The BEST Experience Gift Ideas! (for everyone on your list)

There’s been a rising trend in gift giving in recent years and no, it’s not the newest iPhone 🙂 People are slowly starting to look for experience gift ideas more and more, rather than presents for Christmas and we say, it’s about time!

Researchers at Cornell University have spent the last decade studying why receiving an experience provides more of a lasting happiness rather than gifting material possessions and it comes down to this- people tend to get less and less happy with material purchases over time.


One of my favorite gifts I have ever received was a surprise trip to Boston and NYC gifted by my husband. I was woken up at 4 am, told to pack my bags, and we were off! Maybe some people’s nightmare…but it was totally a bucket list thing for me – the surprise factor, the anticipation, and the trip itself made for an experience I will never forget.

With two babes and one on the way, we 100% trying to implement this into our own family as well – more memories, less stuff.

  • We been clear with family that we really appreciate quality over quantity when it comes to gifts and that TIME with them is the greatest gift they can give our girls. So for birthdays every year we have encouraged one date and one gift, and truly it is just the BEST thing. That one-one-one time with their aunts, uncles, and grandparents is just invaluable.
  • For a few years now, we have started a tradition of doing a cooking class every year for my sister’s birthday instead of exchanging presents.
  • With another side of the family, we do a long weekend trip together each year (Family Beach Weekend here you come! Our beachfront rentals round up here are both magical AND affordable) instead of gobs of gifts for each other.

We’ve rounded up some more ways to replace the “stuff” on Christmas lists this year with amazing experiences- read on below!

Experience Gift Ideas for Kids:

  • A visit to a trampoline park or mini golf
  • A full day of their choice of activities (a YES DAY!)
  • Coupons for small privileges (ice cream with mom, stay up an hour late with Dad, 30 minutes of extra screen time)
  • Local pottery class
  • A morning at your city Art Museum
  • Tickets to a children’s play or musical
  • Lessons (horseback riding, piano, guitar, tennis)
  • A class they can take (kids cooking class, art, science)
  • One-one-one hike and picnic at a local nature preserve
  • Ice skating, roller skating, or bowling
  • Going to the zoo or aquarium together
  • Tea Party at a local tea room, fancy restaurant, or American Girl Store
  • A meal at their favorite restaurant with just mom and dad (that one-on-one time is truly magical)
  • Painting Date at Color Me Mine or similar studio
  • Studio Movie Grill tickets
  • A day date to get a manicure/pedicure with your little girl
  • Gift them a private lesson for their favorite sport (I know our oldest would die of excitement to get this kind of one-on-one time in the gym)
  • For an older boy, an afternoon of laser tag together would be really fun
  • Overnight hotel stay (what is it about staying at ANY hotel that is just SO exciting for kids?!)
  • Asking a talented friend or family member to gift their talents for a one-on-one hour with your child (a few years ago our oldest got two “jewelry classes” with my mom’s friend who is an avid jewelry hobbyist)
  • Rock Climbing at a local gym
  • Family bowling date!
  • For the littler ones, Build-A-Bear is a really fun experience
  • Not necessarily an experience, but we LOVE Kiwi Crates for gifting for the kids– Seriously fun and enriching science and art projects, delivered
  • Date to Barnes&Noble (pick out one book they choose!) and have hot chocolate together
  • A trip! Last year we surprised our kids with a short trip to Disneyland and this year we are headed to Christmas in NYC (only possible thanks to our flights and hotels being full covered by points!)

For the Parents/Grandparents:

  • Monthly subscription (cooking boxes, beer of the month, Book of the Month Club)
  • Airplane ticket to visit yourself or family (if you can use your stash of credit card points, even better!)
  • This virtual Italian Cooking Class on Airbnb is truly the BEST gift (Luca and Lorenzo are every bit as charming and Italian as you’d think)
  • Couples dance lessons
  • Photographer for family portraits (I really think parents would cherish this one especially)
  • Spa Day (couples massage anyone?!)
  • Set up a game of Pickle ball for a fun day date and to try something totally new!
  • A keepsake gift like this that helps them cherish their most important memories through the years
  • Pre planned date night for something they wouldn’t normally do on their own
  • A wine tasting or vineyard tour
  • Theater or Symphony tickets
  • Oral interview or history book of them recounting memories to you (No one does this better than StoryWorth)

Experience Gift Ideas for the Family:

  • A family trip (Dreamy AirBnb getaway anyone?! See our list here of the BEST remote rentals here)
  • A hike or a trip to their favorite park
  • Staycation night at a local hotel (Great Wolf Lodge is a blast for kids if you have one nearby)
  • Annual Membership passes to local museum, zoo, or aquarium
  • Tickets to an event (sporting events, family-friendly play, concert)
  • National Parks Pass (we LOVE this one…see our National Parks 101 post here!)
  • Volunteer together or do a service learning project as a family
  • Amusement or Water Park Passes
  • Plan a camping trip


For the Husband/Boyfriend:

  • Plan a weekend for him to get away completely on his own (a few years ago I gifted by very busy husband a weekend alone to a cabin in the woods and he said it was the best gift I have ever gotten him)
  • Brewery tour and beer tasting
  • Motorcycle Ride (typically this requires a license, so check your local regulations)
  • Round of golf or golf lessons
  • Indoor Skydiving
  • All Access Masterclass subscription (anything from Texas BBQ with Aaron Franklin to Fitness Fundamentals with Joe Holder)
  • Craft Beer Club membership
  • Plan a trip to one of his bucket list destinations! Better yet surprise him and map out the whole getaway and then shock him with the airline tickets (just SO fun)
  • Date Night in a Box
  • Distillery tour or whiskey tasting
  • Punch pass for a rock climbing gym
  • Luxury or sports car rental for the day
  • Mezcal and Tequila Cocktail Master Class
  • Couples cooking class
  • Escape Room experience
  • Wilderness or survival class (Anyone else Alone fans?!)


Experience Gift Ideas for Friends:

  • An Alice Table’s workshop (one of everything please, these look amazing)
  • Gift cards with set up coffee or lunch dates
  • Yoga passes or book a workout class together
  • A new plant baby (a monthly plant subscription would also be fun!)
  • Sur la Table cooking class for you both
  • Plant Workshop to do together
  • Day or weekend trip together
  • Interior Design Consultation (Husband…this one pretty please)
  • Spa Day! Facials or massages followed by mimosas
  • Fresh flower subscription
  • Wine tasting or winery tour
  • Mani/pedi and lunch date at an local IG worthy cafe
  • Candle Making Kit or virtual workshop
  • Makeup class
  • Airbnb Experience (the options are endless here from a vineyard tour to “A hour with an adorable baby goat”…who would have thought)
  • Closet consultation (I mean are we old yet or what? But what a great gift)

The Bottom Line

YES there can be such joy in giving meaningful gifts (if you are going to go that route, we rounded up the best of the best thoughtful gifts HERE!). BUT satisfaction from buying things like the latest tech gadget will quickly fall away, while the true happiness you find in spending quality time with your loved ones and experiencing something new together will only continue to grow.

Experience Gift ideas for the WIN. Family time and memories made with your loved ones will always mean more than physical gifts!

Have you tried making the switch over to gifting experiences instead of presents? How did it go with your family? Let us know in the comments below!


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