21 Unexpected Gifts That Keep On Giving

Say it with me: No more socks and scented candles! These are much better gifts for those impossible-to-shop-for people on your list. posted on

1. For crafters: Embroidery or sewing class

This class at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward is $99 plus $15 for materials. Nationwide, there are various sewing classes at Joann Fabrics, or just search for sewing classes in your city. (Like these in Portland, and these in Chicago.)

2. For food tourists: A walking food tour

The best way to experience a city is through its pizza, and its dumplings, and its tacos, and its barbecue, and… Anyway! Here are three good ones around the country: In New York, Sidewalks of NY offers tours of the West Village, the Lower East Side and NYC food trucks. (Gift certificates are available for all three.) In Austin, Texas (home to more than a few excellent restaurants), Austin Eats gives walking and biking tours, and can also arrange a private/custom tour. And in Miami, Miami Culinary Tours has tours of South Beach and Little Havana.

3. For anyone fearless: Skydiving

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Skydiving scares the crap out of me (see also: bungee jumping), but I have to admit that I’m kind of tempted to try it. It’s the closest thing we have to actually flying! On Skydiving.com, you can buy gift certificates that are valid at skydiving schools nationwide — a tandem jump is $309 with a video and $209 without. Or if you want to get really crazy (and you’re giving this to someone who’s an experienced skydiver), you can get them a gift certificate for an accelerated freefall — which means NO INSTRUCTOR ATTACHED. Gulp.

4. For yoga devotees: A private yoga class

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I have been doing yoga for four years and I still fall on my face every time I try to do crow, and I have a fantasy that a one-hour private yoga class will teach me the secret to this pose. I am probably mistaken, but in any case, if someone were to buy me a private yoga session, I would not be upset. (It generally runs around $100 to have someone come to your house for an hour.) If you’re buying this for a friend, contact a teacher at the yoga studio where he or she practices — they usually have websites or at the very least, a Facebook page — where you can get in touch with them directly.

5. For anyone in a gym rut: Personal training session

If Jackie Warner isn’t available, you can get a gift certificate from your giftee’s gym that can be used for a personal training session, which usually costs between $50 and $100, depending on the length of the session and the trainer.

6. For beauty addicts: A Drybar subscription

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It’s easy to make fun of girls who get blowouts regularly (you are paying…someone…to blow-dry…your hair. What are you, a Real Housewife?), but I am also jealous of their perfect hair. At Drybar, a chain of salons that does only blowouts (they have locations in California, Arizona, Georgia, NYC, Texas, and Washington, D.C.), you can get someone a membership ($140 a month for four blowouts or $75 a month for two, plus some fun extras) or a “bar tab” package of three to twelve blowouts, which are normally $40 each.

7. For aerialists: Trapeze class

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Trapeze classes look SO FUN. The Trapeze School of NY also offers classes in Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and Puerto Rico, and you can buy gift certificates for each school. (Cost varies according to the type of class and location.) Next stop, Cirque du Soleil. Or at least Ringling. OK, Big Apple Circus. OK, maybe your high school gym?

8. For carnivores: Butchering class

Tell your meat-loving friend to put their knives where their…mouths are? Or something. Butchering classes, like these at Los Angeles’ Lindy and Grundy, run from $125 for Poultry 101 to $750 for a five-week “whole hog” butchering class. In New York, the Meat Hook’s two-part whole beef butchering class ($200) promises to “walk you through the process of butchering a whole farm-raised cow.”

9. For art and culture appreciators: A museum membership

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Get a dual membership and then you can go together. Also, museum memberships usually come with discounts at the museum shops and cafés, and early access to special events like film screenings or gallery talks. Some ideas: the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston), the Art Institute of Chicago, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia). Personally, I would like a membership at Hearst Castle, but that’s just me.

10. For farm-to-table obsessives: Outstanding in the Field dinner

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Outstanding in the Field has been hosting outdoor farm (and ranch and vineyard and garden) dinners since 1999, and meals — which begin with a tour of the site, and a glass (or two) of wine — are usually made from food grown right there. The complete 2013 schedule will be released in March, but in the meantime, you can buy a gift certificate for a future event. (Dinners are usually around $200 per person.)

