26 safe — and fun — excursions in L.A. for pandemic-weary parents

Safe holiday happenings.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

For pandemic-weary parents experiencing COVID-related cabin fever, this year’s Christmas break may not feel like a “break” at all. The coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard on parents as they have had to juggle childcare, work and distance learning while sheltering in place at home. With coronavirus cases surging in Los Angeles, county public health officials have announced new restrictions on gatherings, but at press time, it is still possible to get out of the house safely. Outdoor museums, zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens are now reduced to 50% maximum occupancy. Beaches, trails, and parks remain open, but gatherings must be with members of the same household. The same is true for community gardens, drive-through events and car parades. As might be expected, all outdoor activities require face coverings and social distancing. With that in mind, here is a list of things to do with kids while social distancing. All of these events follow COVID-19 safety protocols in accordance with L.A. County guidelines.

Welcome to our comprehensive gift guide for the 2020 holiday season.

Oct. 30, 2020

Light shows

L.A. Dodgers Drive-Thru Holiday Festival: This drive-through holiday festival at Dodger Stadium features a light show, LED videos, fake snow, Santa and interactive displays honoring the Dodgers’ World Championship. Visitors may donate a new toy, pair of socks or gently used baseball equipment during the drive-through experience. 5 to 10 p.m. nightly through Dec. 24. Tickets start at $55 and must be purchased ahead. No more than eight family members per car.

Hikari: A Festival of Lights: Enjoy this farm-themed lighting display while driving through the 30-acre Tanaka farm in Irvine. $49 to $59 per car with a maximum of eight people per vehicle. Through Jan. 10.

Glow: South Coast Botanic Garden is hosting GLOW, an ocean-themed installation using lights and a musical soundtrack that covers about a mile of mostly wheelchair-accessible trails in the 87-acre gardens. Reservations are required, with up to 50 people permitted to enter per time slot. Groups larger than 10 are not permitted. $24.95 and $34.95 . Children 4 and younger free.


Santa’s Speedway Christmas Lights Drive-Thru: The Irwindale Speedway is hosting Santa’s Speedway Christmas Lights Drive-Thru, a 30-to-45-minute light show on a NASCAR racetrack. $75 per car.

Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey: The Pomona Fairplex is hosting the Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey, an immersive drive-through musical “experience” that lasts about an hour. $40 for adults and $35 for children ages 3 to 12. Children under 3 free. Each car must purchase at least two and no more than eight tickets.

Visions of Holiday Glamour: Head along Rodeo Drive to see the city’s new Visions of Holiday Glamour installation along the center median. It features 10 mannequins dressed in elaborate gowns made of winter foliage, florals and metallic holiday ornaments, along with palm trees ablaze in white lights. Through Jan. 3.

Nights of 1,000 Lights: Sherman Library and Gardens in Newport Beach is presenting a walk-through installation featuring a multicolor light tunnel and a wishing tree. Timed tickets, limited guest capacity and mandatory face mask requirements. 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 11-13 and 17-22. $15 and $25.

Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience: Experience holiday lights and music in the drive-through nighttime Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. The event will include eight areas and a drive-by featuring Santa and his elves. $25 to $30 per person, depending on the day, with a minimum of two tickets per car.

SoCal Wonderland: This drive-through show includes synchronized holiday music lights, hologram installations and a “holidays around the world” display. The drive lasts 20 to 25 minutes and costs $60 to $70 per vehicle with up to eight passengers or $65 to $90 for vehicles with nine or more passengers, depending on dates and times.

Holiday Road: Expect illuminated Christmas tree forests, the North Pole, Elf Village, Gingerbread Lane and twinkling tunnels as you drive through Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. Dec. 4-Jan. 10. $75 per vehicle.


The online festivities include latke-making classes, sing-alongs and a puppetry performance.

Dec. 2, 2020

Gardens open during Christmas break

Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, with 130 acres of public gardens, including the newly expanded Chinese Garden. Indoor galleries and high-touch outdoor areas including the Children’s Garden and the Rose Hills Conservatory for Botanical Science are closed. Visitor capacity reduced and controlled, advance reservations required; temperature checks for visitors and staff. Adults, $25-$29; students, $21, youth 4-11, $13, children under 4, free.

Ventura Botanical Garden, with 40 acres of plants from Mediterranean climate regions. $7.

South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with 87 acres of plants, from roses to California native plants. $15, students, $11, children 5-12, $5 children under 5, free.

The Arboretum in Arcadia is a showcase of 127 acres of plants from around the world, enhanced by wandering peacocks. Tickets must be purchased ahead online. Adults, $15, students with ID, $11, children 5-12, $5; children under 5, free.

Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge is featuring its Reflections art installations through Jan. 10, as well as special seasonal plantings, self-guided activities and a wishing tree created by artist Kaz Yokou Kitajima. $15; children 5-12, $5; children under 5, free.

Sherman Library and Gardens in Newport Beach is hosting “Nights of 1,000 Lights” with timed tickets and mandatory face mask requirements and limited guest capacity. 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 11-13 and 17-22. $15 and $25.

Chavez Ravine Arboretum, with approximately 140 types of trees from all over the world, is the oldest arboretum in Los Angeles. It offers plenty of room to picnic while allowing for social distancing. Free.

Rancho Los Alamitos Tucked away in a gated community, this historic landmark includes four acres of gardens, a ranch house and a restored barnyard surrounded by Canary Island palms and two enormous Moreton Bay fig trees. Free tickets are currently required.

Rancho Los Cerritos is limiting the number of guests on-site to 20, with visit length limited to one hour to allow time for all who wish to visit. Picnicking is allowed in designated picnic area only, one household at a time, on a first come, first served basis. Admission is free, but reservations are required.


California Botanic Garden, spread across 86 acres in Claremont, is the largest botanic garden devoted to California native plants. It offers ample room for kids to run around safely. Advance tickets are required for non-members. Masks required for all visitors older than 2. Adults, $10; students with ID, $6; children 3-12, $4; children under 3, free.

Want to get in the holiday spirit? These family-run tree farms allow you to choose and cut your own Christmas tree.

Nov. 24, 2020

The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

The Los Angeles Zoo has reopened with advance, timed-entry reservations, face-covering requirements and modified access to some exhibits. Attendance is capped each day to limit the total number of guests in the zoo at one time. Some popular attractions, such as the World of Birds Theater and Show and giraffe feedings, are closed. $22; children 2-12, $17.

Aquarium of the Pacific

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has kept its outdoor exhibits open during the pandemic, including the shark, penguin, seal and sea lion displays. Temperature checks and advance, timed reservations are required. Every visitor 2 and older must wear a mask. $19 per person. Harbor tours and whale watching can be reserved through the aquarium website.

Swan boat rentals

Explore Echo Park Lake’s signature lotus beds and fountain on a swan pedal boat. Pedal boat rentals are for one hour and are priced per person. Masks are required, and passengers must be members of the same household. A large swan boat will fit up to five people. Due to social distancing and capacity limitations, reservations are required. Adults, $11; children 17 and younger, $6. Illuminated night rides start at 5 p.m. in Echo Park. Swan boat rentals are also available at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys and Rainbow Lagoon in Long Beach.

So you’re not traveling for the holidays. Here’s what to do in Southern California, including where to hike, play in the ocean and spend a day trip.

Nov. 13, 2020

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Outdoors

While indoor galleries at LACMA remain closed, the museum’s outdoor plaza is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., where guests can view works of art while physically distancing: the audio installation “Bird Calls” by Louise Lawler, the sculptural installationFarewell, Work Holiday Parties” by Alex Prager, the 25-foot bronze sculpture “Miss Forest” by Yoshitomo Nara, three-channel video “Screen Creditby Sabrina Gschwandtner, “Levitated Mass” by Michael Heizer and “Urban Light “ by Chris Burden. The surrounding Hancock Park remains open daily from 6 a.m. to dusk and is a great spot for picnics and tar sightings. (The nearby La Brea Tarpits Museum is closed, but you might spot paleontologists working on an excavation site.)

A Gentle Drive-Thru at the Gentle Barn

Kids can wave hello to turkeys Sun and Alice and the newly rescued calf John Lewis Thunderheart while enjoying an immersive audio experience at the Santa Clarita nonprofit animal rescue the Gentle Barn. $28 per person with a two-person minimum. Lunch is included and provided for your car. Advance reservations required.


Bob Baker Marionette Theater

The Highland Park puppet troupe hosts “Peek-a-Boo Stroll Thru: Winter Wonderland,” a 20-minute immersive walk-through experience designed for one group at a time. Note there will be no performances. $60 per appointment slot, which equals admission for a maximum of six people (including children and babies) per pod. Appointments must be made ahead. Before entering the building, all people will be required to complete a survey inquiring about symptoms and potential exposure and temperature checks. Through Jan. 3. In addition, theSanta Monica Pier welcomes theBob Baker Marionette Theater and its puppets for the “Windows of Wonderment” art installation. Six window displays will celebrate the theater’s most memorable moments through Jan. 7. (The pier is open, but the rides are closed.)