Check out Cayton Children’s Museum in Santa Monica

There’s kiddie culture—and more.

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  • Written by
    Heather David
  • Photographed by
    Matthew Tucciarone

The Cayton Children’s Museum is the exact opposite of any museum experience you ever had as a child. Instead of “Don’t touch anything!” kids are encouraged to touch everything—and we mean everything!

The 21,000-square-foot space is the new version of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, which for the last 20 years was located on Wilshire Boulevard.

“We knew we wanted to find a site that had greater accessibility and visibility, so we started looking for a new home,” says Esther Netter, founder and CEO of the Cayton.

Located just two blocks from the beach, and on the top floor of the open-air mall Santa Monica Place, the Cayton houses five thoughtfully curated colorful exhibits that are experiential. Kids are able to touch and feel and climb aboard—offering undeniable appeal for the 0- to 10-year-old crowd.

“Spaces like the Cayton allow people and families of different backgrounds to gather as a community. This is a place where children can play and practice life skills,” shares Esther.

In the exhibit “Let’s Help,” kids can climb onto a full-size helicopter, a Coast Guard Zodiac rescue boat and a vintage fire truck—all of which at one time were used by first responders to save lives.

“In our fire station, kids put on costumes and create a theater of play by working with and helping others. That’s how children learn skills like empathy,” says Esther.

In a health-and-wellness-themed area, you’ll find one of the main attractions: the 2,000-square-foot rope walk dubbed “Courage Climber” that’s suspended high above the museum’s mezzanine.

The handwoven, multicolored rope structure can be experienced at several different skill and age levels. There are designated paths with different entry and exits points, so little ones don’t get overwhelmed.

“Most importantly, it teaches kids how to have a different perspective, seeing things from a different vantage point,” Esther believes.

While the museum’s mission is to educate the next generation, there can be takeaways for adults too. “When you cross our threshold,” says Esther, “let your child be your guide. Walk in the space with a suspension of disbelief. I think we can all learn a lot from children and those early lessons.”


Plan Your Visit to the Cayton

Where: 395 Santa Monica Place Suite 374, Santa Monica (it is at the end of the Metro Expo Line)
When: Open 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Saturday; noon–7 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $14 per person; free for low-income EBT or WIC families in the museum’s first year of operation (subsidized admission after that)