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Balboa Park Model Train Museum

Model Railroad Museum Scavenger Hunt

A Brief History of Model Railroading in Balboa Park – San Diego Model Railroad Museum

For years, weve wanted to do a garden railroad for the Model Railroad Museum somewhere in the park, Ridenhour said. With the centennial, we thought, wouldnt it be great if we could do a miniature park, a miniature representation of the park as it was in 1915, within the park?

Balboa Park re-imagined

While the San Diego 3-Railers Clubs lively Toy Train Gallery is full of fancy , most of the exhibits in the museum are based on actual or historic railway lines, executed in 1:87 , 1:160 or 1:48 scale.

On occasion, club members will get together and stage an operating session, where theyll pick a midcentury timetable for that particular line from the museums library, assign members the tasks that replicate a real railroad , and run the model line on the real timetable.

And unlike a conventional museum, many of those same volunteers created the exhibits they are now running and maintaining.

A lot of museums, they hire exhibit designers, Ridenhour said. They have people on staff who actually design the exhibits and put them together and create budgets to make sure those exhibits are executed. The majority of our exhibits are funded by volunteers and built and maintained by volunteers meaning they put their time and their own money into it.

Were proposing it as a temporary exhibition, Ridenhour said. But its possible it could become a legacy exhibit and be permanently installed.

Founded: 1980

Current & Upcoming Exhibitions

Toy Trains Through the Decades

Happy Holidays! Our Winter Exhibit here at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is Toy Trains Through the Decades.

This exhibit looks at the history of toy trains through the decade, starting with the late 1800s and into the modern era, as well as exploring the reason why we run trains around Christmas trees.

Toy Trains Through the Decades is included as part of museum admission.

Date: Thursday Sunday, Nov. 21st, 2022- Jan. 3rd, 2023

Time: 11 a.m. 4 p.m.

Location: San Diego Model Railroad Museum, 1649 El Prado San Diego CA 92101

Free For Residents Day

On the first Tuesday of every month, San Diego County residents, including college students and active-duty military members, are welcome to visit us for free.

  • Make sure to bring something to verify you live locally, like your I.D. with a local address, school I.D., or active-duty military I.D.

  • The Fleet Science Center and the Natural History Museum are also open free to residents on the first Tuesday of every month!

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Thomas Family Day At The San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Everyones favorite very useful engine returns to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum on Saturday, August 13 for Thomas Family Day!

The event will feature fun arts & crafts, a special scavenger hunt, and of course, Thomas and friends running on our model railroad exhibits. There will also be live music & movement sessions hosted by Songbirds Music throughout the afternoon. There is no extra fee to attend the event is during regular museum hours and is included in your admission!

SDMRM is a kid-friendly haven of trains, trestles, and tracks in the heart of Balboa Park, perfect for littles fascinated by trains and parents looking for an engaging yet relaxed day out. We hope you can join us!

About the Event:

First And Largest Electric Railway Museum In The World

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Seashore Trolley Museum will re-open on Saturday, May 6, 2023! Join us weekends in May and Wednesdays-Sundays from June 1 October 30. The museum is open 9:30AM-4:30PM the first trolley ride departs on our heritage railway at 9:45AM and the last ride departs at 3:45PM.

We hope you will join us. Check out our Calendar of Events or book your tickets in advance of your visit.

As the first and largest Electric Railway Museum in the world, our guests learn about and gain a new appreciation for the role public transportation has played throughout history.

Take a ride on our heritage railroad in a vintage trolley from the early 1900s. Explore three carhouses filled with beautiful, restored trolleys and several other precious transit artifacts around our outdoor campus. Our world-renowned collection includes vehicles from almost every major city in the United States that had streetcar systems, as well as from across the world. From the omnibus, to electric streetcars, buses, light rail vehicles, and rapid transit cars, weve got them all.

We welcome individuals, families, transit fans, school groups, tourists, historians, and anyone looking to re-live their childhood in our nostalgic setting. Because dogs are part of the family, we are dog-friendly. They are also welcome on our trolleys!

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The San Diego Museum Of Art

Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is known for its nationally renowned collections of Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings , and 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and sculptures. The museum regularly features major exhibitions from around the world, and is known for its commitment to technology that enhances the user experience. The museum also hosts an extensive year-round schedule of cultural and educational programs, including Culture & Cocktails, Film in the Garden, Art After Hours and the annual Bloom Bash.

