Forget Gift Cards: 30 Experiences Worth Giving This Holiday Season

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Senior couple at the beach hugging and laughing wearing Santa hats
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NO WRAPPING REQUIRED

This holiday season, if you're looking to give something more exciting and enriching than just a typical material gift (and maybe go a little overboard), there are incredible experiences around the world that make for unique and memorable gifts. From cooking classes and surf lessons, to trapeze school and spa days, here are the best experiential gifts to treat everyone on your list.

Group of older people making pasta in a cooking class
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COOK LIKE A CHEF

Indulge the food lover in your life by gifting them cooking classes that will help sharpen their skills in the kitchen — and if you're lucky, they'll treat you to a meal after. If they're traveling to France, Le Cuisine Paris offers market tours and cooking classes in the City of Lights, or you can find excellent cooking classes for all levels in most major cities.

Man standing at the Grand Canyon with his back to the camera
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EXPLORE THE WONDERS OF THE U.S. NATIONAL PARKS

For the avid hiker and camper, gift them the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass so they can enjoy the natural wonders of the U.S. all year long. The $80 pass allows the pass holder and up to three adults access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites from Acadia National Park in Maine to the Redwoods of California. Senior passes are also available for less.

Group of people having a dinner party outside on a farm
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ENJOY A GOURMET FEAST IN THE MIDDLE OF A FARM

Plenty of restaurants offer farm-to-table cuisine, but why not give your foodie friend or family member the chance to eat at a table on a farm. Outstanding In The Field hosts one-of-a-kind dinners featuring incredible local food in stunning locations, from a ranch in Hawaii to a farm in Texas to a beach in the Florida keys.

Closeup of silver Porsche
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LEARN TO DRIVE A PORSCHE LIKE A PRO

Treat the car enthusiast in your life to the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles or Atlanta, where they can pilot the latest Porsche models on thrilling driving courses. It's a worthwhile splurge where they can test the limits of the vehicles and become a better driver. The Experience Centers also feature exceptional restaurants, state-of-the-art driving simulators and a rotating selection of notable vehicles from the Porsche Museum in Germany and collectors in the U.S.

Glider in the air over trees in autumn
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SOAR THROUGH THE SKY IN A GLIDER

The perfect gift for that friend or family member who has always wanted to take to the skies, a scenic glider ride is a great way to treat them to stunning views and the thrill of a lifetime. Cloud 9 Living offers glider rides from Boulder, Colorado, which include breathtaking views of the Flatirons, the Continental Divide, and more.

Woman in a woodworking shop
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BUILD FURNITURE WITH WOODWORKING CLASSES

Sure, you could gift someone a coffee table, but how much cooler would it be if they could make that coffee table themselves. At Bien Hecho Academy in Brooklyn, students learn how to craft furniture through hands-on classes that cover everything from woodworking fundamentals to advanced design techniques. Even if they have no prior woodworking experience, the instructors offer a supportive and fun class environment, and they even offer gift certificates.

Woman learning to rock climb in a gym
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LEARN TO ROCK CLIMB

If someone you know has always wanted to learn rock climb or would love to improve their climbing skills, treat them to rock climbing lessons. The American Alpine Institute offers climbing courses for all levels around Washington, California, Alaska, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. They could also go on a guided climb with Cliffhanger Guides in Joshua Tree National Park, or join Eastern Mountain Sports for climbing school in New York, Massachusetts, Connectticut, and New Hampshire.

Hot air balloon
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CRUISE PAST CLOUDS IN A HOT AIR BALLOON

Hot air balloon rides can be a thrilling adventure and make the perfect gift for someone who would appreciate spectacular bird's-eye-views from a basket. Rainbow Riders, the official operators of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, offer some of the most popular balloon rides in the country. But depending on where they live, you can find great companies across the country, including Balloons Over New England and Lake Geneva Balloon Company in Wisconsin.

