Hot Air Balloon Ride

Memorable Experiences Worth Giving This Holiday Season

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This holiday season, if you're looking to get away from a typical material gift and give something more exciting and enriching, there are incredible experiences all over the country that make unique and memorable gifts. Here are some of the best experiential gifts to treat everyone on your list. (Still want a little something to put under the tree? Check out our list of 100 Christmas Gifts for $25 or Less.)

Related: Gifts for People Who Say, 'Don't Get Me Anything'

Saundra Latham contributed to this report.

Empty Movie Theater

Take Over a Movie Theater

If there's a cinema buff in your life, you can do better than a new streaming stick or a collector's edition of their favorite film. If they miss heading to the theater, how about paying for a private movie screening? While movie theaters have long been available for private parties, the pandemic has made the option cheaper than ever.

Here's an idea: Cinemark is hosting private watch parties for up to 20 guests at theaters across the country. They can choose from several popular films, and the price is a lot more reasonable than you'd expect: from $99 to $149, depending on time and film. Better yet, the price of concessions has come way down, too.

Related: Awesome Gifts for Couch Potatoes and TV Lovers

1970 Porsche 917 KH "Gulf"
1970 Porsche 917 KH "Gulf" by Qropatwa (CC BY-NC-ND)

Drive a Pricey Sports Car

There's no better gift for a car enthusiast than the chance to get behind the wheel of a vehicle that they would otherwise likely never be able to touch, let alone afford. Rent them a luxury car through a site like Turo, or check into the many driving clubs and racing venues where they can really test their limits. 

Here's an idea: The Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles or Atlanta allows drivers to pilot the latest Porsche models on thrilling courses. There are also exceptional restaurants, state-of-the-art driving simulators, and a selection of vehicles from the Porsche Museum in Germany and collectors in the United States. Plenty of COVID-19 safety protocols are in place. Expect to pay from $365 to $1,000+ depending on location and vehicle.

Related: Popular Gifts for People Who Love Cars

National Park Pass

Tour the National Parks

For the outdoorsy folks in your life, a chance to explore the nation's national parks might be the greatest gift of all. And there's plenty more to do than hike and enjoy the beautiful views: Just check out some of the unique activities they can enjoy, like these bucket-list national park experiences.

Here's an idea: With the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass, an avid hiker or camper can enjoy the nation's natural wonders all year long. The pass allows the holder and up to three adults access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. It costs $80 plus a $5 processing fee for most adults, or $20 plus a $10 processing fee for seniors 62 and older. Feeling really generous? Pair that park pass with a gift card toward an RV rental with Outdoorsy.

Related: Outdoor Gift Ideas Under $50

Take a Scenic Glider Ride

Take an Exhilarating Glider Ride

The perfect gift for that friend or family member who has always wanted to take to the skies, a scenic glider ride promises stunning views and the thrill of a lifetime, without all the noise from an airplane engine to distract them. 

Here's an idea: Cloud 9 Living offers glider rides in a variety of locations including from Boulder, Colorado, where highlights include breathtaking views of the Flatirons, the Continental Divide, and more. Tour operators are following COVID-19 safety guidelines, including requiring masks. Rides start at $120.

Related: 22 Bucket List Experiences for Adrenaline Junkies

Online Class

Try Out a MasterClass (or 10)

Whether you know someone who's celebrity-obsessed or just loves learning, a subscription to MasterClass and its expert-led courses could be the gift that keeps on giving. Each class includes an average of 20 lessons, but they aren't a huge time commitment at roughly 10 minutes a pop.

Here's an idea: The $180 gift membership offers a full year of access to the entire MasterClass library. They can take a creative-writing class from Margaret Atwood, learn about conservation from Jane Goodall, or drop in on a chess lesson from Garry Kasparov — the possibilities are wide-ranging.

Related: Best Free Online Courses for Retirees

Rock Climbing

Go Rock Climbing

If someone you know has always wanted to climb or improve their climbing skills, treat them to lessons. While classes will be easier to come by in mountainous areas, local recreation centers and indoor climbing centers are options across the country, no matter the landscape. 

Here's an idea: The American Alpine Institute offers climbing courses for all levels around Washington, California, Alaska, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. On the East Coast, try out Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Prices vary greatly depending on skill level, length, and location. Guides have put extra COVID-19 safety measures in place, including reduced group sizes and mask requirements.

