Experience gifts, when well-chosen, can provide a lot of delight with zero clutter. But because some people like to provide a tangible item to their gift recipients, I’m going to suggest some books you could pair with these experience gifts, too.
The specific experience gifts that follow are all located in selected cities in the U.S., but you may well find similar offerings wherever you live. Some of these ideas are on the expensive side, and best suited if a group of people can go together to purchase the gift.
Focus on the arts
For children or adults, give a class in one of many art forms. Depending on the person’s age and interests, this could involve glassblowing, stained glass, mosaics, cartooning, origami, etc. Some art museums offer fun-sounding classes, such as My Very First Art Class for preschoolers (and a whole lot more for older children) at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Alternatively, you could provide a gift certificate for drop-in studio time. Or get a membership in an art museum with hands-on programs, such as the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.
In this category, it’s easy to find some wonderful books to pair with the classes or studio time, if you so desire. For children, I’m fond of the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series: Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Andy Warhol and more. But the options are endless. A couple books that caught my eye are One Watercolor A Day and The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas.
Focus on animals
For animal lovers of all sorts, experience gifts abound. You could get a gift certificate for a whale-watching trip, and pair it with anything from Moby-Dick to the children’s book If You Want to See a Whale.
Some zoos offer the chance to shadow a zookeeper or a veterinarian for a day. Books to go along with this could include Wild About Reading for young children and The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients for older gift recipients.
After-hours events such as an aquarium sleepover can be fun, too. This experience would pair nicely with the children’s book About Fish.
Focus on plants
A membership in a botanic garden or a Japanese garden could be a welcome gift. You might also consider various local tours with a plant or garden focus. Horticultural classes are another possibility. If you wanted to include a book, consider The Curious Garden (for children) and From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden (for adults).
Focus on the skies
Give a gift certificate for a helicopter ride, a hot air balloon ride, or a biplane ride. I’ve given a couple of these gifts myself, and they were huge hits. A book that appeals to me because of the wonderful illustrations is Hot Air Balloons: History, Evolution and Great Adventures.
Focus on chocolate
Rather than just giving some wonderful chocolates, you could give the chocolate-lover on your list a chocolate walking tour. Or you could give a chocolate class, which teaches you about chocolate or allows you to make your own small batch. If you want to include a book, options are plentiful — one choice could be The Great Book of Chocolate.
Considerations regarding experience gifts
Some experience gifts (from massages to tours) come with the expectation of a tip. And, in some places, parking might be limited and expensive. If you don’t want the gift recipient to have to pay to use your gift, consider pre-paying any of these added expenses (if possible) or including a bit of cash to cover the expense.
Also, as with any gift, consider the recipients. Do they have any food allergies? Any physical limitations? A fear of heights? If you’re considering a gift certificate that’s only good for a specific day, are you sure the recipient can attend the event? You can probably find a good experience gift for most people, as long as you choose wisely.
Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.