Experiences are the stuff of life. Stuff is just stuff. Given time, most objects gifted this holiday season are bound to end up in the waste management facility, a secondhand store or listed as a “freebie” on Facebook.
Rather than a gift that takes up space in the back of the closet, an experience gift will always have a place in sweet memory. Here are some practical to out-of-the-gift-box experience ideas from local businesses and organizations around the North Bay. Each offers a unique opportunity to connect with the world—and each other—in ways that last, long after the gift wrap is gone.
If one’s bestie marathons The Great Pottery Throw Down but is not sure how to get more involved with ceramics, one may give them a push to try Petaluma Pottery (petalumapottery.com/classes). The charming storefront workshop offers semi-private lessons of two to four similarly skilled people for $40 per hour per person.
Lessons provided focus on either wheel throwing or the even more ancient art of handbuilding. Throwing a pot on the wheel may be the ultimate of ceramic excitement; but word to the wise, in a handbuilding lesson, one is much more likely to leave with a finished piece of pottery.
Petaluma Pottery has events and more specific classes that would make a great gift, like Date Night, where one can “learn the basics of making pottery on the wheel with your best friend, a date or your mom.” Bringing a date could be amazing, just like Ghost. Cost: $96 covers two people. One can expect to fire one or two pieces.
Or one may consider the perhaps more kid-friendly one-day class, Handbuilt Cookie Trays. Stephanie LeBaudour demonstrates handbuilding techniques, then leads the class through making their own slab-built trays. Cost: $58.
The kind of person who will most appreciate an experience gift may also be the kind of person who would like to use that gift to connect deeply with nature. How about on horseback being guided through “some of the finest riding trails in the world”?
Since 2003, Triple Creek Horse Outfit has been leading horseback tours of Jack London Historical State Park. Riders will be immersed in the pristine redwood forests around Glen Ellen. The guided rides start at one hour and can be much longer for those who wish to see the tree from Empire Strikes Back, or the other landmarks and vistas in the park.
One-hour guided rides cost $155 per rider, with a two-rider minimum. One can learn more at the Triple Creek Horse Outfit website, triplecreekhorseoutfit.com/prices.
An escape room, for those who have not yet had the pleasure, is a full-scale puzzle set up across one or more locked rooms. Often a party collaborates on the solution to unlock the first room, only to find a second room presenting a new set of puzzles to be solved.
Race60, the escape room at the Windsor Bowling Center (windsorbowl.com/escape-rooms) does an especially good job at presenting immersive themes, which is one of the most charming parts about escape rooms.
In addition to the adventure rooms offered with dungeon, prison, and space themes, the “Inventor’s Workshop” room provides a thoughtfully realized puzzle through the playful imagination of the inventor, all in a Victorian detective theme.
Costs are $30 per person; recommended ages are 12 and up. Groups are encouraged but not essential.
For those who have little ones with some monkeys in them to work out, they may look no further than the Monkey Academy at Session Climbing gym in Santa Rosa. The gym is kid-friendly, and kids under 12 climb free with a member. The academy hosts an eight-week class which teaches the fundamentals of rock climbing to kids ages six to 17. Kids will practice technique and learn problem-solving skills for getting up the rock. Correct working with rope is covered.
Fee is $350 per climber, with all equipment included. One may register at Session Climbing, sessionclimbing.com/youth-climbing/#MonkeyAcademy.
Another option is to give one’s children a gift that will open their eyes to their own talent: the six-week Teen/Tween Studio Art program at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts, taught by Kelley Ebeling. The focus will be on painting, drawing and mixed-media in a studio setting. A range of disciplines will be covered, from collage to figure drawing to simple still life to landscape painting in various media. Sign ups can be made at Healdsburg Center for the Arts, healdsburgcenterforthearts.org/classes-workshops. Price is $195 for the six-week session.
Ok, here is an idea. One may consider sending a loved one to Peru. Fiber Circle Studio in Petaluma—which is much loved in the fiber artist community—organizes a wool dyeing and spinning travel experience in the Andes. Participants will work alongside local partner artisans creating original work and preparing skeins of handspun yarn to bring home.
The group’s hotel is breathtaking, the local food and sights, no less so. One may discover “a Pachamanca lunch prepared in an earth oven in the community of Patacancha” and explore the Andes with guides.
Beginners are welcome. The educational portions of the workshop are as much for new fiber artists as for advanced fiber artists. One may sign up at fibercirclestudio.com/products/textile-worshop-in-peru for a $2,625 mostly all inclusive once in a lifetime experience. Or one may check out Fiber Circle’s many other workshops and events.
For those looking for a more on-budget experience with a big impact, nothing can beat a good old Sonoma County Parks Pass. The cost of $69 opens up a friend or favored uncle to all the wonders of the Sonoma County Regional Park system. That’s free parking at all of Sonoma Coast’s beaches and up and down the Russian River. And this is not to mention local jewels covered by the pass, like Helen Putnam in Petaluma, Spring Lake in Santa Rosa and Doran Beach in Bodega.
General memberships are $69, senior memberships are $49 and ADA Access memberships are $29. One can give a gift membership by going to the Sonoma County Parks website at parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/become-a-member/gift-memberships.
Giving the gift of a lifetime can be as simple as buying someone the time and permission to go and do in the world. To be somewhere where just being there is enough. So that the stuff of life is about experience and not more stuff. This is needed in communities and families, so hopefully one of the gift ideas here will inspire the gift of a lifetime to someone who is loved.