The best places for train-obsessed kids in Lake County

Maybe it’s because my husband likes trains or because I have two boys (bookends: oldest and youngest) but I kind of assume a love for trains is just a natural phase that all toddlers go through. My little guy currently loves two things (other than Mommy): trains and DinoTrux. Trains (unlike DinoTrux) are something the whole family can generally enjoy so I have scoped out the best places to see, play and experience trains in Lake County.

2 places to watch trains

The best part about toddlers is that their attention spans generally call for short bursts of fun. They also generally delight in the mundane things that make the rest of us groan, so watching a train at a stoplight = super fun!

Dalton’s Cakes

970 Harris Rd. (The Shops at Prairie Crossing), Grayslake

Free Wi-Fi, amazing pastries and the nicest owners that you have ever met make this bakery and cafe a great choice for moms. The British accents and the huge windows facing the Grayslake Metra Station make it great for kids. The amazing cupcakes may have something to do with it, too!

Mischief’s Brewing

725 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville

This locale can easily be confused for a train station, it’s that’s close! It’s best for beautiful days where you can sit on the patio and enjoy a handcrafted caffeinated beverage while your kiddo watches the trains come in and out of the station.

2 places to see model trains this month

Our weather can’t decide if it’s spring or if it’s winter. We’ve had rain, snow, wind and cold, all in the same day. Model trains are a great way to feed your child’s train obsession without having to bear the elements.

Train Day at Lambs Farm

10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 23

The Magnolia Cafe and visitors center will host the Valley Model Railroad allowing children a chance to conduct trains themselves through the display. There will also be train-related crafts and other activities. Admission to the event is free but there are nominal charges for some some of the activities.

North Central O-Gaugers

April 9 in Mundelein and April 30 in Lake Zurich

This group of model railroad enthusiasts travel around the county with their huge layout to delight train lovers of all ages. The are at the Fremont Library (Mundelein) the second Saturday of every month and this month they will also have a display at the Ela Area Library in Lake Zurich. My kids love to watch and interact with these displays and they are totally free!

3 places to play on, in and around trains

Lake County has some amazing playgrounds! If you have a train lover, there are a plethora of playgrounds with train themes in Lake County. These are our favorites:

Betty Russell Park

5300 Pinewood Dr., Gurnee

This playground features an awesome train structure that toddlers love. Best of all, most of the playground is turf which is perfect for this muddy, wet spring we’re having.

Caboose Park

37908 N. Fairfield Rd., Lake Villa

My big kids love this park because it has some old fashioned equipment (merry-go-rounds). But the highlight is the large caboose that you can run around.

Jewett Park Community Center Tot Lot

836 Jewett Park Drive, Deerfield

My big kids love the big park located at the other end of Jewett Park for it’s super tall slides. My toddler though, loves the tot lot with the just-his-size train that he can climb and “drive.” This park is great for the summer because it’s almost completely shaded. It is used for the preschool and summer camps though, so it may not be accessible at all times.

Places to play with tracks they can’t take apart

Every parent of a train-obsessed toddler knows the horrors of building and rebuilding and rebuilding the wooden railway. I’m so lucky this time around to have an older brother to build awesome track layouts. If you’re missing the older sibling to do your design work, check out these locales where your kids can play on someone else’s track (Psst, many are glued down so they can’t break them!)

Barnes & Noble

Lake County Locations in Vernon Hills, Deer Park, Deerfield

Located in the kids section, this one features all the cool Thomas the Train Kids from round houses and bridges. You may even be able to read a page or two of a book while they play.

Local libraries

Fremont Public Library in Mundelein hosts train play the second Saturday of the month during the O-Gaugers run. Grayslake Library also has a train table that rotates in and out (currently it’s out).

Toy stores

Brainstorm (Lindenhurst) and Learning Express (Lake Zurich) both have great train tables set up for kids to play with. Of course you’re in a toy store which can be a hassle in itself. However, since these are both locally-owned independent toy stores, I don’t mind dropping a few dollars to have a few minutes of blissful play!

Lake County also has some great train-themed restaurants if you are looking for a fun family dinner out. Growing up in Des Plaines, I’m partial to The Choo Choo.

So gather up your little conductors, holler “All Aboard!” and head out for some great train fun!

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