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Three children peaking out of windows.
(Micah Fluellen / Getty Images)

13 things to do with the kids this holiday season that won’t break the bank

So yay! The kids are home for the holidays. You’ve baked cookies, sung songs, watched “Elf” a billion times and hid the remote so you don’t have to hear it a billion and one times.

And the kids are still home.

It’s time to get out of the house and have a proper L.A. adventure. Of course, you can visit the theme-park standards (Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, Legoland, Knott’s Berry Farm) if you have the nerve and the dough. That might be a big ask this spend-y (and germ-y) time of year. Or you can dazzle your family and guests with visits to the L.A. area’s many holiday light shows by car or on foot.

In California, winter is not just about holiday lights and snow in the mountains. Here are our top 40 picks for wintertime adventures statewide.

Don’t worry. We’ve found other things to do that don’t fit the typical holiday vacation mold — activities to entertain the whole family, whether young children, eye-rolling teens, visiting relations or patience-thinned parents. The goal here is fun without bankruptcy plus the rejuvenation of something we all sorely need: holiday cheer.

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One note of caution: The pandemic is still upon us, which means opening times and hours may be fluid. Also, many venues are require proof of full COVID-19 vaccinations for people 12 and older or a negative COVID test within the prior 72 hours. So if your destination involves tickets and hours, double-check the rules and hours before you go. And have a very merry adventure!

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Actors in "A Christmas Carol"
(Joan Marcus)

'A Christmas Carol'

Downtown L.A. Play
A new interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic story that includes 12 favorite carols, starring Bradley Whitford as Ebenezer Scrooge, Kate Burton as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Alex Newell playing two parts: the Ghost of Christmas Present and Mrs. Fezziwig. This adaptation by Jack Thorne (who received a Tony for his script for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) won five Tony Awards on Broadway. It includes hand bells, actors singing in the aisles and festive lighting, but the story line is different from traditional productions. Before (or after) the show, watch the 1951 classic version starring Alastair Sim to introduce your children to a more traditional version of the story or, better yet, read the original story to them out loud over a few nights. Then have a compare and contrast discussion about artistic license and how stories can change depending on the teller.

Hours: Through Jan. 1. Evening performances Tuesdays-Sundays. Matinees every Saturday (except Dec. 25) and Sunday, plus Dec. 23, 24, 26 and Dec. 30.

Admission: Tickets are $40 to $179 (subject to change, purchase online); children should be 6 or older.
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Ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz"
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Miracle Mile Museum
L.A’s newest and most highly anticipated (and debated) museum is a deep dive to everything cinematic. If any of your guests want a closer look at Hollywood (the industry, not the neighborhood), this is the place to come, especially because it’s open on Christmas and New Year’s Day when other venues are typically closed. Just the Renzo Piano design of the museum is worth a look, but you can get lost in all the behind-the-scenes exhibits such as “The Art of Moviemaking,” which breaks down all the pieces required to make MGM’s 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” from interoffice memos to Dorothy’s ruby slippers. You can find all kinds of artifacts, including Gregory Peck’s script for “To Kill a Mockingbird” covered with his handwritten notes, the blue typewriter Joseph Stefano used to write the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic “Psycho,” Okoye’s costume from “Black Panther,” “Star Wars’” R2-D2 and C-3PO, and the original E.T. You can also get face to face with the toothy Xenomorph monster from “Alien” without (too much) fear of being devoured. (Check out The Times’ museum coverage plus museum staff favorites of other exhibition pieces.)

In the museum, there’s a cafe for dining. And if all that’s not enough, pay $15 to experience what it feels like to hear your name announced for an Oscar and walk up to the stage to accept it in “The Oscars Experience.”

Open daily

Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Admission: $25 for adults or $19 for seniors 62 and older; $15 for college students; and free for members and children 17 and younger. The Oscars Experience is $15 and only available with a general admission ticket.
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'The Art of the Brick' exhibition at the California Science Center

Exposition Park Exhibition
“The Art of the Brick” exhibition is simply cool for anyone who has ever played with Legos or tripped over them in the night and wondered, “Why do these blasted things exist?” Sculptor Nathan Sawaya has given meaning to these crippling little bricks by using more than 1 million Legos to create 100 astonishing sculptures including 13 of the world’s most endangered species, including a polar bear,lowland gorilla, elephant, cheetah and humpback whale. There’s also a 20-foot tall T. rex skeleton made from 80,000 bricks and a rendition of Michelangelo’s statue of David. You can sit on a bench and pose with a lifesize green Lego man. Bonus: You can roam the rest of the Science Center after you’re inside and visit wonders such as the space shuttle Endeavor.

