Sometimes, the best gifts aren’t objects at all, but experiences to share. Actually, there’s even scientific evidence supporting our hunch that experience-related purchases correlate to greater happiness than do gifts of “things!” So grab your favorite strange friend and go out exploring.  As an added bonus, many of these require no shipping, and therefore make excellent last-minute gifts! 

Unless otherwise attributed, Senior Editor Annetta is responsible for these experiential suggestions, which makes me think that she might be the best person in the world to ping should you find yourself in a sticky gift-giving situation…

Some ideas for unusual outings and enlightening experiences, broken down by city for easy reference: 

San Francisco


Our friends at the Long Now Foundation host a series of a fascinating seminars on diverse topics related to long term thinking. With speakers like Jared Diamond, Brian Eno, and Wade Davis, each one is a interesting and different. A membership to their foundation includes complimentary tickets to each of the monthly seminars, and makes a lovely gift as well!

The best gift ever would be insect pinning or terrarium building classes at Paxton’s Gate. The next class is on Jan 27. -Michelle

The Jejune Institute: A mysterious cult invites you to enter into its mysteries, and solve a puzzle or three. I can’t possibly describe how completely fantatstic this is. If you are in or near San Francisco, grab someone you love and go do this as soon as possible. 

Get foot loose and fancy free with the fashionable dandies of the SF Tweed this holiday season! -Seth



The Last Tuesday Society at Vicktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors. Home of unusual lectures and extraordinary masked balls. Events, link and tickets here

Dennis Severs House in London offers gift vouchers for this “living exhibition.” -Vanessa


New York City


The Observatory Room: A modern day lyceum, home to lectures and installations on topics diverse, scientific, and strange.

I don’t know if this is too artsy, but if you are in NYC a 3rd Ward membership would be a fantastic gift! It’s mainly aimed at artists, but any creative person could benefit from their  tech and shop labs, and you can take classes like “Rooftop Beekeeping 101,” “Inflatable Sculpture,” “Flying Sculpture,” ”Alternate & Historical Photographic Processes,” and “Start a New Religion.”  And you get a free bike. And free coffee. -Allison


The Secret Science Club meets every month at the Bell House in Brooklyn for “mind-bending lectures, volatile experiments, chemical libations, and star-gazing sounds”. Plus: Odd taxidermy!

Los Angeles


Esotouric: “Bus Adventures into the secret heart of Los Angeles.” 

Machine project: Unusual classes and lectures on art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food.

Various Cities


Afternoon Tea with the Adventurists: The fine, if slightly insane, people at the Adventurists have been hosting a series of afternoon tea chats with world-renowned explorers in many diverse locations. Check the Afternoon Tea link above for updates to the 2011 schedule.

Paragliding/Skydiving gift certificates: I went in the Swiss Alps last month, quite the unforgettable experience. -Vanessa


Journey to the End of the Night: A race through the city streets on foot and on bike. Watch the site for upcoming journeys in various cities

Nights at the Museum: Lots of museums are opening their doors up for after hours events these days. Look for one near you, but here are some of our favorites:

Dr. Sketchy’s  Anti-Art School: One part life drawing class, one part burlesque - now you can draw half-naked ladies while drinking booze in over 100 cities around the world.

I’d give my sister’s first born to attend one of the National Geographic Traveler Seminars. Topics range from learning how to be a more versatile travel photographer, to sprucing up your outdoor and nature photography.  Best of all, these classes are portable, and coming to a city near you!  -Madiha


Hackerspaces: Collective spaces dedicated to sharing tools and techniques for making, modding, and hacking all sorts of stuff have been springing up all over the world. Find one near you at the link above, or check out some of our favorites below!

  • Noisebridge, San Francisco - Super amazing, awesome electronic hackerspace.
  • TechShop, San Francisco - 15,500 square feet of tools and space to build stuff. 
  • Dorkbot: Attend a Dorkbot session in your community to find “People doing strange things with electricity.”

Context Travel: Friends of the Atlas and producers of “walking tours for the intellectually curious. We wish we had the opportunity to go on all of the tours they offer. I mean, seriously: Seminars on Ben Franklin in Philadelphia, excursions to the ruins of Paestum near Naples, an introduction to the plague in Venice. These are tours designed to inspire your inner history geek.

Matador U: New Media School for Travelers offers gift tuition for any of their courses in travel writing, travel photography, or travel filmmaking. What could be better than giving the gift of further honing a skill-set?! 


Spelunking expeditions! Might I suggest Budapest, city of 100km of underground caves? -Vanessa