Each year during the holidays, many of us struggle to find that unforgettable perfect “something” to gift our loved ones. But what we’re really doing is trying to connect, to show our deep appreciation for our family and friends. And maybe we’re on the wrong track, and giving a thing isn’t the answer at all. Maybe what we want to give instead is an unforgettable experience.
“The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative,” says Professor Cindy Chan, an expert on consumer relationships and co-author of a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. “An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it—like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa—and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”
Giving an experience doesn’t immediately take the challenge out of gift shopping. It’s important to find an activity your recipient will be eager to participate in and will genuinely enjoy. Fortunately, the Monterey Peninsula and surroundings offer myriad adventures, many of them one-of-a-kind. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can customize any experience, thanks to our local concierge culture—if you can imagine it, someone can make it happen. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, rest easy—what follows is a glimpse at some of the more extraordinary experiences to bestow on your beloveds and besties this holiday season.
Perched on what feels like the edge of the world, Treeebones Resort in Big Sur is one of the country’s premier “glamping” destinations, sure to delight the nature lover in your life. This is no regular campsite; the 14-year-old family owned resort is environmentally sustainable while featuring glamorous amenities. In addition to 16 luxury yurts and a 500-square-foot tent equipped with a king bed, deck, and en-suite bathroom, the property also boasts unique lodging experiences in a “spirit nest” or two-story twig hut.
Treebones offers yoga workshops, a pool and hot tub, massage services, and “redefined campfire cuisine” at Wild Coast restaurant. This is the only place on earth you can drift off to sleep to the lullaby of crashing waves and elephant seals, while spending the night perched 10 feet off the ground in your very own human nest, designed and hand woven by Big Sur artist Jayson Fann.
Another way to commune with nature, while also taking in local history, entertaining and in-depth education about America’s Salad Bowl, and family friendly sites like Dennis the Menace Park, are viticulturist Evan Oakes’ cleverly named “Ag Venture” tours. Oakes has been leading his variety of customizable tours, which include wine tasting, sightseeing, and agricultural tours throughout Monterey and Big Sur, as well as the Carmel, Salinas, and Pajaro Valleys, for 20 years, and strives to provide in-depth experiences.
“For example,” he says, “our VIP tour to Folktale winery includes a behind the scenes look at the barrel room and grounds, and we actually take a vineyard walk.”
For something completely different but equally unique, if you’re looking to satisfy a need for speed, consider giving the exhilarating experience of being a Formula racecar driver at the world-class Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The lone school in the country to offer open lapping sessions in a Formula car on day one, Allen Berg Racing School gives racers the chance to drive perfectly prepared Formula race cars for a full 30 minutes, and then take in a data debriefing session with analysis and feedback from a professional race engineer.
“If you can drive a road car, you can drive a race car,” reassures Berg, retired Formula One World Championship driver. “Our coaches are specialists so we’re able to create an exciting, fun, and safe experience that’s very well organized and well operated.”
For the foodie in your life, fine dining options abound, and restaurant reservations make great gifts. For a more casual and inimitable introduction to Carmel’s restaurants, Carmel Food Tours is an unforgettable experience. Not only does the three-hour walking tour combine a wide variety of culinary styles and locally sourced delicacies, but your knowledgeable guide will have you laughing and learning fascinating tidbits about Carmel’s history and architecture along the way.
You could opt for a more adventurous tour, paragliding over the Monterey Bay and sand dunes. At Monterey Sky Sports, paragliding lessons are available, as are tandem flights for those who want to experience a 10- to 30-minute flight without committing to classes.
A less dare-devilish but still stimulating way to take in the Central Coast’s stunning sights is to visit local galleries featuring spectacular land and seascapes. Carmel Art Tours’ 90-minute walking tour offers an insider’s peek into handpicked galleries tucked away throughout the town’s charming streets and courtyards.
Carmel artist Rich Brimer’s fine art oil landscapes capture the local ocean, shoreline, and pastoral scenes so well that he’s been commissioned by several visitors to memorialize their Monterey Peninsula experience, as was the case when a groom recently hired Brimer to create a live-scene painting of his wedding at The Inn at Spanish Bay as a gift for the mother of the bride.
At his spacious studio in the Barnyard Shopping Village, Brimer leads large and small group classes for students of all levels, which make a great gift for the adventurous or hesitant artist in your life. “There’s a little bit of history and an educational component, which builds excitement,” Brimer says of the custom class experiences he creates.
Another popular and unique art class takes place the first Saturday of each month at Monterey’s Dali 17 Museum. The two-hour Paint With Dali led by Marina’s Darls and Darls Fabrication, guides students painting to the sounds of flamenco music by Nick Rodriguez while sampling local wines. Event coordinator Stephanie Ornelas says, “Students get to create magic,” noting that participants are often surprised at what they’ve achieved. “It’s very fulfilling,” she says, “and everybody ends up with different images and styles.”
If these ideas sound elaborate, keep in mind that an experiential gift doesn’t have to be complicated. Even something as simple as a walk on the beach or a night at the movies can be enhanced by a personalized picnic or a private showing.
For example, Carmel Youth Center’s 40-seat movie theater is available to rent for parties, and popular private sing-alongs featuring such movies as “La La Land,” “Grease” or “Mama Mia.”
But no matter what experience you choose to give, one thing is certain—it will be remembered fondly and talked about for years to come.