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Hot Air Balloon Ride

Float in a Hot Air Balloon

A hot air balloon ride can be a thrilling adventure and make the perfect gift for someone who would appreciate spectacular bird's-eye views of the landscape at a relaxing pace. Better yet, there's likely a well-established company in your area, and most are operating with enhanced COVID-19 safety measures.

Here's an idea: Rainbow Ryders, the official operator of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, offers some of the most popular balloon rides in the country, starting around $150 a person. But you can find great companies across the country, including Lake Geneva Balloon Company in Wisconsin, where $240 will buy a one-hour Champagne flight.

Related: Adventures for Thrill-Seeking Senior Travelers

Surfing Lesson

Hang Ten With Surf Lessons

Whether they've never been surfing or are looking to improve their skills on the waves, surf lessons are a great gift — especially for someone looking to soak up some sun this winter. Indoor wave simulators or river surfing may even be an option for would-be surfers who don't live near the coasts. 

Here's an idea: Learn2Rip Surf Lesson Academy is a great option in Southern California, and Ron Jon Surf School is a hugely popular option in Florida. Prices vary depending on location, length, and skill level, but start around $50 a person for group lessons at Ron Jon's.

ropes course

Feel the Rush of a Treetop Adventure Course

Adventurous souls who aren't afraid of heights would relish the chance to hang out in the trees all day. Treetop adventure courses make it possible, challenging participants to make their way across tricky rope bridges, climb across shaky platforms, and woosh down zip lines. 

Here's an idea: Go Ape has 14 courses sprinkled around the country, with tickets starting around $35 for an all-ages adventure and $70 for longer, more intense adventures reserved for ages 16 and up. Gift cards are available, and the company has extensive COVID-19 safety protocols in place.  

Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
U.S. Space & Rocket Center

Have an Out-of-This-World Experience

For the starry-eyed adventurer on your holiday gift list, there are several creative options. A trip to the local planetarium would be an educational way to spend an afternoon, or a stargazing tour in the western United States could be the highlight of a longer vacation.

Here's an idea: Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, offers opportunities for kids and adults, including hands-on interactive space missions, astronaut training, flight simulators, robotics programs, and more. Camps scheduled for 2021 are expected to take place, but are ultimately subject to state health regulations. Weekend training sessions start at $199 a person, while weeklong camps start at $1,099 a person.

Learn a New Language
Eiko Tsuchiya/shutterstock

Learn a New Language

It's never too late in life to learn another language, and lessons can be an amazing gift for an eager learner. Given the huge variety of online courses, this is also a pandemic-friendly gift for someone who may have time on their hands, but wants to stick close to home. 

Here's an idea: Babbel offers gift codes starting at $49 that allow the recipient to unlock access to 6 months, 12 months, or 24 months of lessons for a single language. Pay a bit more and they can dabble in all 14 languages that Babbel offers, from Spanish to Turkish. Other well-regarded online options include Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and iTalki.

Try a Trapeze Class

Fly on a Trapeze

For the friend or family member who always fantasized about joining the circus, trapeze schools offer them the chance to float through the air with the greatest of ease. There are options in many major metro areas across the country. 

Here's an idea: Trapeze School New York offers classes for all levels in flying trapeze, silks, trampoline work, acrobatics, and more, and it also has locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. All locations except for Chicago are open and operating with strict COVID-19 safety protocols. Multi-week nonmember workshops in New York start around $285 for kids and $540 for adults. If you just want to give a taste of trapeze, drop-in sessions are $60 for weekdays ($70 for weekends) and gift certificates that never expire can be purchased on the website. 

Making Chocolate

Make Decadent Chocolates

Chocoholics will love the gift of chocolate-making classes that they can complete in the comfort of their own kitchens. Options include classes suitable for beginners, professionals, and everyone in between. 

Here's an idea: Ecole Chocolat offers an intensive professional chocolatier program and a bean-to-bar program for professionals and home chocolate makers, as well as options for those who want to learn more about chocolate but not as a profession. The beginner program lasts four months and starts at $750. Chocolate Academy Online offers self-paced courses for more advanced learners for $11 a month.

