If you’ve been reading KFDC awhile, this gift guide may look familiar — and that’s intentional. In it’s fifth year, the general suggestions haven’t changed very much (nor has the above photo that I adore). The specifics have been updated, but the overall concepts remain consistent over the years. That’s because I want my recommendations to reflect the spirit of my blog — and these ideas do just that. (Plus, I think they’re really good suggestions! 😉 )
So just like the last several years, I’m sharing some things I’ve really enjoyed around DC and/or think would make fantastic presents for a variety of people. This also gives me a chance to highlight local businesses offering unique experiences and products as well as organizations that are doing great things. And then there are ideas that are simply fun and enriching and showcase the incredible city that is Washington, DC. None of these recommendations are sponsored; they’re just experiences, places, adventures, and products that I truly like and think you and yours might, too. Happy gifting!
There’s so much great live entertainment both currently running and coming to local stages soon, that would make fantastic presents for kids and adults. KFDC Tip: Before you buy, check for ticket deals here and here, as you may be able to get discounts to some productions. Here are some recommendations for shows running during the holiday season and coming up soon in 2020:
* Singin’ in the Rain at Olney Theatre
* The Velveteen Rabbit at Adventure Theatre
* Peter Pan and Wendy by Shakespeare Theatre Company
* Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical!) at the Kennedy Center
* Come From Away at the Kennedy Center
* Phantom of the Opera at Synetic Theater
* A Thousand Splendid Suns at Arena Stage (adult pick)
* Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at National Theatre
* The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Imagination Stage
* Drumming with Dishes at the Atlas Perfroming Arts Center
* Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare Theatre Company
* Tiny Beautiful Things at the Kennedy Center (adult pick)
* Monster Jam at Capitol One Arena
* Ali Wong at Warner Theatre (adult pick)
* Baby Shark Live! at National Theatre
* The 9:30 Club is legendary and welcomes all ages to most shows
* The Anthem has a great line-up of concerts
* For more holiday season shows, look here
* You can also give a gift certificate to one of the venues mentioned above
Membership really does have its benefits! And it makes for a wonderful gift, too, for those who have favorite places they frequent often. One that is certain to be a huge hit, The Lane is a social club for families opening in Ivy City this winter. In Rockville, MD, Badlands Playspace has several membership options. The National Building Museum offers family memberships for $90/year, getting you all into exhibits free of charge (regularly $7-10/person). Port Discovery in Baltimore is another great one with loads of hands-on, curiosity-piquing, educational, fun exhibits that keep kids engaged for hours. Family memberships start at $140 for up to four people. And for adults who enjoy performing arts, membership to the Kennedy Center gets them special benefits, including the opportunity to purchase tickets before the general public.
DC’s best shop for board games and puzzles, hands down, continues to offer so many fantastic options for holiday gifts, so plan on a visit to Labyrinth Game Shop on Capitol Hill. This is one of my go-tos for birthday party presents and always a stop for some shopping this time of year. Since I first wrote about the store when it opened nine years ago, it’s gotten even better, so much that they expanded to a second space next door. They have something for everyone — all ages, every interest. Even better, there’s always a fun, friendly vibe in the store, plus the service is just as great as the inventory. All of the staff are very knowledgeable about what they sell — give them a few details about who you’re shopping for, and they’ll show you just the right game or puzzle to buy.
Find presents for everyone at a local independent bookstore! Combine your shopping trip to Labyrinth with a stop next door at East City Book Shop. Solid State Books on H Street has a great selection of books, plus an adorable children’s section. Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle is a DC institution and always a great place to browse and have a bite at Afterwards Cafe. Politics & Prose, one of the city’s most well known bookstores has locations at Union Market, The Wharf, and its original Connecticut Avenue shop. You can go secondhand at Capitol Hill Books, a legendary used bookshop or Walls of Books in Petworth, where the inventory is 99% used. (And FYI: Just about all of the bookstores mentioned have programming for children, so be sure to check for that when you visit their websites or shops!)
Here’s something to look for when you shop at the above bookstores…. I’ve been obsessed with Alison Roman’s recipes for nearly a year now. She contributes to the New York Times Cooking section, and every single one of her dishes that I have made has been absolutely delectable, if I do say so myself. Levi and the kids agree on that, so they bought me her new cookbook, Nothing Fancy, for my birthday (a present they’ll get to enjoy in a way, too). If there’s someone in your life who loves to cook, isn’t terribly obsessed with calories, and really enjoys making food for others, this book is for them.
