Skip to content Skip to footer

15 Things That Aren’t Things: A St. Louis Experiential Gift Guide

Why St. Louis Experiential Gifts?

You know, for once was thinking I was kind of unique, or at least somewhat ahead of the curve. For a few years now I have been slowly divesting myself of my worldly goods. Not all of them, in a monastical fashion, but just the (many, many) extras—things I had collected over a lifetime that no longer served me. No doubt tipped over that ephemeral point by the work of Marie Kondo (whose much-lauded book I must admit to never having read) the world that I encounter seems to be in a decisive “purge” phase. Much of this may be attributed to an (entirely natural and good) internal rebuke of Trumpian ostentation. Honestly – who wants anything when you see what the love of things has done to us? No wonder much of the world I see has made a hard left turn toward minimalism*.

So anyway, I thought I was at least on the forefront when I told my mom we shouldn’t exchange physical gifts this year. (Triggered by my finding in the basement a bag of all the trinkets she gave me last year, unused.)

I prefer to spend my money and my time on experiences with people I enjoy, not on more things to sit around. But while I was busy patting myself on the back for being so unique, I saw just about one million think pieces espousing the exact same concept, and realized that I was caught sort of mid-wave, not really out there leading the pack as I had thought. Ah well. It’s OK to be in the middle of the herd for this particular movement.

So we want less stuff, more doing stuff – but how can we give this a uniquely St. Louis twist? How can we support our local small businesses AND reduce the amount of useless trinkets we give and receive?

To find out, I reached out to my social media hive mind and I discovered many great ideas for things you can give that are not things. The best part is that most of these are also fantastic last-minute gifts, since you don’t have to deliver/wrap them. Eco-friendly AND can cover your butt if you forgot someone or were surprised by an unexpected gift, yourself!

Some of these experiences are long-time favorites of mine, and some were brand new to me and now I really want to try them! Hopefully this list will inspire you to find other things around you that aren’t things to share with your family, co-workers and friends.

Happy giving—and experiencing—this year!

Memberships (to give or to request!)

Missouri Botanical Garden

One of the best thingsI gift myself each year is an annual membership to the Missouri Botanical Garden. This membership (various levels, starting at $50) gets you free access to the garden, plus the Butterfly House and the Shaw Nature Reserve every day, and either free or discounted entry for special events. Those are the well-known benefits, but one of the lesser-known is that the Garden has reciprocal memberships with many other American botanical gardens, so I have gotten free entry to gardens in other cities. Membership also gets you an extra 15% off items in the MOBOT gift shop as well as access to special members-only events and classes (the annual Friday-evening opening of the Orchid Show is worth the membership cost all by itself IMHO).

The temperate house at MOBOT offers a lush respite from St. Louis weather, even in January.

The garden is a magical wonderland in the spring and summer, of course, but the true benefit comes in the cold gray winter months when you can pop in and have a wander through the Temperate House. Linnean House, or Climatron, and forget your chilly Midwestern misery for an hour or two. So, do you know someone with a little SAD who could benefit? Give them the gift of a promise of warmth in February, they will love you for it. Membership to MOBOT starting at $50

St. Louis Art Museum

How I actually feel in winter.

This year I also purchased a membership to the St. Louis Art Museum, whose benefits include free admission to exhibitions, discounted parking in the parking garage, members-only exhibition previews and special events, a 10% discount in the SLAM gift shop and restaurant,  as well as advance notification and discounts on Museum classes, workshops, and education programs. Admittedly I haven’t used this nearly as much as I use my MOBOT membership, but starting at $65 it’s still a good deal if you even go to one ticketed event per year with a guest. Also, this one feels nice and swanky for some reason. “Yessss dahling, I am a card carrying patron of the arts.” Also a great gift for students. Membership to SLAM starting at $65

Personal Experiences

FLOAT STL offers 60 or 90 minute salt-tank floating experiences in Midtown and Maryland Heights. (You may have heard these previously referred to as “sensory deprivation” tanks.) Floating cocoons you in a buoyant, near body-temperature Epsom salt bath in complete darkness. Outside thoughts and cares literally float away as you spend an hour or an hour and a half focused only on yourself and your internal thoughts. (Admittedly this may not sound relaxing to some!) I’ve floated twice, and enjoyed the experience (I did like the pods better than the rooms, for a few reasons.) You can read about my first experiences floating and some tips and tricks, here. If you know of someone who is stressed out and looking for a new/unique way to relax, have them check out floating! Give the gift of relaxation, starting at $50

We all float in here.

PURSWEAT Infrared Spa Services in Kirkwood offers 40 minute private sauna sessions, which they claim “stimulates the cardiovascular, lymphatic and immune systems….producing a deep, therapeutic perspiration to release toxins, burn calories, and relax muscles.” I haven’t personally tried that, but it sounds good to me! They’re offering a deal at the moment where you give a gift/get a gift, so buying a $50 gift card nets you a free session. Check it out at

Behind the Scenes Tours at the St. Louis Zoo  – Ever wanted to meet a penguin, up close and personal? Well, the St. Louis Zoo offers you that chance with their special BTS tours! You can meet and learn more about lemurs, sloths, penguins or a host of other zoo residents with these keeper-led personalized experiences. Tours must be scheduled three weeks in advance. Various tours range from $25-$100 per person, depending on the area toured more information here.

