No matter how we spin it, holiday gift-giving leaves us with the warm fuzzies. There’s something magical about handing over a box, exquisitely wrapped and tied in a bow, and witnessing the joy when it’s opened. But gifting an experience can be even more magical, creating irreplaceable memories that resonate long after the Christmas fruitcake has gone stale.
This holiday season, give the gift of time together. Plan an escape to check out these popular Southern cities, and enjoy these experiences while you’re there. From a helicopter tour to toasting s’mores over a beach bonfire, these activities will create memories that last a lifetime!
Asheville, North Carolina
The Land Rover Experience Driving Center at the Biltmore
The first thing that pops into our heads when we think of Asheville, North Carolina, is the Biltmore Estate, so it seems only natural to make it the star of our Asheville gift experience. With its expansive 8,000 acres, impeccably manicured gardens, wine tastings and collection of dining options, the Biltmore has no shortage of fun to be had. But if you’re up for something a bit more adventurous, explore the property via an offroading adventure.
Land Rover‘s driving center is located on the Biltmore Estate grounds and invites participants to explore wooded trails and various levels of rugged terrain in Land Rover vehicles with the help of an expert driver. Various packages are available, from one- and two-hour adventures to full-day experiences. We recommend the Heritage Full-day Experience so that you can discover Land Rover’s evolution. The trip includes six hours of fun in three different Land Rover vehicles, the history of the Land Rover Defender, a brief overview of the vehicle’s technologies to satisfy your techie side, lunch overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, a take-home gift and certificate of completion for bragging rights. If you’re looking to earn the mom- or dad-of-the-year award, Land Rover also offers the Teen Drive Experience, which allows your teen to learn the basics of off-roading and driving techniques. No prior experience is required, so that also means you get to squeeze in some serious driving practice without the risk of tearing up your own car! All packages come with an expert instructor to lead the way and require admission to the Biltmore. Visit experience.landroverusa.com/north-carolina for more information, as prices vary based on the package you choose.
Let nature feed your soul and your appetite with No Taste Like Home’s “forage-to-table” tours. Experience a truly authentic taste of Asheville as you take an expert-guided group or private tour to find some of the most common, wild foods you might find in your own neck of the woods — or even your back yard! The area boasts over 300 local wild edibles, including berries, flowers, nuts, mushrooms and roots. Tours take place wherever conditions are best at any given moment, so your excursion might be at any number of locations within 15-45 minutes of Asheville.
As if honing your survival skills by foraging for snacks weren’t enough, the experience doesn’t end there. When you’ve collected your tasty trophies, you can bring them to one of No Taste Like Home’s five partnering restaurants so they can assist you in enjoying the fruits of your labor — at lunch or dinner — with a dish on the house. Participating restaurants include The Market Place, Rhubarb and Vue 1913, and your bounty might turn into any number of delicious appetizers or cocktails, such as wild mushroom pizza or wisteria ice cream.
Tours are family-friendly, for all ages, and include a cooking demo and tasting. To schedule a tour and channel your inner hunter-gatherer, visit notastelikehome.org.
Learn to Surf
While you may not think of the Gulf Coast as a surfing hot spot, there are indeed times when the waves kick up. So while you’re in town — and if the water’s just right — learn to surf with the help of a local pro. From March to October, Austin Magee’s Surf School can help surfing hopefuls age 5 and older learn the sport in a private or group setting. After a 10-minute on-land orientation, the remaining 50 minutes of the lesson are spent honing your skills in the water. Participants will learn positioning, safety skills and — perhaps most importantly — how to get up on the board. Find details and book your lesson at amsurfschool.com.
Picture this … a gaggle of your family and closest friends are laughing around a bonfire, drinks in hand and s’mores on a stick. The waves crash as the sun sets beneath the horizon line, providing a picturesque backdrop for your intimate beach gathering. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The visual is almost cozy enough to make us forget we’re bundled up for the winter weather! But Shoreline Beach Services can make that dream a reality with their bonfire packages in 30A. With the ability to accommodate up to 20 attendees, packages include a fire pit, firewood, a permit for two hours (three if you choose the 20-person option) and an onsite attendant to handle the fire so you don’t have to. You can even add s’mores for a little fireside treat. The 10- and 20-person bonfire packages also include chairs, a table and tiki torches. Our dreams of a white Christmas are quickly turning into dreams of a white sandy beach! Visit shorelinebeachservices.com for details.
Recreation at Pursell Farms
A resort and destination golf course, Pursell Farms is the idyllic location for everything from spa treatments and five-star dining to hunting and fishing. If you’re in the market for a gift experience that manages to make everyone on your Christmas list happy, this is it! We recommend spending at least one full weekend exploring.
For those interested in pampering and self-care, Pursell offers yoga on the mountain and The Spring House Spa. Detoxify and rejuvenate with a hot stone massage, reflexology, signature body scrubs and even couples’ massage. There’s also yoga (held in a super-secret location) on the mountain, for those wanting to find some spiritual balance and reconvene with nature.
For the more sport-oriented takers, check out the ORVIS® Shooting Grounds, complete with sporting clay and fly-fishing schools, a clubhouse facility and upland hunting memberships. Pursell also offers John Deere® UTV rides through the mountain, perfect for catching a glimpse of what might otherwise go unseen. For another spectacular view of the grounds, travel via horseback to the summit of Sulphur Mountain or the local farm trails. For the golf lover, the FarmLinks Golf Course is unparalleled, and has been voted one of Golfweek’s best courses for seven years in a row. No matter how you choose to spend your time, Pursell is the place to be. Memories await, so check out their packages at pursellfarms.com.
