parks system, does not charge admission for entry! Instead it accepts donations at the welcome desk. So don’t be a jerk. Give them the money they deserve.
There are dozens of full sized train cars on display: locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses, many if which you can climb inside and explore.
And while the exhibits seem static, they are constantly moving! All of the cars are situated on tracks (because they’re trains, obvs), allowing them to be moved around the park, which does happen occasionally!
In addition to the outdoor exhibits, they also have an extensive indoor gallery, complete with history displays and an impressive model train diorama.
But certainly for a child, the highlight of a visit to Travel Town is the miniature train ride that circles the perimeter of the park, giving passengers a wonderful experience and unique view of the magnitude of these beasts. Tickets cost $2.75 for ages 18 months and up.
Like any self-respecting museum or capitalist enterprise, there is a quaint little gift shop, full of obvious merchandising partnerships. In my opinion, the prices in the gift shop were extremely inflated, but considering the museum does not charge admission, I found myself not minding as much.
You know what I thought the moment we walked through the gates? This would be the PERFECT place to have a child’s birthday party.
And sure enough, I saw no fewer than four birthday parties happening simultaneously. It’s apparently a thing! Travel Town has picnic areas available for rent, complete with picnic tables and BBQ grills.
And if you’re really extra, you can even rent an entire train car for your party. It’s true! Reserve the Pennsylvania Dining Car for a genuine railway experience. Inside the car, you’ll have tables, chairs, fridge, freezer, and heater/air conditioning. Even Sir Topham Hatt is there to greet you and your guests as you board the train!
This adorable park is perfect to spark the imagination of your little ones. Make sure to schedule a visit next time you’re in Southern California!