Related: Delectable Gifts Under $25 for Food Lovers

Online Dance Class
Ольга Simankova/istockphoto

Find the Beat in Dance Classes

Whether they have two left feet or already feel at home on the dance floor, dance lessons are a fun gift for all skill levels. Most studios offer several levels, from beginner to advanced, and you can usually find a range of classes, including ballroom, tango, salsa, swing, modern, jazz, and even square dancing. 

Here's an idea: Many studios are offering private and virtual lessons for those uncomfortable with group classes during the pandemic. They can find a teacher who’s available on their schedule using the website TakeLessons, or enjoy unlimited access to more than 600 classes for $20 a month from Steezy Studio.

Horseback riding
Marco VDM/istockphoto

Gallop into the Sunset With Horseback Riding

Whether they're a cowboy or cowgirl at heart or would just enjoy a scenic ride, horseback riding makes an excellent holiday gift. Most ranches offer lessons for all levels and guided rides through stunning scenery, as well as accommodations, food, and ranch activities for longer stays. Of course, local stables almost always offer lessons as well.

Here's an idea: Really want to splash out on a trip? Popular horse-riding destinations include Paradise Guest Ranch in Wyoming and Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Georgia. If you'd rather stay local, mom-and-pop stables often offer lessons starting around $50 an hour for beginners.

Related: Best Dude Ranches for Escaping the Crowds

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Follow in the King’s Footsteps

If there's an Elvis Presley fan on your holiday shopping list, treat them to the ultimate experience by sending them to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. There they can tour the home of the King, immerse themselves in interactive exhibits, and eat at the smokehouse or diner. COVID-19 safety protocols are in effect.

Here's an idea: Basic tours start at $73, but for the more diehard fans, there are VIP tours that add more exclusive activities, including the ability to skip the line or get insight from an expert guide. They can even stay at the Guest House at Graceland and make a long weekend out of the experience.

Related: Cool and Creative Gift Ideas for Music Lovers

Hawaii: Pahoa

FInd a Unique Airbnb or VRBO

While many people are understandably unsure of traveling great distances or staying at large hotels during the pandemic, a getaway is still an amazing gift for just about anyone. Road-tripping to a quirky Airbnb or VRBO can be a relatively safe way to get outta Dodge and let a treasured friend or family member unwind in a new setting. 

Here's an idea: Find an offbeat rental in your neck of the woods that will offer something beyond the typical hotel experience, whether that's a stay in a teepee, train caboose, houseboat or something even more interesting (hobbit house, anyone?). Airbnb gift cards are available in any denomination, too.

Related: Best Winter Home Rentals in America

Music Lesson

Make Sweet Sounds With Music Lessons

Whether they've always wanted to learn to play an instrument or are looking to improve their skills, music lessons certainly aren't limited to kids. If they love to sing, don't forget that voice lessons are widely available, too. 

Here's an idea: School of Rock offers online classes for kids and adults of all skill levels on guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and keyboard. Musika connects students to local teachers who offer classes online, in studio, or at home for a wide range of instruments.

Related: The Best Gifts for Music Lovers


Relax and Create During Paint Night

Whether they're an aspiring artist or more of a paint-by-numbers enthusiast, an evening painting their own masterpiece offers the chance to get artsy while enjoying a drink and a little socializing.

Here's an idea: Yaymaker offers virtual painting events for those who would prefer not to participate in person, and most classes cost only $15 per person. Many local painting studios have also reopened across the country with additional safety protocols, including some Painting With a Twist locations.

Related: The Best Gifts for Artists and Creatives

Scuba Diving

Explore Under the Sea With Scuba Lessons

If someone on your holiday gift list has always wanted to scuba dive or is looking to get more experience, you can make it happen with the gift of lessons. They don't have to live near the coast, either: There are dive shops all over the country that can help them gear up and learn.

Here's an idea: Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offers lessons for all levels. Beginner classes start with online learning and transition to both confined water dives and open water dives with local instructors. It's just under $200 for a beginner PADI Open Water Diver course, and there are continuing education classes from around $60.


Indulge and Unwind With a Spa Day

Sometimes the best experiential gifts are the ones where the recipient doesn't have to do a thing. Treat a special someone to a day at a spa, where they can get a massage, soak in hot springs, lounge in the sauna and steam room, and enjoy lots of pampering. Most spas have re-opened with enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Here's an idea: Can't decide on a treatment? Gift certificates are a safe bet; just be sure to cover not only access to the facilities but also whatever treatments they might want. Gift cards through Spa Finder cover thousands of locations across the country.

