While Christmas has been decking the stores since Halloween, now that Thanksgiving is over you’re finally ready for the annual photo op, er visit, with St. Nick. Luckily, LA has lots of options for every family; there are your old school mall favorites plus plenty of options that will keep you miles away from a packed parking garage and closer to alternative activities that will get you in the spirit of the season!

jolly trolley santaphoto: City of Beverly Hills

Santa & the Mrs. On the Jolly Trolley
Start with a scenic tour of Beverly Hills with Mrs. Claus, complete with songs and stories. After your ride, hop off to meet the man himself at the Paley Center. Bring your camera along because this is a great opportunity for parents to take photos themselves, for free. After your greedy little people read off their wish list stick, around at the Paley Center Theater, where classic holiday television specials are shows all afternoon. Santa and the screenings are free, tickets for the Jolly Trolley are available for purchase on board for $1-$5.  You can meet Santa here weekends from November 26- December 18 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.  On select weekdays, you can also see this busy duo at the tree at 2 Rodeo.  Check the website for details.

465 North Beverly Dr.
Beverly Hills
Online: lovebeverlyhills.com/articles/view/holidays-in-beverly-hills

url-1photo: Jamie Pham

Santa and His Reindeer (Babies!) at the LA Zoo
Sure, you can see Santa in plenty of places (and have fun explaining that to the kids!), but there’s only one place in town where you can see Santa and his reindeer.  And that’s the LA Zoo.  You can visit with Santa Claus in a whimsical Santa Village and take pics every weekend through December 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. And any time that the zoo is open, you can visit with a reindeer family, including their two babies, in their Reindeer Village home.  In addition to Santa on the weekends, there are a host of other activities, like reindeer keeper talks, holiday crafts, ice-carving demonstrations, Swazzle Holiday Extravaganza puppet shows, seasonal music by the Beverly Belles and a rotating schedule of animals unwrapping gifts all their own. All activities are free with admission ($15-$20), but there’s an additional fee for a pic with the guy who drives the sleigh.

5333 Zoo Dr.
Griffith Park
Online: lazoo.org/reindeerromp

fillmore-western-railway1photo: Fillmore & Western Railway

Fillmore & Western Railway: North Pole Express
All aboard for a vintage train ride that kids won’t forget for some time. Hop aboard the North Pole Express where the family can really get into the holiday spirit. Come in your pajamas (yes, really do it) and ready for a good time. During your trip, you’ll be visited by the trains elves for a round of Christmas carols and a holiday story all while your little elves enjoy yummy cookies and chocolate milk. Bring your camera as you will have a chance to take photos with Santa at the end of the ride. Be sure to make your reservations early as seats are assigned and sell out. Adults are $29, kids 2-12 are $19 and 2 and under are free on your lap. Check the railways website for dates and departure times.

364 Main St.
Online: fwry.com

underwoodphoto: Underwood Family Farms

Underwood Family Farms
If you have the chance to combine a visit with Santa with picking that perfect tree and some yummy produce to boot, why not take it? Head out to Underwood Family Farms and it’s all yours. Big Wave Dave provides the top pick of fresh Northwest trees complete with mistletoe, wreaths and all the other holiday fixing. For two weekends only, Santa makes a special appearance at the Underwood Family Farm. Be sure to bring your camera along for this trip. Admission is $6 per person, and you can snap all the pics you like with Santa. The big guy is in town December 3, 4, 10 & 11 from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.

3370 Sunset Valley Rd.
Online: underwoodfamilyfarms.com/the_holidays.html

Santa on the Pier and Holiday Concert in Redondo Beach
Sure, some of us are complaining about 80 degrees in December but Santa is eager to take advantage of LA’s optimal climate. Greet Santa as he arrives at the end of the pier with surfboard in hand. Grab a hot drink, enjoy live holiday music and take advantage of the ultimate selfie with Santa as he rides the waves in the Pacific. Also, be sure to bring a new unwrapped toy valued at $5 or more for charity that will also enter you into a sweet raffle. Only on Saturday, December 10 from 2-4 p.m.

