If it's suburban California and it's cold and/or wet, we must be at the mall. Better that than staying home and vegging in front of the TV. A nice side benefit is that there were some outright deals to be had out there, and the fact that we were very selective played in our favor.
What the kids got out of it was some free run in interesting settings, plus the occasional ride on the jiggling fire truck or rotating merry-go-round. I would have been even poorer in quarters save for the fact that my kids had an uncanny knack of jumping on as free riders whenever some other parent of just one kid was giving their kid a ride.