Related: Inexpensive Products to Ease Stress at Home

Try Indoor Skydiving
iFLY Indoor Skydiving - Dallas/yelp

Be a (Sort-Of) Dare Devil With Indoor Skydiving

While skydiving from an airplane might be a little too advanced for some people on your gift list, indoor skydiving offers a less-lofty experience that's still a thrill. It's also suitable for people of all ages, from kids to seniors. 

Here's an idea: Treat them to a gift card from iFly Indoor Skydiving, which has locations around the country and is available to participants as young as 3. Equipment is sanitized after each use, fresh air is used inside wind tunnels, and check-in is contact-free. Prices start around $50 per person, per flight. 

The Blending Lab in Los Angeles
Jennifer V./Yelp

Blend an Ultra-Customized Bottle of Wine

A good bottle of wine is a common holiday gift, so why not mix things up and give someone the chance to blend their own wine? It's an ideal gift for any oenophile, or even the casual wine drinker who just wants to learn more — and sound more knowledgeable next time they uncork a bottle. 

Here's an idea: The Blending Lab in Los Angeles is offering virtual wine blending classes that allow participants to learn how to taste wine, find out what makes each grape varietal unique, learn how to blend their very own kind of vino. It's $100 for a blending kit, wine, and virtual class for two.

Related: The Best Gifts for Wine Lovers

Helicopter Tour

Soar to Great Heights on a Helicopter Tour

A helicopter tour is a unique holiday gift that can offer the lucky recipient incredible views of some of the world's most stunning sights. From the skyscrapers of New York to the glaciers of Alaska, the Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls, there are countless places to explore from a sky-high perch.

Here's an idea: There are tons of tours offered all over the country through Cloud 9 Living, including this highly rated sunset helicopter ride for two over Philadelphia. The private trip includes champagne and is available any time of year. 

Solve an Escape Room
The Escape Game Austin/yelp

Think Fast in an Escape Room

Escape rooms are hugely popular and offer participants the challenge of solving puzzles with their teammates in order to get out of a themed room. Each room is unique, and the themes range from spy adventures and casino heists to prison breaks, haunted houses, desert islands, and more. Most major cities host several escape room companies.

Here's an idea: Breakout Games has locations around the country that offer private sessions, contact-free check-ins, and more frequent sanitation, and admission starts around $30 per person. The Escape Game offers many at-home options, including a live version of its escape rooms that can be played with friends and family over Zoom.

Related: Incredibly Fun Toys for Adults

Go Paintballing

Have Some Messy Fun Playing Paintball

A fun way to get someone's heart racing while testing their aim, paintball makes for a great holiday gift. Facilities across the country offer both indoor and outdoor courses, and typically you can buy a gift certificate that covers admission as well as equipment and paint.

Here's an idea: The incredibly elaborate castles and towns of Skirmish Paintball in Pennsylvania offer what might be the nation's ultimate paintball experience, with plenty of room on the courses for social distancing. Basic packages start at $30 per person, but gift cards are available, too. 

Online Cooking Class

Make Something Tasty With Cooking Classes

Indulge the foodie in your life by giving them cooking classes that will help sharpen their skills in the kitchen. If you're lucky, they may even treat you to a meal after. 

Here's an idea: While many in-person cooking classes have been suspended because of COVID-19, virtual options abound, opening up a nation's worth of classes to participants in all locations. For instance, Sur La Table's famed cooking classes have moved online and offer a huge range of dishes, from fresh pasta to stir fry. They're $29 for each 90- to 120-minute class.

Related: 11 Online Cooking Classes to Sharpen Your Skills While You’re Stuck at Home

Field Museum

Explore a Favorite Museum Again and Again

For the lifelong learner in your life, purchase an annual museum membership to their favorite cultural institution. Whether it's a natural history museum or contemporary art space, they'll appreciate having the opportunity to explore at their leisure all year long without having to pay admission.

Here's an idea: An individual membership with the North American Reciprocal Museum Association grants access to nearly 1,200 sites across the country, from art museums and historical societies to botanical gardens and children's museums. 

