We’ve been bombarded with advertisements for holiday gifts since late summer—the hot toy of the season, kitchen gadgets that do only one thing, and shinier versions of last year’s electronics. The picture-perfect holiday in our minds might have a mountain of presents just waiting to be torn into, sparkling in wrapping paper and bows. But, at the risk of sounding like the Grinch trying to ruin the magic of the holidays, this commercialized ideal generates a shocking amount of waste.  

From the production of holiday gifts (many of which end up collecting dust or are quickly discarded) to shipping and delivery, the true cost of traditional gift-giving in America quickly adds up. It's challenging enough to find the perfect gift without also having to consider the environmental impact, but here a six tips plus gift ideas to help spur your creativity.

DIY gifts (or wrapping paper!)

If you have a creative streak (or small children, who can somehow turn a smudged handprint into a heartstopping piece of art), make homemade gifts or upcycle packaging you already have with some paint and imagination. 

A donation made in honor 

Support a deserving charity by making a donation in someone else’s name. Look to local philanthropies that help in our own community, especially grassroots nonprofits like, Wounded Warrior Homes and Kitchens for Good.

Gift practically

Instead of getting a trivial gift, think about what you could provide for them that would meet an expense they already have, especially for those in your life who are struggling financially. Whether it’s a CSA produce subscription, your time in babysitting services, school supplies, or a directed gift to a college fund, there are essentials that you can give to loved ones that are equally as thoughtful as gift cards or checks.

Shop secondhand

While it may not be frowned upon by etiquette guides to give a used gift, you can find unique items at thrift stores around San Diego. Find a gem, clean it up, and call it “vintage.”

Give experiences 

Non-tangible gifts can be even more meaningful than a traditional present. (See more ideas below!)

Shop local 

Shopping with San Diego businesses can help cut down on emissions from shipping products in addition to supporting local companies.

Gifts that keep on giving

Cheese Club

Venissimo’s Cheese Lovers Club is a monthly subscription that selects three wedges of curated cheeses (roughly one pound total) plus a paired accouterment and recipes. While their cheeses are curated from across the globe, they seek to source selections from cheese makers that use milk from farmers local to their area, pay their dairy hands and farmers a living wage, and/or offer their whey (a byproduct of cheese-making) to other farmers to enrich their feed for their animals.

A Butcher’s Box

Chef Brad Wise of The Wise Ox curates a monthly Ox Box with 10 pounds of vacuumed-sealed meat available for pick up on the first Thursday of the month. The beef, chicken, and pork come with accouterments and recipes to recreate his most famous dishes at home. For a one-off gift, the Butcher’s Holiday Box is wrapped up in a big red gift box and is available in limited quantities to order starting December 1 to be picked up from December 21 through December 24 at both North Park and La Costa locations.

Image: Courtesy of Trust Restaurant Group.
Floral Subscription 

Communal’s Floral Subscriptions allow you to select the frequency, size, and color palette, with pickup locations at Communal’s Oceanside and North Park. To make the pickup process more fun for your giftee, they’ll receive a free beverage when they pick up their flowers!

Botanic Garden Memberships

In addition to enjoying the year-round benefits of being a member of the beautiful San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, a membership makes an especially good holiday gift with their popular annual holiday Lightscape event—a one-mile trail of light installations merging nature with illuminated arts.

Floating California poppies at the San Diego Botanic Garden Lightscape installation. Image: Maria Hesse.

Presents to pamper

A Saturday at the Ranch

Rancho La Puerta, just across the border in Tecate, has brought back Saturday at The Ranch for a full day of food and fitness. The package includes roundtrip transportation from San Diego, breakfast and lunch, classes, access to the 4,000 private acres, and a cooking demonstration at La Cocina Que Canta on their organic farm. Gift certificates can be purchased by calling The Ranch's reservations office.

Image: Courtesy of Rancho La Puerta.
Chakra Balancing 

One of San Diego’s biggest spa makeovers of the year was the debut of Miraval Life in Balance Spa Aviara at Park Hyatt Aviara. The launch makes it the only Miraval spa outside of their destination spa resorts, bringing their total immersion approach to the day spa at Aviara. From traditional spa treatments like massage and skincare to globally inspired services like Vasudhara, Ayurveda, chakra balancing, and craniosacral, the myriad of services offer something for everyone. 

Pampering for Parents

While gifting a babysitting IOU is a great supplement to any spa experience, an even better option is a treatment where childcare is included! Lullabar in Carlsbad has a nail salon and childcare under one roof, so parents can get a pedicure in peace while little ones (ages 14 months to six years old) can explore the on-site play gym under the watchful eyes of child monitors. Gift cards are available for purchase on their website.

Gifts for Kids

Bath & Body

Carlsbad-based Tubby Todd has bath and body gift sets for designed for ages newborns to teens. The Kids Bundle is perfect for making pre-teens feel oh-so-grown-up, with great-smelling face wash, deodorant, soap, and toothpaste that are all cruelty-free and made from clean ingredients. 

Learn the Arts

For the budding artist, Monart School of Art in Liberty Station has both in-person and virtual drawing classes. A one-month package offers four 60-minute classes all based on a drawing method that teaches children how to draw realistically while keeping sessions fun and engaging. For even smaller creatives, Songbirds Music has family music classes for babies starting with newborns!

A Refreshing Clean

While gifting a stroller or car seat cleaning might not sound like the most glamorous gift, it is a fantastic present for young families. BabyQuip works with about a dozen local cleaners around San Diego so you can pick a provider close to you and your gift recipient for the drop-off. 

Give a cup of cheer

Batch Cocktails

Pre-batched cocktails have been rising in popularity in recent years and now San Diego has Freitag Cocktails, distilled locally at Kettner Distillery in Mira Mesa. The Trio gift set offers one gin cocktail (Negroni), one tequila cocktail (Margarita), and one whiskey cocktail (Manhattan) in a ready-to-go bar cart. 

Tea Time

At Point Loma Tea you can either gift a signature loose-leaf herbal tea or a Tea Tasting that offers an hour and a half journey across four teas. 


Bambucha Kombucha is brewed in San Diego with hard and non-alcoholic offerings. The n/a Thai Ginger is perfect for chillier winter months and offers a festive sip for those who avoid alcohol.

Image: Courtesy of Bambucha Kombucha.
Natural Wine

Pali Wine Co. is a Central Coast winery with an outpost in San Diego’s Little Italy that showcases natural wines through its Neighborhood Winery brand. Gift a bottle of Harvest Moon, a young wine blend of estate-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for a zippy low-intervention white that is a perfect start any evening. For a red lover, the 2022 Cabernet Pfeffer ‘Enz Vineyard’ is a dry-farmed wine showcasing the rare Cabernet Pfeffer grape, under Pali's Tower 15 label.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pali Wine Co.

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About the Contributor
Michelle Stansbury
Michelle Stansbury is a food enthusiast and the founder of Eat, Drink, Be SD, sharing the best restaurants, bars, and happenings in San Diego. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.