When I first saw a Back Friday sales ad this year, especially those tacky “gifts for kids” lists, I couldn’t help but want to chuck my phone through the window.
Honestly, my kids don’t need any more stuff. At the same time, I don’t want to go complete grinch on them and not give a single gift.
The good news?
We have a ton of local places that make perfect non-material gifts for kids. Ready for some experience-based gift inspo? Check out these 17 ideas for gifts for kids in your life (and the parents who must deal with ALL. THE. THINGS.).
Anywhere Gifts—Location Independent Presents for Kiddos
Here are some excellent gift ideas for kids that don’t cause stuff to pile up—and you don’t have to live in our area of the Gold Country to take advantage.
1. Restaurant Gift Cards
Restaurant gift cards are an excellent offering for kids of all ages. Personally, I hate spending money at Denny’s, but it’s currently my five-year-old’s favorite haunt.
Though I don’t share his taste, it’s sometimes fun to indulge in something that makes our kiddos feel like their voices matter, even for something as insignificant as where to have our occasional dinner splurge.
Besides, the best gifts for kids are those rare indulgences, right?
Gift your favorite kiddo(s) some cash on a card for their favorite restaurant—you can even use email delivery for some options, depending on where you buy.
Where to Buy
You can get gift cards on Amazon for places like:
I’ve also been known to stop by CVS, Walmart, or Target for various gift cards, though it’s not always restaurants I’m after.
2. Movie Theater Tickets
Going to the movies gets expensive fast, but it’s also one of those fun nostalgic activities families tend to skip. After all, with Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix, what more do you need? But for kids, giant tubs of popcorn and larger-than-life movie screens are so fun!
Where to Buy
Amazon to the rescue again for this one—they have all the top movie theater gift cards, many with email delivery options for last-minute gift giving. Choose from Regal, AMC, or Fandango for the movie lover in your life. Or, opt for a Movie & A Meal combo for the ultimate night out.
3. Gaming Gift Cards and Online Credits
For families that indulge in screen time (like mine!), online credits for kiddos’ favorite games are the ideal gift. They take up no space, and the gift card options are often digital, so there’s not even any paper or plastic to mess with.
How to Buy Digital Gifts for Kids
Amazon offers a ton of gift card options for all platforms.
You can also get gaming gift cards from Best Buy, which I’ve done a time or two!
4. Online Subscriptions
At our house, digital resources are a huge part of our homeschooling curriculum. So along with games like Minecraft and Roblox, my kids often use ABC Mouse, Prodigy, and Kindle games.
Online subscriptions can be a great gift for kids and a way to try out these platforms and resources!
How to Buy
Online memberships work in a range of ways. First, think about the age range for each option. You might want to consider alternate gifts for kids who don’t yet have the skills for using a computer (or if they’re under age two, say experts).
For ABC Mouse, you can buy a gift membership for your gift recipient. A one-year subscription is currently $59. The best part is you can add multiple children to each subscription (up to three kids). We’ve had ABC Mouse for years and have two kiddos under one subscription.
With Prodigy, the platform and math games are free—but the membership option adds fun rewards to the gaming experience. Membership is $4.99/month for a one-year subscription.
If you’re a parent of a homeschooled kiddo, though, check with your charter—they might pay for this as an educational supplement!
For Amazon device users, subscription plans like FreeTime Unlimited (games, books, and more for kids) or Kindle Unlimited (books for all ages) can be an excellent gift option. Unfortunately, you can’t use a gift card for the subscriptions (according to Amazon), so that makes FreeTime a bit tricky.
Kindle Unlimited, however, is available as a gift option, and is currently half off at $29.97 for six months.
Is a child you know obsessed with audio books like mine are? If so, an Audible subscription might be the perfect non-material gift. You can gift anywhere from one month ($15) to a year ($150), or you can select a specific audio book to send to your favorite bookworm.
Local Gifts for Kids and Families in and Around the Gold Country (& Sacramento)
If you’re lucky enough to live in or around Amador County (or Calaveras, El Dorado, or San Joaquin!), there are plenty of places to explore. By purchasing a local membership, your gift recipient can enjoy visiting exciting places all year round.
And while some of these are a bit of a drive for us locals, memberships make visiting more frequently supremely affordable. And I won’t lie; these gifts for kids are gifts for grownups, too!
5. Folsom Zoo Membership
I love the Folsom Zoo because it’s not just a zoo. It’s also a sanctuary, which means the animals aren’t bought and put on display. The critters here are rescued and rehabilitated, and I like that better than the traditional zoo model.
I also love the Folsom Zoo because right next door is Folsom City Lions Park, which has a playground, plenty of grass to run around in, and sand (which parents don’t enjoy but kids always seem to love). The play equipment is also accessible for kiddos with mobility challenges.
How to Buy
You can join the Folsom Zoo as a member for $65 per year for a family of up to six. Your membership also includes reciprocal attractions—free admission at Micke Grove Zoo and two other (farther away) zoos. You can buy online, too.