Lifetime Membership Tax Deductibility Information:

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a 501 nonprofit organization EIN #95-3522268. Purchases of a San Diego Model Railroad Museum Lifetime Membership may result in charitable tax deductions. The potential tax deduction portion of an SDMRM Lifetime Membership is the full price, less the value of 10 free guest passes included in the initial membership purchase. The fair market value of each SDMRM guest pass is $19.50. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum recommends consulting with a professional tax advisor before calculating tax deductions on individual and corporate tax returns.

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Other Things To Do In The Balboa Park Area

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

Seventeen museums, including the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, make up Balboa Park. Once youve looked at your fill of train cars, you can head to another museum, grab lunch at one of our favorite Balboa Park restaurants, browse the gardens, or even pop into the Zoo. Either way, there is plenty to do nearby.

Whats At The San Diego Model Railroad Museum

San Diego Model Railroad Museum – Balboa Park – Model Railfanning

At the heart of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum are its permanent exhibits. The Cabrillo Southwestern and the San Diego and Arizona Eastern exhibits portray two famous regional railroad lines in stunning detail, with the Cabrillo Southwestern passing through a 1/48 scale mountain terrain and the San Diego and Arizona line recreating that lines San Diego to El Centro, California, journey as it would have appeared during its heyday in the 1950s.

A favorite permanent exhibit at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum would have to be The Tehachapi Pass, which captures every nuance of one of Californias most iconic mountain railroads in all its steep glory. The Pacific Desert Lines exhibit is notable for modeling a stretch of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern railroad line that was designed but never actually built.

The Toy Train Gallery exhibit at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is rated one of the best of its kind anywhere in the United States, and features a locomotive that has been fitted with a tiny camera to provide guests with a unique, first-person view of the trains journey along its tracks. A recent addition to the attraction, the Centennial Railway Garden has a model of Balboa Park as it appeared in 1915, during the height of the renowned Panama-California Exposition.

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Library And Gift Shop

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

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum has a small but expanding library. Were talking over 10,000 books, magazines, maps, catalogs, and much more covering railroading in America, emphasizing the Southwest and Southern California.

There is also an online library and book donation page should you like to contribute to the collection. As the museum tries to preserve the art of model train building, they are also working towards a digital archive.

Did you know that you browse the gift shop online AND buy model train supplies from the museums eBay shop?

Where San Diegos Railroad History Comes Alive

With over 27,000 square feet of tracks, trestles and trains, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is North Americas largest museum of its kind. Guests enter a world of wonder and exploration while learning about San Diegos rich railway history through beautifully crafted scale model layouts. The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is located on the lower floor in the Casa de Balboa Building in Balboa Park.

All month long, up to two children 12 and under get in FREE with one full-price paid adult on same admission ticket. The adult must be present & accompany children during the visit.. Balboa Park Explorer Passes are not valid for this promotion.

Present the Coupon to Redeem.

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San Diego Museum Of Us

Housed in the historic California Building, with its soaring California Tower, the Museum of Us has been educating and entertaining visitors from around the world for more than 100 years. The museum offers a variety of unique, interactive exhibits that cover a vast range of human history and culture from beer to cannibalism to monsters. The museum also offers guided tours of the California Tower, where visitors can learn about the history of Balboa Park and San Diego while taking in sweeping, 360-degree views of San Diego from nearly 200 feet up.

Workshops Summer Camps & Educational Resources

Balboa Park Train Museum Model Train San Diego

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

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

Dont forget to check out their educational resources, as these printables are fun for visiting families, too.


  • Print the self-guided museum tour before you go. Kids may enjoy filling in the STEAM-centric questions and the crossword puzzle.
  • Print the museum fun facts to notice things in the displays you may not know to look for and more.

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San Diego Model Railroad Museum History

There is a long history of model railroads being celebrated within Balboa Park, with the first such exhibit being displayed there nearly 100 years ago. In the early 1980s, though, things got serious when the San Diego Model Railroad Museum opened its doors to the public, becoming the first permanent home for model railroads in the greater San Diego area.