Young couple at the beach holding surf boards
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HANG TEN WITH SURF LESSONS

Whether they've never been surfing before or are looking to improve their skills on the waves, surf lessons are a great gift — especially if they're looking to travel somewhere warm this winter. Learn2Rip Surf Lesson Academy is a great option in Southern California, while Hook Up Surfing offers classes in Hawaii, and Ron Jon Surf School is a hugely popular option in Florida.

Young woman wearing a recycling t-shirt standing in the rain forest
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VOLUNTEER TO SEE THE WORLD

A great gift option for someone who cares deeply about global social and environmental issues, the RCDP International Volunteer programs offer affordable options to see the world while also helping to give back. The organization offers a wide range of projects from helping sea turtles in Costa Rica and pandas in China, to teaching in Thailand and helping the poor in Uganda.

Young girl at home wearing a homemade astronaut helmet and playing with a space shuttle
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BLAST OFF TO SPACE CAMP

For the starry-eyed adventurer on your holiday gift list, Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, offers an incredible experience. The unique camp offers opportunities for kids and adults, including hands-on interactive space missions, astronaut training, flight simulators, robotics programs, and more.

Group of friends toasting their tequila
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RIDE THE TEQUILA EXPRESS TRAIN

The tequila lover on your list will be thrilled by the opportunity to climb aboard the Jose Cuervo Express for a totally unique experience of their favorite beverage. The vintage-inspired luxury train whisks them through the fields of agave in Tequila, Mexico, while they sip tequila cocktails and eat regional specialties. They'll get to tour the Jose Cuervo distillery, explore the pueblo of Tequila, watch traditional performances, and more. It's a worthwhile splurge.

Two people on a trapeze
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FLY HIGH ON THE TRAPEZE

For the friend or family member who always wanted to join the circus, trapeze school offers them the chance to float through the air with the greatest of ease. The Trapeze School New York offers classes for all levels in flying trapeze, silks, trampoline work, acrobatics and more, and besides New York has locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Young woman making chocolate
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LEARN TO MAKE ARTISANAL CHOCOLATE

Chocoholics will love the gift of chocolate-making classes from Ecole Chocolat. The online classes offer opportunities for everyone, including an intensive professional chocolatier program, 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. They also offer graduate programs around the world for hands-on experiences.

Couples in a dance class
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CUT A RUG WITH DANCE CLASSES

Whether they have two left feet or already feel at home on the dance floor, dance lessons are a really fun experiential holiday gift for all skill levels. Most studios around the country and the world, 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.

Group of people horseback riding
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HIT THE TRAILS FOR HORSEBACK RIDING

Whether they're a cowboy or cowgirl at heart, or would just enjoy galloping off into the sunset, horseback riding is an excellent holiday gift. Most ranches offer lessons for all levels and guided rides through stunning scenery, and for longer stays there are accommodations, food and ranch activities. Popular ones include Paradise Guest Ranch in Wyoming, Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Georgia, and Tierra Chamahua Eco Adventures in Mexico.

Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
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VISIT THE HOME OF THE KING IN GRACELAND

If there's an Elvis Presley fan on your holiday shopping list, treat them with 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, eat at the smokehouse or diner, and for the diehard fan, even stay at the guest house.

Couple on a ranch drinking wine
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DRINK WINE AND MEET WILD ANIMALS

At the Malibu Wines in Los Angeles, you can treat the oenophile in your life to a Wine Safari where they'll not only sip local wines, but also meet wild animals on the Saddlerock Ranch. They'll meet zebras, alpacas, bison, camels, and even a giraffe. Although the animals may seem kid-friendly, do know this is for visitors 21 and up.

Young man teaching young woman to play guitar
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JAM ON WITH MUSIC LESSONS

Whether they've always wanted to learn to play an instrument or are looking to improve their skills, music lessons make an excellent experiential gift. School Of Rock offers classes around the world for kids and adults of all skill levels for guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and keyboards. And Musika offers classes online, in studio or at home in a wide range of instruments.

