Sunday mornings in Los Angeles are good for several things. Hitting your local retro diner, picking up cool old junk at a flea market and going to church. Okay, maybe not church. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
But if you are looking for something completely different and old school way to spend the day, just follow Zoo Drive off the 5 freeway and before you get to Travel Town (or the actual zoo) make a stop at the Los Angeles Live Steamers.
The "mini train ride that could" has been around since 1956 but it is only open on Sundays from 11am to 3pm. Yes, you may have to wait in a line to get your chance to ride this one of a kind throwback attraction. And you best be ready to ride. L.A. Steamers is not for looky-loos. They survive solely on donations, so buy your ticket (Just $3.00 per person) and mount the train. Yes, I said mount. You literally have to straddle the train cars linked behind a tiny steam engine to ride.(and doesn't KV look just THRILLED about this? ;-) Mod B)
There are height (as well as weight) restrictions. But if you're over 3 years old and under 350 lbs you are welcome to take a magical journey. On first look one might think, “There is no way that tiny train is going to be able to pull the thirty or so riders on it around the track.” But as the engine (some steam, some electric) starts churning and the ancient denim clad conductor yells, “All Aboard!” you realize it's on.
The surprisingly smooth journey lasts about twenty-five minutes and takes you on a winding journey through a wooden area packed with prop houses and mini sets.
You can feel the breeze in your hair as you chug along, hanging on for dear life to loved ones and the 1 8th scale train. Although not as exhilarating as modern roller coasters, the tiny Los Angeles Live Steamer is a thrill ride. The locomotive really starts cooking as you plow through tunnels and make your way over the bridge heading back to the station. On route you're sure to pass another train that is about to start their adventure. My goodness this place is fun.
On the third Sunday of the month, they open up a special part of L.A. Steamers that is usually off limits to the public: Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn. Yes, that Walt Disney, the film mogul and theme park mastermind. Did you know that old Walt was a train nut? Okay, enthusiast. The Carolwood Barn is packed with artifacts from Disney's past, focusing on his love of train travel. It's a rare thing to see without a huge Disney price tag attached.
Halloween is a special time as L.A. Steamers transforms into “Spooky Train.” The folks that run the place must have connections in the field of Hollywood special effects because for a dozen or so spooky nights leading up to October 31st, L.A. Steamers becomes an impressive (and scary) theme park. Note you might want to leave the little ones at home as Spooky Train has gotten scarier in the past years to compete with Universal Studios Horror Nights. I would suggest ages 10 and up will enjoy the fright-filled twenty minute train trip in the dark.
Los Angeles Live Steamers is a hidden treasure in the San Fernando Valley. Run by train enthusiast and volunteers for almost seven decades now, it is a Sunday morning must for children of all ages.