What is it about little kids and trains? Children’s literature and television is full of fictional trains from The Little Engine That Could, Thomas the Tank Engine, to newer efforts, like PBS Kids’ show “Dinosaur Train.” All preschoolers seem to like trains; for some however, they are practically an obsession. If you are a parent of a train-obsessed tyke, fear not. The Chicago area is full of places to see trains, both real and miniature. Many of these places are equally fun for older kids and even parents. And when all else fails, you can always take your little engineer on a nice long El ride. At $2.25 a rider, it’s quite a bargain.
The Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
The South Side’s Museum of Science and Industry is home to an amazing model train display that depicts the trip from downtown Chicago across the western half of the country to Seattle. The detail of the miniature Loop, complete with El trains, is astonishing and kids love to search for familiar landmarks. In the same area as the model train display, there are several life-size trains which trace the history of the steam engine. And don’t forget the twenty-minute tour of the historic Pioneer Zephyr, an enormous silver bullet of a train located in the entry hall.
The Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022
For an outdoor model train experience, check out the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Model Railroad Garden. The 7,500-square-foot garden features 17 trains on 1,600 feet of track and depicts recognizable American landmarks, from the White House to Wrigley Field to the “Hollywood” sign. The Model Railroad Garden is only open in the spring and summer, but during the holiday season, the Botanic Garden is also home to the Wonderland Express, an indoor 10,000-square-foot exhibition of miniature trains complete with bridges, trestles, waterfalls, and more than 80 Chicago landmarks.
Berwyn Toy Trains & Models
7025 Ogden Avenue
Berwyn, IL 60402
Half toy store, half hobby shop, Berwyn Toy Trains & Models is a place where old and young train enthusiasts come to play, shop and talk trains. The store features an impressive model train display (for looking only) and two train tables (playing encouraged) populated by Thomas the Tank Engine characters. While the kids are playing, Mom and Dad may want to pick up a birthday present or two. Berwyn Toy Trains carries the complete Thomas the Tank Engine line as well as other popular toys, such as Legos, Playmobils, and Corelle dolls.
Two Toots Train Whistle Grill
950 Warren Avenue
Downer’s Grove, IL
450 N. Main St
Glen Ellyn, IL
Imagine a model train delivering a cupcake – topped with a toy train whistle — to your birthday boy or girl while “Happy Birthday” plays in the background. Pretty great, right? No wonder the Two Toots Train Whistle Grill is the favorite spot for birthday meals for many Chicago area families. With kid-friendly cuisine like burgers, hot dogs and fries all delivered to your table by authentic Lionel trains, a visit to the Two Toots Train Whistle Grill makes any day a special occasion.
Emily Paster is a mother of two living in the near west suburbs. She teaches legal writing at Loyola University School of Law. Read more of her thoughts on balancing work and family and raising kids in the Chicago area on her blog West of the Loop.