All Aboard the Santa Train in Southern California
by James Wolfe
You’re in Southern California and it’s nearly Christmas. Maybe you live there, maybe you’re visiting, but you’re looking for a good holiday-themed family activity and the tree is already decorated. You’ve done the Christmas shopping, wrapped the presents, and even sent Christmas cards. The cookies are baked and decorated.
So what are you, your spouse, and the kids going to do to indulge in a little more holiday spirit?
How about a train to the North Pole?
A reasonable drive inland from the coastal areas of Los Angeles, Ventura, or Santa Barbara counties will bring you to Fillmore, CA, and the North Pole Express. You and your kids can climb aboard a 1930s or 1940s train in the charming downtown train station and enjoy holiday snacks, including milk and cookies while elves read Christmas stories. There is also caroling. The Fillmore and Western Railway website encourages travelers to wear their pajamas (perhaps making it easier to put kids to bed afterwards), although this is certainly optional. We didn’t.
Kids will enjoy seeing the mock Santa’s village after the 30 minute outbound ride, where Santa Claus will board the train for the return journey. He’ll wander through the cars to great passengers and give the kids candy canes and small gifts (ours got sleigh bells when we did this a few years ago, but I don’t know if that is always the gift). When the train returns to Fillmore, Santa will pose in the station with kids for photos. Parents can then take advantage of all the vendors selling their holiday crafts and other wares.
The North Pole Express began its annual season November 28 and continues through December 26. The vintage train ride leaves at 6:00 or 7:30 in the evening (plus 4:45 December 19-23) for a one-hour round-trip excursion. If you don’t have your tree yet, you could also consider the daytime Christmas Tree Holiday Train that stops at a tree farm or even the Santa Shopper Train. At other times of the year, Fillmore and Western offers a variety of other excursions, including for holidays like Easter and Halloween.
We’ve noticed that similar “Polar Express” style train rides are offered in other parts of the U.S. (and globally) as well, so it might be worth checking out what’s available near you if you’re not in SoCal. We won’t be making it an annual rite, but might consider doing it again with the kids before they get too old for Santa trains.
You can read more about the Fillmore and Western North Pole Express (and other train rides) at http://www.fwry-blog.com/north-pole-express.html