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PRIVATE LIVES : Yes, Parents, There Is a Sanity Clause : Shopping with the kids during the holidays doesn't have to try everyone's patience. Some malls are going all out to court families' business.

November 20, 1994|Cindy LaFavre Yorks | Cindy LaFavre Yorks is a Times staff writer.

Entertaining a child in a mall is no easy feat, as most heartily embrace the credo "I'd rather be at Chuck E. Cheese's."

But parents who need to drag their children along while holiday shopping, take heart. Though some shopping meccas --such as Beverly Center--are geared more toward adult shoppers, many others willingly woo little consumers.

By entertaining kids and making them feel special--and sometimes with the help of a few money-saving inducements for their parents--savvy marketing types can sell consumers on the idea that shopping can be enjoyable, even entertaining.

The amount of whining, complaints and other assorted verbalizations of boredom can be minimized when parents choose their destinations well, with their children's needs clearly in mind.

For instance, a kid who loathes being inside might fare better at Century City Shopping Center and Marketplace, one of the few large alfresco shopping centers in Los Angeles. Cool breezes blow through the walkways. Fourteen movie theaters offer diversions. The extensive food court houses 22 eateries.

The sit-down dining here will also tempt the kiddies. Few can resist the pull of Dive!--the novel submarine-themed restaurant (whose investors include filmdom's Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg). The seagoing design is complete with portholes and recorded voice-overs describing diving expeditions, periscope depths and so forth.

As far as actually shopping with and for the kids, the mall has a variety of toy and curiosity shops. Imaginarium, which features educational, scientific and environmentally sensitive toys, is a favorite with children.

And for those who love animals, the display cases at the pet store Chien et Chat house a variety of exotic reptiles. It's a popular gathering spot for the curious, though parents might want to bone up on the "no, we're not buying an iguana today" speech.

Videos play inside the Disney Store, which also surrounds shoppers with tempting goods.

Children's clothing stores include the ever-popular GapKids and Mille Petites Fleurs, a shop featuring European and domestic fashions, and Petit Jardin Children's Shoes, offering complementary footwear.

* 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 277-3898.

The Del Amo Fashion Center is so large (before Mall of America, it was the nation's largest) that you'll actually find two Kay-Bee Toys and five sports equipment stores under the same roof.

Animated movies and cartoons blare continuously inside the newly expanded Disney Store and the Warner Bros. Studio Store, home to assorted Looney Tunes paraphernalia.

The mall also houses 12 theaters and a variety of children's clothing shops, including GapKids, Limited Too and Kid's Foot Locker. And when it comes to food, parents can select from among the four dozen restaurants.

* Hawthorne Boulevard at Carson Street, Torrance, (310) 542-8525.

South Coast Plaza's giant indoor carousel ($1 per ride), decked with elaborately painted horses and playing whimsical music, is probably enough to draw most young children to the mall. But across Bear Street, in the less-crowded Crystal Court section of the mall, the Launch Pad awaits.

For $5, kids ages 5 through 12 can operate more than 30 hands-on scientific exhibits. The facility offers previews of what the public will find inside the Discovery Science Center, scheduled to open in Orange County in about two years.

Pint-size fashion plates will find stylish apparel and shoes in both parts of the mall, at stores that include GapKids, Benetton 012, Jacadi, Stride-Rite/Keds and Friends, and a new preteen boutique inside Judy's.

Some of the stores with toys and amusements: the Disney Store, Sesame Street General Store, Sanrio Gift Gate and FAO Schwarz, a branch of one of the world's most famous toy emporiums. Fifty or so eateries offer light snacks to full meals.

* 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 435-2000.

At Topanga Plaza in Canoga Park, children are treated with all the respect accorded adult consumers and even have a play area and shopping-incentive program, called Kid's Club, just for them.

The free club meets regularly at 6 p.m. every Tuesday inside a "playhouse" (meetings are supervised). The club will be on hiatus during December, however, but will resume in January. In the interim, Santa Claus will be available for consultations in various spots throughout the mall.

Members (that's kids, not their parents) receive discounts and other benefits from participating mall merchants year-round, and there are special purchasing incentives on a child's birthday.

There are several stores featuring fashions and toys for kids, such as BabyGap, Cuddle Me, Kids Mart, Imaginarium, Gymboree and Warner Bros. Studio Store. Even the food court has tiny tables and chairs just for the younger set.

* 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, (818) 594-8740.

Valencia Town Center will offer special children's entertainment such as marionettes and musical acts throughout the holidays, beginning Saturday. Among the stores of interest to kids are Cartoon Junction, Kay-Bee Toys, Sanrio Surprises, Recordtown and Edo Japan.

* 24201 W. Valencia Blvd., Valencia, (805) 287-9050.

The Kid's Club at Westside Pavilion meets at 5 p.m every Wednesday in the food court. Entertainment, crafts and other activities for children are featured. (Note: Parents must bring and stay with their children.)

Bergstroms, Brooks Shoes for Kids, GapKids and Limited Too offer clothing and accessories their sizes. One children's fashion store--Gymboree--also offers games, crafts and activities such as climbing exercises for parents and children up to age 5 to work on together once they have officially shopped until they dropped.

* 10800 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 474-6255.

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