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At dinner last night, I leaned across the table and asked my three kids, one by one, what they are most thankful for this holiday season. My son went first. He ticked down a list of all his family members–every cousin by name, aunt and uncle (also by name), and grandparents. My corn chowder soup, sitting patiently in front of me, was nearly cooled by the time he finished naming all of our loved ones. My daughter emphatically expressed her thanks for having a home–and a cozy bed. Oh, and her best friend, of course. My four-year-old said she was thankful for Frozen II. Whereby, I assume she meant she’s thankful she gets to (finally) see the movie this week with cousins over the Thanksgiving break. 

Sharing gratitude is a table tradition my family exercises regularly before meals. Generally, my kids’ list is the same gratitudes time and again–family, friends, stability, and fun memories they carry with them. It has never included Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow LEGO set or the Bitty Baby Santa delivered last Christmas. Even at a young age, they seem to grasp the value of people in our lives and time spent with them. For that, I am thankful. 

If time and people are what we really cherish most, kids included, then let’s give more of that this holiday season. Personally, I am making my own efforts to gift my children an experience gift over more toys. 

With the help of a few local businesses and some Christmas cheer, I’ve curated a list of more than 15 Michigan’s Sunset Coast experiences you could gift a favorite little one, or really, anyone on your gift list. “Experience gifts” are the perfect thing to show your loved ones what matters: time spent with them, doing something they love.   

Get your craft on this holiday season. Photo Credit: The Turquoise Top Hat Facebook Page

For the Artfully-Minded 

1. A Craft Workshop at The Turquoise Top Hat

Get crafty with the kids this season and gift the experience of a Turquoise Top Hat workshop in Stevensville.  This sweet little shop hosts a space to craft the DIY-type signs you swoon over while Pinterest perusing. Purchase a gift certificate or book a time for any of their workshop options: open crafting times, monthly kids workshops, themed workshops, or Mom & Me classes. No matter the artsy experience you decide on, this time together builds memories and a signature sign. 

Holiday Shopping Tip: The Turquoise Top Hat Black Friday deal includes a complimentary $5 gift card with a $25 purchase or  $10 with a $50 purchase! On Black Friday, you can have some fun with their DIY ornament bar. Trust me, your tree will thank you!  Visit their Facebook page  for more deals, workshops, and giveaways. 

2. Live Theatre & Music

One of my favorite experience gifts to give–and receive, of course– are tickets to a live event. From intimate concerts at The Box Factory for the Arts, The Acorn, and The Livery, to opportunities to take part in live theatre in a variety of ways at Twin City Players, Children’s Music Workshop or GhostLight Theater, to major acts at Silver Creek Event Center or  Mendel Center, you’re sure to find gifts for both budding performers and those who like to applaud from the audience. 

3. Classes & Camps

From classes and camps in everything from clay to filmmaking at Krasl Art Center, to workshops in Italian culture, philosophy, and more at ARS Arts & Culture Center, you can nurture almost any artistic or cultural interest with the gift of learning.

For Thrill-Seekers

4. Escape Rooms

If the more mature kids in your family crave the suspense and the illusion of being locked in a room with only an hour to escape, plan a visit to one of our local Sunset Coast escape rooms: Puzzlemental in downtown St. Joe or Zoya Escape Room off of  M139. These brain-busting challenges will not disappoint. 

Craze V.R., St. Joseph

5. The Virtual Reality Experience

Instead of wrapping up yet another game for your teenager’s Xbox, consider giving a gaming experience off of the couch–one that is interactive, social and laugh-out-loud fun. Craze V.R, located in St. Joseph, is the perfect experience for the gaming enthusiast in your family. Book a session for you and your gamer, choose a game, slide on the headset and enjoy a new way to get digital for Christmas. 

6. Ice Bumper Cars 

Check out the newest attraction at The Garden Ice Arena in Stevensville: ice bumper cars. This holiday, book a session for you and a special someone–or the whole family. When a classic carnival attraction meets the ice, fun is the only thing left to be had. And when you’re done, enjoy a traditional public skate once the ice has cleared.   

For your Active One

The RISE, St. Joseph, MI

7. The RISE Personal Sport Training

Imagine your family’s softball player unwrapping a box, heavy with neon softballs, a gift certificate placed atop for pre-season private lessons. Or your little Pele’ unboxing the experience of agility training to tighten up his soccer game. You can gift all of this and more from The RISE, a new indoor multi-sports complex on M139 in St. Joe that focuses on specialized training for youth athletes. This holiday season and beyond, The RISE offers gift certificates good for all lessons–baseball or softball pitching, agility training, soccer lessons, fielding lessons, and batting cage rental. Your sports enthusiasts will not be disappointed with this personalized gift. 

8. Power In Motion Open-Gym Pass

Maybe your lil’ (or big) one needs to burn off some energy–especially in those cold, let’s-be-indoors months. Then a gift card or membership to Power in Motion is the perfect present. For those budget-minded folks, you can purchase open-gym passes. Everyone can take turns bouncing, flipping, tucking and rolling (and it’s way cheaper than traditional trampoline parks). If you want to give a larger gift that gives all year long, consider a kid’s membership for one of their many classes: ninja, dance, cheernastics, and gymnastics. Black Friday Shopping Tip: Available now through November 27th, you can purchase 7 open-gym passes for only $25. 