11. For horticulture appreciators: A garden or arboretum membership

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Plants are so pretty! And gardens and arboretums are excellent places for an afternoon of quiet contemplation. Some suggestions: the Arnold Arboretum (Boston), the Portland Japanese Garden, the Morris Arboretum (Philadelphia), the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

12. For Shark Week watchers: Aquarium membership

If there were no aquariums, there would be no PenguinCams, which comes from the wonderful Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. Other great aquariums to consider membership at include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium, and the Shedd Aquarium (Chicago). Also, I must make a special note about the New York Aquarium, which has been closed since Hurricane Sandy and could use our support.

13. For dog people: Dog camp

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A gift certificate to dog camp is the best gift for people who never go away because they have a dog. Besides, dog camp! It sounds like the awesomest thing. Glencadia, in upstate New York, will pick up a dog in Manhattan or Brooklyn and then he or she basically gets to roam free for a few days while its person is off on a beach somewhere. (PS: The camp’s dog blog is kind of addictive. I could watch videos of dogs frolicking for days.)

14. For Danica Patrick wannabes: Exotic Driving Experience

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Exotic Driving Experience lets people get behind the wheel of a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Aston Martin, among other cars, at racetracks around the country. (You can also let a professional take the wheel for two laps around a track, if you’re a scaredy-cat.)

15. For readers with e-readers: Emily Books subscription

Emily Books is an online, independent bookstore (full disclosure: I am good friends with one of the co-proprietors and company namesake) that selects one book a month for its customers, which they can download onto their e-reader of choice. The book selection — mostly novels, with the occasional memoir or book of essays thrown in — is smart and thoughtful, and gift certificates are available for single books ($14.95) or a year-long subscription ($159.95).

16. For people who need help getting dressed: A personal stylist

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First, a disclaimer that this gift is a little tricky — I would only get this for a friend you know really well, who will be more grateful than offended that you think his or her style needs help. Also, I am not suggesting calling up Rachel Zoe, because that would cost a billion dollars, but instead someone from a company like Style for Hire, which offers services like a “closet audit,” as well as closet shopping and personal shopping, at hourly rates from $40 (for an apprentice) to over $300. (BuzzFeed’s Amy Odell wrote about her experience with a Style for Hire stylist a couple months ago.)

17. For film snobs: An independent film subscription

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You definitely have that one friend who refuses to see anything made by the Hollywood Industrial Film Complex, and for that friend, who might be annoying and also wear berets, may I suggest a Film Movement subscription? Every month, he or she will receive an independent and/or foreign film, either on DVD or streaming (or both). The current offering is an Argentinian film called Clandestine Childhood, about a family that returns to Argentina under false identities. It looks good!

18. For yourself, if you enjoyed “Fifty Shades of Grey”: Romance novel subscription

Here is the thing about this eBook subscription from Harlequin, the largest purveyor of bodice rippers: You cannot purchase it as a gift! Which sort of makes sense, because reading romance novels is most likely something that people do not exactly publicize. So if you are ready to treat yourself, Harlequin offers six different subscription options, including one of “steamy romances that feature couples who know what they want and how to get it” and another with “vivid historical romances that capture the imagination with roguish rakes, impetuous heiresses and rugged cowboys,” which is probably the one I would get if I were someone who read romance novels, which I so totally am not.

19. For people who talk with their hands: Mime school

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Mimes are so weird and cool (OK, cool might be a stretch. But they are definitely weird!), and giving someone the gift of mime means that they will always be so much more fun to have at parties, so really you’re giving yourself a gift. The intro class at L.A.’s Mime Theatre Studio promises instruction in BASIC ILLUSION WORK, which, combined with learning how to put on that mime makeup, makes this the best gift ever.

20. For amateur models: Glamour Shots session

Glamour Shots is a thing that still exists, and they have gift cards, and if you ask me, it would be super fun to go to the mall and get an Orange Julius and then get a makeover and some photos with your BFFs, and I am saying this completely unironically. It really does look fun.

21. For Instagram-bailers: Flickr Pro account

For just $24.95 a year, your loved ones will never have to worry about onerous Terms of Service or being owned by Facebook ever again.

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