Couple taking scuba lessons and smiling at camera
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MAKE A SPLASH WITH SCUBA LESSONS

If someone on our holiday gift list has always wanted to scuba dive or is looking to get more experience, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offers lessons for all levels around the world. For a more advanced gift, you can even book a scuba diving vacation with destinations that include the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Australia and more.

Senior women laughing and painting
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GET ARTISTIC AT PAINT NITE

Whether they're an aspiring artist or more of a paint-by-numbers enthusiast, Paint Nite offers the chance to get artsy while enjoying a drink and socializing. Events take place all over the U.S. and Canada at bars and restaurants, and the painting instructors make it super easy and fun to follow along, plus they're likely to meet new friends. Treat them to a gift card for Paint Nite.

Indoor Skydiving
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FLY LIKE A BIRD 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. Treat them to a gift card from iFly Indoor Skydiving, which has locations around the country and is available to participants from ages 3 and up.

woman with facial mask in beauty salon
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UNWIND WITH A SPA DAY

Sometimes the best experiential gifts are the ones where the recipient doesn't have to do a thing. Treat your friend, family member or special someone to a day at a spa, where they can enjoy a massage, soak in hot springs, lounge in the sauna and steam room, and lots of pampering. Most spas offer gift certificates, just be sure it covers not just access to the facilities, but also whatever treatments you want them to enjoy.

Couple smelling wine
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CREATE NEW VINTAGES WITH WINE BLENDING CLASSES

Giving a bottle of wine is a pretty typical holiday gift, so why not mix things up and give someone the chance to blend their own wine. At The Blending Lab in Los Angeles, participants learn how to taste wine, what makes each grape varietal unique, learn how to blend wine, and then get to take home a bottle of their very own blend.

Man in a helicopter looking out of window at sights
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SOAK UP THE VIEWS ON A HELICOPTER TOUR

Helicopter tours are a unique holiday gift to offer incredible views of some of the world's most stunning sights. Whether soaring above the skyscrapers of New York or Tokyo, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the glaciers of Alaska or Iceland, the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, there are countless places to explore from a sky-high perch.

Escape Room in Austin, TX
Photo credit: The Escape Game Austin/yelp.com

SOLVE PUZZLES TO GET OUT OF 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 escape room is unique and the themes range from spy adventures and casino heists, to prison breaks, haunted houses, desert island marooning and more. Most cities offer several escape room companies, and Breakout Games offers locations around the country and discount holiday gift cards.

Two women at a paintball course pointing guns at each other
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TAKE AIM WITH PAINT BALL

A fun way to get your heart racing while testing your aim, paintball makes for a great holiday gift. Facilities around the country offer both indoor and outdoor courses — such as the incredibly elaborate castles and towns of Skirmish Paintball in Pennsylvania — and typically you can buy a gift certificate that will cover admission as well as equipment and paint.

Art museum
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APPRECIATE GREAT ARTWORK WITH MUSEUM MEMBERSHIPS

For the arts enthusiast in your life, an annual museum membership for their favorite cultural institution makes for an excellent gift. From natural history museums to contemporary art, they'll appreciate having the opportunity to explore at their leisure all year long without having to worry about paying admission.

Group of friends at a pizza making class
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TOSS A PIE AT PIZZA SCHOOL

While most of us enjoy pizza, some of us love it so much they want to make it (and eat it) all the time. For those people, pizza making classes are an excellent gift. There are classes around the country, including the Goodfellas Pizza School of New York and Tony Gemignani's International School of Pizza in San Francisco, and for the hardcore aspiring pizzaiolo there's the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Italy.

Young florist woman holding a bouquet
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DEVELOP A GREEN THUMB WITH FLOWER-ARRANGING CLASSES

For the budding florist, flower arranging classes make for an excellent holiday gift. Many nurseries offer classes, as do botanical gardens, arboretums and college extension programs. Around the holidays, many offer wreath making classes, which can be a great way for the gift recipient to develop a skill and have something to hang on their door.

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