Hours: Through Jan. 2. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

Admission: Advance reservations are required. General admission to “The Art of the Brick” is $19.75 adults; $17.75 students ages 13-17 and seniors 65 and older; and $12.75 for children ages 3-12. There’s also a $3 service fee. Members pay $15.75 for adults, $14.75 for students and seniors and $1`0.75 for children. Includes admission to “The Art of the Brick” exhibition and other Science Center displays. IMAX theater tickets are separate.
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Rose Parade float
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Floatfest: A Rose Parade Showcase

Pasadena Attraction
Here’s a thrifty way to treat your guests to a SoCal tradition: Watch the Rose Parade on TV on New Year’s Day over a leisurely breakfast in your pajamas and then take them to Floatfest in Pasadena to see the floats up close. The 45 floats expected for the 2022 parade stretch for two miles, so bring good shoes for walking. If you want to avoid heavy crowds, plan to visit the day after the parade on Jan. 2, says Sindee Riboli, general manager of Sharp Seating Co., the company that has managed Rose Parade tickets and bleachers for 75 years.

There are a few snack vendors along the route and water stations, but if the weather is warm, it’s a good idea to bring your own water. Parking near the entrance is always in short supply, but a free shuttle makes it easy to get to the location from the large parking lots at Pasadena City College (enter off Del Mar Boulevard or Bonnie Avenue near the corner of Hill Avenue) or Lot B at the Rose Bowl Stadium.

Hours: Jan. 1 from about 1 to 5 p.m. (opens after the Rose Parade ends) and Jan. 2 open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with special hours from 7-9 a.m. for seniors and disabled visitors only. Open rain or shine.

Admission: Tickets are $20 per person, and children 5 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased on site, but you’ll save time and trouble by purchasing them online. Pro tip: The crowds are smaller on Jan. 2.
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Hikers enjoy views to the Pacific Ocean on the Mt Hollywood Trail
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Griffith Park, Hollywood sign and L.A. Basin views via the Charlie Turner Trailhead

Griffith Park Urban Trail
You could spend days tootling around Griffith Park’s 4,300 acres of trails and venues, including the L.A. Zoo, and barely scratch the surface. But if you get a clear day and have visitors who can manage a moderately easy three-mile hike, few spots beat the views of the Los Angeles Basin and the Hollywood sign from the Mt. Hollywood Trail, which you enter from the Charlie Turner Trailhead at the edge of the Griffith Park Observatory parking lot. The trail usually has plenty of visitors, and parking can be a challenge (many people park below near the Greek Theatre and take the Dash Observatory/Los Feliz bus up to the observatory for 50 cents, exact change required). However, if everyone has sturdy shoes, this is the kind of selfie-inducing view that even grumpy teens will appreciate. If you’re short on time, then just take in the views from the observatory roof, which are some of the finest in L.A. Want to spend an entire day at Griffith Park? Check out this Times beginner’s guide. Also, don’t forget the Holiday Light Festival train and the 1926-era merry-go-round (just $2, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). Pro tip: The merry-go-round is expected to be open weekdays the week before and after Christmas as well, but call ahead to the park rangers dispatch at (323) 644-6661 to confirm dates and times.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily for the trails; the Griffith Park Observatory is open Friday-Sunday: noon to 10 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (except it will be closed on Dec. 24-25 and 31). Griffith Park’s Holiday Light Festival train rides are nightly through Jan. 7 (closed Dec. 24-25 and 31) from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and from 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.

Admission: Free to walk the trails or observatory grounds, although you may have to pay for parking (typically $8). Entrance to observatory is free, but planetarium shows are $7 for people 13 and older; $5 for seniors 60 and older, students and members; and $3 for ages 5-12. Children under 5 enter planetarium shows for free but must sit on the lap of a parent or guardian. Holiday Light Festival train rides are $5 per person.
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Holiday Waterfront Tour of Lights

Long Beach Lights tour
The holiday light displays around Naples Island and the floating Christmas trees of Alamitos Bay have been attracting visitors for years, but if you want to make your Long Beach waterfront tour really festive, view the lights from a classic cable-car trolley operated by Long Beach Trolley, which also operates tours of the holiday lights from a red double-decker bus. Book the trolley tours on Groupon to get the best prices, says operations manager Aaron Blair. But if you want to ride on the bus, you’ll need to call to make reservations. The bus tours last about 45 minutes and include a live musician who leads riders in holiday singalongs and tells silly dad jokes. This might be perfect for the Scrooges in your midst.

