San Diego Model Railroad Museum

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1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Tuesday - Friday)
11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Saturday & Sunday)
One of the largest museums of its kind, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park offers a magical environment for railroad fans of all generations.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
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Exhibits / Attractions
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All Aboard at the Model Railroad Museum

Railroad buffs of all ages can spend hours at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum watching the progress of dozens upon dozens of trains, absorbing the minute details of the various layouts and relishing the magic of a bygone era.

Visitors are captivated by the precise scale-model trains and the picturesque landscape through which they travel. The detail is stunning, from the tables inside a dining car to an outdoor fair, complete with a Ferris wheel, and a passing drama of firefighters using a safety net to save a man jumping from a four-story building.

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About the Museum

Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (SDMRM) is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. The painstaking construction on the various layouts brings railroading to life and carries out the mission of the SDMRM, which is to "research, collect, preserve, and present the heritage of American railroading with scale models of California railroads."

Many of the buildings in the exhibit took years to construct, and visitors marvel over the careful detailing on backdrops of hills, valleys, towns and farmland. Trains of different eras in large G scale down to the smallest Z-scale model run on tracks, tunnels, bridges and trestles that cover more than 27,000 square feet.

Balboa Park, named a Historic Landmark in 1977, is a popular destination for visitors and residents of San Diego alike. Spread over 1,200 beautifully landscaped acres, it is home to 16 museums, including the SDMRM, as well as the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

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The Go San Diego Pass is the perfect way to explore more attractions and activities that the area has to offer, all while being cost-efficient.

With the Go San Diego Pass, you can save up to 55% off admission fees at some of the area’s most popular attractions.

Exhibits

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum features several exhibits, all of which showcase California railroads, and the trains come in different sizes. For example, a G-scale engine is 13 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4-3/4 inches high. It is 6.9 times bigger than a Z-sale engine, which is only 4 inches long, 2/3 inches wide and 3/4 inches high.

The Cabrillo Southwestern

The O-scale Cabrillo Southwestern has a double-track mainline as well as a narrow-gauge branch line set into a mountain-town backdrop. The layout represents California in the mid-1950s. Among the details is a church with a small cemetery. The headstones here are engraved with the names of deceased SDMRM members.

The San Diego & Arizona Eastern

Another layout modeled after the 1950s is the 142-foot-long San Diego & Arizona Eastern featuring the all-wood Goat Canyon Trestle. This layout shows visitors the route from San Diego to El Centro, CA, where a drive-in movie theater is the town’s main feature, a nostalgic memory for baby-boomers. The San Diego Model Railroad Association operates both this layout and the Cabrillo Southwestern.

Local Tips
Plan your Visit
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday 10 AM - 4 PM, Saturday & Sunday 11 AM - 5 PM and is closed on Mondays.

The Southern Pacific-Santa Re Tehachapi Pass Layout

The La Mesa Model Railroad Club operates this HO-scale, single-track mountain railroad. The model layout is true to reality in that the steep mountain grade in the Tehachapi Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is replicated. Everything in this layout is done to scale, including the types of trains, their speed and their operating times.

The Pacific Desert lines

In approximately 1,500 square feet, this is a model of a route that was planned in 1855 but never built. Operated by the San Diego Society of N Scale, the layout shows the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad in N scale that runs past local landmarks from the Carlsbad Flower Fields to the downtown area.

The Toy Train Gallery

Operated by the San Diego 3-Railers Club and featured by Classic Toy Trains Magazine in 2012, the Toy Train layout has “Lionel-size” trains that chug along on 3-rail, O-gauge track. The Toy Train Gallery provides visitors with the “Choo-Choo Cam” on a running train that offers a virtual view of the layout.

The Centennial Railway Garden

Here is a G-scale garden railroad that is one of the few “green” exhibits in Balboa Park. Opened in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the park, this solar-powered model railroad runs through a landscape of drought-tolerant plants. The trolley cars in the exhibit depict the streetcars that were built for the 1915 Exposition.

Educational Programs

SDMRM members support educational activities for young people both online and in person at the museum.

Model railroading and children go together naturally, so learning is an integral part of the experience when students visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Students can attend Steam Workshops as well as Summer Camps where they discover what it takes to build a model railroad.

Through these educational programs, they can put their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to work to develop a track plan and build an operational, themed layout.

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Know Before You Go

  • Parking at Balboa Park is free; there are various small lots, but a tram is available for those who use the Inspiration Point lot on Park Blvd.
  • The SDMRM is located on the Prado in the Casa de Balboa Building
  • Nearby restaurants include Prado, Panama 66 and Cafe in the Park

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Stay Nearby

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Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Downtown/Bayside
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from $153 / night
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