KiwiCo, the monthly activity box subscription service, was in our lives for many years, so I know firsthand that it makes for great presents for kids. Hence, I’m endorsing the products once again! They’ve become so popular, that many more kits are now available — the original Kiwi for ages 5-8 comes with all the supplies needed to make an adorable craft. The Panda will delight ages 0-2, Koala is for ages 2-4, Atlas for 6-11, Doodle and Tinker for 9-16+, and the Maker Crate and Eureka Crates are for everyone from 14-104. They’re great to have on hand for rainy days or anytime kids (or adults!) want a ready-to-go (ie, minimal work for you) project at home.
After the amazing World Series Championship win by the Nats, the gift of sports is a must for this guide (and, honestly, I should have included it years ago). It’s not just baseball that makes a great present, all of our local sports teams (pro and college) have experiences (ie, games) and merch that fans will cheer about when they receive them. Here are links for all of them, and note that some are offering special holiday packages, too!
* Washington Nationals
* DC United
* Washington Spirit
* Washington Capitals
* Washington Mystics
* Washington Wizards
* Washington Redskins
* Maryland Terrapins
* Georgetown Hoyas
* George Washington University Colonials
* Howard Bison
* American University Eagles
* George Mason Patriots
Enter Through the Museum Gift Shop
We have some pretty amazing museums in our city, and many of their gift shops echo the impressive collections with items that are an extension of their programs. It’s not just prints of paintings you see; you can buy books, puzzles, accessories, gadgets, games, housewares, and lots of children’s items that are artistic, clever, and innovative. Just about all of the Smithsonian Museums and National Zoo have wonderful gift shops. And I highly recommend browsing the shops at some of the other museums in town: The International Spy Museum, Phillips Collection, Newseum, and Textile Museum all have unique and interesting inventory.
For the people, young and old, in your life who like active thrills and challenges, a gift certificate or season pass for one of these action-packed pursuits is strongly recommended.
* The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring, one of our favorite outdoor places to play, is an exciting aerial forest experience, where adventure-goers navigate ropes courses in the trees, with climbing for kids as young as 5 years old. Check out their gift options for the season, and read more about the adventure in this KFDC post.
* Trapeze School New York in DC has classes in flying trapeze, static trapeze, balancing and acrobatics, trampoline, and more. Both of my kids have tried — and loved — the circus-inspired adventure at The Yards in the Capitol Riverfront (and I want to give it a whirl myself)! Read more about it here.
* iFLY Loudoun offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience “flying” without stepping foot in (or out of) an airplane. Meant to simulate skydiving, flights take place in a vertical wind tunnel on a smooth cushion of air created by high-powered fans that enable people to float. It’s quite exhilarating, but also a splurge, making it a special and unique present. Read more about it here.
* Many local ice skating rinks have season passes available for peeps who want to practice their triple lutzes and spins — or just really like to glide around.
* Bad Axe Throwing offers opportunities to — you guessed it! — throw axes at targets. It’s a unique and fun activity that makes for a great tween outing or grown-up evening out. We’ve been for a birthday party, and a good time was had by kids and adults alike. Read more about that experience here.
Along the same lines as the suggestion above, but on a slightly more mild scale in terms of thrill-factor and cost, you can gift those who like physical pursuits with passes to a place that offers opportunities to be active indoors. With winter weather ahead, it’s a present that’s both fun and sensible!
* The St. James has Super, Awesome, & Amazing fun at its activity center and indoor waterpark
* Flight Trampoline Park is full of bouncy fun
* Kids love scaling the colorful walls at ClimbZone
* ZavaZone has courses to challenge little ninjas
* SportRock Climbing Centers are located in Alexandria and Sterling
* SkyZone also brings the boing with trampoline filled spaces
Any sleuths on your gift list? If so, solve the mystery of what to get them with Watson Adventures. These scavenger hunts that take place at local museums are as well executed as they are fun and intriguing. There are hunts for adults as well as a Harry Potter themed Wizard School quest for younger ages, too, that has you searching the National Gallery of Art for works that echo the characters, places and enchanted objects in the famed books and movies. A gift certificate to one of these experiences is like a passport to adventure! Read more about it all in this KFDC post.
Picture Perfect Presents
How about a gift that includes your whole gang? Present them (and yourself!) with a family portrait session. And like the last few years, I am recommending just the right photographer for it. As mentioned in previous gift guides, I have adored Darcy Troutman’s photos forever, mostly on her blog, No Monsters in My Bed. But over the last few years, she has started her own photography business capturing families and weddings, helping people make and preserve memories. Her style is unique and the photos gorgeous, but her real-life, let-the-moment-seize-you approach to her work is what really makes it special. Also, she’s hilarious and sweet and really comfortable to be around, the ideal personality for the job. Plus, her photos will not only capture this time in your lives, they’ll make for great gifts for extended family throughout the year, too.
