brown craft wrapped gift with a happy holidays tag set against a backgrounds of rolls of ribbon

As nice as it is to have a shiny package to open on Christmas or Hannukah, many of us already feel we have too much stuff. So, here’s my guide for ideas that might encourage friends and family to explore something new or revisit something they used to love doing. 

Having new experiences is good for your brain. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience in May 2020, researchers tracked subjects through GPS on their phones while they roamed around New York City and Miami, and checked in with them, evaluating their mood each day. It turns out, the more exploration, the better. Co-author Dr. Aaron Heller of the University of Miami says, “The experience of novelty, or going to places you had never been before, actually seemed to have an even larger association with positive emotion on that day.”

As examples, I picked opportunities in the SF Bay Area – but you can find these life enhancers everywhere. 

Body and Mind

  • A massage, body work, or acupuncture session.  
  • Float tank experience – Balance Float has two Bay Area locations and offer float tank sessions as well as Infrared Saunas, Cold Plunge as well as neurofeedback brain training systems that promise to improve your memory and creativity. 
  • Gift an exercise mat, and a set of dumbbell weights – available at every sport gear store online. Add yoga classes live and virtual – companies like YogaWorks offers virtual classes in everything from yoga and Pilates to meditation training.
  • Dance lessons – We all look forward to dancing in person again, as things open up you will find a variety of dance training in private studios, as well as your local recreation center or YMCA for lessons in ballroom, jazz, or tap. The long running Arthur Murray Dance Studios is back with in person lessons of all kinds – with masks required.
  • A class from Masterclass You can gift a friend a class with a top professional (often famous) in design and architecture, cooking, fashion design, photography, acting, jazz, writing – and lots more.
  • A museum membershipMuseums always offer gift memberships, find one that matches your friend or family member’s interests.  

Give New Skills or Sharpen up Old Ones

  • A sailing lesson – if there is a body of water near you, there is often a class in sailing or kayaking. I am fairly near Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay with lots of wildlife to view- sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals and birds. Outfitters such as Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks provide renters with proper outerwear, life jackets, gear and a 10-15-minute lesson before you head out to paddle on the bay.
  • A golf or tennis lesson – Group lessons or private, Parks and Rec or from a club pro. 
  • A surfing lesson – Wherever waves are breaking you can learn the basics of body or board surfing.

Inspire a New Way to Workout 

  • Climbing wall lesson/ membership
  • Gym membership
  • Swim club/pool monthly fee
  • YMCA membership
  • Boxing gloves, jump rope and a speed bag 
  • Ice skating 
  • Bowling 
  • Mini-golf gift cards 
  • Race Car Driving – If your friend or relative lives near a speedway you can give a gift certificate for driving a real NASCAR Race Car. Drivers get to meet with the crew chief for training and instruction, and then get behind the wheel and drive a NASCAR Race Car for timed racing sessions on the Nation’s Premier Speedways.

Ideas for Healthy Eating

  • A subscription to a locally grown produce delivery service
  • A month’s ready to make meal service
  • Plant based cookbooks – A HuffPost list:
  • Live or online cooking lessons
  • Wine/ craft beer /coffee club memberships
  • Food tours in your area

 Nature Gifts

  • Bird feeders and seeds
  • Bird and plant guide books/apps
  • A bee hotel for your garden
  • Seeds or plants for your garden that support pollinators
  • Guided Bay Area hikes – The Outdoor Adventure club offers day hikes almost every weekend throughout the year all over the Bay Area, from Pt. Reyes in the North Bay to Ohlone Wilderness in the East Bay, to Big Basin on the Peninsula to Henry Coe in the South Bay and to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • A pass to your local observatory/planetarium. 
  • National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass
  • A botanical gardens membership
  • Horseback riding
  • Zoo membership


  • An Escape Room adventure – the latest entertainment experience gives the gift of a fantasy adventure. You could be inside a pirate ship, a pyramid, or a mad scientists’ lab, and you must solve a crime, or a puzzle, or who knows what, to escape.  
  • Laser Tag
  • Astrological or tarot card reading – someone you know will find this an intriguing gift! 

If you have any great ideas, please do add them in the comments section.  Happy Holidays!

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