Ahhh, the holidays. Friends and family sharing gingerbread lattes around a crackling fire pit, Run DMC crooning “Christmas in Hollis” on the radio, mall parking lots filled with lunatic shoppers honking and yelling, honking and yelling, honking and YELLINGGGG! It truly is a magical time of year. Now, what if you could get your tots some lap time with Ol’ St. Nick without having to brave the mall? We can already feel your stress melting away. We’ve rounded up seven unique ways for kiddos to visit the bearded one with nary a food court or Bloomies in sight.

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Petersen Automotive Museum
Sleighs are like so 2012. This year, Santa’s cruisin’ into the Petersen Automotive Museum in a candy cane-colored 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. Tikes and their families will have a chance to chat with Santa about their wish lists and take pictures that are so California cool, you’ll want them for your Christmas cards. Museum admission is not required for photos and parking is totally free with the purchase of a photo package which starts at $15.

Bonus: There are tons of holiday activities for kids happening in the museum’s Discovery Center those same days as well, so be sure to swing by.

When: Saturdays and Sundays, Dec 7 –  22, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Phone: 323-930-CARS
Online: petersen.org

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Universal Studios Hollywood – Grinchmas
Green is the new Santa or haven’t you heard?
Universal Studios Hollywood has a flair for the absurd.
Bring your tots to Whoville for a Grinchmas to remember.
The Grinch and his dog Max will be there all December.
From photo ops to a 60-foot Grinchmas tree to Whos that sing and dance,
Get park admission early so you leave nothing to chance.
Park admission starts at $84 for adults you see,
$76 for kids aged 3 – 9 and tots 2 and under are free.

When: Select days, Nov 28 – Dec 31 during theme park hours.

100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Phone: 1-800-UNIVERSAL
Online: universalstudioshollywood.com

Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood

Fillmore & Western Railway – North Pole Express
All aboard! The North Pole Express is now departing to visit the big man himself. No, not Chris Christie – Santa Claus! Put on your goofiest Christmas pajamas and cruise out to Santa Clarita for a vintage holiday train ride you’ll never forget. During the trip, families sing holiday carols, elves read Christmas stories and you and your kiddos devour delicious cookies and chocolate milk. Once you arrive at the North Pole, littles have an opportunity to visit and take pictures with Santa. Adult tickets are $29, kids ages 2 – 12 are $19 and kids under age 2 are free when they’re sitting on a parent’s lap. Be sure to book quickly – spots go faster than you can say Prancer!

When: Select evenings, Nov 30 – Dec 26 with trains departing as early as 4:30 p.m.

364 Main St., Santa Clarita
Phone: 805-524-2546
Online: fwry.com

Looking for more holiday trains?  We’ve got a whole bunch of spots where Santa rides the rails.  Click here to find them!

Fillmore & Western Railway
Underwood Family Farms
Where do you think Santa gets all those carrots for the reindeer?  He grows them!  Santa loves to hang out at the farm (and it’s a great way for you to get some seasonal fruits, veggies and even a tree). And after you catch the animal show and feed the goats and get your mistletoe, wreaths & all the fixings, you’ll want to catch a ride on a vintage tractor-drawn wagon with Santa Claus.  Admission to the farm is $6 on weekends.

When: December  7, 8, 14 & 15 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

3370 Sunset Valley Rd., Moorpark
Phone: 805-529-3690
Online: underwoodfamilyfarms.com

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Santa on the Pier in Redondo Beach
Guess the big guy gets tired of all the snow – he couldn’t resist the chance to swap the sleigh in for a surf board this weekend. What could be more California at Christmas time than a sing along with Santa by the beach?  Kids can greet Santa as he arrives at the pier on a firetruck and makes his way to the end of the pier for surfing Santa photos and the sing along. Grab a hot cocoa and sing along to all of your holiday favorites. And get one unique, only in LA, holiday card shot.

When: December 14th at 4 p.m.

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

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Malibu Country Mart
In Malibu, Santa doesn’t just do any old ordinary photo op, people. C’mon! He kicks it up a notch by bringing along real live reindeer for the good little girls and boys to meet. Two Saturdays in December, your little elves can visit with Santa and check out totally free holiday themed activities like stocking and dreidel making, face painting and homemade cookie decorating. Then, as we near Christmas Eve, Santa’s rock star reindeer fly in from the North Pole for their appearance on Dec 21.

When: Saturdays, Dec 14 –& 21, 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.

3835 Cross Creeek Rd., Malibu
Phone: 310-456-7300
Online: malibucountrymart.com
Malibu Country Mart Santa and Reindeer

Paley Center for Media
Gather your brood and head to 90210 for a chance to see Santa at the Paley Center. Your adventure starts aboard the Beverly Hills Trolley where Mrs. Claus shares holiday tales and songs throughout the tour. Then the piece de resistance – a stop at the Paley Center for a visit with Kris Kringle himself. Afterwards, families can stay and enjoy festive beverages and yummy sweets before checking out the Paley Center’s theater showing holiday TV classics all day long. Trolley rides run $5 for adults and $1 for kids (12 and under). The Santa visit (and cookies and cocoa) is free and parents may use their own cameras for photos.

When: Saturdays and Sundays, Dec 7 – Dec 22. The Beverly Hills Trolley departs top of the hour 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. from Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way, stopping at the Paley Center along the route.

Rodeo Dr. & Dayton Way, Beverly Hills
Phone: 310-248-1015
Online: lovebeverlyhills.com/joytothehills

Santa in front of Paley logo

Brunch with Santa in the Garden
Bucolic.  Peaceful.  Rested and relaxed.  Not usually words we associate with the mad rush to get the kids snapped with Santa.  However… we’ve got a tip.  You can enjoy a visit with the man in red while nibbling on a gourmet breakfast created by the chefs of Patina right in the beautiful Descanso Gardens. Bring a camera, because no buying of a pricey package is necessary, Santa will be available for photos after brunch. Then kiddos can get more sugar than just pancakes and syrup when they decorate cookies, and then run off that sugar playing hide and seek. Kids 3 and under are free, adults are $46, kids 4-12 are $19.

When: December 14 & 15, 20 & 21

1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada
Phone: 818-949-4200.
Online: descansogardens.org

Any unusual Santa spots we missed? Ho-Ho-Ho, just let us know!

–Jennifer O’Brien

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District via Creative Commons, Petersen Automotive Museum, Universal Studios Hollywood via Facebook, Fillmore & Western Railway, Beverly Hills Conference & Visitor’s Bureau, Malibu Country Mart, Underwood Family Farms and djandy.com via flickr

For more family activities in Los Angeles this holiday season click here!