60 Thoughtful Midwest Experiences to Gift This Holiday Season

Think outside the gift box with baking classes, exclusive tours, overnight stays and so much more.

A pedal-powered car crosses a high bridge over a forested valley.

Hone a new skill, overnight in an exciting place, support small businesses—and have memories to look forward to in 2024. We've rounded up five experiential gifts per state to give now and enjoy in the months to come.


Alpine coaster slide at Aerie's Resort Illinois
Andrei Carmody, Marketing Manager at Aerie's Resort

Family Fun at Aerie's Resort, Grafton

Twist and turn your way down nearly 4,000 feet of track on Aerie's Alpine Coaster, open year-round. Depending on the season, you can make it a whole family fun day: Book additional tickets for the SkyTour gondola and the Zipline Canopy Tour.

People walking with goats in the woods Galena Illinois
Courtesy of Galena Country Tourism

Goat Hike with Hoofin' It, Galena

This may be the GOAT goat hike—a joyful jaunt through woods and prairie in the company of a herd of adorable goats just waiting to be hand-fed treats. The 1.25-mile trail suits all ages and abilities.

Loom weaving class in Chicago
Natalie Boyett

Loom Weaving Class at Chicago Weaving School, Chicago

Don't let holiday gifting loom over you—a class at the Chicago Weaving School is perfect for the creative crowd. Ease in with a two-hour beginners' loom weaving class or commit to a multi-week project course. The school also offers basket weaving.

Colorful tasting dinner at Esme
Emma McGregor

Tasting Menu Dinner at Esmé, Chicago

The ultimate gift for food lovers is a meal at Michelin-starred Esmé restaurant. Each iteration of the chef's tasting menu is inspired by an artist. The plates, decor and art on the walls also change out with each theme, forging a multi-sensory and playful dining experience you'll never forget. Go even bigger and purchase the Esmé Elite Dining Pass, which allows the diner to try all 3 of the year's menus at a discounted rate.

Woman walking through pink room at WNDR Museum
Kristen Miccoli

Tickets to WNDR Museum, Chicago

Be immersed in contemporary art at WNDR Museum, where digital projections, interactive experiences and installations from acclaimed artists like Yayoi Kusama and Keith Haring come together under one roof.


Bouldering class in Indianapolis
Courtesy of Keep Indy Indie

Class at North Mass Bouldering, Indianapolis

Know someone who wants to perfect their climbing and bouldering skills? Classes at North Mass Bouldering teach climbers how to follow color-coordinated routes to make their way up the steep incline. After class, refuel with healthy bites, like fruit smoothies and acai bowls, at the site's Top Out cafe.

T.C. Steele home in Brown County Indiana
Amy Payne

Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Membership, Statewide

The gift that keeps on giving is a membership to the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. A year's membership includes free unlimited admission to 12 sites within Indiana (including T.C. Steele's home in Brown County, pictured above), as well as 1,300 nationwide as part of a reciprocal benefit.

Racing car on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Courtesy of Visit Indy

Indy Racing Experience Program, Indianapolis

Buckle up: Those with a need for speed can do a couple of laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a real IndyCar at race-type speeds up to 180 MPH (don't worry, a pro drives). For a slower pace, the speedway also offers a narrated bus tour.

aerial view of notre dame stadium

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

North Tunnel Experience at Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame

If you've got a Fighting Irish fan in the fam, surprise them with the North Tunnel Experience. They'll get to visit the team locker room, step into the North End Zone and other fun photo opps. Tickets go on sale the week of the experience and do sell out, so mark your calendar for your preferred date now.

People enjoying a cruise on a tiki-themed boat
Courtesy of Hard Truth Distilling Co.

Tiki Cruise at Hard Truth Distilling, Nashville

A tiki cruise in the middle of rural Indiana? Yep. Board Hard Truth Distillery's floating tiki bar and enjoy a piña colada while drifting on a serene lake. The tour is offered spring through fall, but if you can't wait that long the Brown County distillery offers other specialty tours year-round.


Women hiking with lake in background
Kerri Sorrell

Adventure with Wander Women, Des Moines

Day hike—or days-long camping trip? The choice is yours with Wander Women, a super inclusive and fun-loving outdoors group based in Des Moines that hosts short outings in parks around central Iowa, informative classes, and backpacking, camping, and paddling trips around the Midwest. (Bonus: Some of their hikes, dubbed "pikes," include sweets provided from PieBird Pies.)