9. Indoor Golf

Kids and teens like golf, too. In fact, this experience gift rests on the top of my 8-year-old son’s list. Fingers crossed, I hope Santa (or Auntie or Grandma) delivers him a gift certificate to The Pipestone Indoor Country Club, located in Benton Harbor. This newest SW Michigan golfing destination is great for recreational golfers missing golf during the wintery Michigan months.  At Pipestone Indoor Country Club, your crew will tee up on a top-rated golf simulator that  transports golfers to world renowned 18-hole courses. St. Andrew’s Links in Scotland, anyone?  Or maybe you fancy Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. Packages for hourly booth rentals or memberships are available for purchase now. (And much cheaper than a trip to Scotland, I might add). Holiday Shopping Tip: Give back this season and consider purchasing a 2-or 4-hour package, earning the St. Joe girls’ golf team practice time on the simulators! It’s a win-win. 

For your Whole Family

10. Nature Center Family Memberships

A simple, yet practical gift, a family membership to a local Berrien County nature preserve will provide the family with activities–and quality time–all year. Sarett Nature Center, Love Creek, or Fernwood Botanical Gardens offer a wealth of yearly activities that gets the whole family outdoors and moving. Snowshoeing, anyone? 

11. Water Play

Water fun doesn’t have to be reserved for summertime. Consider gifting the whole family a day pass to Safari Joe’s Indoor Wilderness Waterpark in Watervliet off of I-94, adjoined with Fairfield Inn & Suites. Here, the entire family can find an attraction to splash in–whether it be the hot tub, Zambezi River Run, the Pygmy’s Pond, or down the water slides.  Or give a family water gift that keeps you splashing all year long–a family membership to the Bridgman Aquatic Center.  If your family likes free swim, lap swim, or diving into the deep, this aquatic center offers it all with year-long family memberships. And it’s a swimmingly good deal. 

12. Amtrak Train Rides 

If you didn’t snag tickets to any of the regional (and very expensive) Polar Express experiences, you can create your own budget-conscious experience on the Amtrak train– from Bangor, MI to St. Joseph Train Station. According to Zach Pfeiffer, a senior at St. Joseph High School, one of his favorite gifts from his grandparents were the frequent trips on the Amtrak train.  The Bangor to St. Joe stretch is only a 37 minute ride–but is very affordable (unlike longer trips to Chicago). Because the current Amtrak schedule only offers this option in the morning with a 7:35 a.m. departure from the Bangor station, consider making this a pajama train ride with the kids’ favorite stuffies. When the train chugs into the downtown St. Joseph station, head up to the bluff and grab a classic small-town breakfast–I’m dreaming of a pile of pancakes and thick omelettes at Thornton’s Hometown Cafe. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a Polar-Express-kind-of experience. 

For your Adventurer

13. Wanderlust Outfitter’s  Summer Excursions

If you have a young-adult adventurer in mind, Wanderlust Outfitters in downtown St. Joe has three unique guided Michigan excursions to choose from. Beginning this Black Friday (2019), you can choose from three summer destination packages: 

  • Travel to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to explore both of the park’s Manitou Islands in one trip! Venture to shipwrecks and old growth forest on South Manitou, hike through remote wilderness on North Manitou, and soak up the rich cultural history of these islands. 
  • Take a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to backpack and paddle this iconic stretch of Lake Superior shoreline. Explore cliffs, waterfalls, beaches, inland lakes and forests along one of the North Country Trail’s most scenic sections.
  • For the beginner backpacker, discover the basics of backpacking and paddling on an overnight expedition along the Big Manistee River. Hike forested rolling hills and enjoy vast views along one of Michigan’s most scenic footpaths, the Manistee River Trail. Experience the river on a paddle down one of its wide and gently winding sections.  

That’s some exciting Christmas shopping. For more information and purchasing options, contact a team member at Wanderlust Outfitters. 

14. Beach Days from Third Coast Surf Shop 

For those dreaming of summer, wrap up a warm-weather inspired voucher from Third Coast Surf Shop, located in downtown St. Joseph. What do you get, you ask? Private surf lessons. Kids’ beach day camp packages. Paddle board rentals (discounted in December–yay!). Surfboards, sandboards, and kayak rentals. You get the picture. So much to choose from. It’s got me dreaming of summer.  

For the One Who Loves QT

15. Beauty Day

Nothing says quality time like a one-on-one beauty day. According to many of my teenage students–and also my two young daughters–a “beauty day” is a desirable under-the-tree surprise. The more mature kids in the family may enjoy services at Revive Spa , located in downtown St. Joe, where you and your beauty can choose between flotation therapy, the hydration station, facials, massages and other luxury services. Or spend a day getting pampered at the Kendall Lucile Hair Co., a trendy little salon tucked away in downtown Stevensville. Choose from any of the offered services–a stylish hair cut, color, a blowout, a scalp facial (yes, please!), or makeup application. Holiday deal alert: Shop at Kendall Lucile Hair Co.’s Open House on Tuesday, Dec. 3rd and take advantage of their specials: a complimentary $10 gift card for every $50 you purchase, 20% off retail, holiday gift sets, and giveaways. 

16: Hot Cocoa Date

For an extra sweet (and budget friendly) present, create a “winter date” involving a fun activity with a visit to a local coffee shop.  For example, wrap a personalized note of your plans to sled down the Warren Dunes State Park after the next good snow. After, your “date” can continue at Infusco Coffee Roasters in Sawyer or Small Town Grounds in Bridgman, where you can warm up with a hot drink. Or plan a visit downtown St. Joe at  Forever Books. Spend some quality time perusing books, finding one–or a stack–you can’t live without. Take your treasures to  Caffe Tosi  and read together with a peppermint hot chocolate (extra whip) in hand. A sweet present you’ll both remember. 

This list is only the beginning of all our area has to offer. What other experiences can you add?

Tracy Becker