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From Cooking Lessons to Glassblowing Classes, Experiences Make Unique Gifts

It might not be the Grinch who steals the holidays this season. Ongoing supply chain shortages have left many store shelves looking bare in the North Hills. It is not a good sign for the upcoming holidays as shoppers head to the stores in search of the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

Some people have decided to avoid the stress of scouring stores in favor of gift experiences. Instead of buying material presents to wrap in boxes with pretty paper and bows, gift experiences allow the recipient to go on an adventure or to try something new. Best of all, they aren’t stuck on a cargo ship somewhere!

Experience gifting need not be boring when gift-givers think outside the box. Gift certificates to movies and favorite restaurants technically fall into the experience gifting category, but other options exist as well. To choose the perfect gift experience, think about the things that interest the recipient. Do they enjoy connecting with nature? Do they have an artistic side? The likelihood they will use—and enjoy—the gift experience increases when gift-givers choose something that fits the recipient’s personality.

The Gift of Relaxation

Massage is one of the most popular gift experiences because it gives the receiver permission to indulge and relax.

“Massage is one of those things that most people will not do for themselves,” said Joan Gennarini, a massage therapist at Rekindled Spirits in Aspinwall. “People feel guilty taking time for themselves. But if they get it as a gift, they are more likely to receive a massage.”

Individuals do not need to be in pain to benefit from a massage, although it can provide relief for those living with chronic health conditions. If it is the first time getting a massage and the person is unsure how they feel about a full body massage, Gennarini suggested starting them out with a basic foot massage.

She also talks to her clients before their appointments to gauge their comfort levels and review the kinds of massages she offers. “I listen to them and what their goal is for the massage,” explained Gennarini, who adds that gift-givers unsure of what kind of massage the recipient prefers need not worry. They can purchase gift certificates in a dollar amount and let the receiver choose.

Gennarini makes it easy to buy a massage experience for someone else. She offers gift certificates for purchase online and they can also be purchased at her massage business in person. Gift-givers have the option of selecting a custom handwritten gift certificate that can be mailed to the recipient directly or picked up at her business and given personally by the giver. A current $10 discount for gift certificate purchases makes giving a massage with Gennarini this holiday season an attractive offer. Reach out to her at to explore all of the options.

The Gift of Art

Have someone on the holiday shopping list who enjoys hands-on fun? Giving the gift of an art experience can fit the bill.

Glassblowing has gained in popularity recently thanks to the Netflix series, Blown Away, which features master artists engaged in glassblowing sculpture challenges for the chance to win $60,000 in prizes. Now people can try their hand at glassblowing at the Pittsburgh Glass Center on Penn Avenue in Friendship, one of the top public-access glass art facilities in the U.S.

“It’s a rare opportunity to get up close enough to feel the heat of the furnace and blow glass,” said Paige Ilkhanipour, the center’s marketing director, adding that Pittsburgh was once the center of glass production for the U.S. “Taking a glass workshop or class is an educational, fun, and inspiring way to learn about science, art, and history.”

Some of the center’s most popular gift experiences include the MOLTN class for children in grades 6-12. For $105, they can spend the day learning three different glassmaking techniques. Teens will like the glassblowing, flameworking, and fusing two-hour workshops for $50. If the entire family wants to get in on the experience, there is a family fun package for $300 that gives up to five people an hour at the center where they can enjoy a glassblowing demonstration and the opportunity to try working with glass.

“We also have Glass-to-Go kits that enable people to make a mosaic suncatcher, a garden steppingstone or a stained glass suncatcher at home,” said Ilkhanipour.

The center has something for everyone. “Different personalities are drawn to different studios,” said Ilkhanipour. “The hot shop is fast-paced, spontaneous and physical. Flameworking is slower paced and tends to require focus on detail and precision.”

Gift cards can be purchased for the center and never expire.

Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley offers classes for ages 4 through adult. Youth classes have a flexible age range, with some 16-year-olds qualifying for adult workshops.

The STEAM series and holiday-themed workshops are ideal for young artists. “For elementary-aged children, Clay ‘n Play, and Mixed Media are always a favorite,” said Sweetwater’s education manager, Brianne Tupper. “Teens love animation/illustration, wheel throwing, and culinary workshops.”

Older teens and adults gravitate toward ceramics, figure drawing, and painting courses. Creative writing is another sought-after course.

Membership is not required to register for classes at Sweetwater, but Tupper said it is extremely popular for those who wish to take more than one class or register more than one person in the same household. Sweetwater members get discounts ranging from $5 to $30 and a host of other benefits.

“When you give a Sweetwater experience as a gift, you are giving a new skill, an investment in someone’s personal growth, and a lifelong appreciation of the arts,” she said. “To take part in creating art or developing a new skill in the arts is a feeling that can’t be duplicated.”

Time in the Kitchen

Cooking classes are always a popular option for experience gifting, with both in-person and online choices available in the North Hills. One option is with Mediterra Café in Sewickley, which occasionally offers cookie decorating classes. The café also sells DIY cookie kits for with décor themes for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Nicole McLean, Mediterra’s general manager, said the cookie kits come with 12 blank sugar cookies in the likeness of candy canes, gingerbread men, snowflakes, and Santa. Each kit includes frosting and sprinkles and costs $25. They are an excellent—and tasty—experience gift for children or anyone who likes to make cookies.

Individuals who wish to give someone the gift of learning how to make appetizers, meals, and desserts from scratch can find plenty of options in the Pittsburgh area. Among some of the most popular include Gaynor’s School of Cooking on the South Side, Chop, WOK & Talk on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh, and Threadbare Cider and Mead in Pittsburgh.

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