Holiday Gift Guide: Experiences
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Giving gifts is one of my ‘love languages.’ There are fewer things as satisfying as finding a gift you know your loved one will cherish and adore. Yet, giving good gifts can also be incredibly hard, especially as we get older and many of the people we buy for already have everything they want or need. Too often, we give gifts out of obligation, choosing things that are unlikely to be used or appreciated. This mindless consumerism wastes resources, creates clutter, and takes so much of the fun out of gifting. If you’re looking for a more meaningful and sustainable gifting solution this holiday season, consider ‘experiential gifts.’
Experiential gifts - an experience or activity you arrange for the recipient - are always a good choice. They can be a wonderful way to honor someone’s passions and interests, to arrange to spend quality time with your loved one, or to introduce someone to something new. In addition, I often pair the experiential gift with a related item to make it feel extra personalized and fun. The best part? The memories of the experience will last a lifetime, making it the gift that keeps on giving.
Thinking about trying out some ‘experiential gifts’ this year? Read on for 11 of my favorite experiential gifts:
1. Restaurant Gift Card + Bottle of Wine
This is a great gift for the foodies in your life (or really anyone who likes to eat). If you live in the same town, go with a gift certificate to one of your favorite restaurants and include a list of your must-try dishes in your card so they know what to order. If you’re choosing a gift for a faraway loved one, do some research online (read blogs, newspaper write-ups, Google reviews, etc.) and select a popular spot near them. Give just a gift certificate and a nice card, or add a bottle of wine that they can bring to the restaurant with them (check to make sure this is allowed). This Sonoma Valley Zinfandel is a lovely and versatile choice.
2. Hotel Gift Card + Personalized Itinerary
Looking to give the gift of travel? This experiential gift is a fun way to treat your loved one to a totally unique getaway. Whenever possible, I prefer to select a destination within driving distance from the recipient - that way they don’t need to worry about booking flights or renting cars. I like to plan for a 2-day / 1-night getaway so they can easily fit the trip into one weekend. If you know the destination well, create a personalized 2-day itinerary that includes all your favorite spots, as well as activities you know the recipient will love. If you’re not familiar with the destination but think it seems like their kind of place, do some research online. When your itinerary is complete, type it up, print it out, and deliver it in a cute package with the hotel gift card.
3. National Parks Pass + Solar Lamp
What better gift than the gift of access to our country’s most spectacular natural wonders? An Annual National Parks Pass gives the recipient access to 2,000 federal recreation areas across the country and is good for 12 months. The recipient is sure to have experiences galore! Round out the gift with a fun, portable solar Luci light and let the adventuring begin.
4. Tickets to a Concert / Play / Show
Tickets to a concert, play, or other kinds of shows are sure to create memories that will last a lifetime. I recommend gifting at least two tickets so the recipient can bring a friend. If you’d like to share the experience with your loved one, get one ticket for them and one for yourself!
5. Exercise Studio Gift Card + Workout Gear
The perfect gift for the workout champion in your life! If your loved one adores working out, you can’t go wrong with a gift card to a local exercise studio. If they tend to stick to a particular kind of workout (barre, yoga, HIIT, etc.), consider gifting them access to the newest, hot studio in town. If they like to sample lots of studios, a ClassPass membership is a great choice. Top off the experiential gift with some gear you know they’ll use and love - this Gaiam yoga mat comes with a handy carrying handle, or try this bundle of barre / yoga socks.
6. Cooking Class + Cookbook
Whether you’re looking for a gift for a devoted foodie or a friend who is just discovering the joys of the kitchen, a cooking class is an interactive, memorable gift. If they have a favorite cuisine, look for a class that will give them the skills to whip up some of their most-loved dishes. Attend with your friend to make lasting memories together or send them credits for two spots in the class. I always like to complement a cooking class gift with a great cookbook, so the recipient can continue their food journey at home. Pick a book that focuses on the cuisine of their class, or try one of these stand-out books: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple; Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy; or Sarah Kieffer’s 100 Cookies.
7. Winery Membership
This gift is a gift that keeps on giving experience after experience. If your loved one lives within driving distance of a winery, consider gifting them a year of winery membership. Typically, wineries invite members (and often up to 2 friends!) to enjoy free wine tastings for the duration of their membership. With a membership, a weekend getaway to wine country doesn’t come with such an exorbitant price tag. In addition, the lucky recipient will receive a few shipments of wine over the course of their membership, meaning your gift will enable them to pour delicious wine at their dinner parties all year long. Most wineries have a few different membership packages to choose from, so you can find something that fits your budget. And hopefully, you’ll get to tag along to at least one free tasting! Creating memories together is truly the best gift.
8. Escape Room + Drinks
Looking to give the gift of fun? A gift certificate to an ‘escape room’ is sure to deliver lots of fun (and maybe just a little bit of frustration). Never done an escape room? Here’s how it works: you enter a themed room where you’ll find dozens of puzzles and challenges. Your goal is to work together with your group to solve all the puzzles and ‘escape’ from the room in under an hour. There is a reason that companies use ‘escape rooms’ for team-building events: success requires a unique sort of collaboration that’s very fun to experience with friends or family. Cap off the gift with a gift certificate to a nearby restaurant where the recipient can rehash the experience over drinks or dessert.
9. Spa Treatment + Brunch
Nothing beats the gift of true relaxation and rejuvenation. For your most hard-working, stressed-out friend, consider gifting them a day of peace. Many spas are located in hotels that also have onsite restaurants, so make it a package deal - a spa treatment followed by a leisurely breakfast. Want to give an even more robust gift? Send them home with one of these GOTS Certified Organic Cotton waffle robes from Boll & Branch (I have these myself and they are deliciously comfortable).
10. Kayak / Sailboat Rental
For your most adventurous friend, consider gifting them the experience of a day on the water. If they know how to or simply enjoy sailing, think about giving them the fun of a day on a sailboat. In coastal regions, you can typically find a few companies that offer day sails for reasonable prices - check out Chardonnay Sailing Charters in Santa Cruz, CA, if you're in the area. If you think your friend would prefer a bit of physical activity, a kayak rental is a great option. Gift them a certificate or set up the experience and join them on the water. If you want to add in a useful physical gift, consider a dry bag that will protect their gear from splashing water (I’ve used this one on multi-day kayak trips and it works great).
11. Customized Hike + Gourmet Picnic
Sometimes simple and customized is best. This year, give your loved one the gift of quality time together in nature. Add some good food and you’re golden. For your gift, select a hike you know the recipient will love - maybe they adore good views, maybe redwoods make their heart sing, maybe a coastal jaunt is all they ever dream of. Whatever their thing is, pick a hike that will bring a smile to their face. Need some help picking? Browse AllTrails until you find a route that checks all the boxes. Before the hike, shop for and pack a gourmet picnic made up of all their favorite goodies. You can do the hard work of carrying the food on the trek before setting it up in a picturesque spot of your choosing. Your loved one is sure to be touched by your thoughtful attention to detail, so don’t forget to snap a few photos that they can cherish for years to come.
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