If you want to extend the wonder and magic of this holiday season into 2022 and beyond, think outside of the “wrapped” box and try gifting a memory-making experience. Our guide to the best experience gifts for kids includes must-have memberships, discovering new hobbies, family dates, animal encounters and more. Read on for holiday gift ideas for kids that may not fit under the Christmas tree, but that will plant special memories in their minds forever.

Meaningful Memberships

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Being able to visit a favorite place anytime you want is truly an amazing gift to give or to receive.

One of the best membership deals is to the famed San Diego Zoo & San Diego Zoo Safari Park because one annual pass is valid for entry into both parks. Upgrade to the Keeper Club level which includes free parking at the Safari Park to save you even more money. Currently, order your membership by December, 18 for arrival by Christmas Day.  

Another great deal is the Balboa Park Explorer Pass that will get you into all of the museums at Balboa Park. However, if you only go to a couple of them, you may want to consider a direct membership because they usually come with guest passes to bring family or friends.

Try out a membership to Birch Aquarium for access to their touch pools, while taking in one of the best ocean views in San Diego! You can choose from family, dual or individual memberships. 

You may want to consider a Garden Membership that gives you admission to 300+ gardens worldwide through the American Horticultural Society. In San Diego this will get you into all 3 popular gardens: San Diego Botanic Garden, Water Conservation Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden. Depending on which local garden you choose your primary membership from, if you upgrade you’ll likely get guest passes to that garden.

Lobby Their Hobbies

Derby United

Help your kids increase their confidence by learning a new skill, or taking up a new hobby with these fun heart-healthy activities. Your kids will have so much fun honing their skills, they won’t even know they’re getting in some exercise too.

Try a rollerskating class at Skateworld San Diego. They have group or private lessons––so why not take up a fun new family hobby together? If your little one is more interested in four wheels than eight, there are plenty of skateboarding spots to hone their skills like the CA training facility in Vista. 

If your kids love the water, sign them up for surfing lessons at Surf Diva. You can buy an e-gift card for a co-ed surf camp for ages 5-17.

If they need to chill out a little, enroll them in a yoga class at If I Was A Bird Yoga to learn some calming zen poses and relaxation exercises. They have online classes where kids can easily follow along on their own, or parents can join in with them.


Learning Lessons

Fortune Cookie

If you have some little learners who are eager to know how to do things, sign them up for one of many classes and workshops.

Harvard Cooking Girl offers children's and teen events as well as camps, so your little chefs can learn to help out in the kitchen.

Snapology has really engaging live interactive online LEGO building classes that will totally thrill your LEGO lovers for an entire hour.

Look to the newly rebranded Institute of Contemporary Art for in-studio art classes and camps. If they’re more musically inclined, check out Nightingale Music School for online or music in the park classes. Or even Kids Chess Club online to perfect those checkmate skills. Check out our full guide on the best classes for babies and toddlers in San Diego for basically every interest imaginable.


Nurture Them With Nature

Spending time together in nature allows for the stillness to take over and quietly connects all who share that space. Make some DIY coupons for family nature dates, either together as a family or just with one parent and one child.

Instill a sense of wonder and appreciation for the beauty of our country with buying your family a National Parks Pass or a California State Parks Pass. There are 16 State Parks in San Diego County, two National Parks within a day's trip and ten other National Parks within an 8 hour drive; all of which make for some good family road tripping.

While visiting a National Park, you can induct your kids into the Junior Ranger Program, where your child solves clues and activities to earn a Junior Ranger patch! Don’t forget to have your National Parks Passport stamped with each unique park’s seal and date that you were there. 

Animal Encounters

CerenaP via Yelp

For those animal lovers in your family, San Diego is lucky to have several unique experiences to choose from. Have you ever felt a giraffe lick your hand, heard the wind flapping through the wings of a giant bird flying towards you or even watched the fluke of a whale’s tale disappear into the ocean?

Sign up to feed the giraffes at the San Diego Zoo, take falconry lessons at the Torrey Pines Gliderport or hop on a whale watching tour to see the gray whale migration between December-April. These are some of the most quintessential San Diego experiences that you should do once in your life.

Memorable & Fun Family Activities

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Families that play together, stay together. Make special family memories that will last a lifetime with these outings.

Put your pinkies up for a family tea party at the AubreyRose Tea Room in La Mesa.

Paint some pottery together at The Hot Spot with their outdoor classes or grab one of their take-home kits to paint at home.

Buy a Resort Pass and swim in the lap of luxury at a local resort hotel for the day.

Have a pie and ice cream family date with gift cards to neighboring Pop Pie Co. and Handles Ice Cream while supporting local businesses.

One of the many blessings of living in San Diego is its drive-in season all year round, so stay up late and catch a favorite family flick from the back of your car at the South Bay Drive-In or the Santee Drive-In.

Nearby Family Trips

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Instead of giving everyone presents, give everyone your presence with the gift of a family trip. You don’t have to go very far or even get on a plane to get away from it all.

Drive over to the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park for an overnight Roar & Snore adventure and camp out next to the animals. Wake up with the cheetahs and get some thrills in with a zipline over the savanna.

Pack up the camping gear, or rent it locally, and book a campsite at Mission Trails Regional Park. Time it for their weekly ranger kids activities when they start those up again.

If you’re not up for camping, escape to an Airbnb for the weekend and enjoy a brand new area for the first time. 

For a slightly further overnight trip, catch a boat over to Catalina Island for the weekend. You can book a campsite or stay at a quaint hotel for the night, explore the town’s shops, stroll the beach or rent a golf cart for an island tour.

Featured Image: @famdiego

––Bonnie Taylor, Aimee Della Bitta


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