If you’re looking for things to do with your kids in Santa Monica, the Cayton Museum should be near the top of your list. Like most modern children’s museums, Cayton is not a place where kids have to be quiet and calm. It’s an interactive learning environment where kids are encouraged to climb, touch, jump, and use their whole bodies to discover new concepts. Every play space within the Cayton aims to foster creativity and inspire young minds with positive values like kindness and connection.
History of the Cayton Museum
The Cayton Museum opened its doors in the Santa Monica Place shopping center in June of 2019, but the organization already had a long history and an excellent reputation.
For 20 years, the venue was located in the Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, where it was known as the Zimmer Children’s Museum. The new name recognizes Andrea and Barry Cayton, whose support enabled the Museum to move to its sunny new beachfront home. The new location is ideal for families since Santa Monica Place is a close neighbor to dynamic family attractions like the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park. The move increased the Museum’s space from 14,000 to 21,000 square feet, and the number of annual visitors is expected to triple.
The Zimmer stretched beyond its Jewish focus during the transition, leaving behind some synagogue play scenes and converting its model Wailing Wall into a more generic Wishing Wall. The new space has been designed to deepen the Museum’s mission “to create a future where young people are nurtured at every age to become compassionate, confident human beings with the power to shape their lives and a desire to make the world a better place.”
Play Areas at the Cayton Museum
Visitors to the Cayton will encounter five main sections, each with a fill-in-the-blank name that reveals its open-ended approach to learning. These immersive exhibits make the Cayton one of the most creative children’s activities in Santa Monica.
Let’s help ___
This area encourages children to see themselves as active citizens who dream of serving their communities as rescuers and responders. Kids are encouraged to dress up, pretend, and become heroes and healers in their imaginations. Some of the costumes also come in adult sizes to encourage parents to join in the fun.
In the Fire Station, kids put on uniforms, climb into the truck, and play at being firefighters. Nearby, in a ball pit made from a recycled Coast Guard boat, pint-sized rescuers work together to pull each other to safety using lifesavers, vests, and ropes. Meanwhile, the Help-a-copter cockpit invites kids to imagine that they’re flying to a rescue scene.
Budding veterinarians can put on lab coats, take X-rays with iPads, and explore their healing nature at the Animal Hospital, where adorable stuffed animals await their care. Little ones love to push miniature carts around the Community Market, and all the helpers and rescuers can gather in the Café after their important work is done.
Together we ___
This space is devoted to inspiring teamwork and collaboration. For instance, kids can interact with the Rube Goldberg-inspired ball machine on their own, but when they work as a team, they’re able to produce much more complex and satisfying patterns. Groups can move mountains in the sandbox, and when kids cooperate in the water play zone they can make dramatic things happen.
A “celebration booth” that puts youngsters in the center of a swirling confetti storm and giant bubble-blowing equipment round out this cooperative play area.
Reach for ___
Multiple entrances and exit points let young guests blaze their own path through the “Courage Climber,” an impressive piece of rope climbing equipment that makes up the mezzanine level of the Museum. The climber beckons kids to test their limits and to keep trying until they succeed. This kind of physical play teaches kids to strive, reach, and achieve goals.
Reflect on ___
This unusual collection of displays encourages stillness, introspection, listening, and observing. On the screens of the nature room, for example, butterflies will gather around you if you are quiet and still, but scatter if you become noisy. Throughout the rest of the wonderland-style space, stillness is rewarded with glowing lights, rippling motion, and reflections.
Launch your ___
The Launch area is a dedicated toddler space that provides safe play, entrancing mobiles, and climbing equipment for ages 0–2. Tiny guests can use this area to try out their new motor skills, enhance their understanding of the physical world, and build confidence in their bodies. Restrooms, nursing spaces, and a lounge make this a haven for parents as well as toddlers.
Cayton Museum Events
If you’re looking for family fun events in Santa Monica, be sure to check take a look at the upcoming events at the Cayton. A full range of creative classes are available through the Cayton Homeroom program, and yoga and art classes come up regularly as well. Keep an eye on the calendar of events to see what’s coming up.
The Museum hosts summer, winter, and spring camps where children age 3 to 8 can fill their days with hands-on learning from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Camps cost $475 per week, with discounts for members. Some scholarships are available.
Cayton Children’s Museum
395 Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica, CA 90401
- The Cayton Children’s Museum is located on the 3rd level of Santa Monica Place between The Cheesecake Factory and Arclight in Downtown Santa Monica.
- If you are parking in the Santa Monica Place parking lot, you’ll find the lots numbered seven and eight closest to the Museum.
- The Museum is at the last stop on the Metro Expo line.
The Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. seven days a week, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
- Admission is $14 per person for both children and adults.
- Active and retired military and first responders with an ID and their guests (up to 6 people) are admitted for $7.
- Visitors who participate in EBT and WIC programs can get FREE admission to the Cayton for up to six people. Bring identification and your EBT or WIC documents.
- Groups of 10 or more can arrange a group admission rate. Special pricing is available for birthday parties and field trips, too.
- Annual memberships, which include unlimited admissions to the Museum, are $105 for an adult and child. Add more family members for $40 each.