It feels like, as a culture, we are slowly being buried in our own stuff. The holidays? More stuff.
A 2009 study at San Francisco State University attempted to measure how long the happiness dividend lasted between objects and experiences and concluded that experiences lasted longer. Things eventually lose their luster while experiences, usually shared with other people, create memories that may stay with us for the rest of our lives.
So as you embark on the season of gift-giving, consider some good memories as presents. The options are endless, but here are a few suggestions for unforgettable experiences close to home.
<b>The gift of new skills</b>
<i>Ice skating:</i> Ice skating is a great way to get some cardio exercise in the winter. At the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, the adults-only Coffee Club meets from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday and Friday and is open to skaters of all levels. The Coffee Club provides a half-hour group lesson, an open skating practice session and a cup of coffee and doughnut from the Warm Puppy Cafe for $14 a session. No reservations required; just show up. Private skating lessons also available. The "Ice Cool Cash Card" is good toward hot chocolate at the Warm Puppy Cafe, gear at Snoopy's Gift Shop, public skates or lessons. At www.snoopyshomeice.com, 1665 West Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 546-3385.
<i>Cooking classes:</i> A cooking class not only sharpens skills, but provides a fun environment to explore new flavors and make new friends. Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, Sur La Table in Santa Rosa and Ramekins in Sonoma are the Big 3 in Sonoma County, offering a wide range of classes and foraging adventures every week of the year. At www.relishculinary.com, www.surlatable.com, www.ramekins.com.
<i>Ski trip:</i> Santa Rosa Ski & Sports offers one-day bus trips to Tahoe for $95, which includes a lift ticket, a light breakfast, movies on the bus and transportation. Buses depart from Santa Rosa at 5 a.m. roughly every two weeks through March 29 and go directly to various Tahoe ski resorts, including Northstar, Sugar Bowl, Homewood and Sierra-at-Tahoe. At www.santarosaskiandsports.com, 1125 West Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 578-4754.
<i>Sonoma County Regional Parks Annual Pass:</i> Give someone a ticket to ride, as well as walk, hike, swim, kayak, picnic and fish in one of 50 parks and trails of their choice for a full year with this annual pass. The pass packs a lot of value, with additional perks ranging from a free night of camping to discounts on parks activities and at local outdoors retailers. Cost is $69, or $39 for seniors 60 and older. Gift memberships can be purchased at park kiosks, REI, Oliver's Markets, Sebastopol Hardware and online at www.sonomacountyparks.org.
<i>Safari West:</i> Most people will never go on safari in Africa, but a visit to Safari West on the rural Santa Rosa savannah is an exciting substitute. Basic three-hour treks by Jeep and foot over 400 rugged acres lead to encounters with giraffes, gazelles, zebras, antelopes, wildebeests, cheetahs, lemurs and other creatures you're guaranteed not to see in your own neighborhood. Gift certificates are 10 percent off through December. Tour prices range from $70 in winter to $80 in summer. Kids' tickets are $32. The park also offers special packages and events and overnight adventures, with luxury cabins for two starting at $225 a night in the shoulder season. Wild Gift cards can be purchased online at www.safariwest.com.