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23 Years of Irvine Park Railroad

Have you been looking for a day of family fun in Orange County that won’t break the bank or leave you in an hour-long line? All aboard the Irvine Park Railroad! People from all around Southern California have been discovering the magic of the Railroad for years, and it’ll be celebrating 23 years of fun on February 23 and 24. They’re ringing in their birthday with a bang, and they want you to join in on the good times!

Photo courtesy of Irvine Park Railroad

In case you’re unfamiliar, the Irvine Park Railroad has been a celebrated family destination in the area for years. Located in the foothills of Orange, it hosts a one-third scale CP Huntington train that takes people on a tour of Irvine Regional Park, giving a special look at the historical sites in the area. As long as weather permits, the Railroad is open seven days a week, with the exception of certain holidays.

For their Anniversary Celebration, they’ll be discounting tickets to their original price of $2, along with bringing a wide range of games, activities and entertainment for kids and parents alike. Families can enjoy carnival games, face painting, hayrides and bouncy houses, along with a special booth where kids get the chance to pan for gold. Visitors can also look forward to a live performance from the Five Star Band, who’ll be bringing old school tunes to the Anniversary Celebration for their third year in a row. There’ll also be a raffle, where anyone who purchases an activity ticket can enter to win exciting prizes.

I was fortunate enough to speak with Katie Falcon, the director of operations, to learn more about the Railroad. She’s been working there for about 20 years, so she’s been with them almost as long as they’ve been around. She started off at the snack bar in high school and continued to work there through college. She began diving more into the marketing and advertising realm, and eventually entered her current role. Her deep-rooted history with the Railroad isn’t too far out of the ordinary, either. According to her, there are quite a few that have stuck with it for the long run, and she notes it’s been the opportunity to see the company grow that’s kept her around for this long.

One of her favorite changes that the Railroad’s made since it started is the addition of special events that take place throughout the year. After the Anniversary Celebration, there’s the Easter Extravaganza that goes from March 30 through April 20, where kids can hunt for eggs, take pictures with the Easter Bunny, and enjoy a variety of activities.

When the leaves start changing colors, from September 14 to October 31, you can catch the annual Pumpkin Patch, which Katie says is their biggest event of the year. Guests can get lost in the hay maze, get spooked (but not too spooked) by the haunted house, and see some massive pumpkins at the Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off on the September 21, hosted by Henri DiCarlo of KTLA Channel 5.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Park Railroad

Wrapping up the year, the Christmas Train arrives at the station from November 29 to December 23. Families will get to ride the decorated train through the beautifully lit park up to the North Pole, where they can take pictures with Santa and enjoy snacks before hopping on the train to Santa’s Village. At the Village, kids can decorate cookies, listen to stories from Mrs. Clause, jump around in the Santa Bounce House, and play carnival games.

If you want to get in on the fun, make sure to get your tickets, sold online only, starting November 4. Katie mentioned that the tickets sell out within a day or two, so make sure you get yours sooner rather than later.

Speaking about the Christmas Train, she says, “It’s a tradition that becomes a family staple. We have some families that still bring their kids in college to come visit Santa. The park’s all lit up with Christmas lights, you take a night ride, and it’s really amazing.”

With the 23rd anniversary approaching, now would also be a good opportunity to learn about the beginnings of the famed attraction. It began with two childhood friends from South Orange County named John Ford and Steve Horn. They spent their adolescent summers, starting at age 13, working at the snack bar and rental kiosks at Doheny State Beach. In 1986, with college acceptance letters in hand, they took a chance and opened their own concession stand in Irvine Regional Park. Their gamble began to pay off as they expanded their business, eventually adding paddle-boat rentals to their repertoire. After some time and hard work, with the help of family and friends, 1988 saw the beginning of their own catering business, Company Picnic Specialists.

Photo courtesy of Irvine Park Railroad

As time went on, the park saw even more visitors come in on a regular basis. John and Steve’s main goal, as always, was to provide them with even more attractions and activities. It was out of that desire that the Irvine Park Railroad came to open in 1996. This February, they’ll celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the culmination of those efforts.

Speaking of the anniversary, Katie wants to remind you: “Be sure to arrive [to the Anniversary Celebration] early if you want to avoid crowds, but bring the whole family and plan on spending the day. It’s a lot of fun, and it breaks up the day-to-day when you get to spend your day in the park.”

Outside of the Railroad, Irvine Regional Park is a history-rich destination that has a lot to offer the people of Irvine and Southern California. Along with the train, the park also hosts the Orange County Zoo, where you can see bears, mountain lions, eagles, foxes and many other majestic creatures. In addition, the park offers bike rentals, paddleboat rentals on a beautiful lake and pony rides for the kids.

Find out more about the railroad on their website, www.irvineparkrailroad.com, and be sure to keep up with the Irvine Weekly to stay updated on events in the area.