I’ve done your holiday shopping for you. You’re welcome. All you need to do is go for a weekend getaway to the Wine Country, stop by a few places I recommend while wine tasting, and you will be the rock-star gift-giver this Christmas. I promise. Because if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a crappy, schlocky, what-the-hell?, white-elephant present bought as an afterthought at some tacky gift shop. So why not add some wine tasting and spa treatments to your holiday shopping schedule? There are worse ways to spend a weekend.
LIKE, THE COOLEST GIFT EVER!
When I was a kid someone gave me a Venus Flytrap as a gift and I was utterly fascinated with it. That a plant could trap flies and slowly devour them was beyond cool. I spent the next month running around the house trying to capture flies (alive, which ain’t easy) and feed them to the plant. So if you want to give a kid, like, the coolest gift ever, swing by California Carnivores in Sebastopol, which houses one of the largest collection of carnivorous plants in the world: pitcher plants, butterworts, bladderworts, and my old friend the Venus Flytrap.
The shop is owned and run by a soft-spoken chap named Peter D’Amato, who has been growing carnivorous plants for nearly 40 years—and it all started with a single fly eater like the one I was given. I also recommend including a $50 gift certificate so the kid has a great reason to come to the store and buy more meat-eating plants for his or her collection.
LITTLE GREEN THUMBS
When I was a kid someone (I think it was my hippie aunt) gave me a packet of sunflower seeds for a Christmas present. What I thought was the lamest gift ever turned out to be one of the best, because I became utterly fascinated as I watched these tiny seeds sprout and grow into gigantic flowers just by adding dirt and water. In this age of electronic gadgets I think you’d be surprised at how a single packet of seeds can turn app-addicted kids into little gardeners. And the best place to shop for seeds in California is the Seed Bank store in Petaluma, which carries more than 1,200 varieties of heirloom seeds along with gardening tools, how-to books, and local hand-made gifts. But for kids, go with the sunflower seed starter kit—they grow fast and big.
GIVE BEES A CHANCE
Surely there’s somebody you know who has always wanted to be an amateur bee keeper. Well, here’s a great way to get them started. The beekind shop in Sebastopol sells Beekeeping Starter Kits for a little over $100, which includes everything you need to bee productive. No? Well, you would be amazed at how many other great gifts can be made from the labor of honey bees—candles, soaps, honeybee jewelry, lip-butter, jelly, honey pots, hand salves, and honey straws are just a fraction of the fascinating array of products sold at this store. It’s the ideal place for stocking up on unique Christmas gifts (“Oh my, Bee Venom Cream. Just want I always wanted.”).
Another great place to load up on thoughtful gifts is Lavender Bee Farm in Petaluma, which sells award-winning, organic, pesticide-free gourmet honey produced from their own beehives. Their top seller is Lavender Honey, a Gold Ribbon winner at the 2006 Sonoma County Harvest Fair (and the glass honey-bear bottles it comes in are adorable). You can order all of their honey and lavender products online, but I highly recommend taking a guided tour of their honey farm amid the rolling hills of Sonoma County and 5,000 lavender plants.
I WANT A PONY!
Have you always dreamed of riding naked on the back of a white stallion, crashing through waves burned orange by the glimmering sunset? Well, keep dreaming, because Laura and Jonathan Ayers, who run Armstrong Woods Pack Station near the town of Guerneville, won’t let you. What they will let you do is take a guided trail ride through a gorgeous old-growth redwood forest. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Riders can saddle up year-round, weather and trail conditions permitting, and they even offer overnight camping rides. It’s an awesome gift to give someone, and yes, they offer gift certificates—just give Laura or Jonathon a call at 707/887-2939 and they’ll handle your gift requests over the phone. Giddy up!
HELP FOR THE UN-HIP
If you’re over 30 you’re going to buy the wrong clothes for your kid. It’s not your fault. It’s just that your old and you don’t get it. So do this: Book an ocean-view room and spa treatment at the Bodega Bay Lodge, then amble over to the Bodega Bay Surf Shack and ask the guys behind the counter to pick out some (please don’t say “hip”) clothes that your blank-year-old would like. And trust them. You might also want to get your blank-year-old a surf lesson gift certificate as well—the calm swell at Bodega Bay is perfect for learning on a longboard.
While you’re at it, head over to the Candy & Kites nearby and pick up few kites for the kids and a half pound of addictive salt water taffy for you. This cute little Bodega Bay roadside shop has been selling wind-related whatnots for 26 years, and some of the kites they sell here are mind-boggingly elaborate. My advice is to ask the staff which kite is best suited for a blank-year-old and get two of them because you’ll need an inexpensive last-minute back-up gift anyway. By the way, the beaches along Bodega Bay are superb for kite-flying, so you might want to pick up a kite for yourself as well (hey, live a little).
A WHEEL GOOD TIME
If you’re in no particular hurry, there’s no better way to tour Sonoma Valley than by bicycle. An outfit called Goodtime Bicycle Company rents bikes for a mere $25 a day, which includes helmets, locks, everything else you’ll need (they even offer delivery and pickup to and from local hotels), which makes it the perfect gift to give your adventuresome friends or family members. Goodtime also offers organized excursion to Kenwood-area wineries, south Sonoma wineries, or even northern Sonoma’s Russian River and Dry Creek areas. They also provide a gourmet lunch featuring local Sonoma products, and if you purchase wine along the way, Goodtime will even carry it for you and help with shipping arrangements. Gift certificates can be purchased online at www.goodtimetouring.com for any amount with no expiration date.
SAFARI SO GOOD
If you really want to give someone a unique gift, send them to Safari West, a wildlife reserve near Santa Rosa that’s about as close as you can get to an African adventure without boarding an overseas flight. While riding in an actual open-air safari vehicle, you’ll tour the grounds and get up close and personal with the likes of giraffes, gazelles, ostrich, cheetahs, zebras, and antelope during the 3-hour tour. For the full experience you can even opt for a tented camp experience (and these tents are more plush than most hotel rooms). Safari West gift certificates are available for lodging, tours, animal encounters, meals, massage, and other Safari West “wild” activities. You can even donate and “adopt” a Safari West animal in his or her name.
It’s the quintessential Wine Country experience—an hot-air balloon ride over the Sonoma County vineyards. And imagine the points you’ll score giving this experience as a gift. Right now Up & Away, a hot air balloon company based in Santa Rosa, is offering holiday season gift certificates for $195 with no expiration date or additional fees. And these are classy gift certificates, printed on heavy card stock and customized to each person. No other fees, taxes, or tips are added on, there’s no expiration date, and the trips are offered year round. Heck, the balloon ride even ends with a champagne brunch at Kendall Jackson Winery.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on gift shopping getaways that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.
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