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Experience Gift Ideas for Birthdays, Holidays, or Any Time of Year

By Jourdan Card, Publisher of Macaroni Kid Centreville-South Riding, Va. July 7, 2021

My children get a lot of stuff! Our family celebrates birthdays from May through January. Add in Easter, Christmas, the end of the school year, and other special events that the grandparents love to shop for, and our shelves overflow pretty quickly!

To avoid having to make room for more, I've focused on giving experiences rather than tangible items. Studies indicate that experiences bring more happiness than possessions do. And when experiences involve the whole family, we all gain happy memories and benefit from quality time together — the best gift of all!

"Learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now and it becomes a good memory later." ~George Foreman

If you would like more memories and less clutter, we've got gift ideas galore...

CLASSES, SPORTS, & SUMMER CAMPS

My kids have always enjoyed participating in extracurricular activities. When they were younger, they loved to try new things, from soccer to hip-hop dance to art classes. Now that they are older, they want to strengthen their skills for the activities they enjoy the most.

This year, my younger son wanted to participate in a two-week performing arts summer camp that cost a little more than would comfortably fit into our monthly budget. Since his birthday is in May, I asked both sets of grandparents if they would be willing to contribute their birthday budget toward a combined gift and they happily agreed! My son is super excited about getting to attend this camp and we will all get the pleasure of seeing him on stage!

DAYTIME PLAYTIME

The family that plays together stays together, right? Being active together is fun and the kids love it even more when they get to beat mom and dad! Here are a few of our favorite local adventures:

  • Boondocks (Parker) Entertainment center complete with two-story laser tag, bowling alley, miniature golf, arcade, and go-kart track.
  • Bowlero (Lone Tree) Bowling, billiards, laser tag, and arcade games — there's truly something for everyone at Bowlero.
  • The EDGE Zip Line & Adventures (Castle Rock) Ten zipline course, an aerial trekking course with 3 levels and 110 challenging elements, plus a one-of-a-kind adventure tower.
  • iFly Indoor Skydiving (Lone Tree) A vertical wind tunnel creates a wall-to-wall cushion of air on which you can safely float. 
  • K1 Speed (Littleton) Indoor go-karts? Yes, please! This 60,000-sq. ft. venue is fully air-conditioned and features a course professionally designed to challenge racers of all skill levels. 
  • Main Event (Highlands Ranch) Entertainment center complete with laser tag, bowling alley, rope course, arcade, and full-service restaurant.
  • Miller Activity Complex (Castle Rock) With an indoor leisure pool, trampoline play area, children's play structure, batting cages, golf simulator, and indoor synthetic fields, the MAC is a great place to play rain or shine.
  • Play Street Museum (Highlands Ranch) This educational indoor play space for young children is full of interactive exhibits and activities that will encourage imagination and pretending.
  • Quick Draw Archery (Highlands Ranch) Fun and safe environment for any skill-level archery shooter!
  • Sky Zone (Parker) Indoor trampoline park designed for fun fitness via bouncing, flipping, and more.
  • Try'n Escape (Parker) Offers theme-based escape room adventures that encourage you, your friends, and co-workers to work together finding clues and solving puzzles in order to escape a room or complete a challenge.

DINING

My kids love going out to eat. I love not having to plan, shop, cook, or clean up! A gift card to their favorite restaurant or dessert spot is always a hit. Or try one of these unique culinary experiences.

  • The Airplane Restaurant (Colorado Springs) Dine inside an actual airplane! Up to 42 passengers can actually eat in the plane of the 275-seat restaurant that features hundreds of pictures, aviation memorabilia, and rare artifacts.
  • The Buckhorn Exchange (Denver) If you've got a family of adventurous eaters, you can try Rocky Mountain Oysters, rattlesnake, elk, quail, and more under the gaze of the mounted game and surrounded by Old West memorabilia.
  • Casa Bonita (Lakewood) This Denver classic almost went belly-up during the pandemic but is rumored to reopen soon. Anyone who's been here knows it's not about the food. Families return again and again for the cliff divers, musicians, stage shows, and entertainment.
  • Chocolate Lab (Denver) Time to indulge! Chocolate plays a starring role in nearly every dish, from Tequila Lime Nachos to Garlic Shrimp. You can also purchase hand-crafted truffles, toffee, and other decadent treats to take home with you.
  • Game Train (Highlands Ranch) A dining experience unlike any other with a 430+ board game collection and a train simulator, complete with clicks, clacks, vibrations, and moving scenery.
  • The Melting Pot (Littleton) Not only is the food delicious but fondue is fun! Plus, nearly every employee has a ghost story or two to tell. Bonus: Kids eat free on Sundays and Tuesdays.
  • Mt. Fuji Hibachi & Sushi (Castle Rock, Parker) Who doesn't love hibachi? Not only does it taste delicious, but the chefs are fun and exciting to watch!
  • The Perfect Landing (Englewood) This is a great place for breakfast and lunch. You can enjoy views of the Front Range while watching planes take off and land at the Centennial Airport.
  • The Upper Deck at the Laszlo Hotel (Parker) This covered outdoor dining space offers gorgeous views, gourmet burgers, a fire pit, and a kid-friendly Junior Menu.
  • The Viewhouse (Centennial and other locations) Enjoy incredible views from the rooftop or live music and yard games in the courtyard. They've got great food and great fun! Plus, their $20 Wine & Board (bottle of one and a flatbread to share) during Happy Hour can't be beat!

ENTERTAINMENT

Create special memories with tickets to a sporting event or theater performance. For those who really want a gift to unwrap, these are easy to pair with a small item.

  • A gift card to a movie theater... because some movies really should be seen on the big screen!
  • Tickets to see their favorite college or pro sports team wrapped in a baseball cap or jersey.
  • Tickets for an upcoming concert or theater performance with a frame for the playbill.

MEMBERSHIP OR SEASON PASS

When my kids were young, we asked one set of grandparents for a membership to an indoor venue and the other set for a membership to an outdoor venue. Regardless of the weather, we always had somewhere fun to go!

Often we would call Grammy and Bah or Nana and Papa on our way home to thank them again for the wonderful gift and tell them about our day. It truly was the gift that kept on giving! Need ideas?

QUALITY TIME

Experience gifts don't always have to include leaving the house. There are plenty of opportunities for fun and connecting right at home.

  • Consumable subscription boxes. There's a subscription box for just about everything! Get a monthly delivery of sweets and treats from around the world with SnackCrate. Perform science experiments with kits from KiwiCo or Steve Spangler Science
  • Movie night. Purchase the microwave popcorn that pops in a tub or box (like Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter) and add candy, juice boxes or soda, and fuzzy socks. If you already have a subscription service like Disney+, Netflix, or Hulu, it will be easy to find something to watch. If you don't, you can either make the subscription service part of the gift, rent something on Redbox, or even borrow a family movie from the library.
  • Plant a garden. Not only will you get to spend time together planting and tending to the garden, but you can also all enjoy the fruits (literally!) of your labor later.
  • Create an "I Love You Because..." journal. Spend time each day or each week writing down something you love about your child. Or create a family gratitude journal where everyone can write something that they were thankful for that week. Even a small journal can have a big impact, and it is sure to be a cherished keepsake in the years to come.
  • I.O.U. Coupons. We've created coupons for our kids that let them stay up 30 minutes past their bedtime, get extra video game time, or get out of a dreaded chore. Our kids have even made coupons for us for family game night, watching a TV show together, and "Your Choice of Activity." Since time with them is what my husband and I actually want more than anything else, it's the best gift they can give us!