"Experience Gifts" - Local Fun For Holiday Gifts

An alternative to toys and trinkets for holiday presents.

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As I walk past a pile of baskets bursting haphazardly with toys, and make my way past a few semi-trucks and tractors stacked against a wall, and around a play-kitchen standing where an end table used to sit, it seems to finally hit me that our living room isn’t looking . . . well . . . so living-roomish lately.

My boys have toys. Lots of toys. I think they multiply overnight. I have no idea where half of their things come from – really, where on earth did they get a miniature burping hamburger keychain? Or who in the world thought it was a good idea to get them matching wooden whistles? And why do we have 5 different Paw Patrol Rubbles of varying sizes?

Not only are the holidays a great time to teach my little ones about giving back to the community and scaling back on the toys they currently have, it also has me thinking of an alternative to things for Christmas gifts. Instead of cramming the toy bins with even more toys, we’re exploring “experience” gifts instead.

“Experience” gifts mean just that – gifts that you are meant to experience on adventures and outings together, as a family, rather than an object taking up space in your home. In the Tri-County area, we have a myriad of merry fun all around us – from museums to art centers to theaters, to classes and workshops that explore all interests. Instead of unwrapping gifts that can be played with and forgotten in a few hours, we can instead savor memories watching a play together, getting our groove on during a music class, or discover a new family adventure destination.

Of course, it’s always fun seeing our children’s faces light up as they wildly unwrap something they can get their hands on right away. But it might be fun to also add in a few unexpected gifts where the fun is just getting started as the holidays wind down.

Read on for a sampling of some of the best local “experience” gift options:


There’s a certain magic that exists in live theater – the palpable energy, being a part of the experience, seeing beautiful sets and costumes up close rather than through a movie screen. How about a gift certificate to one of the area theaters?

Stefanie Weill Center – A ton of fun family performances are coming to the theater in 2017, like Pete the Cat and Big Bang Boom music act for families. For every $100 you spend on Weill Center gift certificates from November 26 until December 23, you will receive one $10 gift certificate FREE. This special holiday promotion is only available in the Ticket Office.

Capitol Civic Centre - Gift certificates can be used to purchase tickets for family friendly events throughout the year – including Artrageous, an interactive art and music experience, Pete the Cat, and Alexander Who’s Not Going to Move theater productions.


If it’s one thing that the Tri-County area has a fortunate abundance of, its museums. There are children’s museums, transportation museums, and historical villages. There are museums about farming and museums about cheese. Some of the very best museums are consistently updating their exhibits and offerings to meet growing interests. Consider a yearly membership to the following places:

Above & Beyond Children’s Museum This children's museum has 3 floors of hands-on exhibits in over 10,000 feet of floor space. Plenty of room for families to explore, learn and have fun! Membership gets you unlimited admission, member-only events, priority registration, and special discounts. Membership prices range from $65-$130.

Spaceport Sheboygan Have a science lover in your family? Or do you want to find new ways to enjoy planetary fun? Each membership level comes with unlimited visits to the exhibits and discounts on special events. Membership prices are incredibly reasonable, ranging from $15 - $75.

Pinecrest Historical Village Have you ever wanted to attend a good ‘ol fashioned baseball game? Or explore pioneer times at a day camp? Or see a Wild West show? Pinecrest Historical village has all of these opportunites. Membership benefits include from free admission, discounts on summer camps, workshops, special tours, special discounts and more. Yearly Membership costs range from $35 - $150.

Wade House – Speaking of historical experiences, from the other side of the Tri-County Kids area, check out a membership of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Wade House is a 40-acre open-air museum that includes the Stagecoach Hotel and Dockstader Blacksmith Shop. Daily demo's of an authentic 1860's replica of a working water-powered saw mill. As member of the Wisconsin Historical Society, you get free admission to Wade House Historic Site and 11 other historic sites and museums, plus special discounts, historic guest passes, and more. Yearly membership prices range from $55-$110.

Art Centers

Art Centers are the perfect place to cultivate and encourage your child's wild imagination and experience a range of hands-on art workshops, from clay, to sculptures, to collages, paintings and so much more!

John Michael Kohler Art Center This nationally acclaimed visual and performing arts complex showcases a wide range of classes and experiences for all ages. Becoming a member means discounts on tickets, classes, Preschool, and more, along with free admission to some celebrations throughout the year. Yearly memberships start at $30.

Rahr-West Art Museum This art museum features a World Class Art Collection with no admission fee and a range of classes and workshops. A Yearly membership can enhance your experience with a 50% discount on classes and discount in the gift shop, along with private receptions and complimentary private tours. Family memberships start at $50.

Nature Centers

As winter starts to settle in, it may feel strange to think ahead on how to spend those spring evenings and summer days. But. . . go ahead, think about it for just a minute – the vibrant flowers, the soft grass, the charming paths and adventures you and your family can have in nature. Ahh. . . bliss, right? Making gifts out of these summer adventures lets you enjoy your holiday present as the snow melts!

Bookworm Gardens These whimsical gardens are an exuberant union between children's literature, the natural world, and imagination. It’s true that you can experience the gardens for free on most given days, but members enjoy exclusive benefits which include a special members only reception, advance registration on camps and classes, discounts in our gift shops and more. Yearly memberships start at $35!

Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve This incredible 1300-acre nature preserve features hiking trails, interpretive displays, and you can let the kids enjoy the freedom of the Little Wings nature play area and interactive room, join a class or set your own pace to learn about the natural world around you. Yearly memberships include a 10% discount in the Nature Shop, discounted admission to most of our events, and more. Yearly Family memberships start at $35!

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