Hours: Through Dec. 28. Nightly except Saturdays with 30-minutes rides departing from 5:15 to 9 p.m.

Admission: Purchase tickets on Groupon.com, $17 for ages 13 and older, $13 for ages 3-12, and free for children under 3. The pick-up location is at Legends Sports Bar & Restaurant.
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The Immersive Nutcracker

Beverly Grove Virtual reality experience
The Immersive Nutcracker is a virtual reality experience that allows visitors to go inside Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker story, with projections and the classical score making them feel like characters in the fairy-tale ballet. The show takes you close to pivotal moments in the story such as the mysterious toy chest of Herr Drosselmeyer, the inventor who created the magical Nutcracker. There are also visits to the Tannenbaums’ grand ballroom, the huge Christmas tree, the colorful Kingdom of Sweets and, of course, a “family-friendly” battle with the Rat King.

Hours: Open daily through Dec. 31 except Mondays and Dec. 25. Hours vary depending on location, but the 45-minute shows generally open at 11 a.m. with admission every 20 minutes through at least 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Admission: Purchase tickets online or at the door, $44 to $49 (depending on the day) for ages 16 and older, $34-39 for ages 6-15. Children under 6 are not permitted and children under 13 must be accompanied by adults. There are other locations: Westfield Topanga, 6316 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; Westfield Santa Anita, 400 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; and Westfield Valencia Town Center, 24201 Valencia Blvd., Valencia.
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La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Mid-Wilshire Museum
Speaking of science, where else are you going to go to experience bubbling tar pits (well, actually bubbling asphalt pits) and a heart-tugging re-creation of what it meant to get mired in one? L.A.'s Mid-Wilshire district is the world’s only urban area that has an actively excavated Ice Age fossil site, complete with its own smelly pit of gooey black gunk. This is a fine place to take children who want to see a towering mammoth skeleton and its massive mighty tusks and other Ice Age remains, large and small, that have been retrieved from the inky depths. There are replicas of giant sloths, mastodons and saber-toothed cats as well. Plus there’s a working fossil lab for on-site excavations. Outside around the pits and Hancock Park (the park, not the neighborhood), children can get in some running and screaming time while admiring the climbable Ice Age mammal sculptures. Adults (or precocious kids) can savor the Pleistocene Garden, with its plantings representing the Los Angeles Basin’s native vegetation 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Hours: Open daily. The tar pits and adjoining Hancock Park are open daily; the museum is closed on Tuesdays, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

Admission: The tar pits are free, but the museum charges $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $7 for ages 3-12. Children 2 and under enter for free, and L.A. County residents can enter free as well between 3 and 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door, but purchasing your tickets online in advance is recommended.
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Santa Monica Pier at sunset
(aiisha - stock.adobe.com)

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Attraction
What can be more old-school L.A. than a stroll on the historic Santa Monica Pier to experience the famed 100-year-old carousel. It has a “wooden family of animals consisting of 44 horses, one rabbit, two sleighs, and one goat,” according to the city of Santa Monica’s website. The ticket prices can’t be beat. Choosing your steed is part of the fun, and the ride itself is magical, transporting riders of all ages to dreamy moments of joy. The pier itself provides food and entertainment for everyone, from anglers who just want to stare at the water and fish to thrill-seekers looking for a ride. Of course, there are plenty of stores for memento seekers as well.

Be sure to take your visitors to the iconic “Santa Monica * Yacht Harbor * Sport Fishing * Boating * Cafes” sign at the pier entrance at Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard so they can snap some photos for their Instagram Stories. And when you’re finished at the pier, you and your guests could wander to the beach or rent a bike to ride along the boardwalk. Try to be on the beach around sunset when the lights from the pier compete with the glorious colors of the sky.

Hours: Open Thursdays to Mondays. The pier itself is open daily for walking and fishing 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The carousel is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are special hours on Dec. 24 and 25 (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and on Jan. 1 (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Pacific Park, home of the colorful Ferris wheel and other rides, is open daily at 11 a.m. or noon and closes between 5 and 9 p.m. depending on the day. Heal the Bay Aquarium is open Thursday-Sunday noon to 4 p.m. but closed Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan. 1.