6. Sacramento Children’s Museum Membership
We got a membership to the Sacramento Children’s Museum for one year, and my kids loved it. Some of the exhibits change, but there are always attractions like:
- An art room with clear walls the kiddos can paint on
- A water play area with multiple tables and PVC pipe for making plumbing!
- Dress up (they change the costumes often) and a whole stage to perform on
- Pretend play with a store, “house,” and post office
- Huge blocks to build forts, etc. with
- A giant train table with room for everyone
The target age range is under nine, and there’s also a separate area for the under-threes (you have to remove your shoes).
How to Buy
Memberships at the Sacramento Children’s Museum start at $125 for a family of four, and you can buy online (or put your admission fees toward the membership the day you visit). You get half-off guest admission (two of them) per visit, plus reciprocal admittance to other children’s museums (check out the list here) AND the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) (check out that list here).
7. Powerhouse Science Center Membership
The Powerhouse Science Center is, for now, a relatively small center in Sacramento. They have a full nature room with animals, hands-on exhibits, plus other science and space exhibits that rotate (I think monthly). Pretend play areas, STEM activities, and animal exploration are highlights.
My kids have also enjoyed checking out the grounds—there are huge dinosaur sculptures (but you can’t touch) and a turtle pond (go for a walk all the way around). Oh, and try the planetarium for me—we’ve never been!
How to Buy
BUT, if you choose a Family Premier membership for $100, you also receive North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) association benefits!
NARM includes over 800 art, cultural, and historical attractions, plus kids’ museums and botanical gardens all over the US.
A note about NARM: Depending on where you purchase your (gift) membership, you might not be able to use NARM benefits at nearby facilities.
Some institutions won’t accept your membership card for entry if your “home institution” is within a 15-mile radius. So read the fine print before purchasing—or stay tuned for my tip below!
8. Sacramento Zoo Membership
I must admit that I’m not normally a fan of zoos. I don’t like that the animals are kept in captivity, but at the same time, I understand the motivation of people who do conservation work at the zoos. I’ve also taken my kids, because they love animals.
Therefore, I’m adding the Sacramento Zoo to this list! After all, kids care about animals, and learning about them is the first step toward helping keep them out of zoos… Right?
How to Buy
The website states that two percent of your membership cost goes toward wildlife conservation, so that’s something, at least.
9. Fairytale Town Membership
Fairytale Town is another membership we’ve tried and loved! When my younger son was born, I bought a membership for my then-four-year-old, and it was amazing. We visited all through the summer, enjoying special members’ nights, and even in winter—they did pretend snow and a whole Christmas event for members.
And you honestly can’t beat the cost! The Sacramento spot (directly across from the Sac Zoo in Land Park!) is like a giant playground, and in addition to traditional jungle gyms and slides, there are attractions that kids can play on that are fairytale themed.
And, it’s all outdoors—hello fresh air and sunshine (hopefully)!
How to Buy
At Fairytale Town, membership starts at $70 for a family of four, and you receive invites to special events plus discounts on purchases.
10. Crocker Art Museum Membership
With one art-loving kiddo, I’m kind of ashamed to say that I only recently visited the Crocker Art Museum. I may have gone back in high school, but let’s be honest—that was a LONG time ago.
Anyway, some of the art went over my kids’ heads—and I’m kinda grateful—like artwork that referenced sexuality and AIDS. There were also some sculptures that definitely sparked interesting conversations, too.
But if your gift recipient is into art, this is a must-buy. There are ongoing art programs for kids, which take place in their ‘basement’ area. There’s an art studio (we made pinch pots from clay during our visit!) and two playrooms (the theme changes).
One of my favorite parts was the fact that the art museum is part of/attached to the original Crocker mansion, so you get to see all the old staircases and whatnot. Super cool for us nerdy parents!
Oh, and if you homeschool, make sure to check out their special homeschool day programs!
How to Buy
A family membership at Crocker is $85 for a family of four. You’ll receive invitations to exclusive exhibition previews, get discounts on programs and classes, and get a discount at the store and café.
11. Micke Grove Zoo Membership
Honestly, I prefer the Micke Grove Zoo to the Sac Zoo, if only because they seem to have more animals that are rescues. It also lacks those theme park-type attractions—trains and rides and whatnot.
We attended an educational homeschool program with friends recently, and it was a neat behind-the-scenes look at the animals there and how the zoo operates. And for most Amador residents, Lodi isn’t too far to travel for such fun!
How to Buy
Membership to the Micke Grove Zoological Society costs $60 per year for a family of four. Along with your admission to Micke Grove, you also get reciprocal admission (reduced or free) at zoos and aquariums (see the 2019 list here).
12. Sunrise Rollerland Passes
Sunrise Rollerland in Citrus Heights is where I learned to skate back in the ‘90s, and it hasn’t lost its appeal over the years! You can rent either inline skates or quads, stay for some eats at the snack bar, and work up a sweat together.
How to Buy
You can buy passes through their online store or at the skating rink. A monthly pass is $60 but you can also buy lesson packs for kiddos who want to learn to skate ($42 for six lessons, currently).