Birmingham Tasting Tour
Calling all foodies! Birmingham Taste Tours offers a gift experience to tantalize the tongue and tummy. Spend three mouth-watering hours making your way on foot from one restaurant to another, chatting it up with local chefs and learning about various flavors as you go. Or as they put it, “You’ll receive a better understanding of why we eat the food we do, where it comes from, and how we put our own unique spin on Southern staples, through talking with chefs and your culinary storyteller.”
From traditionally popular menu items to exclusive, seasonal flavors, this is an elevated dining experience to satisfy the palate. Not to be ignored, the tour also includes neighborhood history, as well as fun facts and trivia about the area. For more information, or to schedule a tour, visit bhamtastetours.com.
Charleston, South Carolina
Historic Carriage Tour
Steeped in Southern history, Charleston, South Carolina, is a destination for romantics and history buffs alike. Old South Carriage Company kicks up that charm a notch. They offer a full range of carriage experiences, walking tours and even an opportunity to meet their horses, but the Historic Charleston Carriage Tour through the Holy City is at the top of our list. Relax in the back of a horse-drawn, covered carriage, and indulge in some architectural nostalgia. An expert guide narrates the one-hour trip, which traverses over 2.5 miles of antebellum mansions, churches and other memorable locations. A few of the original cobblestone streets still remain, such as Chalmers Street, and you are sure to spot Charleston’s unique charm around every corner! For prices and tour information, visit oldsouthcarriage.com.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte invites you to experience the beauty of soaring — or gliding in a plane with no engine — at Bermuda High Soaring. Talk about a Christmas gift that will delight! A Federal Aviation Administration-certified instructor, along with a powerful tow plane, will assist you in taking to the skies via a thermal (warm-rising air). They offer two different types of gliders, and you are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy post-flight in their gazebo. Visit bermudahighsoaring.com for details.
What better gift to give than a sky-high view of Nashville? Helistar Aviation offers the opportunity to give the gift of flight via their helicopter tours, and it’s a remarkable experience you won’t want to miss. With several tour options — including our favorite, the Champagne Tour — you can fly over Music City with an experienced pilot, catching a glimpse of landmarks such as Nissan Stadium and Broadway, as well as some of Nashville’s most beautiful homes. To schedule a flight, visit flyhelistar.com.
While this experience isn’t technically in Music City, it’s worth the 90-mile trip from Nashville to Pelham, TN. The “Home of the Bluegrass Underground” (it’s actually where the PBS series Bluegrass Underground is filmed), The Caverns is a modern music venue unlike any other. At the bottom of Monteagle Mountain, The Caverns offers an underground concert hall with spectacular acoustics. A unique experience, indeed! With state-of-the-art sound, lights and concessions, and a wide variety of programming, you can enjoy an entire evening of musical wonderment. Don’t forget to bring a light jacket as the cave stays a balmy and humid 59 degrees all year long. Give the gift of music this holiday season by visiting thecaverns.com for a performance schedule.
Feel like stepping outside of your comfort zone for a little heart-pounding, gravity-defying, outdoor adventure? With zip lines, Tarzan swings and various other suspension activities, Go Ape! Treetop Adventures lets you feel the exhilaration of a high ropes course amidst the beautiful, wooded scenery at Shelby Farms Park. The two- to three-hour aerial experience isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s so worth it! Each adventure begins with safety training and getting fitted for a harness. After that, it’s time to feel the wind in your hair as you climb rope ladders, teeter across wobbly bridges and even zip line over water. So, start getting up your nerve now! For more information, check out goape.com.
What better way to surprise the sports enthusiast in your life than with event tickets? In this case, Grizzlies fans are sure to be on the edge of their seats with the Six-Game Holiday Pack. As if the excitement of the games weren’t enough, every pack comes with a Grizzlies scarf to stave off the winter chill, and a gift card to Bass Pro Shops. Game on! You can find Holiday Pack information at nba.com/grizzlies.
Kayak the Mangrove Tunnels
Did you know there’s a hidden ecosystem within the Mangrove Tunnels of Sarasota, Florida? With their extensive root system and canopy of branches, the Mangrove trees protect marine life such as starfish, jellyfish, shrimp and crabs, and offer shade to a multitude of bird species. You and your loved ones can enjoy a bird’s-eye view, too! Quite a few companies offer kayak or paddleboard tours through the South Lido Beach Nature Park, including Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures. Two-hour tours are offered in the morning, afternoon and evening, and you might even spot a manatee or dolphin when you get to the open water! Learn more at kayakfl.com.
If you and your loved ones have longstanding dreams of sailing on the open water, look no further than the pristine waters of Sarasota Bay. Sara-Bay Sailing School & Charter offers lessons for the novice as well as the experienced sailor, so don’t fret if your knotting skills are sub-par, and you don’t know the difference between windward and leeward. You’ll be a pro in no time! For more information, visit sarabaysailing.com.
While our list has merely touched the surface of the fun, outside-the-box gift experience ideas you can find across the South, we hope we’ve at least given you a starting point. Moreover, we hope we’ve encouraged some additional quality time with those you love. Now, go and make some wonderful memories this holiday season and beyond!
To shop other holiday gifts to delight your family and friends, check out SB Shop by clicking here!