All year long we focus on the best objective items—the practical and proven and most logical pieces of gear. The holidays give us a chance to think about the whimsical, magical, memorable, endearing and extraneous things we can’t help but want and want to give.
Wrapping paper – starting at $2.50
The right wrapping paper is what takes a gift from good to great. If you’re looking for something unusual (and reusable), these fabric wraps can’t be beat. If you prefer a more explicit holiday theme, try these patterns with elves, sleds or abstract shapes. (If you prefer something in holiday colors that you can use through the rest of the year, try this cool red and white paper, an ikat pattern or a zebra print.) For more of a glitzy Gatsby vibe, try silver stripes or something gold: an Art Deco-inspired pattern, embossed paper or patterns that are more subtle. Finally, for pretty patterns that pull from the rest of the color spectrum, try one of these cool florals.
Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share
When I was a kid, my dad and I would usher in the science fair season by dusting off the World Book encyclopedias and finding a project. (Somehow they always seemed to involve dish detergent.) I wish we’d had this book, which is filled with cool ideas for DIY experiments, projects and crafts.
Swedish Cakes and Cookies
This is a Swedish classic. In its native language it’s called Sju sorters kakor, which means ‘7 kinds of cookies.’ That’s how many cookies you’re supposed to put out when you invite someone over for fika (coffee break). First published in 1945, every Swede has a floury, butter thumbprinted copy. (The publisher claims that one copy has been sold for every Swede.) The book is slim but dense, and the recipes are really accessible. Aside from the cookies, there are lots of recipes for bullar (sweet buns) which the Swedes (and I) can eat by the kilo. It’s a great gift for the Scandophile or the cook who has everything (but probably not this).
Most people have that self-designated house party bartending friend, and it’s time to upgrade their gear. The simplest additions are the $14.10 Oggi Marilyn Tall and Slim Cocktail Shaker and the $14.53 Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer. The press-style juicer provides the best tasting lemon and lime juice, and the cobbler-style shaker comes apart easily without leaking—which means more drinks for you.
Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe
This collection of infographics by Tim Leong (the former digital director at WIRED) is witty and insightful enough to impress the dorkiest comics fan. But even for people who can’t nod along knowingly with the Chris Ware Sadness Scale, this book is beautiful enough that anyone can appreciate it.
Modern art cookbook
There’s a certain type of person (and I’m one of them) that actually enjoys the challenge of a psychotic baking project. This amazing cookbook, which was written by the pastry chef at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is packed with such undertakings. The cover cake alone could take anywhere from a full day to a holiday weekend.
The Flower Recipe Book
For anyone who’s ever come home with a fancy bouquet only to find that it looks weird in the vase, this floral “cookbook” is a step-by-step guide for building better arrangements.
The Wes Anderson Collection
As the name implies, this book is a collection of interviews and essays about Wes Anderson films, along with behind-the-scenes photography and art. Buy the hardcover version for the Anderson fan in your life, because the Kindle version ruins the spreads. Hey, did you guys know that Mr. Fox was played by a puppet, not an actual fox? Crazy, right?
Do men oil their beards? You learn something new every day. According to its intensely butch description on the website, Burroughs beard oil has notes of a “dusty carpenter’s workshop” and the “deep leathered richness of a cobbler’s apron.” Probably beards should smell like those things, plus the packaging is really superb.
Cool Tools book
This beautiful, thick coffee table book is filled with the best 1,500 user-submitted reviews from legendary gear site Cool Tools over the last few years. Unlike BeastsLive, which focuses deeply on common tools, Cool Tools heads off in several and seemingly all directions, providing recommendations for tools you might not have even realized you needed.
The Monocle Guide to Better Living
From the inside flap on Monocle magazine’s Guide to Better Living: “For its first-ever book, the editorial team looks at one of their core themes: how to live well. The result is The Monocle Guide to Better Living, an original, informative, and entertaining collection of writing, reports, and recommendations.”