100 Fisherman’s Wharf
Redondo Beach
Online: redondopier.com

img_2596photo: Malibu Country Mart

Malibu Country Mart
You know things are going to be a little bit fancier on the Westside. Take a trip to the Malibu Country Mart, which is transformed for the holiday season with twinkling lights, Christmas trees and a menorah. For two Saturdays only, Santa will make the trip to the mart. Saturday December 10th, drop in for a cookie decorating and photos with Santa. And if you can hold out until December 17, St. Nick will bring along his crew of reindeer for your young animal lovers to meet. There is great shopping in the mart, so you can complete some of your holiday gifting all while being serenaded by Victorian carolers while kids play at the playground.  By the beach.  The way Christmas was meant to be celebrated.

3835 Cross Creeek Rd.
Online: malibucountrymart.com

_m__3735photo: The Grove

The Grove
Right in the middle of the city is a winter wonderland where St. Nick spends his time in an adorable gingerbread house at The Grove. Take a break from your holiday shopping and let the kids visit with Santa. Christmas at The Grove is stunning with an enormous tree and thousands of twinkling lights. There can be a wait to see Santa on the weekends, but you can take a number and grab a meal or some shopping time while you wait. And this Santa is worth the wait; he’s one of the best Santas in town.  He talks with the kids and makes them feel like he really is Santa, commenting on new glasses and how much they’ve grown! Be sure to take a ride on the trolley while you’re there and a walk through the Farmers Market to enjoy all the yummy treats (hello, Dylan’s Candy Bar) the holidays have to offer. Santa is in town through Christmas Eve.

189 The Grove Dr.
Online: thegrovela.com

santa_americanaphoto: The Americana at Brand

The Americana at Brand
If you’re closer to the east side of town, make a visit to The Grove’s sister establishment, The Americana at Brand. The upscale, outdoor shopping center is decked out for the holidays with another massive tree covered with thousands of twinkling lights. And after you’ve waited in line for Santa the family, you can head across the street to take in a different kind of light at the Museum of Neon Art. If that builds up your appetite, the family can debate whether In-n-out or Shake Shack is the number one burger choice, as both now reside just a block away from each other. Classic Christmas chow, naturally. Catch Santa from November 18-December 24.

889 Americana Way
Online: americanaatbrand.com

photo: Vincent Sandoval

Santa Monica Place
Here you can visit Santa at his seaside home and get that priceless Santa photo and even a commemorative gift. Santa Monica place also has several fun events like breakfast with Santa on December 3 and a Holiday Kids Club with fun holiday activities on December 7. Be sure to RSVP for the breakfast online. You can even bring your pets along for photos on Wednesdays (Dec 7-21). But if you’re just in the market for a plain old Santa snap, you can come for one daily from November 18-December 24.

395 Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica
Online: santamonicaplace.com

black-santa-3photo: Lucy Nicholson

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza
If it’s the quintessential mall Santa Experience you crave, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is just the place. In the center of the mall a little winter wonderland is carved out just for Santa. When the wait works up an appetite and you want to look beyond the food court, check out the delicious Mexican fare at Mexicano or local food taken to the next level at Post and Beam. Santa’s in town from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Eve.

3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Baldwin Hills
Online: baldwinhillscrenshawplaza.com

beverly-centerphoto: Mike Windle/Getty Images

The Beverly Center
If it’s a little glitz & glamor the family wants, the Beverly Center is your spot. Take a trip into an art deco styled Winter wonderland where Santa resides for the season. Have a seat next to St. Nick on his oversized, gold seat and be transported to place of wonder. Digital and printed photo packages are available for the family, including Fido. Santa’s in town early at this spot, from now until Christmas Eve.

8500 Beverly Blvd.
Online: beverlycenter.com/holidays

Where does your family like to go for the annual wish list airing?  We’d love to hear about other palces to meet the big guy!

—LeTania Kirkland Smith