I love Christmas — the lights and trees, gift-giving and receiving, the parties and time with family — it’s something I look forward to every year. I also really enjoy picking out gifts for my family members and friends, and get so much joy watching them open their presents. (I feel like I have to open with this disclaimer because my mom will read this and automatically cringe at the thought of not doing physical gifts for Christmas; it gives her so much joy to pick something out special for each child and watch their faces light up when they open it. So mom, I am not writing this list for you!)
I also enjoy watching the joy on my kids’ faces as they open presents on Christmas morning, and I am not proposing eliminating gift-giving because it is so much fun! What I have realized however, as Christmas and birthdays have rolled over the years, is that we have accumulated a LOT of things. Some of these things sit piled in the kids’ rooms or a closet and the kids don’t know what they have until the following Christmas rolls around and we clean out and donate things to make room for more.
I’ve consulted my wonderful Facebook friends to come up with a list of Chattanooga experiences that would be wonderful gift ideas; you might not unwrap and play with them, but they create memories which are gifts in themselves. I am going to include a few of these in my kids’ Christmas this year, and I am going to encourage friends and family to consider some of these as ideas as well.
In no particular order, and from a variety of price ranges, here is a list of 25 Chattanooga experiences for kids that would make great gift alternatives:
1. Memberships for a year-long gift
While this can be on the pricey side, a family membership to the Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum, and the Chattanooga Zoo are truly gifts that keep on giving. A family or grandparent (which includes two grandparents and all grandkids under 18) membership to the Zoo is $79.15. Family memberships for the Tennessee Aquarium start at $175 and include many other discounts and perks. Family and grandparent memberships to the Creative Discovery Museum start at $110. These are gifts that last throughout the year and are perfect for families with young kids!
2. Climb at High Point Climbing Gym
My kids love High Point. If you ask them what they want to do on a special day like a birthday, this is always at the top of the list. A day at the gym for a family can be pricey, so this is a great gift from the grandparents! For an unlimited day pass, it is $17.50 for adults and $15.50 for kids.
3. Reconnect with nature at Reflection Riding
Help your kids get out and enjoy nature and all the beauty the city has to offer at Reflection Riding. A family membership is $70 and includes year-round daylight access to 300+ acres of land just 10 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. It is a mini escape from the hustle and bustle where you can enjoy nature and go canoeing, and there are many special events throughout the year.
4. Learn to cook together at Sweet and Savory Classroom
Sweet and Savory Classroom offers parent-child cooking classes throughout the year where you can learn how to make pasta together or become an expert cake decorator. The classes are around $70. For kids 14 and older, there are classes available to go without parents to learn a variety of different things from knife skills to cooking a Neapolitan pizza.
5. Experience glass blowing at Ignis Glass
For $43 or more depending on the design, you and your kids can learn to blow glass with a very hands-on experience at Ignis Glass. With the help of their professional artists, you and your kids can choose the colors and assist with working the piece to make your own ornament or paper weight.
6. Catch a big one on a fishing trip
Chattanooga Big Bass offers guided fishing trips where they provide the boat, rods, reels, and lures and get you on the big fish! They also provide snacks and drinks during the four or eight-hour trip. These are available on Groupon right now starting at $110.
7. Yoga classes at Balance Studios
Balance Studios offers yoga classes for kids to enjoy and learn yoga poses, sequences and breathing. They have six week classes available throughout the year for $75 for a six week program.
8. Sports or music lessons
There are too many places to count in Chattanooga that offer music or sports clinics and lessons. Lessons make a great gift for the aspiring athlete or musician.
9. Help them learn to swim with swim lessons
What better gift to give your kids or grandkids than learning how to swim? Places like the Y offer swim lessons throughout the year and Swim Tots in North Chattanooga has an indoor pool where your kids can learn to swim and improve their skills.
10. Ride a train with the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum
Give your kids a train gift package with train tickets for the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum. There are various themed train rides throughout the year at different price points, but for the train lover this is sure to be a great adventure.
11. Insane Paintball
For the older kids, a paintball fight at Insane Paintball is sure to be a crowd pleaser. For the younger ones, the nerf gun area is blacklit and so much fun for a day of “shooting” your energy out. The dart tag area is $12.99 per person for one hour of play time with darts included. You can use their guns or bring your own. Public play hours are Friday 5-9pm and Saturday 3:30-5:30pm.
