Our Day Out with Thomas at Roaring Camp Railroads California
If you're a parent of young kids, you've witnessed the power of Thomas and his friends. These days, these creatures from the fantasy land of Sodor are omnipresent and have conquered the hearts of many of our younglings. So when the "Day Out with Thomas" event comes to town, we just have to go see him in person. Furthermore, we had always wanted to visit the Roaring Camp Railroads set in the redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains, so this trip sounded great to us grown-ups, too.
Day Out with Thomas is a hugely successful touring event organized by HiT Entertainment, the owner of the Thomas and Friends franchise. They've managed to develop this peculiar little British tank engine into a worldwide phenomenon with unlimited merchandising opportunities. What a great idea it is to invite kids and parents all aboard a life-sized Thomas to tour historical railroads that would otherwise be forgotten!
We arrived at Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz mountains straight from our night out camping under the stars. Slightly sleep-deprived due to our small but very active sleepers, we thanked the morning coffee as we drove through the scenic mountain roads.
As soon as we arrived at Roaring Camp Railroads, I was smitten by the old covered bridge. I'm not sure why they fell out of favor in our days, but there's definitely something quaint and charming about them. As I looked at the timber structure, our three-year-old discovered the surprise of the day. Yes, we kept it a surprise for him!
We booked our tickets in advance and picked the time and car of our train ride. But you can always buy or change your tickets once you arrive at the event. Day Out with Thomas tours the entire United States (also in the UK and Netherlands), and it's only here in the San Francisco Bay Area for two weekends in the summer. As you can imagine, it gets quite a lot of visitors, so I'd recommend reserving the tickets online. If you won't be able to see Thomas this summer, know that he's coming back with Percy for Halloween later this year.
We boarded the train led by Thomas himself. The distinct whistle blew and we were off to discover this Californian mountain railroad from the 1880s!
Many kids were dressed up for the occasion, wearing Thomas T-shirts or hats; or as my friend Ruth did, she dressed her kids in seersucker engineer outfits. Seersucker has a classic, colonial air to it. This fabric is durable, light, and breathable, perfect for the engineers that had to work in the hot steam locomotives. A little seersucker outfit can be a fun little tribute to the days of the steam engine locomotives. It can also be quite retro-chic for you!
The train ride took us through tall redwoods that were fortunately spared from the logging business of the late 19th century. The rails followed a quiet little creek nestled in a leafy valley. Even in the heat of summer, we bathed in the cool forest air while we admired the handsome trees around us.
If you like bridges, you're in luck. Thomas took us over a metal framed bridge and a stone bridge with arches. Isn't it always exciting when you go over a bridge? Slight scary, but full of new promises.
A train conductor that wasn't conducting came along and passed out the Day Out with Thomas certificates to the kids. For kids that couldn't read yet, the piece of paper provided crinkly sounds and textures for their entertainment.
The train ride lasted around 20 minutes. But as Thomas is a really useful engine, once he gets back to the station, he stays put and poses with kids for picture.
He works with patience, regardless of how many funny faces he sees and how fidgety the kids are.
A word of warning. Enter the temporary Thomas Gift Shop at Bret Harte Hall at your own risk. For the Thomas fans out there, this temple of Thomas-branded products is a dream come true. For the parents of said fans, however, come prepared or brace yourself for some powerful tantrums. I browsed through the blue ocean of gifts on my own, then directed the rest of the family to more wholesome activities around Roaring Camp.
By wholesome I naturally mean BBQ sauce pulled pork sandwiches and grilled hot dogs.
There are some educational activities at Roaring Camp. You can learn about steam-powered trains and see a blacksmith chime away at a working forge. On Fridays you can also try your hands at gold-panning as the 49ers did.
Kids can experience some simple, good ol' fun like playing hide-and-seek in a bright-red barn house...
... or enjoy getting hay all over their hair and clothes.
In conclusion, we were glad to meet Thomas in person, we enjoyed the refreshing ride through the redwood forest, but most of all, we enjoyed the simple fun and open spirit of the West at Roaring Camp Railroads. When well-accompanied, fun is never a long way from home.
Stay Wild and Travel On,