12 Gifts That Go Way Beyond a Typical Present

You can’t wrap an experience

Sure, it’s the thought that counts when it comes to holiday gifts. But why settle for another scented candle when you could give someone a helicopter ride? These 12 Chicago experiences make for way better gifts, no wrapping paper required. Bonus: With all the brownie points you earn, you’re much more likely to get the gift you really want next year.


The Best Damn Dumplings in Chicago You Need to Eat

guitar class lessons chicago experience gifts

For The Guitar Hero: Guitar 1 At Old Town School Of Folk Music ($196)

Whether it’s your brother, best friend or boyfriend, chances are you know someone who’s always dreamed of playing in a band. This eight-week group class can make those dreams come true. The question is, are you prepared to show up for all the open mic nights that will inevitably ensue?

dolphin trainer day shedd aquarium chicago experience gifts
Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

For The Kid At Heart: Trainer For A Day At Shedd Aquarium ($350)

For four hours, your nephew who can’t get enough of Finding Nemo can tag along with a Shedd trainer and get up close and personal with dolphins, otters and penguins. It’s way cooler than any job shadowing we ever did.

cowshed spa chicago experience gifts

For The Natural Beauty: Evening Primrose Body Wrap At Cowshed Spa ($170)

A quiet oasis inside trendy Soho House, Cowshed specializes in holistic treatments made with sustainable botanicals and absolutely no parabens, petrochemicals or sulfates. The ultra-hydrating evening primrose wrap begins with a dry body brush and scrub and ends with a mini facial and full-body massage. In other words, you’ll need to book one for yourself, too.

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For The Next-level Beauty: Cryofacial At Chicago Cryospa ($65)

Prepare to impress your friend who’s always on to the hottest, newest and latest in beauty trends. This treatment applies a beam of vaporized liquid nitrogen locally to tighten the skin and stimulate collagen production, aka bye, wrinkles!

cocktail class at the violet hour chicago experience gifts
The Violet Hour/Facebook

For The Cocktail Snob: Cocktail Class At The Violet Hour (about $150)

If you’re going to learn mixology, might as well have some of Chicago’s best as your teachers. Since 2007, swanky speakeasy The Violet Hour has launched some of Chicago’s best bartenders and restaurateurs. It regularly hosts open cocktail classes as well as private lessons (costs can vary).

histroy museum costume exhibit chicago experience gifts
Chicago History Museum

For The Fashionista: "making Mainbocher" At Chicago History Museum ($16)

Born in Chicago, Main Rousseau Bocher is known as the first American couturier. Despite little formal training, he designed for the likes of iconic fashion editor Diana Vreeland and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. You’ll want to tag along with your best friend or mom to gush at the elegant vintage gowns on display in this exhibit (through August 20, 2017).

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For The World-class Foodie: Dinner At Alinea (starts At $210)

Regularly ranking among the world’s best, Alinea is a bucket-list restaurant for most serious foodies. Chef Grant Achatz’s style of cooking can only be described as cutting edge, with dishes like a green apple helium balloon that floats past your table.

cooking class chicago experience gifts
The Chopping Block/Facebook

For The Slightly More Humble Foodie: Cooking Lab At Chopping Block ($50)

The Chopping Block hosts a range of cooking and wine-tasting classes, but its Cooking Lab might be the most fun—and practical. In a two-and-a-half-hour interactive session, your cooking enthusiast will explore the science behind taste and how the interplay of herbs, oils and vinegars can affect it. The goal is to pass on enough knowledge that he or she will never. Need. Another. Recipe. Again.

longman eagle inn chicago experience gifts
J Clayton Hauck

For The True Romantic: A Night At Longman & Eagle (starts At $95 A Night)

Sure, you’ve dined at Longman & Eagle, the Logan Square eatery known for its Michelin-recommended nose-to-tail fare, but did you know you can stay overnight? Above the restaurant are six rooms with a rustic aesthetic complemented by luxe amenities, such as Aesop bath products and rain showers. The rooms make for the perfect getaway—no security check necessary.

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For The Aspiring Artist: First-time Potter At Lillstreet Art Center ($145)

Don’t buy your sister pretty ceramics—give her the gift of making some herself with this four-week class. Whether shaping by hand or using the potting wheel, she’ll relieve some serious stress working with clay. And if you’re lucky, she just might give you some of the fruits of her labor.

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Chicago Helicopter Experience

For The Thrill Seeker: Holiday Lights Helicopter Tour From Chicago Helicopter Experience ($178)

Give an adrenaline rush with this nighttime helicopter ride that cruises over some of the city’s best holiday lights (through January 1, 2017). Consider the awe of seeing Michigan Avenue and Lincoln Park Zoo from the air—you can’t put a price on that.

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Ruby Room

For The Spiritual Seeker: Energy Healing At Ruby Room ($100)

An hour-long energy healing at holistic spa and inn Ruby Room can help anyone in need of a recharge before the coming year. Choose from a menu of options that incorporate chakras, crystals and aura-reading. This far surpasses the standard New Year’s resolutions.

The Ultimate Holiday Checklist 25 Things to Do in Chicago

amanda nyren

Writer, yogi, mom to about a dozen houseplants

A lifelong Chicago resident, Amanda started covering the local scene for PureWow in 2016. She's a freelance writer and content strategist.