It’s the most wonderful time of year, so who couldn’t use some Disney holiday cheer? But if the holidays at Disneyland brings images of crowds, chaos and checkbooks rather than sugar plums dancing in your head, we’ve got the solution. Los Angeles is chock full of exciting, adventurous Disney-esque experiences that will satisfy your mini-Disney fan without leaving our city or spending big bucks.

Gold Line

photo credit: Wikipedia

Instead of the Monorail: The Gold Line
Believe it or not, Los Angeles does have a usable, bustling public transportation system. If you’re a slave to your car and the freeways, a quick trip with the kids on the metro is just like a monorail to the future.  With 6 lines reaching into the city, the Metro may not take you to Tomorrowland, but you’ll never be at a loss for a destination in the Southland.  A single one way fare, for adults is $1.75, kids are $1.  That totally beats Disney prices!
Online: metro.net
Samys Camera Culver City by Jenn S on Yelp

photo credit: Jenn S. via yelp

Instead of Storybook Land: Samy’s Camera
Looking to get lost in a secret miniature world full of surprises? Look no further than Samy’s Camera. Samy’s is located in the building that formerly housed Allied Model Trains, which has since moved across the way, but they left behind a few treats for kids. Take a trip to the back corner and you’ll find a wondrous world of miniatures. Bustling trains, fresh green mountains and an intricately detailed working city will captivate your kid’s imagination.

4411 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City
Online: samys.com

Looking Glass Semi Sub by Zochi F on Yelp
photo credit: Zochi F via yelp

Instead of Finding Nemo: The Looking Glass Semi-Submarine
The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland is a hit with kids who are fascinated with what goes on under the sea. The Looking Glass Semi-Submarine in Redondo Beach is an interactive experience, allowing kids to get up close and personal with sea life through two seven-foot long underwater picture windows. While animatronic fish can be fun, the real ocean will never break down due to technical difficulties, or have an hour-long wait.  Tickets are $10-$15.

150 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach
Online: fastkayak.com

 

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Instead of Tomorrowland: NASA JPL Tours
Looking for the real land of tomorrow? Look no further than Pasadena, where The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory offers tours free of charge for groups and individuals with a reservation. Kids will get to learn about the Mars Rover Curiosity, planetary missions, ground and aerial robotics and other space expeditions. The future is right around the corner…up the 110 freeway. Tours must be reserved 3 weeks in advance.

4800 Oak Grove Dr. Pasadena
Online: jpl.nasa.gov

Churros Calientes by Eli G on Yelp

photo credit: Eli G via yelp

Instead of Disney Cart Churros: Churros Calientes
On a cold winter’s day, or at least when SoCal temps drop below 70, one of the best things to eat at Disneyland is a fresh, warm churro. Luckily Los Angeles is filled with some of the best fried cinnamon snacks imaginable. Our top pick is Churros Calientes, where you can pick up golden brown churros filled or topped with chocolate, dulce de leche or strawberry sauces.  In fact, we’d pick it over Disney churros any day.  (Blasphemous, until you try them…) You can even order your churros with a side of Spanish hot chocolate.

11521 Santa Monica Blvd., West LA
Online: churroscalientes.com

Instead of Frontierland: Paramount Ranch
Turns out the wild, wild, west is right up the 101. Western Town at Paramount Ranch has been used as a location for many historic western movies and television shows. Grab your little buckaroos and experience the grandeur of the Old West right in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains.

2903 Cornell Rd, Agoura Hills
Online:nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/paramountranch.htm

All Aboard: Trains Galore

photo credit: Meghan Rose

Instead of the Disneyland Railroad: Griffith Park Train Rides
Walt Disney was an avid fan of trains and Griffith Park was a huge inspiration to him.  In fact, it’s there that he came up for the idea of Disneyland (see the carousel, below). You too can experience Disney’s love of trains right in Griffith Park. The L.A. Live Steamers are fully functioning 7½” gauge model trains available for the general public to ride. This area is so steeped in Disney history that Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn (Disney’s actual barn from his house, with loads of memorabilia for hard core Disney fans) is located right in the middle of the tracks and you’ll see it when your train ride comes ‘round the bend. Gotta be 34″ to ride this train which is open only on Sundays. (The Carolwood Barn is open every third Sunday.)

5202 Zoo Dr., Griffith Park
Online: lals.org

STAR Eco Station

photo credit: STAR Eco Station via facebook

Instead of Adventureland: The STAR Eco Station
You don’t need to ride the Jungle Cruise to see wild animals; they exist right in the heart of Culver City. The STAR Eco Station is an exotic wildlife rescue center for endangered and confiscated illegally-trafficked exotic animals. This is no boat ride, kids get hands on lessons in ecology and environmentalism and get to be up close and personal with real, live, rare and amazing animals. Tours are offered on Saturdays.

10101 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City
Online: ecostation.org

campirate1

photo credit: Elena Fenegan

Instead of Pirates of The Caribbean: The Pirates Dinner Adventure
Yo ho, yo ho, the pirates life for me! Sail the Seven Seas at the Pirates Dinner Adventure. Why wait in long holiday lines to see an animatronic Johnny Depp when you can have a hearty dinner and larger than life pirate themed show? Discounts are available online (and that’s never the case for Disneyland).

7600 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
Online: piratesdinneradventure.com

Keep Calm and Have A Dole Whip

photo credit: Jenn Fujikawa

Instead of A Dole Whip: Brian’s Shave Ice
It may be wintery “cold” by Southland standards, but you still need a Dole Whip and you need it now. No need to visit the Tiki Room to get your Dole Whip fix. Now fans of Disneyland’s cool, creamy, pineapple treat can get their fill at Brian’s Shave Ice. Here you can even top off your Dole Whip with mochi.

There are locations in West LA, Tarzana and Sherman Oaks. Check the website for locations and hours.
Online: shaveicela.com

carousel

photo credit: Meghan Rose

Instead of the King Arthur Carousel: The Griffith Park Carousel
This is where Disneyland was first imagined. Walt Disney would sit on a bench here and watch his girls ride the painted ponies every Saturday.  All 68 of these jumpers are hand-carved and hand-painted. It also has a huge antique band organ that includes moving figurines, detailed woodwork and *loud* music. The carousel is open weekends all year and all week during winter, spring and summer school vacations. Rides are just $2.

4730 Crystal Springs Road, Griffith Park
Online: laparks.org

Instead of the Fantasy Parade: The El Capitan
This grand old movie house is owned by Disney and shows only Disney films.  Every show comes with a pre-show of some sort; it might be live characters singing and dancing on stage, or a laser light show, a sing along and snow falling in the theater, live animal show or something entirely surprising.  With characters on stage in front of you, the Disney store tucked into the ice cream parlor next door, and wacky characters in costume on Hollywood Blvd., it’s a fully interactive experience that surrounds you with Disney-ness.  Keep an eye out for Throwback Thursday screenings, where the classics come back to the big screen.

6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Online: elcapitantheatre.com

-Jenn Fujikawa

Do you have any tips on recreating a Disneyland experience right here in LA?  Let us know!