Train Lovers Guide Part Two: Local Choo-Choo Activities

When my son was two he discovered trains. Some kids play with a toy for 6 months at this age, but his absolute love for trains lasted for 5 years. Our self-described “ Train Expert” could not get enough. So, it was trains, trains, trains and more trains for us day and night. If there was a train-related activity in the Tri-State area, we have been there, or at least know about it!   If you have a train lover in your family, this list of activities with a tie to trains is for you. Pack their conductor’s hat and enjoy a fun day out! 

Zoos and Museums

Van Saun Park (Paramus, NJ)

Van Saun County Park, the pride of Bergen County, is a great day out. Featuring a  small zoo, train ride, carousel, giant playground and small splash area, it’s a favorite spot for local families.  Their train runs from Spring until Thanksgiving 6 days a week, weather permitting. It’s $1.50 a ride, so go as many times as your Lil Conductor wants. At the beginning of every season we buy $20 worth of tickets so we don’t have to wait in the Box Office line every visit. Lines are always difficult with toddlers, so I try to cut down on them where I can 😉 Pack a lunch and enjoy this great spot!

Turtle Back Zoo (West Orange, NJ)

Don’t feel like heading into the city?  Go to this fantastic zoo near Short Hills with a great variety of animals from all over the world!  Voted the #1 Zoo in NJ, this large zoo has over 20 exhibits plus live music performances and a playground. The giraffes are showstopping and my 2 year old loved feeding them. Their train ride is longer than Van Saun and is included in your admission ticket. Their Holiday Lights Spectacular event in December is free and lots of fun on a warm winter’s day.  Admission is free for this November & December event and is another reason for your Train Lover to take a ride!  

New York Transit Museum (Brooklyn, NY)

We never made it here and I’m bummed because this place looked so cool. The Museum entrance is even located in an old, real subway station. They have a collection of activities called Transit Tots, such as sing alongs and story time, perfect for kids aged 2-5. It was on our summer list as our Library offers free passes via MuseumKey but it was too hard to get the kids away from the community pool! If you are interested in learning more about how to go to museums free any day of the week–check out my post here

Play Places with Train related Activities

Imagine THAT! (Parsippany, NJ)

My kids LOVE this place! Imagine THAT! is a play place focused on  pretend and imagination activities best for the preschool and under 8 set. This place is smaller than the bigger museums and is very manageable for one adult to go with multiple kids. It’s the size of 5 Starbucks—to give you an idea.  They recently renovated it to make it one big open space with different areas, making it easy to keep your eye on kids in multiple play areas. My kids work their way through every section of the place – grocery store, nursery, pet vet, fire truck, train table, dress up/dance studio, pirate ship, castle, indoor playground! It’s a really fun day.

Even though it is kinda far from our house, we go a lot so I ended up buying a book of passes, and they have a coupon in the KidStuff fundraising book. However,  you can also go for free if you can check the passes out from the Clifton Library. ( Go ahead, check your phone for Clifton friends and family, I’ll still be here) For more on how to score free museum passes from your library check my other post

Meyer’s Dolls, Toys and Hobbies (Livingston, NJ)

We went to a Thomas & Friends birthday party( amazing!) at this small toy store.  The owner mentioned that they do open play in the train room for a very small fee, which is a little bit of a secret! Give them a call before you head on over to confirm the open play times for that week, as it varies based on birthday parties. This is a great spot for school holidays as their open play is less well known and will be less crowded than the typical kids play places.  

Kids ‘Paint Pottery’ Boutiques (Varies)

Looking to add some variety to your train activities? Don’t forget about your local Painting Pottery places. There are always deals on Groupon for these local shops, such as Arts & Creations Pottery Studio Woodland Park, which offers $10 for one and $20 for two on Groupon.  The train figure is normally an “upgrade” but for your train lover, they would have it no other way 😉

Train Rides

Ride NJ Transit  (Various)

All Aboard!!!! With a train station in or near almost every local town, it’s an easy spontaneous activity perfect for school breaks, rainy or cold days.   We tend to jump on trains heading away from the city cause my kids would BEG me to get out and go to “Yew Nork City” but enjoy the ride whichever direction you take.  

Whippany Railway Museum (Hanover, NJ) 

They have a small train museum, but their many seasonal train ride events in the Spring, Fall and Winter are the gems here!  There are A LOT of Christmas themed train rides out there, but boy they are expensive! It’s hard for this frugal fannie to spend all that money on the official Polar Express branded train rides when we have just as much fun on these moderately priced ones. 

Tri-State Railway Historical Society (Wayne,NJ) 

This train restoration group also hosts moderately priced holiday train rides with Santa Claus in December. Leaving from the NJ Transit station in Wayne, tickets include a toy for each child and photo opps with Santa.  Make sure to buy tickets the day they go on sale, as this event always sells out. 

Glen Rock Jaycees ( Glen Rock, NJ)

For 55 years, this civic organization has been organizing train rides from Glen Rock the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend! My son LOVED this, and  was so shocked that he got a toy from Santa on the ride. Tickets sell out very quickly, so make sure to grab yours!

♥ Planner’s Tip♥   If you know for sure that you want to go on a Santa Ride, you gotta be on top of purchasing tickets! These are really popular activities in our area and always sell out very quickly.  Make sure you sign up for their email lists, as well as ask what day tickets normally go on sale. Put a calendar reminder on your phone for those days. That way a robot can remember and remind you first thing in the morning! #Delegate

Day Trips & Vacations

Thomas & Friends Amusement Park (Cape Cod, MA or Pittsburgh, PA)

If you are thinking about a family vacation near Cape Cod or Pittsburgh, you can also add a stop to Sodor, Knapford Station and Tidmouth Sheds to the trip! Both Edaville in Massachusetts and Kennywood near Pittsburgh have  Thomas Land sections in their amusement parks. They offer rides on various Thomas characters and are a dream for Thomas loving kiddos! 

Day Out with Thomas  (Mystic, CT, Philipsburgh, PA or Lancaster, PA)

A nationwide touring event that features a train ride on Thomas ( !!!!) as well as tons of Thomas & Friends activities. We’ve been to this event in two different towns and I definitely recommend going while your kid loves Thomas. Seeing their face light up when they see the “real life” trains and Sir Toppham Hatt is the best! They have a variety of carnival rides, food and seasonal activities depending on the time of year you attend. 

Amish Country (Lancaster, Pa) 

Whether you are thinking of going to Lancaster for Day Out with Thomas or another time, it is a wonderful family vacation spot with ,BONUS, tons of activities for your train lover. In the town of Ronks in Lancaster County there are 4 train attractions- Choo Choo Barn, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, National Toy Train Museum and Strasburg Railroad.  For more Lancaster trip activities check out my post on this spot in Local Family Vacations.  

Hudson Valley, NY (Varies)

Forbes recently named the Hudson Valley as “One of The Places to Visit in 2020.” It is a favorite spot for our family and my kids beg to go back all the time.  There is SO much to do there – including activities for your train lover! The Catskill Mountain Railroad offers seven different seasonal rides departing from Kingston, NY ( 100 miles north of NYC).

We love to visit the town of Phoenia as part of our drive home from Hunter, NY.  Not only is the infamous Phoenicia Diner there, but the town has the Empire State Railway Museum and The Rail Explorers where you can “bike” as a family on the old Railroad tracks. For more Catskills trip activities check out my post in Local Family Vacations.  

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