Housed within the historic Casa de Balboa building, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum has hosted millions of visitors over the course of the past few decades. Whether youre a child who is crazy about trains, or an engineer with a lifelong fascination with railroads, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is sure to educate, entertain, and enchant you.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

As one of only a handful of air and space museums in the country to be an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the San Diego Air & Space Museum is home to a collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft illustrating the history of flight. The collection includes a flight-worthy replica of Charles Lindberghs Spirit of St. Louis, the actual Apollo 9 Command Module, and the only real GPS satellite display in the world. View artifacts from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra and other aviation and space pioneers.

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San Diego Natural History Museum

Explore the natural history of Southern California from past to present at the San Diego Natural History Museum . From rattlesnakes and flesh-eating beetles to dinosaurs and fossils, to a pendulum that proves the earth is spinning, theres something for everyone at this Balboa Park favorite. The museum offers inventive, interactive exhibitions on five different floors, and features a giant-screen theater with daily showings of 2D and 3D films, as well as rotating exhibitions that bring nature to life.

Why We Love The San Diego Model Railroad Museum

[Oct 2nd, ’22] Exploring Balboa Park, Model Railroad Museum – IRL in San Diego, US

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is definitely one of the Parks hidden gems. Of course, young train enthusiasts and collectors will get the most enjoyment out of this museum. However, visit even if your kids dont rave about trains. If you have one of the sightseeing passes that I recommend, theres no reason not to pop in.

The museum is also special because you can adapt the information to any age. A toddler might simply enjoy watching the trains go by in the dioramas. An older kid can do some research and learn about the history of a specific train or the hobby of building model railroads. Adults may appreciate the clever way of blending STEAM topics, the history of California railroads, and fun together in a unique museum experience.

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

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Veterans Museum & Memorial Center

Dedicated to showcasing the history of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, and honoring those who have served, the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center is a civic institution that offers permanent, rotating and visiting exhibits of patriotic, military and war-related memorabilia, artifacts, photographs and other items.

Holiday Magic At The Model Railroad Museum

Need some holiday magic?

It can be found in abundance at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park!

The huge, detailed train layouts are amazing by themselves, but during the Holiday Season, additional surprises await around the museum!

There are beautiful Christmas trees, a talking, animatronic Santa to excite kids, and tiny holiday scenes placed in several of the scale train layouts.

But by far the most magic can be experienced in the Toy Train Gallery!

In the Toy Train Gallery, young and old gaze wide-eyed at a lively city filled with holiday figures and bright decorations. Trains illuminated with colored Christmas lights pass through happy winter scenes. Snowmen and Christmas trees perch on rooftops. It like a dream world one might see in a snow globefilled with life and activity!

In addition, the Toy Train Gallerys walls are filled with holiday artwork that will make old-timers nostalgic for years gone by.

A few photos provide a small taste

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San Diego Automotive Museum

Featuring more than 80 historic autos and motorcycles, the San Diego Automotive Museum offers a unique look at some of the most prized and unique vehicles of the 20th century, including Louie Mattars one-of-a-kind 1947 Cadillac , as well as one of the finest motorcycle collections on the West Coast.

Visit The Largest Model Railroad Museum In North America

Photos at San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is home to approximately 27,000 square feet of model railroad equipment, including lifelike miniature replicas of trains, tunnels, infrastructure, landscapes, and more. Located in the lower level of the spectacular Casa de Balboa building in Balboa Park, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is one of the largest facilities devoted solely to model railroads found anywhere in the world.

Save on your visit to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum!San Diego Model Railroad Museum is included on the Go San Diego Pass. Save an additional 10% on the Go City Pass with Coupon Code: CMGOCITY10 The discount stacks on top the current sale prices! Promo expires on August 31st.

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Museum Of Photographic Arts

As one of only three independent museums in the nation dedicated solely to the lens-based medium, the Museum of Photographic Arts aims to inspire, educate and engage through the innovative collection and presentation of photography, film and video. Exhibitions are presented in English and Spanish, with work from the museums archive as well as from contemporary artists. The museum also stores a permanent collection of nearly 9,000 images. The Edmund L. and Nancy Dubois Library strengthens the permanent collection with more than 24,000 items, all related to photography.

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