When I think back on the gifts I’ve received through the years, I can really only remember a few: Oreo (the black and white hamster that Santa brought when I was eight) stands out for obvious reasons… along with a couple meaningful pieces of jewelry.

But the gifts that really embedded themselves in my memory were the ones that involved experiences. They helped me grow, learn something new, or simply feel extremely loved. And what better gift could you give that hard-to-shop-for person on your list who doesn’t really want more stuff than a new treasured memory?

Read on for 7 unforgettable experiences I’ve either been given, gifted to someone else, or that I’m secretly hoping are waiting under the tree for me this year (will someone forward this post on to Adam please?)

A Cooking Class

The first Christmas after Adam and I got married, he surprised me with the ultimate experience for my food-loving soul: a week of “culinary bootcamp” at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. Y’all, we’re talking bucket list situation. That spring, I spent 5 days with a few other passionate home cooks under the tutelage of a renowned chef-teacher, shopping from the farmer’s market, doing wine tastings, and learning to master so many foundational recipes that I still make today.

Even if your budget doesn’t allow for this major splurge, a cooking class at a local market, shop, or culinary school is the perfect gift for the foodie in your life — or someone who just wants to feel a little more confident in the kitchen. Many casual cooking classes are held in the evening and include eating great food and wine, so it’s more like a dinner party than a classroom setting.

The photo above is from our macaron making class at Elizabeth Street Café.

“Dinner and a Movie” Date

Okay, this one may sound basic — but when I recently gave this gift to my dad because I couldn’t think of anything else to get him, I was kinda shocked at how thrilled he was. Now, let’s be real: most people can buy themselves movie tickets, so this gift is really more about the gift of your time. You’re taking them out on a “date” and carving out an entire evening together where you pick up the tab.

A theater with food and drinks, like Alamo Drafthouse or Violet Crown, gets my pick for making this gift feel more special than the average cinema.

Spa Day

One year, I was really stressed and working around the clock, and Adam surprised me with a “day of beauty”: a couple spa treatments that he booked without my knowledge, plus flowers, dinner, and a hot bath waiting for me at home afterwards. There’s pretty much nothing more luxurious than being forced to take a break from your schedule and be fully and totally pampered.

This year, the team and I are treating ourselves to our own day of beauty: pampering massages and facials at Viva Day Spa, time to relax in the sauna, a Secret Santa gift exchange in the lounge, all capped off with brunch at nearby June’s. I’m already counting the days. Viva has loads of spa packages that make great gifts for different budgets.

A Class to Learn Something They’ve Never Tried

Is there something that your recipient has always talked about wanting to learn, but has never taken the plunge? For me, it was learning to surf a couple years ago when NLand was still open in Austin (RIP.) Having the chance to finally conquer something that had always called to me and also intimidated me was the ultimate gift — and created memories that were worth so much more than any material possession ever could have.

This one may require a lot of thought to hit the nail on the head: has the recipient always wanted to learn to ride a horse, steer a sailboat, learn to belly dance, arrange flowers? I guarantee: there’s a class for that, and chances are, you giving it to them may be just the push they need to finally give it a try.

Wine Tasting Class

This is one of those things that I rarely actually go out and do, but when I have the random opportunity to go to a wine tasting class, it’s so fun. And you most certainly don’t need to go to California to do it; so many areas around the US have incredible wineries and vineyards with tasting rooms, from the Pacific Northwest to upstate New York, to yes, even the Texas Hill Country. And if you live in an area that doesn’t, I guarantee there’s a great restaurant or a Whole Foods that offers educational and (most importantly) fun classes to learn all about wine. With plenty of tasting involved.

ps – I’ve also been to cheese and chocolate tasting classes, which are equally AMAZE.

Tickets to See a Band They Love

Adam and I don’t see nearly enough live shows considering we live in “the live music capital of the world”… so that made it even more special when I surprised him with tickets to Paul McCartney when he came to Austin a couple years ago. Paul’s the one artist that Adam hadn’t crossed off his bucket list, and it was such a special night that neither of us will ever forget. Check your local listings to see who’s coming to town, and make sure the lucky recipient picks up some concert swag so they can relive the night for years to come.

Museum Membership

For the art lover in your life, a membership to a museum is worth its weight in gold. These usually aren’t cheap, making them something that people often won’t splurge on for themselves. Gifting them to someone who will really appreciate it not only means visiting as frequently as they’d like; in most cities a membership will also get you perks like sneak peeks at upcoming exhibits, members-only parties, and extended hours.

Many cities also have fun kid-centric museums (like The Thinkery in Austin), so this is a genius idea if you’re not sure what to get the little on your list.

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I’d love to hear: have you ever given or received an experience gift that you’ll never forget?

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