9 Totally Awesome Experience Gifts for Kids

Give experiences instead of gifts this season, and ask extended family to get on board too. Here are some great family Christmas ideas to give instead of gifts.

Fan Experiences BroadwayCon
Photo: Courtesy of BroadwayCon
01 of 09

Family Memberships to Attractions

Family Memberships to Attractions Aquarium
Soupy Bouasaysy/Aquarium of the Pacific

Hint at the grandparents to buy your clan a family membership to a local zoo, science center, aquarium, or children's museum. Trust me, you'll love it. You won't feel obligated to stay all day—and mess up nap schedules—just to get your money's worth. You'll probably get perks like free parking or invitations to member-only events. Plus, if you're a member of a zoo or aquarium that belongs to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, you may receive free or half-price admission to other zoos and aquariums that belong to the group, which comes in handy when you're out of town visiting family or on vacation. (Check out its reciprocity program here.) The Association of Children's Museums and Association of Science Technology Centers offer similar deals.

02 of 09

Behind-The-Scenes Tours

Behind The Scenes Tours Roar & Snore Safari
Courtesy San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Most family attractions schedule special "insider" experiences that your kid will flip over. For instance, your local zoo may offer special animal encounters (like this one with penguins that we did at the National Aviary) or sleepovers (like the Roar & Snore Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park). Museums, science centers, aquariums, and even theme parks also have memorable experiences that you can book in advance. I'm dying to check one of the new experiences curated by Airbnb. The vacation rental giant recently started offering family-friendly guided hikes, workshops, and classes in select cities; you don't have to stay in one of its rentals to take part.

03 of 09

Broadway Shows

Broadway Shows in New York City Anastasia the Musical
Anastasia on Broadway/Matthew Murphy

If your child can watch a two-hour movie without squirming or talking much, they're probably old enough to see a Broadway show. Each production has different ages requirements and guidelines, but in general, Disney's The Lion King, Disney's Aladdin On Broadway, and Wicked are excellent choices for kids in elementary school. Older kids would like those plus Hamilton and Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. You can snag discounted tickets up to a month in advance using the TodayTix app, find discount codes at Playbill.com. Icing on the cake: Local restaurants serve up kids' discounts too, and some shows offer a special kids' activity following the performance. Not planning a trip to New York City? Many popular musicals (including some currently on Broadway) have a touring version with stops in more than a dozen cities every year. The U.S. tours of Hamilton, Wicked, Disney's The Lion King, and Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (better for teens) are currently on tour—and great for kids, tweens, and teens.

04 of 09

"Live" Shows

Live Shows Sesame Street
Courtesy of Sesame Street Live!

Speaking of tours, Disney on Ice, Paw Patrol Live, and Sesame Street Live are traveling around the country. These shows are the perfect length for younger kids who can't sit through an entire musical.

05 of 09

Baseball Tickets

Baseball Tickets Atlanta Braves
2017 Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Major-league parks are becoming more kid-friendly; some cities like Atlanta and San Diego have special play areas for kids to test their skills. But don't overlook minor-league stadiums. There are nearly 250 minor-league baseball teams—and tickets to one of their games are a lot less expensive than major-league outings. Plus, there's usually a lot more between-inning fun. Package the tickets with a new mitt or jersey.

06 of 09

A Special Day Out

A Special Day Out Color Me Mine
Courtesy Color Me Mine

If you kid is like mine, she'll appreciate an experience that typically wouldn't fit into the family budget, like a pedicure at Sweet & Sassy, painting pottery at Color Me Mine, lunch at American Girl Place, admission to Legoland Discovery Center, or a session at BounceU, Pump It Up, or Sky Zone. A trip to the local ice rink, bowling alley, or Escape Room will also be a hit.

07 of 09

Overnight at an Indoor Waterpark

Overnight at An Indoor Waterpark Kalahari Resorts and Conventions
Courtesy of Kalahari Resorts and Conventions

Merge your vacation and holiday budget together to make your money stretch further. One year, I took my daughter and a friend to an overnight at an indoor waterpark chain, and tickets to the park were included in our package. With locations across the country, Great Wolf Lodge is a great choice if you have younger kids. Kalahari Waterparks, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, have a fantastic mix of thrill rides for preteens and gentler ones for toddlers. Camelback Resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania offers both an indoor waterpark and wintery activities like snow-tubing.

08 of 09

Fan Experiences

Fan Experiences BroadwayCon
Courtesy of BroadwayCon

Whether your kid is into superheroes, Minecraft, Legos, or even Broadway, there are "Cons" across the country to hit up with meet-and-greets and fun programming. For instance, WonderCon in Anaheim, California, takes place on March 24 to 26, 2023, while BroadwayCon is scheduled for July 21 to 23, 2023 in New York City. Eventbrite.com will help you locate happenings in your area; goldstar.com may offer discounted admission.

09 of 09

A Memorable Family Vacation

Laughing family embracing before swim in river on vacation


If you're really looking to move away from piling up the gifts, planning a family vacation is the perfect way to go all-in on an experience they won't soon forget. Whether it's traveling to one of many holiday-themed hotels across the country, opting for family-friendly all-inclusive resorts somewhere tropical, or booking a Disney trip that won't break the bank, a vacation away with your crew is sure to create some core memories.

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