Running shoes

Try Out an Urban Scavenger Hunt

Whether you want to give someone a fresh perspective on their longtime home or a way to explore a new city, an urban scavenger hunt is a unique way to get someone off the couch for a weekend of fun. These hunts are typically self-paced, doling out hints and helping participants see the sights with the help of a smartphone.  

Here's an idea: Let's Roam offers scavenger hunts in hundreds of cities across the country and around the world, from just $40 for one to two people. The games can even be paused if players find a sight they want to explore in depth. There are also virtual options for those who would rather stick close to home.

Best Flower Delivery Services

Arrange Flowers Like a Pro

Many nurseries offer flower arranging classes for amateur florists, as do botanical gardens, arboretums, and college extension programs. Around the holidays, many offer wreath making classes, which offer the gift recipient a chance to develop a skill and have something to hang on their door next year.

Here's an idea: The American School of Floral Design has schools and classes across the country, as well as COVID-friendly online classes. Participants are sent a full box of flowers so that they can easily follow along from their own homes.

Related: The Best Gifts for Plant Lovers

Private Household Workers

Watch Someone Else Clean for Once

Experience gifts are usually about doing something cool, but they can also be about not doing something — in this case, house cleaning. Harried parents who've been entertaining kids nonstop at home during the pandemic may be especially appreciative of a professional cleaner, whether it's a one-off or monthly service.

Here's an idea: Two of the nation's largest cleaning franchises, Molly Maid and The Maids, offer gift certificates that will let the lucky recipient schedule the kind of cleaning job they want on their preferred schedule. Sign up with TaskRabbit, and you can purchase a gift card to cover nearly any task your lucky recipient can imagine — from housework to shopping to furniture assembly. 

Photo studio

Get Glam During a Professional Photo Shoot

Getting professional pictures is one of those things most people wish they did more often, but often never get around to. Help give the gift of priceless memories by chipping in for their next picture session, whether it's a fun family shoot, a romantic couples session, or even a COVID-friendly "porch portrait."

Here's an idea: If you don’t have a local pro in mind, try giving a session using Localgrapher, which has more than 1,000 photographers in its network. They're good in more than 900 destinations, and can be used on anything from family photos to holiday pictures to newborn sessions. 

Related: The Best Gifts for Photographers from Newbies to Pros

Grocery Shopping

Outsource the Grocery Shopping

Here's another present that's great because it gives them back some of their own precious time. Especially during the pandemic, going to the grocery store can be a frustrating experience, if not a downright risky one for vulnerable folks like seniors and the immunocompromised. Happily, these days, there are tons of services that will bring the groceries right to their door instead.

Here's an idea: Figure out where they like to shop and put on your detective hat to determine which service might be best. For instance, Instacart partners with big names including Aldi, Costco, and Kroger, while Shipt delivers from Target. Walmart has launched its own service, Walmart+. All charge around $100 for a year of free deliveries.

Related: Online Grocery Delivery Comparison

Florists Designing a Christmas Wreath stock photo

Help Someone Get Crafty

We all know someone who always seems to be knitting, scrapbooking, sewing, or otherwise finding outlets for their creativity. A gift card to a craft store or artist’s supply store might be welcome, but you can also help them sharpen their skills or learn something new with craft classes, often offered at local craft stores or readily available online.

Here's an idea: Think of Craftsy as a sort of MasterClass for crafty types. It offers more than 1,500 expert-led classes in an array of disciplines, including crochet, watercolors, jewelry making, knitting, and more. Membership allows unlimited access for $8 a month.

Related: Old-School Crafts Due for a Comeback

Farm Animal Rescue

Help Out on the Farm

What do you get for that city dweller or suburbanite who's longing for greener pastures? How about the animal lover who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty? A farm stay can offer a meaningful, memorable experience beyond a regular weekend trip, giving participants a chance to help chip in on working farms and ranches. Better yet, all that fresh air makes it an ideal pandemic getaway.

Here's an idea: Farm Stay USA is a good guide to options all over the country, whether you're looking to give an intimate experience or a stay on a larger farm. A picturesque Vermont farm, for instance, gives visitors a chance to collect eggs and cuddle barn kittens, while an Arkansas farm offers classes like cheesemaking and an array of animals, including alpacas and even lemurs.