California State Railroad Museum, Smithsonian Affiliate

With Sacramento's rich railroading history, it's only fitting that the California State Railroad Museum, located in historic Old Sacramento, begins an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. You know the Smithsonian as the complex of Washington, D.C., museums lining National Mall between the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol building. This world-renowned institution consists of 19 museums, galleries and the National Zoo, with many, but not all, of the museums located in the nation's capital.

In addition to these 19 facilities that make up the Smithsonian research and museum complex, the institution affiliates with other U.S. museums, lending its name - and reputation - to deserving education, research and museum institutions around the nation.

What does this mean for Sacramento's most popular museum? It means that an already great museum just got better. By joining a network of 216 other Smithsonian-affiliated organizations, the California State Railroad Museum will now have access to Smithsonian collections, scholarship and expertise, creating a collaborative partnership that will further the California State Railroad Foundation's mission to "preserve history, inspire future generations and educate the global community about the past, present and future of railroad technology and innovation."

The California State Railroad Museum features 19 restored steam locomotives dating from 1862 to 1944, chronicling the development of steam technology from its early years to its peak in the mid-20th century. Only 45 full-size steam locomotives built before 1880 exist in the Unites States today, and Sacramento has eight of these in the railroad museum. Included in the collection are the Philadelphia-built Central Pacific Railroad No.1 Gov. Stanford, a Canadian National Railways Sleeping Car No. 1683 St. Hyacinth, and the AT & SF Dining Car No. 1474 Conchiti - all of which guests can meander through to really get a feel for what rail travel was like in its heyday.

Other exhibits at the museum include Without Words, an interactive exhibit that focuses on the nonverbal communication tools used by the railroad that allowed technicians to communicate at night, across great distances, and during challenging weather conditions; Fast Tracks, featuring high-speed rail train simulator; Building America: Abraham Lincoln and the Union Pacific Railroad, and more.

For kids, there's the Kids Corner with story time each Monday at 11 a.m. in the East Theater, the very popular and extensive Thomas the Tank Engine train set that provides hours of fun for your budding engineer, a miniature train collection display and the Junior Engineer program that sends kids on a hunt around the museum to learn some railroad history with a fun and interactive booklet. Once complete, your child will be a certified Junior Engineer tasked with keeping railroading history alive. And no trip to the railroad museum would be complete without a ride on an actual steam engine from the past. So, hop on board the Granite Rock No. 10 for an excursion train ride along the Sacramento River, ending your visit with real life experience of California's railroad history.

For a complete list of all Smithsonian affiliate museums and facilities in the U.S., click here.