Chef dinner food
Joie Probst

Chef Dinner at Iowa Culinary Institute, Ankeny

When you book a dinner at the Iowa Culinary Institute, you're not just treating a loved one to a fab meal, but also helping to support the state's best culinary school. Choose between Gourmet Dinners (run by students) or the ICI Dinner Series (helmed by trained chefs).

People watching a movie in an outdoor setting
FilmScene / David Greedy

Membership to FilmScene, Iowa City

Movie buffs will love a membership to FilmScene, an indie theater in the heart of Iowa City. Individual or household memberships give a $5 discount on regular admission, $1 off concessions and discounts on merchandise.

People in a pedal car going across a bridge with woods in the background
Courtesy of Rail Explorers USA

Rail Explorers Tour, Boone

Hop aboard a motor-powered rail bike for a 12.5-mile round trip tour along the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad. The highlight? Zipping across the 156-foot-high Bass Point Creek High Trestle Bridge.

Interior of ornate theater with a storyteller on stage
Zach Boyden-Holmes, Des Moines Register

Tickets to Des Moines Storytellers Project, Des Moines

Give the gift of spoken word—and heartwarming stories. Each year, the Des Moines Register hosts three Storytellers Project events at Hoyt Sherman Place theater, where guest speakers tell a true first-person story based on a predetermined theme. They can be funny, emotional or inspiring—and sometimes all three!


Goat yoga at Providence Hill Farm
Christy Harris

Class at Providence Hill Farm, Atchison

Goat hikes and farm yoga aren't the only draws at Providence Hill Farm. Let the experts teach you the art of making natural soap, cheeses, candles, breads and more during farmstead classes and workshops, available year-round.

Indoor skydivers at iFly
Courtesy of iFLY

Indoor Skydiving at iFLY, Kansas City

​​Learn to fly—or at least feel like you are—at iFLY. The indoor skydiving park gives the sensation of free fall, without having to jump. You simply lean into a tunnel of wind and take off. Two flights come standard, but most people opt for the 4-flight option.

person on walking art tour in Kansas City of a mural on side of building

Courtesy of Urban Hikes KC

Strawberry Hill and Downtown KCK Urban Hike, Kansas City

There's always more to be discovered, even in your own city. Book the 4.5-mile hike through Strawberry Hill and downtown KCK through Urban Hikes KC to hear intriguing stories and see new parts of this eclectic neighborhood.

three children holding penguin

Courtesy of Chelsey Schartz

Penguin Swim at Tanganyika Wildlife Park, Goddard

Unlike most penguins, the African species here don't mind warm temperatures, so you can share their pool without freezing your tail off. A trainer guides the swims, which are open to adults and kids as young as eight.

Outdoor symphony in the Flint Hills of Kansas
Courtesy of Kansas Byways Photography

Symphony in the Flint Hills, Location Varies

This unforgettable experience entails sitting on the prairie with 7,000 people and listening to the Kansas City Symphony play, all while eating barbecue sandwiches and drinking wine as the sun sets. Join for the programming before and after the concert, including stargazing, folk music, nature presentations and more. It makes for a full and soulful day.


glass blowing class

Courtesy of Water Street Glassworks

Glassblowing Class at Water Street Glassworks, Benton Harbor

Step into the hot shop to try ancient techniques like hot glassworking, flameworking, and fusing to craft artistic ornaments, jewelry, and home decor. No experience necessary, and all supplies, tools, and safety equipment are provided.

Wooded house outside Traverse City
Sam Kelly

Stay at KOTI, Traverse City

An escape to Traverse City is always a welcome gift, and these sleek new Scandinavian cabins offer a wooded retreat within biking distance of downtown via the TART Trail.

antique black and red car used for tours

Courtesy of Antique Touring Company

Tour in an Antique Model A with Antique Touring Company, Detroit

Jump into an antique Ford Model A for a ride through the Motor City. Choose from Jupe, Jack or Josie, all manufactured between 1929-1931. The driver will regale you with stories of Detroit's automobile history over the three-hour tour.

Cross-country skiing on a path between tall evergreens
Bridget Beckwith, Current Consulting

Winter Adventure with Crystal River Outfitters Recreational District, Glen Arbor

Bundle up for a snowy adventure with Crystal River Outfitters, near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Strap on snowshoes or rent a fat tire bike, and pair the whole experience with a wine tasting in one of Crystal River's cozy igloos.

