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Visiting Santa without visiting a mall

Meet Santa and Fluffy the Snowman at White

Meet Santa and Fluffy the Snowman at White Post Farms on weekends through Dec. 18, 2011. Photo Credit: Handout

Santa (and, in some cases, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and the elves) will be making appearances all over Long Island throughout the holiday season. And the good news is: If you're trying to avoid the crowds, Santa and his helpers can be found in some unexpected places.

"We are the 'anti-mall,' " says Vincent Kish, a spokesman for Old Westbury Gardens, which will be hosting a visit from the bearded one. "This experience is an alternative to so much of the hustle and bustle that typically goes on at this time of year. Our Santa is very un-mall-like. There are no velvet ropes, and Santa sits in his chair in the upstairs lobby looking very much at home here."

So, if your children are nervous about seeing Santa or you want to steer clear of the malls, you're in luck. Here are five low-key places to meet Old St. Nick:

DEES' NURSERY & FLORIST

69 Atlantic Ave., Oceanside

WHEN 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekend through Dec. 18

INFO Free, photo packages start at $10; 516-678-3535; deesnursery.com

At Dees', you'll find a much more intimate Santa and enjoy a more personal experience. On the weekends, the Oceanside Fire Department serves complimentary hot chocolate and assorted refreshments.

INSIDER TIP After visiting with Santa, roam the store in a stress-free environment with great scents of fresh greenery and hot apple cider, Christmas decorations and holiday lights, says Joe DiDominica, co-owner of Dees' Nursery & Florist. "We also allow guests to bring their pets in for a picture with Santa."

BAYVILLE ADVENTURE PARK

8 Bayville Ave., Bayville

WHEN 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays, noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays until Jan. 2

INFO $15 (5 p.m. to close); $12 (noon to 5 p.m. and does not include the light show); 516-624-7433; bayvillewinterwonderland.com

The North Pole just got a little closer as Bayville Adventure Park transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Meet the jolly old elf himself (plus a snowman, reindeer, a Christmas mouse, elves and more) and enjoy other attractions like Santa's Toy Factory Funhouse and Maze, Captain Bay's Yo Ho Holiday Light Show, an express train ride and ice skating. Santa gives out candy canes to everyone who visits him. Photos start at $13.95 and come in a Bayville Winter Wonderland frame.

INSIDER TIP "Find discounts and coupons for families on the website and come at night during the week or early evening on the weekends to avoid lines," says Anne Finley, director of advertising and merchandising at Bayville Adventure Park. "We also just added an 18-foot Christmas tree with beautiful twinkling lights."

HICKS NURSERIES

100 Jericho Tpke., Westbury

WHEN 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. daily until Dec. 23

INFO Free; 516-334-0066; hicksnurseries.com

Bring your own camera and snap pictures of your loved ones with Santa. "Our Santa is so interactive with the children and goes above and beyond to make the experience a positive one for both the child and parent," says Karen Musgrave of Hicks Nurseries. "He understands how a child thinks, which really takes the fear out of meeting him for many kids. And often, if a child is still scared, he gets out of his chair and joins the child on the ground to take the picture there."

INSIDER TIP Your kids also can mail letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox, and Santa will answer them (must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope). All letters must be received by Dec. 18, Musgrave says. You also can visit real reindeer, named Comet and Blitzen, and stroll through the animated Christmas story "A Sweet Family Christmas" for free.

OLD WESTBURY GARDENS

71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury

WHEN 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9 to 11 and Dec. 16 to 18

INFO $8 adults; $5 children ages 2 to 17 and seniors; 516-333-0048; oldwestburygardens.org

Here, Santa is only part of the experience. The Annual Holiday Celebration includes tours of the period rooms, which are decorated with wreaths, topiaries, plants and other horticultural arrangements. Antique clothing and toys from the Westbury House collection also will be on display. After visiting Santa, enjoy hot cider and cookies on the west porch.

INSIDER TIP Children can create keepsake crafts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17, says Old Westbury Gardens' Kish. And from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 11, there will be a Craft-a-Card workshop to create holiday greetings for loved ones.

WHITE POST FARMS

250 Old Country Rd., Melville

WHEN 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends until Dec. 18

INFO $12.98, plus tax; 631-351-9373; whitepostfarms.com

Meet Santa and Fluffy the Snowman on this kid-friendly farm. Admission includes the visit with Santa and the events of the day. Be sure to bring your camera for pictures.

INSIDER TIP "It's nice to get away and enjoy some quality family time during this busy time of year," says Ron Brigati, owner of White Post Farms. "Don't miss our interpretation of 'A Christmas Carol' -- it truly brings the season to life."

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