San Diego Model Railroad Museum: Highlights, Tickets & Tips

  • 1649 The Meadow
    San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Miniature Railroad Museum it is the only accredited model railway museum in the country. This unique attraction has five permanent exhibits showcasing scale models of working locomotives, track, equipment, realistic scenery and more in miniature representations of real California railroads.

A different railway club or local model train expert operates each of these permanent exhibits:

  • The Tehachapi Pass
  • Southwestern Cabrilla and eastern San Diego and Arizona
  • The Centennial Railway Garden
  • Pacific desert lines
  • The Toy Train Gallery

Plus, you’ll see a rotating exhibit that may feature items from the museum’s collection or other aspects of model railroading and American railroad history.

You’ll find the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park, one of the best places to visit in San Diego, where there are 16 other museums, several gardens, and the San Diego Zoo. Look for the Casa de Balboa building in El Prado; the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego Museum of History are also here.


Here are some highlights of the museum:

  • running trains: The Toy Train Gallery has working toy trains on a 3-lane O-gauge track, ranked one of the top ten designs by Classic Toy Trains magazine in 2012.
  • huge dioramas: Approximately 1,500 square feet, you can see a replica of the Pacific Desert Lines layout on the original 1855 route that was never built. It is 1/160 scale and shows not only the trains, but also the stunning California scenery.
  • scenery and landscapes: There are many replica train routes to see, including Cabrillo Southwestern and San Diego & Arizona Eastern, and Tehachapi Pass. These screens show the trains but also go into exquisite detail about the local landscapes.
  • Details in the distribution and decoration: Each model accurately reproduces the route the train took and also includes minute details about the trains themselves.
  • history and education: Each screen delves into the history of the railway line, keeping the history of the area and the trains alive.

Top 5 Things to Know About the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Of course, the museum is a no-brainer if you or your family love to travel by train. Before you head there, though, we have a couple of tips on what you should know about the San Diego Model Railroad Museum before you go.

Schedule and Admission

Tickets to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum are priced as follows:

  • Adults: $13.50
  • Seniors, Military, and Students (ages 12-17 and 18+ with a valid student ID): $9
  • Children from 3 to 12 years old: $6
  • Children 2 years and under: Free

If you are a San Diego County resident, you and your family can free visit every first tuesday Of the month.

Two Sightseeing Pass options

Admission package to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM) with other attractions in San Diego or just Balboa Park.

Go to San Diego Pass

Both of them All inclusive Y Explorer sightseeing passes include SDMRM and over 50 other San Diego attractions.

Use promo code lajollam 10% discount until December 31, 2022.

Balboa Park Explorer Pass

This pass includes 16 participating Balboa Park Museums.

Choose one of three pass options that include a Pass for the whole park valid for seven consecutive days, a annual pass (better for residents), or a limited pass that includes four valid participating locations for one day.

You can visit the museum from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm The museum is closed on Mondays.

Temporary exhibits

Although the museum has permanent exhibits, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum will often host a traveling or temporary exhibit.

These exhibits change throughout the year, but past exhibits have focused on certain aspects of trains, such as the hobby of building model trains and the various passenger cars throughout history.

you can check the exhibit list to see what the temporary exhibit will be during your visit.

Library and Gift Shop

Once you’ve explored the exhibits, you can head to the library for more information or to the gift shop for souvenirs.

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum has a small but expanding library. We’re talking over 10,000 books, magazines, maps, catalogs, and much more covering the railroad in America, with an emphasis on the Southwest and Southern California.

There’s also an online library and a book donation page if you’d like to contribute to the collection. As the museum tries to preserve the art of model railway construction, they are also working to create a digital archive.

Workshops, summer camps and educational resources

If you’re a local, take advantage of more than just the price of free admission on Tuesday. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum also offers a school workshop for middle and high schools. The workshop focuses on grade-appropriate review and learning games and history of the rail industry.

You can also sign your children up for summer camps available through the museum. These camps meet at the museum and go over the basics of train building. They delve into the history of trains in the area and further explore the dioramas.

Don’t forget to check their educational resourcesas these printables are also fun for visiting families.

  • print the self-guided museum tour before you leave. Children can enjoy completing the STEAM-focused questions and the crossword puzzle.
  • print the museum curiosities to notice things on screens you might not know to look for and more.

Other things to do in the Balboa Park area

Plan to spend an hour or so, depending on your level of interest, at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. However, you can plan a full day at Balboa Park.

Seventeen museums make up Balboa Park, including the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Once you’ve seen its fill of train cars, you can head to another museum, have lunch at one of our favorite Balboa Park restaurants, explore the gardens, or even visit the zoo. Either way, there is plenty to do nearby.

Why We Love the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Things to Do in Balboa Park: San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego Model Railroad Museum: Highlights, Tickets & Tips san diego model railroad museum: highlights 3

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is definitely one of the park’s hidden gems. Of course, young train enthusiasts and collectors will enjoy this museum to the fullest. However, pay it a visit even if your kids don’t love trains. If you have one of the tourist passes I recommend, there is no reason not to visit.

The museum is also special because you can adapt the information to any age. A young child can simply enjoy watching the trains go by in the dioramas. An older child can do some research and learn about the history of a specific train or the hobby of building model railroads. Adults can appreciate the clever way of combining STEAM themes, California railroad history and fun into one unique museum experience.

Once again, one of the best parts is the attention to detail. Moving model trains roll through beautifully painted landscapes on historically accurate train routes, in both indoor and outdoor settings.

final thoughts

Next time you’re in Balboa Park, stop by the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The experience is worth more than the price of admission.

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