Performer on stage at Hiawatha Music Festival
Nate Bett

Tickets to Hiawatha Annual Traditional Music Festival, Marquette

If you know a fan of traditional music (think Bluegrass, Zydeco, Celtic), then they may already have this annual music festival on their bucket list. Happening for the 44th year in July, the festival is well-timed for a summer vacation on Michigan's UP.


Craft class
Courtesy of Knit & Bolt

Craft Class at Knit & Bolt, Minneapolis

Quilting, knitting, crocheting: Gift a new skill set to a crafty friend. This fabric and yarn shop's mission is to serve and grow the local maker community. In addition to classes, they also offer handy "Help!" cards that buy you five drop-in, 15-minute sessions for when you have questions on a project.

Indoor spa with multicolored walls
Graham Talbert

Day Pass to Watershed Spa, Minneapolis

The peaceful bathhouse at Watershed Spa is a welcome escape for city dwellers. A celestial bathing room welcomes all genders to dip in warm and cold pools, as well as utilize the steam room and sauna. Spa services can be added on but a $54 pass gives you access to the baths for 3 hours.

Campers outside a yellow building at Concordia Language Villages
Courtesy of Concordia Language Villages

Language Immersion Weekend at Concordia Language Villages, Bemidji

Make learning a new language fun with a weekend or week at Concordia Language Villages. Campers stay in one of 15 themed villages, where they are immersed in the language and culture of their choosing. Courses are offered for adults, kids and families.

Tasting at Vikre Distillery
Courtesy of Vikre Distillery

Private Tasting Experience at Vikre Distillery, Duluth

Instead of exchanging physical gifts with the friend group, gather everyone for a private tasting at Vikre Distillery. For $45/person and up to 12 people, a bartender will guide your group through a flagship tasting, craft a cocktail of your choosing, and send you home with a souvenir rocks glass.

Interior of living room at Ski Hill Cabins
Patrick Kindler

Stay at Ski Hill Cabins & Saunas, Lutsen

Ski bums now have a new place to kick off their boots. The gorgeous Ski Hill Cabins, which opened in late 2023, all include private saunas and sleep 8-10 people, making this perfect for a friend group or family gift. Plus, the cabins are within walking distance to Lutsen Mountains ski resort.


Paddlers on Mississippi River near St. Louis Gateway Arch
Courtesy of Big Muddy Adventures

Paddle Trip with Big Muddy Adventures, St. Louis

Hop in a Voyageur-style canoe and paddle down the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers. Big Muddy offers half-day trips, full-moon floats and overnight options for the true adventurers.

The Elms Hotel & Spa
Courtesy of The Elms Hotel & Spa

Spa Weekend at The Elms Hotel and Spa, Excelsior Springs

Pamper a pal at The Elms' luxe spa. President Harry S. Truman's favorite treatments famously included a salt rub and massage. Today, guests will find an extensive menu of wellness offerings—including The Grotto, a Roman baths experience.

Ozarker lodge with vintage station wagon out front
Courtesy of The Ozarker Lodge

Stay at The Ozarker Lodge, Branson

Upgrade a vacation to Branson with a stay at the new Ozarker Lodge. The boutique hotel, the only one in the area, leans into vintage nostalgia of family road trips—and it's a great place to make some new memories with your loved ones!

City SC soccer game, St. Louis

Courtesy of St. Louis City SC

Tickets to a City SC soccer game, St. Louis

Soccer is sweeping the nation, and St. Louis' new team plays in a baller new stadium (with some great food options). Gift the futbol fan in your life tickets to an upcoming game—or better yet, season tix!

Woman in gardens at Finley Farms
Starboard and Port

Workshop/Overnight at Finley Farms, Ozark

Give the gift of a fun day out at Finley Farms. This rapidly growing property includes a farm, a historic mill, two restaurants, a coffee shop and plenty of activities. Book a crafting or cocktail-making class and stay for dinner and cocktails at The Garrison.


Golf course in the rolling landscape of Nebraska
Landmand Golf Club. Andrew Geisler

Golf Outing (Wild Horse, Prairie Club, Landmand)

Tee off a great gift with a round of 18 at a Nebraska golf course. The inspiring landscape of the Sandhills in north-central Nebraska is home to several great golf courses, including Prairie Club and Wild Horse. For those on the east side of the state, new course Landmand honors the area's farming heritage.