Also, don’t forget to sign up for Kids Skate Free—kids 12 and under receive free admission on specific dates and times. Skate rental is extra, though ($4)—so maybe rollerskates are a worthwhile Christmas investment this year!
13. Sky High Passes
We’ve visited Sky High Sports before (in Rancho Cordova) and my kids loved it. I’m a bit nervous when it comes to giant trampolines and my smaller child, however, so we haven’t been in a while. They do keep asking to go back, so I can definitely recommend it as a super way to get kids active.
For those who haven’t been, it’s a trampoline place with all kinds and sizes of trampolines, foam block pits, and even a little arcade area and snack bar. There are basketball courts, too, and a few ninja-fitness type attractions.
How to Buy
Sky High offers gift cards for their Rancho Cordova location (I’m sure offers vary based on the city/franchise). Their current holiday deal promises an extra $10 for every $50 you purchase. This is great because it can get pricey—jump time typically costs $14 per hour per jumper.
They do offer homeschool jump times, special needs times, and more—so check out their website if you have a jumper who would love to visit.
Travel-Based Gifts for Kids That Families in Our Area Will Love
As much as I love living in the Gold Country, there are some excursions that are just necessary to get the most out of the Golden State! Here are my top picks for travel-based gift ideas for kids. Make memories together that will last long after the January slump!
14. Tix to the Polar Express
You might have heard about the Polar Express event near Santa Cruz. And while that attraction is great (and pricey and often sold out…), I have good news for lovers of the Christmas movie, and train lovers in general:
There’s a Polar Express ride in Jamestown!
The event is hosted by Railtown 1897 Historic Park, which has been on my list of must-visits for years now. This is a special holiday event, and it’s only running from November 29th to December 22nd for 2019, so hop on it!
How to Buy
Check out the website for ticket availability and specific dates/departure times. Tickets are $50 per person for coach seating and $70 per person for first class. Kids under two are free but must sit on a caregiver’s lap.
15. Monterey Bay Aquarium
We love the Monterey Bay Aquarium and have been visiting for years, and it’s so worth the drive! Some of the exhibits change, so we don’t even see the same things every time.
Also, homeschooling parents—they offer free homeschool days on specific dates from October through May! Make sure to sign up early when tickets become available—check the site for details for 2020 and beyond.
How to Buy
You can purchase a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a family of four for $250. Benefits include express entry, special access hours, discounts, and a subscription to their membership magazine.
16. Seymour Center
Here’s where my special tip about NARM memberships comes in, so keep reading!
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is perched on the cliffs in Santa Cruz and is operated by UC Santa Cruz. It’s small, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying when we visited. There are whale bones to check out (outside—take the tour, it’s worth it!), sea critters to touch, and lots to see in the scaled-down tanks.
How to Buy
By buying your membership outside our area, you can take advantage of NARM access at all our local museums (Crocker, the kids’ museum, Powerhouse, and more). Yay!
17. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Passes
We visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk at least once a year, and we love it. There’s easy beach access, fun rides if you’re feeling up for it, and the arcade is always a hit. And with the way they’ve streamlined the ride tickets and arcade tokens—you use a single, renewable card for everything—it’s easier than ever to manage your experience.
There are also special events at the Boardwalk, like their Holiday Ice attraction that runs through January. Ice skating at the beach? Yes, please!
How to Buy
The Boardwalk website offers season passes, and you can purchase a gift pass for $81.95 plus tax per person. You get unlimited rides for the whole year—not just summer! And yes, they are open for limited hours through winter, too.
You can also buy MyBoardwalk Cards, which are the thing you scan to pay for rides and arcade games. Keep an eye out for sales, too—there’s a BOGO Black Friday sale going on ATM. Oh, and did I mention that the cards never expire? We saved our last batch of points for our next visit!
More Gifts for Kids (That Don’t Require Extra Storage Space)
There are a few other gift ideas that I love for children, but they’re hard to pin down. Here are some more tips for your shopping list:
- Books! We can always make more room for books, yeah? Or, you can choose Kindle or other digital versions. Check out 7 Engaging Series Books for Reluctant Readers if you need ideas!
- Local classes! As homeschoolers, we get to hear about all the amazing classes in our area. Whether your kids are in public school or not, there are classes to suit their interests and schedules.
- Craft supplies. Yes, it’s more “stuff,” but it’s creative AND you can probably convince your kids to gift their creations to others. Win-win.
Ready to Shop for Non-Material Gifts for Kids?
Now is the best time to shop—while putting this guide together, I saw so many Black Friday and other holiday discounts that I wanted to buy everything. But even if you miss the holiday sales, memberships and non-material gifts are a worthwhile investment.
Just imagine—a hundred bucks or so for year-round entertainment and delight for all the kiddos you love. And the best part is, there’s no pileup of STUFF to deal with after the holiday.
Have suggestions for more non-material gifts for kids? Tell me about them in the comments below!