5 places to see historic trains in San Diego, California

Poway Midland Railroad
This is the centerpiece of the collection at Poway-Midland Railroad: A 1907 Baldwin steam engine that weighs about 16 tons. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Sure, the golden age of train travel has passed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t admire the history of trains in our city — and even hop on a vintage ride from time to time.

All aboard. Let’s take a look at a few places to find historic trains + stationsfull steam ahead.

Poway Midland Railroad
The train station at Old Poway Park is a must-do with little ones. | Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

🚂 Poway-Midland Railroad | 14154 Midland Rd., Poway

This full-size, narrow-gauge railroad is located in Old Poway Park. On most Saturdays + Sundays, passengers can enjoy rides on the antique railroad equipment:

  • A 1907 Baldwin steam engine (first and third weekends of the month)
  • A 1950 Fairmont Speeder (second Saturday)
  • A 1906 San Francisco Cable Car (fourth weekend of the month)

The best part: Fares are still a steal — just $1 for kids + up to $3.50 for adults.

Pro tip: There’s so much to learn here — including how plans for these tracks shifted over 100 years as Poway grew. In 1991, the Poway-Midland Railroad Volunteers group formed with a mission to restore, operate + maintain the railroad for all to enjoy. Earlier this month, a 4-year-old boy became the honorary “One Millionth Rider” of the steam locomotive.

Santa Fe Depot
Santa Fe Depot: Where San Diego’s history meets current transit. | Photo via @sandiegolandmarks
Santa Fe Depot Interior
Inside Santa Fe Depot. | Photo via @sandiegolandmarks

🚉 Santa Fe Depot | 1050 Kettner Blvd., downtown San Diego

This city landmark rich in history — aka “Union Station” — was built to welcome visitors to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the event many historians credit for putting San Diego on the map. The station’s Spanish Colonial Revival design (those arches, soaring towers + tiled domes, though) was designed to match the architecture of the buildings of Balboa Park.  

Today, Santa Fe Depot is still an active travel hub with daily trips. It’s operated by Amtrak Pacific Surfliner — and ranks among the top 10 busiest stations in the company’s national network. The station is the southern terminus for the NCTD Coaster and is a stop along two of the Metropolitan Transit System’s Trolley lines: the UC San Diego Blue Line + Green Line.

Campo Depot
All aboard: Don’t miss the train rides at Campo Depot. | Photo via @pacificsouthwestrailmuseum

🚃 Campo Depot | 750 Depot St., Campo

Located in the county’s southeastern region (about an hour away from downtown San Diego), Campo Depot is home to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (PSRM) — an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy + experience of rail travel. The museum is located on the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway line and is home to a roster of trains that includes steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, and cabooses.

The signature train ride is aboard the Golden State, a 45-minute trip through San Diego’s backcountry, usually available on Saturdays + Sundays. The depot also offers holiday-themed rides like the Pumpkin Express around Halloween and the North Pole Limited around Christmas season.

Pro tip: There’s so much history here — be sure to check out the museum portion of this site too. It’s perfect for a day trip.

La Mesa Depot
There’s so much to see (for free) at La Mesa Depot. | Photo via @debonair_stray

🚂 La Mesa Depot | 4695 Nebo Dr., La Mesa

The PSRM also oversees this landmark in San Diego’s East County — the 1894 depot, which is La Mesa’s oldest commercial building + the sole surviving San Diego and Cuyamaca Railway Station. The once-bustling station used to be the center of town. Today, it’s a museum open for free tours, with trains on display 24/7 and docent-led tours available Tuesdays + Thursdays, from 12-3 p.m., and Saturdays, from 1-4 p.m.

🛤️ San Diego Model Railroad Museum | 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park

Railfans will love this museum in the heart of Balboa Park and its exhibits showcasing miniature layouts of local railroads. While nobody is tiny enough to ride these trains, anyone can appreciate the intricate details of the models and the patience it takes to put these masterpieces together. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

🚞 Did we miss your favorite train station or railroad museum? Please share details with us via email so we can keep chugging along on our quest to cover all good things in San Diego.