Hop on the Polar Express train on a weekend trip to Jamestown, Calif.


Jamestown might be 325 miles north of Los Angeles in the Sierra foothills, but this historic Gold Rush town still has a Hollywood connection. Dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed at Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, which offers rides aboard a vintage steam train along with a glimpse of one of the last working roundhouses in the country. Jamestown even has its own “Walk of Fame” highlighting the movies and shows filmed here (they include such classics as “Little House on the Prairie,” “Back to the Future III” and “Unforgiven”). The tab: A night at the National Hotel costs $140-$160, plus tax; lunch for my family of four with appetizers and drinks at the Service Station was about $90, plus tip; and coach tickets on Railtown’s Polar Express cost $50 per person.


Jamestown’s charming Main Street, just off California 108, is lined with hotels, restaurants, antique shops, wine-tasting rooms and a cigar lounge. The National Hotel’s balcony, which displays miniature flags from countries around the world, overlooks Main Street. The hotel has nine rooms, most featuring brass beds with pillow-top mattresses and private bathrooms with pull-chain toilets. The hotel offers indoor and courtyard dining along with a historic saloon where you can sip a Gold Rush Margarita.



Guests at the National Hotel are served a buffet breakfast with quiche, sourdough French toast, homemade granola and more. For lunch or dinner, head a short distance on Main Street to the Service Station. The restaurant has a beautiful old bar inside and a relaxing lounge out back. Our meal started with mimosas and fun appetizers that included soft pretzels with beer cheese and stone-ground mustard dips. I enjoyed my grilled chicken sandwich with garlic pesto aioli and sun-dried tomato spread with cheese, bacon, tomato and arugula served with a side of onion rings. After our meal, we got some exercise by strolling the Walk of Fame from Main Street to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.


Railtown hosts weekend train rides from April to October as well as special events throughout the year. The park’s festive Polar Express train rides, based on the book and movie of the same name, will be Friday and Saturday Nov. 29 and 30 and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 22 (except Dec. 1). Passengers are encouraged to wear their pajamas on the hourlong, evening train rides. My family and I rode the Polar Express a few years ago when our kids were 1 and 10 years old. We didn’t dress in our pj’s, but we quickly got in the spirit. It’s difficult not to as dancing waiters serve hot cocoa and cookies as you head to see Santa at the “North Pole.” Once there, Santa boards the train and hands each passenger a sleigh bell.


Tickets for the Polar Express train rides went on sale Oct. 11 and often sell out. For those who can’t face Christmas just yet, there’s Railtown’s Harvest Haunt Express. Passengers are encouraged to dress up as pirates and princesses on Oct. 19 and 20 and as witches and wizards on Oct. 26 and 27.


National Hotel, 18183 Main St., Jamestown; (800) 894-3446, Not wheelchair accessible. (rooms are upstairs).

Service Station 18242 Main St., Jamestown; (209) 782-5122, Wheelchair accessible.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, 10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown; (209) 984-3953, The Polar Express hotline is (209) 984-3407. Railtown staff, with notice, can accommodate most wheelchairs on train rides and tours.