The Kid-Centric Winter Break Guide

Weather is often the deciding factor when planning winter break activities, which is why save for a few select outdoor options, the holiday-themed happening and cultural events listed here are predominantly indoors, and appeal just as much to kids as they do to the accompanying adults. The best part: a good chunk of these won’t cost you a dime.

The Nutcraker

600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa | 714.556.2787

The American Ballet Theatre's staging of this classic holiday show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa promises to be one of the season's best. The show is choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, the former director of the Bolshoi Ballet and current Artist in Residence at ABT. He's famous for bringing new life to the old classics—to the extent that he was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for his choreography in 2013. Another bonus: The sets were created by Richard Hudson, of Lion King set-design fame. December 10 to 20.

Sand Sledding

LA might not have snow but it does have plenty of sand. In preparation for winter, piles of sand are built up along the beaches to prevent flooding and high-tide related damage—the resulting "berms" happen to make for excellent sledding. Kids love it, and you don't have to worry about bundling them (or yourselves) up for the cold weather that normally accompanies a sledding trip. The top spots for sand sledding: Venice Beach and Zuma beach in Malibu—the berms usually remain up until February or March.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown

4252 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank | 818.955.8101

The twenty-plus year strong Troubadour Company is doing a revival of their 2004 parody at Falcon Theatre, a comedic pairing of the Santa Claus origin story and Motown classics (R-E-S-P-E-C-T). It's a rollicking, silly-in-a-good-way show, best for middle schoolers and up. December 2nd through January 17th.

Newport Landing Whale Watching

309 Palm St., Newport Beach | 949.675.0551

Newport Landing offers whale watching tours year round, but they make a particularly good field trip over holiday break since incidentally, the season to see the annual Grey Whale migration along Orange County's coastline apparently begins in late December. They'll also arrange private charters for bigger groups—family reunion, anyone?

The Queen Mary

1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach | 877.342.0738

The holidays are the ideal time to visit the Queen Mary—which embarked on its first journey in 1936, and has been docked in Long Beach harbor since 1936. The ocean liner is transformed into an ice kingdom through January 10 for the "CHILL" celebration. Lots for the kiddies to see and explore inside the giant igloo, including ice creations over two-and-half stories tall. Bundle up despite what may be mild Southern California temps, as it can drop to nine degrees inside! Other activities include: ice tubing, ice skating, sleigh rides, caroling, and touring the North Pole Village, Enchanted Garden, and Hedge Maze.

Upper Hastings Ranch Light Up

Riviera Dr. and Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena

To get in the holiday spirit, head to Pasadena neighborhood, Upper Hastings Ranch. The houses on these blocks go all out: giant light sabers, Peanuts-inspired holiday display scenes, and reindeer galore. Literally lights everywhere. Worth driving through (slowly) any night after 7pm; many of the lights shut off at 10pm. Everything is due to remain up until January 2.

LA Zoo Lights

5333 Zoo Dr., Griffith Park | 323.644.4200

Beginning at 6pm, you can stroll through a designated area of the zoo that has been outfitted with a festive display of animal-themed LED lights, lasers, 3D projections, singing creatures and the like. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to walk through—strollers recommended—depending on the length of your littles' legs. Note that you won't be able to see most of the zoo's animals (they'll be sleeping) but you can visit the reindeer at Reindeer Romp Village. November 27 to January 3.

Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirates Christmas

39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena | 626.356.7529

The Pasadena Playhouse presents a fun Peter Pan spinoff tale: Tinker Bell and Wendy must help Peter Pan foil the pirates' evil plot to kidnap Peter and deliver him to Captain Hook as a Christmas gift. This is a panto performance—not to be confused with miming—so the show has an interactive element, and a humorous bend. Bonus: it features a range of contemporary-ish music that should appeal to most—from the Bee Gees to Taylor Swift. And for an extra charge, you can purchase a limited number of kids-only "Golden Tickets," which include participation in an on-stage sing-a-long. December 9 to January 3.

Disney on Ice

300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach | 562.436.3636

One of the most adored Disney stories in recent times is appropriately on the ice this winter: Frozen. There couldn't be a more fitting setting for the snowy land of Arendelle and everyone's favorite snowman, Olaf. The show is hosted by Mickey and Minnie themselves, with a few other promised special appearances and of course, magical effects. Sure to have everyone singing along to "Let It Go," and cheering on royal sisters, Anna and Elsa. December 29 to January 4.

ICE at Santa Monica

1324 5th St., Santa Monica | 310.260.1199

Who says LA kids can’t experience all of the cozy, snowy goodness of winter? The beachy town of Santa Monica sets up this outdoor ice skating rink every year, and it has all the bells and whistles: palm trees are decorated with Christmas lights, there's a crotchety old Zamboni driver, and there's a stock of rental skates in every size. And in true LA fashion, the whole operation is just five blocks from the beach. Through January 18.