A slow cooker is a great present for anyone who works all day and doesn’t have the energy to cook a big meal at night. It’s the kind of thing that a lot of cooks won’t get for themselves but will use if they have it. Most recipes can be boiled down to meat + veggies + spices + liquid—easy enough to throw together in the morning and leave simmering all day, ready for dinner at night. What better gift than the gift of time?
Luxury hair oil
Rodin’s fancy hair oil, a cult classic, smells amazing and helps tame psycho winter hat-head without weighing down hair or leaving a gross product film. Designed by the style icon Linda Rodin, the pristine packaging is as much part of the price tag as the product itself–the kind of extravagance that’s hard to justify buying for yourself, but is much appreciated in a present.
These compact urban gardening kits by EarthBox can transform a tiny balcony or porch into a nice spot for organic produce. Hippie magic!
Everyone has a friend who loves music but listens to it on inadequate audio gear. Headphones are lonely and speakers in every room are impractical for most. This Bluetooth speaker is the best of its kind, plus it’s loud enough enough for two to dance to, despite its being the size of a fist.
Kindle Paperwhite E-book reader
A Kindle is a great gift for frequent travelers who always stuff their carry-on with books, or for heavy readers who don’t have much library space left—people who haven’t given up on pulp but would appreciate a jumpstart into e-books. It also makes reading accessible for gadget-oriented teens who have a little trouble dredging up the desire to switch from Tinder and Snapchat to reading.
Affordable night vision monocle
I don’t know anything about night vision monocles, but this first-generation model has 5x zoom. At $199.99 making it the most highly-rated model under $200. But, obviously, some Vietnam vet in the comments likes to remind the rest of us that it’s not ideal for battle and more for watching deer in a backyard at night. *shrugs/buys it anyway*
Splurges (over $200)
Lego Architecture Studio
The sheer scope of this monochromatic set, which contains more than 1,200 pieces, is in itself inspiring. But if that’s not enough, it also comes with an epic booklet on architectural styles and building tips.
The best binoculars
For a little more than you’d spend on a cheap seven-inch tablet, you could get someone you love these binoculars with far higher resolution.
The good knife set
New cooks sometimes make the mistake of not treating themselves to decent knives. Come to their aid with this kit, which is a good set for most
The RX100 Mark 2 is the ideal gift for most people trying to buy a great camera for someone they love. Great enough to be a serious photographer’s sidekick secondary or a serious step up for someone used to a camera phone, it’s the only camera we can picture being right for almost anyone. For an inexpensive alternative, try an Instax Mini50 camera, which is the best of its kind and only $99.95.
Give these metal straws to friends who love making homemade smoothies, juices and milkshakes and save them from single-use plastic versions. Pair them with this clever brush for easy cleaning.
The charming little Project Partner Hands-Free Magnifier sharpens your view and provides an extra set of hands.
Give friends who love seafood an oyster knife so they can have it at home. It doesn’t look like anything special, but Amazon users and Cook’s Illustrated rated this Dexter-Russel oyster knife highly thanks to its wooden handle and sturdy but blunted blade. Instead of opening an oyster with a steel chain link glove, place an oyster in a kitchen towel on a steady countertop and pry it open from the hinge. (Here’s an America’s Test Kitchen how-to video.)
Yves Saint Laurent coloring book
While going through some old family records, my mom found a document that listed my dream occupations as “fashion designer” or “working with dolphins or cats.” (Cats?) I’m not sure where it all went wrong, but I do know I would have enjoyed the YSL: Prêt-à-Porter: Coloring, Activity, and Inspiration Book way back then—or even now.
100x pocket microscope (with iPhone adapter)
Give your friends the ability to see the invisible things all around them. This pocket microscope has 100x magnification, LED lighting and an iPhone adapter in the box. Alternatively, this Check on Amazon USB microscope works with a computer.
Swiss Army Knife
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Last minute additions
While not as wonderful as an actual massage, this Theracane massager allows whoever receives it to hit up knots on in places previously unreachable on their neck and back. The first time they use it, it’s almost guaranteed to send chills down, well, their spine.
Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air
A 300-page book filled with tree houses by Taschen.