12. Train your brain at Learning RX
At Learning RX, the focus is improving cognitive skills. Brain Training is a one on one program that uses fun exercises to strengthen the skills the brain uses to learn, read, think and pay attention. A gift card for here would be a great way to improve your child’s cognitive skills in a fun way.
13. Hang out at the ARC at UTC
UTC alumni can purchase an annual membership to the ARC, which has an indoor pool and hot tubs, a lazy river, a two story water slide, a climbing wall and lots of other fun. A membership is $180 for six months, and the indoor pool is the perfect spot for the cold winter months.
14. A “Favorite Things” basket
Give your kids a basket with a perfect day gift card. That could be a day of a movie and dinner, or painting pottery, or having tea at Polly’s Tea Room, a walk or bike ride across the bridge and ice cream at the Ice Cream Show, reading books to the dogs together at McKamey Animal Hospital, or a fancy dress up “date night” with just the child and mom and/or dad. Our kids love getting some special time to themselves with us to do their favorite things, so we try to do this on their birthdays or special occasions, and this would make a perfect gift. It would be fun to try to think of what each child’s “perfect day” would be.
15. Have a spa day together
A gift card for a manicure or pedicure or maybe a blowout together at Blowout Co. is a great gift for the glam girl in your family. Places like Kim’s Nails in Riverview or Apple Nails in Hixson have chairs made just for little girls so they can be just like mom. This makes for a great Christmas gift.
16. Take them on a movie date
For kids that love the movies, either a basket with a gift certificate to Mellow Mushroom and the movies makes a fun night, or even a basket for an at-home movie night. You could do a basket with popcorn, a new movie and movie candy, and make your own movie night at home.
17. Play with board games
While this is not exactly an “experience” present, giving your kids the gift of some fun board games and the promise of an evening of your undivided attention playing them and maybe a few snacks thrown in, would be a pretty cool gift for kids of all ages and something that you can continue to enjoy together over and over.
18. Have a wild encounter with a zoo animal
At the Chattanooga Zoo, you can get up close and personal with the zoo animal of your choice. Your child has to be seven-years-old or older and the experience lasts 30 minutes and allows up to two participants only, so you get your own one on one time with the animal you choose. These encounters start at $75 per person depending on the animal and go up to $205.
19. Starter kits for a new activity or sport
A friend suggested a starter pack for a new sport, and I think this is a great idea. She is getting her kids a disc golf starter kit. Whether it’s golf clubs or a bowling ball, sparking your child’s interest in a new activity is definitely a gift that keeps on giving.
20. Enjoy the outdoors with camping gear
A gift of camping gear like a tent or sleeping bag that you keep adding to each year could provide for fun adventures through the year. A basket with camping gear and a weekend reserved somewhere local for camping like Chester Frost Park would be a great Christmas gift.
21. Dollywood passes
Gatlinburg is so close that Dollywood season passes make a great gift for kids of all ages. They are around $114 a person and can be divided in payments. The kids love making the quick trip up to Dollywood; we did season passes this year and have used them over and over.
22. Go on a quick trip
There are so many beautiful spots a short drive from Chattanooga that a gift basket with a map to your destination and some accessories to use while you are there would make a great gift for kids. Places like the Biltmore Estate, Barnsley Gardens, Stone Mountain, the Ocoee, and Highlands, NC make a great weekend trip. The Tellus Science Museum and Raccoon Mountain Cave are a short drive away and provide a great little road trip and fun.
23. Cheer for your favorite team
Whether it’s the Chattanooga Lookouts, a UTC basketball game or Chattanooga Football Club, a gift basket with tickets (or season passes) to one our local teams’ games would be a fun gift for kids of all ages. Helping them learn all about the game while spending time together makes this one a win-win for everyone. A short drive to a Braves game at their new stadium (that is an easy shot from Chattanooga) is a great gift as well.
24. Go ride a horse!
Hidden Hills Farms in Ooltewah offers trail riding for kids 10 and over for $40/person/hour with a maximum of six people. For younger kids they offer hand-led horse rides or mini lessons at their barn for $25 for a half hour and $40 for an hour. A gift basket with a horseshoe, bandana and gift certificates for riding would be a great gift for the animal lover.
25. Be tourists for a day
A gift basket with tickets for the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls or Rock City would be a great way to enjoy some of our local tourist attractions. My kids don’t ever go to the “touristy” spots, so they would think it was a blast to get to actually See Rock City and Ruby Falls.