Workshop at Nodest Plants
Bee Poblete

Plant Class at Nodest Plants, Omaha

Here's one for the plant parents: Sign up for a workshop with Nodest Home Plants and learn to create your own terrarium, succulent bowl or kokedama (Japanese moss ball). While you're there, you can also repot some plants at the soil bar or pick up a new one to take home.

Inside the interactive science museum Kiewit Luminarium
Photography by Dan Schwalm © 2023 HDR

Tickets to Kiewit Luminarium, Omaha

Light up someone's day with tickets to the new Kiewit Luminarium, an interactive museum that explores the intersection of science, art and human perception. If you go over the holidays, you'll get to experience special exhibition GLOW, which is all about light.

Tree Rush Adventures, Bellevue, Nebraska
Courtesy of Tree Rush Adventures

TreeRush Adventures Course in Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue

Just 10 minutes from downtown Omaha, families can climb, zip and soar through Fontenelle Forest's thrilling aerial course, TreeRush adventures. Courses range in difficulty from beginner to expert, and there is even a kid course for those age 4-6.

Safari Park Ashland Nebraska
Courtesy of Nebraska Tourism

Wildlife Safari Park, Ashland

You don't have to travel across the oceans for close encounters with exotic species. Book a backstage experience at Wildlife Safari Park to learn more about the safari park's cheetah and tiger conservation and breeding efforts.

North Dakota

Baking class at Sonder Bakehouse
Gabriel & Carissa Photography

Macaron Class at Sonder Bakehouse, Fargo

Sonder Bakehouse is known for its colorful French macarons, and you can learn the secrets to making them in a 3-hour hands-on class. Choose from 8 flavors, including Salted Caramel and Fruity Pebbles.

Bikers along Maah Daah Hey Trail
Ryan Donnell

Mountain Biking Tour with Dakota Cyclery, Medora

Dakota Cyclery leads mountain biking tours for all abilities on North Dakota's famous Maah Daah Hey Trail. Tours include bikes and all the basic equipment you might need. Bonus: The company is woman-owned!

Detail of stained glass making
Margie Bolton

Stained Glass Class at Margie's Art & Glass Studio, Minot

Create colorful works of glass art inside Margie's, which has been open in Minot since 2004. Even beginners can sign up for her stained glass classes, where you can make a large colorful mandala or a selection of tiny birds.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation passport
Courtesy of North Dakota Parks & Recreation

State Park Pass + North Dakota Parks & Rec Passport, Statewide

Pair a State Parks pass (which grants admission to 13 parks plus Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, being developed into the 14th state park) with a passport package. The passport provides a snippet of history about the parks, as well as 19 state historic sites and several museums, and comes with a daypack that doubles as an eco-friendly gift bag. Make sure to get your passport stamped at each park you visit.

Interior of Jasper Hotel
Courtesy of Jasper Hotel

Stay at Jasper Hotel, Fargo

Fargo is quietly becoming one of the coolest little cities in the region. Gift a stay at the Jasper Hotel—and dinner at on-site Rosewild—to those who love discovering under-the-radar hot spots. If you book in the winter, the hotel is offering guided sauna sessions at scheduled times each month.


Restaurant tour with Columbus Food Adventures
Mike Beaumont

Columbus Food Adventures, Columbus

Discover the delicious diversity of the city's food scene at well-known gourmet spots and hidden gems with Columbus Food Adventures. Walk a neighborhood (like Dublin or German Village) or ride a van to taco trucks and meat lover's meccas. There are even adults-only beverage tours.

Fireworks at Kings Island amusement park
Courtesy of Kings Island

Season Pass to Kings Island, Mason

Adrenaline junkies can keep their heartbeat up all season long with a pass to this popular amusement park. The Silver pass includes unlimited summer visits, but if you upgrade to the Gold pass, you'll also get unlimited Winterfest visits.

Bungalow with waterfall
Bungalows at The Cliffs at Hocking Hills. Levi Kelly

Stay at The Cliffs, Hocking Hills

Surprise the family with an Insta-worthy getaway to The Cliffs, located in the woods of Ohio's Hocking Hills. Two-bedroom bungalows have access to a gorgeous recreational pond with a waterfall flowing into it. Large groups can book Cantwell Lodge, which sleeps 18.

