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Laughs for $6 and Less : Familiar Destinations In and Around the Southland Offer Lots of Fun for Families Straining to Live Within a Budget

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The holidays are gone--and so, presumably, is all of your money. And the kids are out of school--presumably driving you crazy. What can you do?

With the rising price of admission, food and souvenirs--not to mention the aggravation involved in getting the whole crew to decide what constitutes a “fun” time--taking a day trip with the kids can turn into a real dilemma.

But what most Angelenos don’t realize is that there are numerous places in and around the city where the whole family can savor a good time at little or no cost.

Whether you enjoy mixing it up with the young ones or sitting back and observing the fun, the following destinations are some of the best bets in town. And you can bet that you and the kids will be talking about them long after you’ve been there. Best of all--they’re less than $6.

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Exotic Feline Breeding Compound

Open to the public since 1983, this sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of exotic cats allows its guests a close-up look at 12 species of felines. Special entertainment programs featuring the cats run throughout the year.

A walking tour of the compound provides an opportunity for the family to examine these majestic animals. The tour takes between 30 and 45 minutes and no touching is allowed. The tour, slide show and breeding lectures are free. Picture taking is reserved for members only. The Feline Breeding Compound is just off Mohave-Tropico Road in Rosemond. Take Highway 14, exit at Rosemond Boulevard. Follow signs to the grounds. The compound is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. except Wednesdays and holidays. For information: (805) 256-3332.

The Farm (Rent-a-Pony)

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Here, children are given a chance to interact with farm animals at their own level.

For $2.25 a person, visitors of any age can pet, cuddle, feed and photograph a gamut of small farm animals that have free run of the grounds. Larger animals such as cows, horses, sheep and pigs, are kept in pens, and children are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the critters under adult supervision. No plodding carousel-type pony rides here. For $2 a pop, young riders can get a feel for the open range while being led many times around the pony ring in walking or trotting groups. Children are also welcome to climb on any of the old tractors or other retired farm equipment. The proprietors make grain available for 50 cents a cup to the young and young-at-heart who wish to feed the animals.

The Farm, 1801 Tampa Ave., Northridge. Open every Saturday and Sunday and most holidays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (During holidays, The Farm is open today through New Year’s Day from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) For information: (818) 341-6805 or (818) 341-2770.

L.A. Children’s Museum

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A better variety of activities and exhibits designed with children in mind couldn’t be found anywhere but here.

Built on two levels, this giant educational play land features 18 permanent exhibits each unique unto itself.

Children can create their own world of music and sound in a recording studio or build endless forts, castles and tunnels with giant foam shapes covered in Velcro in an exhibit called “Sticky City.”

“City Streets” lets kids sit behind the wheel of an RTD bus, play on a real city street sweeper or climb on top of a police motorcycle.

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The museum offers continuing arts and crafts workshops, and theater performances designed especially for children run each weekend at the museum’s Louis B. Mayer Performance Space.

The Los Angeles Children’s Museum, 310 N. Main St., in the north end of the Los Angeles Mall. Admission is $5 per person; children under age 2 are free. The museum is open during the school year on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The museum is also open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on many school holidays. (Holiday hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today through Jan. 5.) For information: (213) 687-8800.

Traveltown

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All aboard for fun at Griffith Park. In operation since the 1950s, this Los Angeles landmark provides great hands-on entertainment for train buffs, young and old.

Admission is free and rides on a small train that circles the grounds run just $1.75 for adults and $1.25 for children.

A variety of authentic old locomotives sits on railroad tracks waiting to be explored, while the Traveltown museum houses an elaborate model train set-up and an impressive collection of historic fire engines.

On weekends, local train clubs working toward the preservation of the old steamers often fire up one of the original engines and offer short rides for free or a small donation.

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Traveltown, 5300 Zoo Drive in Griffith Park, is open weekdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

For information: (213) 662-9678.

The Cabrillo Marine Museum

Here’s a way to quench a child’s fascination for sea life.

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For the cost of parking ($5.50 in the museum parking lot, free on the street), visitors of all ages get a hands-on look at a variety of native California ocean species.

The museum offers a large replica tide pool touch-tank with dozens of colorful sea creatures like starfish, keyhole limpets, anemones and sea urchins.

A huge whalebone graveyard serves as a playground where children can compare the size of whale bones to their own.

Visitors also can observe life under the sea in the shark, wave and surf tanks or the museum’s 34 aquariums.

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Special programs such as field trips to grunion hatchings and natural tide pools run throughout the year.

The Cabrillo Marine Museum, 3720 Stephan White Drive, San Pedro, is normally open from noon-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat-Sun.

(Hours of operation are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun., through Jan. 7.)

For information: (310) 548-7562.

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