Winter – time to cuddle up with your loved ones.

Victorian Seances On LocationDr. Judas Lynch and Ms. Magnolia Strange offer private seance parties in their vardo (a traditional Romani wagon) which can be brought to any location. These personalized mystical experiences are $200 for a 3-hour event, which consists of a theatrical seance as well as personalized readings and a small gift for each participant. Seances can be performed for parties from 4-14 participants. Contact Judas and Magnolia for more information and to schedule.

Photo courtesy Judas and Magnolia

Halotherapy at St. Louis Salt Room – Halotherapy is a quasi-medical, spa-type treatment which claims various health benefits. Participants sit in a room made of salt slabs and breathe warm, humidified air which contains salt particles. It’s purported to have a host of medical benefits, however hard science is still out on whether it actually works. But sitting in a dimly lit, warm room for 45 minutes breathing in salt air while you’re pretending you’re at the beach doesn’t sound bad to me. Kind of like the benefits of floating, without having to wash all the epson salt from your hair. Very curious about this one. $35 and up. Gift Certificates available here.

Stock photo of salt room therapy – looks pretty glam TBH

Walking Tours of St. Louis – How about scheduling a family (or friend group!) walking tour of the city? St. Louis Walking Tours offers individual and groups tours from 1-30 persons, (and they also offer coach tours for those who can’t do the walking tour.) Tours cover various topics including French &  Spanish Colonial Saint Louis, Lewis & Clark In-and-Around St. Louis, Civil War St. Louis, the Great Cyclone of 1896, Downtown Renaissance, Haunting St. Louis and Great Tastes of St. Louis. Tours are available from March-December, weather permitting.

Learn more about the history of STL with walking tours.


Learn to Reuse and Recycle – Perennial is a local 501c3 that “…is dedicated to creative reuse—the process of artistically transforming discarded goods into objects of worth” They offer classes on everything from sewing and woodworking basics to creative re-use of found object for jewlery and re-usable wrapping paper. Class prices can range from $5 up, and memberships to Perennial are also available. I’ve taken a class there on making new jewelry from existing pieces you don’t wear anymore, and it was a delight. Find out more.

Dodgy cell phone photo of lovely up-cycled jewelry I made at Perennial in 2013

City Sewing Room offers sewing and craft classes, as well as drop-in crafting time at their Arsenal location. Classes begin at $25 per person and cover a variety of topics. Perfect for individuals or groups!

Food Prep Classes at Kitchen Conservatory – The Kitchen Conservatory offers a variety of cooking classes for everyone from complete newbies to experienced chefs. Learn more about fermented foods, cooking for pets, steak and lobster, vegan meals and more. $45 per person and up – Gift Certificates available.

Chef Robin Wheeler likes big knives and she cannot lie. She’ll also come to your home and give you personal cooking lessons!

Personalized Cooking Classes – Chef Robin Wheeler of Subterranean Homemade Foods can create customized in-home cooking classes, either one-on-one or with a group. Contact her at

Bellydance Bootcamps – Know someone who’s curious about bellydance? Ami Amore of Exotic Rhythms Bellydance offers semi-monthly bootcamp classes at her Cherokee Street loft to teach newbies the basics of the bellydance. $25 Learn more here.


Personal Styling – Need a little bit of help in the styling department, or know someone who does? How about gifting (or requesting) a personal shopping session with Sarah Banks? A variety of personalized shopping services are available for the person who wants help with a specific need (bathing suits!) to the person who needs a complete wardrobe overhaul. $49-$150. Learn more at Sarah Banks Styling on Facebook.

For Aspiring Authors – “Personal and Executive Assistant services for authors, book reviews, and book tours.” Thorns and Ink is a local service that will guide you through the publishing process, offering everything from editing, beta reading and fact-checking to cover art consultations and social media takeovers to help you promote your work. Do you know an aspiring author who just needs a little nudge to take their project from a dream to reality? This would be an excellent service to gift them!

What did I Miss?

So what about you? Are you giving and requesting fewer “things” gifts this year? Does the idea of more shared experiences and fewer knick-knacks appeal to you? Are there other essential St. Louis experiences that you know of? Leave them in the comments below!

Shameless Self-Promotion

Oh, my heart. I love these two. Know anyone else who is nuts about their pets? Custom pet sessions are a perfect gift!

I probably would be a really bad small business owner if I didn’t point out that I also offer gift certificates for both pet and person photography at Ooh St. Lou Studios. Headshot services starting at $149, pet sessions (which include physical products) start at $350. Email for more information.

Also: Follow me on YouTube and Instagram!

*Yes I know there’s a longer conversation to be had about the privilege of deliberately owning less, and the politics of not being afraid of scarcity. It’s an interesting conversation, but not one I had time for here.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.