Editor’s Note: Guidelines and restrictions for California and LA County are constantly evolving. (See the latest Safer at Home Order from LA County Department of Public Health here.)  We are doing our best to provide you with the most current information and what’s safely open for kids and families. Because the situation is fluid, please check before visiting any of the destinations below. And as always, wear a mask, social distance and stay home if you’re feeling sick. 

If you’re anything like most families, you’ve got way too much stuff. So why not make this year about experiences rather than things. There are plenty of fun family experiences to be had (both at home and safely outdoors) in and around Los Angeles. Whether you and your brood want to go horseback riding, hang with a sloth, or host an art class in your back yard, now’s as good a time as any to make happy memories. Read on to find our recs for the best experience gifts in Los Angeles.

Meet Your Favorite Character (from Elsa to Iron Man!)

If you really want to win Christmas this year, look no further than Send in the Clowns, a team of LA actors, artists and party pros who are regulars on the birthday circuit. For the holidays this year, they're offering a range of wow-worthy experiences for kids, from virtual visits with your little one's favorite character (there are literally hundreds to choose from), to in-person meets and greets. And if you really want to go all out, they also have kiddie rides (think mini trains, carousels and cars) available for weeklong rentals. 

Details: Pre-recorded Kideo Video visits start at $75; outdoor socially distanced meet-and-greets with characters start at $160. 

Online: sendintheclownsla.com/party-in-place

photo: Melissa Heckscher

Host a Backyard Art Class

If your little artists miss getting personalized, live instruction from someone who's not stuck inside a computer screen, Paint 'n Pour in Redondo Beach is offering live, in-person art classes that can be done from the safety of your own back yard (or whatever outdoor space you designate!). Instructors bring all the supplies—easels, brushes, paint and canvases—to let painters create their own masterpieces with the help of step-by-step instruction. Your littles will finish their 90-minute class with a completed painting. 

Prefer a more solo experience? Paint 'n Pour also offers boxed art kits so your pint-sized Picasso can make their own paintings at home whenever they're ready.  

Details: $40 per person.

To reserve a class, e-mail pnp@paintnpourrb.com

For boxed art kits, go to Paintnpourrb.com.

Paint Pottery at Home

If you've ever been to a Color Me Mine studio, you know that there are a few steps to making perfect ceramic dishware: First, you have to paint and glaze the pre-molded piece, then leave it behind for studio artists to fire it for you.  Since Covid restrictions currently limit the use of indoor spaces, the studio has gotten creative and made to-go experiences that are just as fun.

To-Go kits include whatever item you choose for painting (there's a full gallery online) as well as all the necessary paint and glaze. You just do your work at home, then drop it off at your nearest Color Me Mine studio to be fired. Pick up your finished piece a few days later and—voila!—you've just made a mug (or plate, or dish, or figurine). 

Details: Each To Go kit includes pottery piece(s) and glaze colors. To-Go kits may not be offered at all Color Me Mine studios. Call your local studio to find out more. LA studios are located in Santa Monica, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Westchester, Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Studio City, Encino and Whittier. Check the website for contact information. 

Online: Colormemine.com 

photo: Melissa Heckscher

Cake-Decorate Like a Pro

If you've got a budding baker in your brood, Duff's Cakemix has replaced its (LA) in-person cake decorating sessions with to-go kits that let you do all that glorious sweet-setting from your very own kitchen. Each kit contains a six-inch, three-layer cake covered in white, blue or pink fondant. The rest of the decorations are up to you—use the included frosting and candy goodies to create your custom cake. Piping back, popsicle sticks, Q-tips and toothpicks are also included to help with the decorating; and Duff's has a step-by-step guide available on its website. You can also order specifically-themed cakes like the popular unicorn cake (above pic), which is way easier to design than you'd think. 

Note: Still want an in-person session? The Irvine Spectrum's studio is still open for classes. Go to Duffscakemix.com/irvine-spectrum to book a reservation. Masks required for entry. 

Details: Cake kits start at $44. Pickup and delivery is available via Grub Hub. 

Online: Duffscakemix.com/pickup-delivery

Go Snow Tubing

Do your little SoCal kids want to get a taste of winter? Mount Baldy Snow Tubing Park (located just 45-minutes from Los Angeles!) is open with reduced capacity. That means your adrenaline-seekers can pack in hours of snow tubing with fewer lines and more open space! Your three-hour reservation includes a 20-minute chairlift ride to the top of Mount Baldy and 2+ hours of snow tubing. There's also a restaurant at the top where chilly kiddos can stock up on hot chocolate and snacks (and you can get beer or wine). 

Mt. Baldy also offers ski and snowboard lessons that include a lift ticket, a ski or snowboard rental and a Learning Center session. 

Note: Riders must be at least 40" tall or they will not be allowed on the lift (which is the only access to the mountain resort). Also: Dress warm. Your time indoors is limited and temperatures can be below freezing. 

