Visit The Largest Model Railroad Museum In North America

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 5% on the Go City Pass with Coupon Code: GO5CMANTIS The discount stacks on top the current sale prices! Promo expires on April 30th.

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 you’re 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.

What’s at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

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 line’s 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 California’s 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 train’s 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.

One fascinating aspect of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is that the layouts are the result of the dedication of four local nonprofits who volunteer their time for the design, construction, and operation of each display. The San Diego Model Railroad Club, La Mesa Model Railroad Club, San Diego Society of N-Scale, and San Diego 3-Railers are the primary exhibitors in the museum. These nonprofits are also responsible for funding their exhibits.

If you love all things trains, then you’ll definitely not want to miss the San Diego Model Railroad Museum’s gift shop. This fun store stocks a well-curated assortment of gifts, accessories, toys, games, books, apparel, and of course, train sets. It’s the perfect place to find the perfect item for that train-lover in your life—or just to pick out something neat for yourself!

Tips for Visiting the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

  • If you are seeing other sights while in San Diego you can save some money if by getting a Go San Diego Pass. The is included as are many other great San Diego Attractions.
  • The San Diego Model Railroad Museum often runs special, temporary exhibits that either bring traveling shows to Balboa Park for a limited time or highlight treasures from the museum’s own archive. Be sure to check their official website as you plan your excursion so you can be in the loop as to what events what might be taking place when you’re scheduled to be in town.
  • If you’re driving to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the best place to park your vehicle is in the Fleet Science Center parking lot. This is allowed, as the two facilities share the parking lot.
  • Since the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is located in the basement of the Casa de Balboa building, guests who want or require an elevator will find on the west side of the building’s lobby.
  • The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is also home to the Erwin Welsch Research Library. This research facility contains over 10,000 books and some 15,000 photographs pertaining to the railroads of North America, with of course a special focus on the railroads of Southern California and the American Southwest. It’s open between the hours of 11:00am and 3:30pm on Thursdays through Sundays.