Found: Places to Play Inside with the Kiddos this Summer

By Lisa Page

When it’s so hot you could fry an egg outside, I’d much rather be inside with the air conditioner on. The problem is that I have a toddler who would prefer to spend every waking hour outside if I’d let him. With the summer heat out in full force, we’ve been on the lookout for indoor options where we can stay cool, and Henry can still run around and burn off some steam. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our choices in Sacramento—most of which are in midtown, downtown or Old Sac. There’s no excuse to stay home on a scorching day with so many fun activities available. Below are just a handful but I’m sure there are many more. GOTG moms: what other places would you recommend?

California Railroad Museum

I can’t say enough great things about this place. There are so many trains to check out on the first floor that you can easily spend an hour or more walking around. There are old passenger trains you can walk through and experience where travelers ate and slept…and even older steam locomotives. While our first steps into the main entrance usually elicit a “wow,” it’s the toy “choo choo” trains on the second floor that are probably the most entertaining for young kids. I’m sure this museum has helped nurture a love of trains for many kids over the years, but more practically, it’s a prime spot for teaching toddlers how to share. After all, there are only so many trains to go around. A conductor membership includes two named adults, plus their children or grandchildren under 18, plus two additional guests (play date anyone?) and is only $65 for the year. It also includes free rides on the excursion train, which we’ve already taken advantage of twice so far this season.

Sacramento Children’s Museum

My son Henry at the Children’s Museum

The little guy and I finally made it out here a few weeks ago. I know most moms reading this post have already been there (in some cases, multiple times), but I was turned off by the fact that it was all the way out in Rancho Cordova. As a result, I decided not to get a membership, but I am glad that we tried it. It’s clear from the moment you enter the museum that every aspect has been well planned and thought out—and by child education experts no less. For those moms who haven’t been there yet, the space is small, but there are surprisingly a lot of activities available. Plus, it’s clean, which is kind of a big deal when you have a young kid.

When we purchased our tickets, the cashier said “let your child be your guide,” and while I giggled to myself at the phrase, that’s exactly what we did for the couple of hours we spent at the museum. There are a wide range of things to do—everything from an art room to a water area (imagine one of those Little Tikes water tables times 10). There are imaginative play options like a house and grocery store with life-like props. Most of the museum space is dedicated to an exhibit that demonstrates the basic principles of objects in motion—velocity, gravity, motion, etc. (which sounds way more complex than it actually is). We’re talking about putting golf balls down chutes. Anyway, it was simple and perfect for my 1 ½ year old. I think the age range for most of the activities is probably up until about five or six years of age. There is even a baby room for those who aren’t walking yet.

If you live near Rancho Cordova or don’t mind the drive, you can purchase a membership for as little as $65. This admission would include entry into some of the fun classes they offer—story time, yoga, music, etc. For Father’s Day, the museum hosted a Cupcake Ball for dads and daughters, which sold out well in advance. I think this place helps to fill a void, and even if we won’t be going there very often because of the location, I’m so glad that we have something like it in Sacramento.

ArtBeast Studio

Full disclosure that I haven’t actually been here, yet, but my husband took our little guy here a few weeks ago, and since it’s the one place ON the grid, I’d be remiss not to include it. ArtBeast

Studio is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and provides arts, exploration rooms and a variety of classes like music, art and yoga (similar to the classes at the Children’s Museum). Some of our neighbors take their two-year-old girls to a music and art class every week and rave about it.

My husband thought that Henry was a little young for the art activities, but it all depends on your child and his or her attention span and interest level. Henry will probably get more out of it in another year or so, but he did come home with a painting, which I put right on the fridge of course. There’s an outdoor area that I think he would’ve enjoyed the most, but it was a hot day and my husband said that the sand boxes looked a little dirty. As a disclaimer: we do let our kid get dirty (in our backyard, camping, etc.), but when it involves playing in other kids’ dirt, our need for clean tends to come out. You can find out more about memberships here. They aren’t cheap, but if you used it often, it might be worth it.

California Automobile Museum

I hadn’t heard much about this museum so wasn’t sure what to expect. But when you have a boy who gets overly excited (as demonstrated by the baby sign for “more” repeated over and over again) every time he sees a fire truck, police car, bus, big rig, etc., it seemed like something we should check out. We went on Father’s Day, and it was free for dads, but regular admission is only $7 for adults and kids under four are free, so it’s a fairly inexpensive outing. There’s Vic’s ice cream inside, and we saw a food truck pulling up as we were leaving. The website said there were “interactive activities” for kids. I was disappointed that there weren’t more kids’ activities compared to the railroad museum, but there were a couple of old cars that kids can sit in, crank and generally poke and prod. Except for those two cars and an old tour bus, everything else is roped off by chains. Our little guy had a hard time understanding that he couldn’t go under, over or through the chains to touch and feel every car, but he only threw one fit and there are plenty of distractions to prevent tantrums (like Vic’s ice cream). All in all, it was better than I expected, and my husband, who loves cars, enjoyed it the most—fitting since it was Father’s Day after all.


If you’re still looking for more to do, and something that will really wear out your little one, check out a local gymnastics studio where classes for kids usually start as early as 18 months. I tried the International Gymnastics Centre in West Sacramento because it’s only five minutes from my house, but I’ve also heard really great things about Planet Gymnastics in Land Park and will probably check that one out in the future to compare. I’m probably going to wait a few months before trying a class again because he had a really hard time with the schedule and order of the class. He just wanted to run off and do his own thing. While I don’t think that’s magically going to change when he turns two (in fact it could get worse), I think his attention span may at least be a little longer, which will help when he has to wait for his turn on the trampoline behind 10 other kids. One grandma in the class we tried told me that it can take a few months for toddlers to get the hang of the class structure, but once they do, it can really pay off outside of class too.


I covered this in an earlier post so won’t rehash, but we may try a class again now that Henry has moved up to the 18 months to 3 years age group. I do wish it wasn’t so expensive, but it really is an awesome introduction into music and movement for little ones.

I’d love to hear what you think of these places and activities and if there’s anything else we should try this summer!

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1 Comment

  1. Nanette Elcock says

    I’m just glad that my 3.5-year-old is finally interested in singing on-key! (I attribute that to the fact that we haven’t been able to visit with totally-off-key grandma for a month or so… yes, I *am* a snob, but Jane already knew that. )

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