Questions about Covid? Click here to learn about Mt. Baldy's health precautions.

Details: Prices start at $34.99 for a three-hour tubing experience and at $102.99 for a ski/snowboard lesson. 

Online: Mtbaldyresort.com/snow-tubing

Get a Surf Lesson

While many sports are being forced to modify their practices, surfing remains as "Covid-friendly" as you can get. After all, it's hard to get face-to-face when you're floating in the ocean on a 7-foot surfboard. That said, Perfect Day Surf Camp is offering lessons and camps for kids longing to hit the waves. Winter camps are for existing surfers who want to improve their techniques with our experienced coaches; lessons are available for surfers of all experience levels. 

Details: Camps start at $65 a day; private lessons are $125 for a 90-minute lesson. Wetsuits and boards can be provided. Masks are required on the beach but do not have to be worn in the water; temperatures will be taken upon arrival to camps.  

Online: Perfectdaysurfcamp.com

Go for a Family Trail Ride

Head out into the hills by horseback (where staying six-feet apart is almost impossible to avoid!). Located next to Griffith Park, Sunset Ranch is one of LA's most popular riding spots, with easy access to wide-open trails that offer incredible views of the LA Basin and the Hollywood sign. Choose from 1 or two-hour trail rides—or splurge and book an evening ride to see the sun set over the mountains.  

Note: Kids must be at least 8 years old to ride.

Details: 1 hour tours are $50 per person; $2-hour tours are $75 per person. Masks must be worn, even while riding. 

Online: Sunsetranchhollywood.com

Get an Up-Close Wild Animal Experience

If you've got "animal people" in your family you'll want to reserve an experience at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, where you can get up-close experiences sure to wow any critter-lover. Feed a giraffe, hang out with a sloth, give snacks to a porcupine, hold a boa constrictor—among other experiences. All proceeds go back to the center, which has provided care to more than 100 displaced, rescued, and zoo-born wild animals since 1993.

Details: Experiences start at $25 per person and must be purchased in addition to timed regular admission ($10, children and seniors; $12 adults). All reservations must be made in advance online. 

Online: Wildlifelearningcenter.org

photo: The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Adopt a Zoo Animal...

Bet your little won't expect a lion, tiger or bear under the tree... but it's possible! At least, kind of. The LA Zoo's ADOPT (Animals are People Too) program lets you symbolically adopt a zoo animal and help the zoo's conservation mission in the process. All ADOPT packages come with a personalized adoption certificate and a beautiful photo factsheet of your chosen animal. ADOPTions at $100 or higher also include a paper-framed 4x6 in. color photograph of your ADOPTed animal and your choice of sea turtle, wolf, or black bear mini plush. All the zoo's animals are available for adoption, and all gifts are fully tax-deductible.

Details: ADOPT packages are $35 and up. 

Online: https://www.lazoo.org

Plan An Out-Of-This-World Getaway

Covid Update: From now until Dec. 27, only essential travel is permitted, so save any trips for 2021. 

Theme parks closed? No problem. Rent this San Diego home with its own amusement park-like amenities and your kids will be living their best life. The Rancho Mirage vacation rental offers a two-story waterslide, its own soccer field and tennis court, a trampoline, a FULL SIZED playground, and a rideable mini train to its guests (along with a pristine, three-bedroom guest house). It's pricey at $950 a night—but without the airplane tickets and theme park entrance fees for your family, you might end up breaking even. 

Looking for other unique getaways to give your kids a theme park experience without the theme park? This Anaheim home has a go kart track in its back yard! This one lets you sleep in the Millennium Falcon! And this vacation rental in Brea is an actual treehouse with a twirly slide for an exit! Who needs an amusement park, anyway? 

Details: San Diego home is $950 per night (some months require a 3-night minimum); the Anaheim homes are $500 per night and $1,073 per night (it has 9-bedrooms); the treehouse is $120 per night. 

Online: https://www.vrbo.com 

photo: Aquarium of the Pacific

Cozy Up To a Penguin

Covid update: As of Dec. 6, the Aquarium of the Pacific is closed to the public. 

Want to feed a sea lion? Get up close and personal with a penguin? Feed a flurry of small sharks their morning meal? The Aquarium of the Pacific is giving guests these amazing opportunities with its "Animal Encounters" program, which is offered in addition to the regular aquarium admission. Choose from three distinct experiences: Sharks and Rays; Seals and Sea Lions; or Penguins. In each experience, staff experts will teach you all about the animals and then give you an opportunity to safely interact with the animal (you get to feed the seals or sea lions fish, feed the bamboo sharks their breakfast, or pet the penguins). 

Details: Each experience costs $150 (per person). All participants must wear a mask. Open to kids and adults ages 7+.   

Online: Aquariumofpacific.org

–Melissa Heckscher


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