15 Ways to Give Experiences as Gifts

The holiday shopping season is underway, and some are finding that the perfect gift can be elusive. Some people seem to have everything, and the latest tech gadget could be obsolete by President’s Day. According to Professor Thomas Gilovich, of Cornell University, the gifts that elicit the most happiness aren’t material items at all, but experiences. Gilovich’s studies over the past several years have found that people derive more satisfaction from the anticipation of an experience than from a tangible gift. Kitchen appliances break, sweaters fade, and candles melt, but you can brag about these experiential gifts for an eternity.

1. Ziplining in the Mountains

Ziplining above the mountains

For thrill-seekers, ziplining is an exciting way to get stellar views of the country’s most breathtaking sights. The Blue Ridge Mountains are an iconic Appalachian locale, and at Navitat Canopy Adventures, in Barnardsville, North Carolina, you can see the Smokies while soaring more than 60 miles per hour. ($100)

2. Blacksmith Class 

In the “extreme DIY” category, smithing is something anyone can learn at Bridgetown Forge in Portland, Oregon. Artisans-in-training can take a knife-forging class in which they will forge a Japanese-style steel knife stamped with their own initials. ($460)

3. Dog Sledding

Man riding a dogsled
(Photo by Dave Dugdale)

How often do you get the opportunity to ride behind a team of Alaskan Huskies through the mountainous forests of Maine? Adventurous dog-lovers will never forget the Ultimate Dog Sledding Experience in Oxford, Maine.  ($200)

4. Cooking Class

Give the gift of kitchen competency with a cooking class. Specialized courses in different cuisines and skills are easy to find at the demonstration kitchen nearest to you. At the famous Stonewall Kitchen near Boston, every day of the week is a new lesson in braising, chopping, and pairing with accomplished chefs like Lukas Volger and Gesine Bullock-Prado. ($50)

5. Dinner and a Movie

Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has expanded into locations all around the country. The theater chain offers dinner, drinks, and a movie all in one place, and it prides itself on a moviegoing experience tailored to cinephiles and beer enthusiasts alike. ($12) 

6. National Park Membership

The outdoors-type in your life can access more than 2,000 national recreation sites with the America the Beautiful Pass. From Denali National Park to the Grand Canyon, a national park membership is the ultimate in experiential giving. ($80)

7. Traditional Afternoon Tea

Tea and sandwiches

The British tradition of afternoon tea with pastries and sandwiches can be a fun midday treat for Anglophile yankees. The Rittenhouse in Philadelphia gives the full experience of teas, scones, and canapés in its Mary Cassatt Tea Room. Try the caviar service for extra indulgence. ($60)

8. Paint and Sip

Boozy art classes have soared in popularity in recent years. Pinot’s Palette gives the opportunity to sip wine and create a masterpiece at locations all over the country. Each night at a paint and sip studio a teacher guides patrons in painting a different image. The trend has caught on with amateur artists who want to relax with a canvas and glass of Cabernet. ($39)

9. Baking Class 

Momofuku Milk Bar offers baking classes at its Williamsburg, Brooklyn location where you can make some recipes from the wildly popular cake chain. The hands-on tutorial can be helpful for anyone with a baking curse. The Milk Bar is famous for its tall, layered “naked cakes” and crack pie. ($95)

10. Horseback Riding 

The true Western riding experience can be had at Moab Horses in Moab, Utah. The ranch sits in Professor Valley, a common filming location for cowboy movies for its vistas and red rock formations. ($80)

11. Spa Treatment 

The stressed in your life would be supremely grateful for the chance to relax and rejuvenate at their favorite spa. The Spafinder card is a popular gift to ensure they can use their balance at the facility of their choice.

12. Cocktails

The art of the cocktail has undergone a transformation, and places like The Aviary in Chicago (and now New York) celebrate inventiveness and flavor in their concoctions. With their three-course cocktail progression, you’ll get smoking, boiling, infused libations served like a carefully-tailored dinner. ($65)

13. Trip to the Museum 

Outdoor museum
(Photo by Sawdust Media)

There are plenty of weird and wonderful museums in this country, but none quite like St. Louis’s City Museum. The institution is made up of installations of found objects from the city, and it calls itself “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” ($12)

14. Subscription Boxes

While subscription boxes are technically material goods, they elicit the experience of anticipation by being the gifts that keep on giving. Foodydirect offers subscriptions for cheesecake-, smoked salmon-, and ice cream-of-the-month clubs in addition to a vast amount of shippable treats. Myriad other subscription boxes offer monthly packages of beauty products, wine, dog treats, and anything else you could imagine.

15. Sports Car Racing

Cloud 9

Cloud 9 Living has made experiential gift-giving its raison d’être. With an offering of tours, lessons, and thrill experiences in every major U.S. city, the company is on a mission to make helicopter flights and kayaking trips the new hot gift items. Cloud 9 is popular for their racecar and sports car experiences: patrons can race Lamborghinis, Porsches, and Indy Cars around a road course. ($388)