Last year, we published lists of toys you could give to a young train buff and places you could take them to visit. But what about the railfans who are all grown up? Where are the best places to take adult friends to hang out, do some train spotting, and learn some rail history?
Restaurants and bars are a good start
Payton Chung suggests a few places in DC to check out. The Dew Drop Inn, located in the Edgewood neighborhood near Brookland, is named for a number of “Dew Drop Inns” across America. Housed in a rustic stone industrial building that was used as a workspace for stonemasons and metal workers, you can get a great view of the CSX, MARC, and WMATA tracks on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations when you’re hanging out on the porch.
Along the H Street corridor, there’s Maketto, a communal marketplace that’s made up of two buildings with a courtyard, roof deck, and a catwalk that connects the spaces together. The catwalk has retail, a Cambodian/Taiwanese restaurant, and a café and bakery on the second floor where you can get a great view of the DC Streetcar.
In Maryland, Julie Lawson says to check out Lotus Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant located in Downtown Silver Spring at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Sligo Avenue that overlooks the CSX, MARC, and WMATA tracks as they cross over Georgia Avenue. She says her son “loves to watch the trains there so I would assume grownup railfans might enjoy it for dinner too.”
A short walk from Lotus Cafe, there’s Denizens Brewing Company, located on East-West Highway on the opposite side of Georgia Avenue near the rail overpass. Dan Reed mentions that the place as an appropriately-named beer called “Trainspotting”.
Walk around and explore
If you live near a rail line and feel like doing a little bit of exploring, a simple walk around is always a best bet.
Jonathan Neeley says there’s plenty to see in his neighborhood, Brookland:
I like going on walks, and a lot of my friends do too, so I’d probably go with something simple like being sure to walk over the Michigan Avenue and Taylor Street bridges by my house, where you can watch trains come and go from far away. I’d probably also take them on a ride on the Red Line between Rhode Island Ave and Silver Spring just to see the graffiti.
The Washington DC Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has a list of “railfan hotspots” located within two hours of the beltway that have a lot of rail activity and history.
One of these hotspots is Long Bridge Park in Arlington, which has an extensive railroad history and a name that’s a reference to the railroad bridge connecting Washington with Northern Virginia. Chris Slatt mentions that the esplanade is a “top notch spot for viewing CSX freight trains, Amtrak trains, and VRE trains.”
Another hotspot, this one suggested by Canaan Merchant, is Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. The park has an attraction that young railfans, and even some grown ups, can enjoy. The Miniature Central Pacific Huntington Steam Engine is a new version of the original one-third scale replica that makes the rounds on its own narrow gauge 1.75 mile track.
The Miniature Central Pacific Huntington Steam Engine at Burke Lake Park. Photo by Fairfax County Department of Parks.
David Cranor adds “there are several rail trails in the area, but the W&OD really does the best job of celebrating that. There are old train cars set up along it and lots of historical information/markers about the railroad too.” Payton also mentions that “a ride along the Metropolitan Branch Trail is also a good option; it even parallels the Acela tracks for a bit.”
Our region also has quite a few museums and other attractions around that are good bets for taking train aficionados or folks who just want to learn more.
Canaan points us to the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum in its namesake location in Fairfax County. This museum has displays, activities, and events that help preserve local history and promote railroading — even “a couple of cars you can go inside.” The station itself played a critical role in the American Civil War as an important supply and medical evacuation site where Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross assisted in relief and evacuation efforts during the Battle of Bull Run in 1862.
The National Museum of American History in DC and the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville in Montgomery County are also great options for railfans who want to learn more history.
The new National Museum of African American History and Culture will have an exhibit dedicated to transportation and race, exploring how Jim Crow laws affected streetcar and railroad travel, as well as the history of Pullman porters and railroaders behind the scenes.
Are there any other places in the area you know of that would be good spots to take a railfan? Let us know in the comments.