Located at the end of Galveston's historic Strand district, the Galveston Railroad Museum is a true treasure for kids and adults alike. Larger-than-life trains give kids the opportunity to get up close and personal with the same machines they may play with models of at home. While there are many Houston-area museums to choose from, seeing little eyes light up when they board real rail cars and get hands-on with these historical locomotives is well worth a trip to Galveston.
Upon entering the train depot entrance to the museum, Art Deco styling from the 1930s transports you back in time and really sets the tone for an entire journey through historical exhibits and inside rail cars. Inside, "Ghosts of Travelers' Past" feature statues of men, women, and children dressed in styles from the '30s which are set up to give the feel of what it was really like to visit a train depot back in the day. During our recent visit, our son loved the statues almost as much as he loved playing with the kids' train table set while he waited on us to map out our tour.
Self-guided tours allow you to set the pace, which is perfect for the littlest visitors who will want to stop and touch just about everything...because they can! For an additional fee, audio tours are available to help guide you through the exhibits, providing great descriptions at 22 stopping points throughout the museum.
This outdoor model train is perfectly sized for kids to explore.
Our first stop was the Display Building. Magnificent models line the walls of a two room, gallery-style model train exhibit. Extremely detailed model train villages with real, working model trains are a sight to behold. One of the model train rooms is complete with Christmas lights and glow-in-the-dark stars on the wall that illuminate with the push of a button. When we bought our tickets, a museum employee made sure to mention that most kids love pressing the button to make the train go and the lights work in the Christmas train room. This room was a definite hit with our 3-year-old.
The largest collection of railroad dining artifacts in the United States can be found at the Galveston Railroad Museum. While this was not the most exciting area for our little boy, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the historical designs of each dining set, which were grouped into regional displays and separated by era. As adults, we also loved the nostalgic feel of the postal car. This car was spacious enough for our son to romp around in, so we were able to read the info plaques while he weaved in and out of hanging mail bags and peeked into mail slots.
Board the mail train for a historical journey that transports both kids and adults!
Each rail car is preserved in glorious fashion as close as possible to the time period in which the car was used. Seats reminiscent of heirloom furniture line each side of the passenger car. Narrow hallways in the rail cars allow you to explore each car as if you are a passenger yourself. Peek inside the dining car's original kitchen, complete with cookware and other relics from the train's working days. You can even explore retro bathrooms on board some of the cars.
Some of the rail cars are currently closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Ike in 2008. The museum endured extensive damage and it has taken many years to restore each affected rail car. A large room off of the main depot contains many historical artifacts, as well as an entire wall devoted to photos and information regarding the destruction during Ike and the clean-up efforts post-storm. A wall marker in the west ticket office shows how high the water level rose during the storm. I plan to take our older kids back to the museum and use these displays as a teaching tool for hurricane safety.
Our son loved climbing into the bunks of the sleeper car.
One of the biggest draws for museum visitors are the Saturday train rides on the Harborside Express. Guests can ride a real train car down the rails and back, getting a great view of the Port of Galveston cruise terminal right next door. My father-in-law took our two older boys to ride the train one Saturday afternoon and they had a blast! While exploring just the museum and rail cars makes for an amazing time, a ride on a real locomotive really adds that something special to the experience.
What to know before you go:
- While the museum does not allow food or drinks inside the exhibits or rail cars, there is a concession stand where you can buy snacks and beverages to enjoy outside.
- Restrooms are located near the west ticket office, as well as inside the main depot.
- Many of the rail cars are not air-conditioned. To cool off, head to the main depot, gift shop, or model train display rooms.
- The museum hosts many events including birthday parties and weddings. Please see their website for more information on renting the facility.
With so much to see and do, the Galveston Railroad Museum really does have something for everyone. Special events take place year-round, so be sure to check the museum's website for hours, prices and other event information before you go.
All photos by Ashley Jones