Admission: Walking the pier is free. Carousel rides are $3 per person, and children 3 and younger ride for free with a ticketed adult. Pacific Park tickets vary depending on if you purchase an unlimited ride wristband ($40 for ages 8 and up and $20 for children 7 and younger) or you buy tickets for individual rides, which range from $5 for smaller rides to $10 for the Ferris wheel and roller coaster. Admission to the aquarium is $10 for ages 13 and up. Children 12 and under enter for free but must be accompanied by a ticketed adult.
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A house covered in Christmas lights and decorations
(Robert Milligan)

Second Annual Holiday Lights Tour and Contest

Westchester Lights tour
Here’s a twofer opportunity to view some spectacular residential light displays near Los Angeles International Airport while supporting affordable mental health efforts. The pandemic shuttered the Westchester Mental Health Guild‘s annual holiday home tour fundraising events, so it created a holiday lights contest for residents in Westchester and Playa del Rey. They pay $25 to register their home for judging, and the viewing public pays $10 for a map of the competing homes and a chance to vote on their favorite.

This year, the guild has more than 20 homes registered to compete in the categories of best lights, best theme and most whimsical. The fourth category — fan favorite — will be determined by people voting online from their cars. Last year’s first-prize winner, Robert Milligan, will be one of three judges. Milligan’s dazzling display won’t be an official entry this year “because we don’t want to discourage other people from entering,” said guild publicity chair Linda Peterson. However, you can see his handiwork at 5752 W. 76th St. in Westchester. All proceeds benefit Airport Marina Counseling Service, a private, nonprofit outpatient clinic focused on providing affordable mental healthcare in the greater LAX area.

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Dec. 12 to 26.

Admission: $10 to get the map of the 20-plus entries and a chance to vote online for your favorite.
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Items at the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds Exhibition
(Robert Wedemeyer)

'Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds' exhibition

Brentwood Exhibition
Here’s a chance for Trekkers, young and old, to really geek out with set pieces from the original “Star Trek” series, including the navigation console (“Take us out, Mr. Sulu”), spaceship filming models of the USS Enterprise, original scripts and storyboards, uniforms worn by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), a Borg costume, the alien Gorn, props such as an original series communicator and phaser, a Borg “cube” from the film “Star Trek: First Contact” and, of course, everyone’s favorite galactic creature, a tribble.

Hours: Through Feb. 20 at the Skirball Cultural Center. Open noon-3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends.

Admission: Free to all on Thursdays with advanced, time-entry reservations for 90-minute visits, otherwise $18 general, $15 seniors, students and children over 12, $13 children ages 2-12, free to members and children under 2. Tickets include general admission to the entire museum and cultural center.
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Stranger Things: The Official Store

Glendale Attraction
This pop-up store calls itself an immersive shopping experience centered around Netflix’s popular series “Stranger Things” about a group of middle schoolers living in the small town of Hawkins, Ind., in 1983. (The town has a mysterious “government lab” devoted to researching supernatural beings.) The story includes a boy who goes missing, his mother and the local sheriff who try to find him amid increasingly creepy occurrences and a lab escapee — a young girl — who suddenly appears with telekinetic powers. The store doesn’t just sell show merchandise. It also features scenes and characters from the show, including a hidden Demogorgon — the tall, eyeless monster from the terrifying Upside Down world — plus the Hawkins Palace Arcade with real arcade games and the Hawkins Middle School Snow Ball. Just bring your wallet and do your best to stay in the Right-Side Up world so you can do some exploring and shopping.

Hours: Through Dec. 23. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Admission: Free. Reservations required for 30-minute “priority access, skip-the-line entry.”
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A group of cyclists participate in the Venice Electric Light Parade
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Venice Electric Light Bike Parade

Venice Parade
If your holiday guests are looking for an exhilarating, quintessential L.A. experience, search no further than the Venice Electric Light Bike Parade, especially if you have an extra bike available for guests. You can try to outfit your own bike with lights or just get to the Venice Boardwalk early and put down $40 with Sebastian “The Light Man” Butler to get your bike wired with festive lights. You don’t have to have lights on your bike to ride; in fact, you don’t even have to have a bike — some people use roller blades, skateboards or scooters — but if you don’t want to put lights on your bike you can wear them on your body or around your head. This two-hour ride takes you along the Venice boardwalk to the Santa Monica Pier and then into Venice proper along city streets with a pack of 200 to 300 other wheeled riders, all led by event organizer Marcus Gladney, a.k.a. the Captain. Note the ride ends about a mile from where it begins, at the west end of Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey.

Hours: Operates on Sundays. Gather at 4 p.m., parade begins at 5 p.m every Sunday. The parade is canceled if it’s raining.

Admission: Free, unless you want to rent a pre-lit bicycle for $99, a fee that includes a special Venice Electric Light Bike Parade hoodie or shirt.
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