Interior of retro hotel room
Schitt’s Creek Apartment. Hailey Bollinger

Stay in a Sitcom-Themed Suite with Retro Retreats, Cincinnati

Check into the Rosebud Motel—or at least feel like you are. Retro Retreats in Cincinnati has four themed suites recreating iconic rooms and apartments from some of your favorite sitcoms, like Schitt's Creek and Golden Girls. The Creek Suite even includes Moira's wig wall.

Cleveland skyline with NCAA trophy in foreground
Billy Delfs

Tickets to the NCAA Women's Final Four, Cleveland

Cleveland will play host to the NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Final Four April 5-7, 2024, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Tickets to the big event would be a fun gift for the sports fan.

South Dakota

Cooking class at Plum's
Courtesy of Plum's Cooking Company

Cooking Class at Plum's Cooking Company, Sioux Falls

Classes are held multiple nights a week at this Sioux Falls kitchen supply store and cooking school. Originally opened in 1986, Plum's teaches students how to bake for the holidays, pair wines, "Cook Like Julia" and more.

Hot air balloon above the Black Hills of South Dakota
Ackerman + Gruber

Hot Air Balloon Ride with Black Hills Balloons

A sunrise hot air balloon flight from Black Hills Balloons in Custer has been a bucket list item for many since the business was established in 1984. The typical season is May through October, but they also offer winter flights by appointment, floating over the magical snow-coated Black Hills.

Snowshoe class at Four Winds
Dawne Olson

Make Your Own Snowshoes at Four Winds Boat Shop and Woodcraft, Vermillion

Everyone could use a good pair of snowshoes. One that you make yourself? Even cooler. Sign up a snow-lover for a four-day workshop where they'll get to craft their own pair of wooden snowshoes—both a keepsake and a functional gift.

Rock climbers in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Courtesy of Sylvan Rocks Climbing

Rock Climbing Adventure with Sylvan Rocks, Custer

Know someone who's been wanting to climb the iconic spire rock formations of the Black Hills? Sign them up for a rock climbing excursion with Sylvan Rocks. And you can rest assured about the gift—they're the longest-running operator in the region, and they're accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association.

Bathers in hot springs at Moccasin Springs
Ackerman + Gruber

Spa Day at Moccasin Springs, Hot Springs

Native Americans have long known the medicinal powers of these springs, and today, you can give the gift of restorative waters with a day pass to Moccasin Springs in Hot Springs. Soak in six springs ranging in temperature from 80-105 degrees.


Cheese class at Fromagination
Courtesy of Fromagination

Cheese Class at Fromagination, Madison

Increase your knowledge of cheese or learn how to craft an expert board with a class at Fromagination, a popular Madison cheese shop. There are typically two classes a month, covering a variety of topics.

Kayakers in Milwaukee
Kevin J. Miyazaki

Kayak Tour with Milwaukee Kayak Company, Milwaukee

Think ahead to spring and summer and give the gift of exploring Milwaukee by water. Milwaukee Kayak Company rents single and tandem kayaks for solo exploration, or you can book a guided 3-hour tour.

Exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Kevin J. Miyazaki

Taliesin Tour, Spring Green

Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, was rebuilt three times. Learn all about its dramatic history on a guided tour. The most popular option is the 2-hour Highlights Tour, but a 4-hour tour is also offered for true enthusiasts.

US Mailboat Tour on Lake Geneva
Courtesy of Lake Geneva Cruise Line

US Mailboat Tour, Lake Geneva

One of Lake Geneva's claims to fame is mail delivery by boat. For over 100 years, Lake Geneva Cruise Line has operated a star route for the US Postal Service on their mail boat, and you can ride along from June-September. Watch agile mail carriers jump off and on the moving boat to drop off deliveries at 75 homes.

spa with water features

Courtesy of Lodge Kohler

Treatment at Kohler Waters Spa, Green Bay

Make it rain with a unique spa experience gift. Kohler Waters Spa uses their signature water features in treatments like The Lavender Rain. It starts with an exfoliating eucalyptus and lavender scrub, and then you'll lie on a table as shower heads rain down with a massaging effect.

Want more ideas? Check out our 2023 Midwest Gift Guide to shop local this season.

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