As you walk down the Prado in beautiful Balboa Park, there is one sign that always catches the eye – “North America’s Largest Model Railroad Museum- Downstairs”. And as you make your way down, you are greeted by over 27,000 square feet of trains, trestles, turns, tunnels and tracks with both indoor and outdoor exhibits. The museum collects, preserves, and presents the heritage of American railroading with historically accurate scale models of California railroads.
There are five main layouts that are built and operated by different San Diego Clubs, and they represent different California railroads in different time periods.
- THE CABRILLO SOUTHWESTERN AND THE SAN DIEGO & ARIZONA EASTERN by the San Diego Model Railroad Association represents California circa 1955 from San Diego to El Centro. You can follow the line from the Mexican border all the way down to El Centro.
- THE TEHACHAPI PASS by the La Mesa Model Railroad Club is a highly accurate replica of Southern California’s busiest mountain railroad that runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is famous for the Tehachapi Loop.
- PACIFIC DESERT LINES by the San Diego Society of N Scale models the original 1855 route that was surveyed and planned for the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad, but was never built.
- THE TOY TRAIN GALLERY by the San Diego 3-Railer Club operates a fantasy layout featuring “Lionel Type” toy trains running on 3 rail O gauge track. One of the highlights is the “Choo-Choo cam” fitted onto a running train which provides visitors with a first person virtual view of the layout.
- THE CENTENNIAL RAILWAY GARDEN was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park in 2015. The garden railroad is modeled after Balboa Park as it existed in 1915.