Give gifts that will keep on giving well beyond this holiday season via presents that offer stellar experiences with your family. 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

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 “gift memberships” that you can gift to your kids are $15 off through the end of the year.

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 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

Help your kids increase their confidence by learning a new skill, or take 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.

Lil Rollers is a roller skating class for kids ages 4-10 from Derby United near Chollas Lake. They even have an all-ages FUNdamentals class––so why not take up a fun new family hobby together?

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 from Yoga Rascals 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

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.

La Petite Cuillere offers fun parent & me cooking classes, 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 Little Artists for online or socially distanced in-studio art classes at 5 locations around San Diego. 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. There are classes 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. 

Memorable & Fun Family Activities

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 Stella Jean’s Ice Cream while supporting local businesses.

The Drive-Ins have never been more popular lately, so plan ahead to 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.

Animal Encounters

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.

Nearby Family Trips

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, book a lakefront cabin at Santee Lakes and go fishing all day and star gazing all night.

Drive a little further for a weekend at Joshua Tree or Julian. You can rent a little cabin or a vacation rental and explore the local area with a hike.

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.

––Bonnie Taylor

featured image: Elly Fairytale via Pexels

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