Has your kid expressed interest in a particular activity or sport? Give them a boost by getting them into a class! From soccer to STEM to dance to art to music to theatre, there are all kinds of sessions all around the area providing lessons and guidance that help turn curiosity into mastery and skill — and also offer a fun time. Here are some recommendations for places and programs:
* Girls who like STEM will enjoy a workshop with Boolean Girl
* Budding actors can learn the performing arts ropes with Adventure Theatre.
* DC Way has soccer and futsal for kids.
* All ages can groove and twirl with CityDance.
* Get kiddos moving with a few session at MOCO Movement Center
* Give the gift of music with lessons from Bach to Rock (get a deal, too!)
* City Sing and Play has Music Together classes for littles
* How about a class for adults? I recently joined and loved a cooking class at the Hill Center on Capitol Hill — and some are appropriate for older kids, too!
You kind of can’t go wrong with the gift of food. I mean, everyone eats, and no matter how old, we all have our favorite bites and places for them. That’s why a gift certificate to a restaurant or treatery (hey, did I just make up a word?) or an edible product from a local establishment will satisfy many a giftee’s appetite or craving. Here are a few ideas to chew on:
* The Pretzel Bakery is our local go-to for savory and sweet treats
* If someone on your gift list loves sushi, they need to go to O-Ku
* There has been tons of buzz about the newly opened Emilies
* Who doesn’t like pizza? All Purpose Pizzeria is delish, very family-friendly, and offering holiday gift cards
* Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken has holiday-inspired doughnuts — for Hanukah and Christmas
* A reminder about Trader Joes giant chocolate bars, tins of peppermint bark, and other gifty items seems like a good idea
Gift your whole fam with a getaway! There are some great not-too-far places to go for a weekend jaunt. Colonial Williamsburg makes for a fantastic family escape. Great Wolf Lodge caters to families with an indoor waterpark and tons of fun for kids. The Chesapeake Hyatt is popular for its indoor swimming and family-friendly amenities. With water, woods, and mountains, Deep Creek Lake has great outdoor recreation all year round. Wintergreen is a lovely all-seasons resort. You can also just find a great vacation rental and get out of town for a few days.
Gifts That Give Hope
How about boxing up hope and happiness? At a Gifts That Give Hope event, you can support the community and find unique and meaningful gifts for loved ones, co-workers, teachers, and holiday hosts while you learn more about 16 locally based nonprofit organizations. Kids can shop at the Children’s Fair for $5 items from the nonprofits and decorate cards for loved ones to send along with their gifts of kindness. They can also enjoy snacks, coloring, music and activities during the fair while you shop, including interactive demos by Coder Kids and hands-on cooking provided by Tiny Chefs. The Arlington Fair will take place Saturday, December 7, at Arlington Science Focus School from 10am – 2pm.
Along the same lines as the above event, you can give to a cause or charity in someone’s name through a donation — the GIVE Page has suggestions on where to contribute, all of them shared by KFDC readers. You can give your time and plan a volunteering outing with your kids and show them the gift of giving back. A bunch of organizations around the area have opportunities for children and parents to help out in a hands-on way together. DC Diaper Bank, Wreaths Across America, DC JCC, and Capital Area Food Bank are some places to check out, and you can find even more in this KFDC post.
This suggestion is more on the receiving than the giving end of gifting, but a great idea to help family and friends give gifts that won’t go to waste. Fig & Wally is an online invitation and gift registry site that allows you to post your child’s Wish List, which can include toys, family experiences, classes, vacations, charities, even college savings. There’s no worry about duplicating gifts because your friends and family won’t buy them directly; they click to send you the amount for the gift to your PayPal account. Then, you can decide which items from the list to purchase. It’s a convenient way to streamline giving and, dare I say, make re-gifting unnecessary.
Of course, not all gifts have to come with a hefty price tag. There are so many magical yet still inexpensive experiences to be had in the DC area, some without even spending a dime. You can creatively package them up — perhaps a big, fun card with a photo — and promise a visit. Some suggestions:
* Fossil hunting adventures at Purse State Park or Flag Ponds Nature Park
* A viewing session from the observation deck of the recently reopened Washington Monument
* Flight fascination at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the Chantilly arm of the Air & Space Museum
* An outing to Riverbend and/or Great Falls Park to enjoy some of the area’s best nature
* A tour of Ford’s Theatre to learn about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination through a museum and performance
* A geocaching adventure at Congressional Cemetery (yep, the cemetery!)
* A visit to the Wizard of Oz playground, Old Maryland Farm, and Nature Center at Watkins Regional Park
* The Fairy Lolly and art experiences at Annmarie Sculpture Gardens
* The Washington Youth Garden, Bonsai Museum, and old Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum
* A trip to the National Zoo to see the animals
* A day of play at Clemyjontri
* And there are many, many, many more right in our backyard.