.Don’t Worry, Get Gifting

There’s still time to find perfect presents locally

Still not done holiday shopping? Panic beginning to set in? No problem—local merchants, museums and theaters have that covered.

Even If Theyre Fussy

…there’s bound to be something at one of these popular places that will make an ideal gift.

Winter is tea time, and both Berkeley’s Blue Willow Teaspot and Oakland’s Sophie’s Cuppa Tea offer multiple options for warm wishes for warm sipping. Blue Willow Teaspot’s Ali Roth specializes in Japanese teas and visits Japan once a year to investigate what’s best. The friend who loves matcha, for example, might love the Matcha Kit, which includes a textured black ceramic chawan (tea bowl), chasen (whisk) and chashaku (scoop). The shop also offers opportunities to learn the classic tea ceremony, but these sell out quickly.


John Brown and Xiaobei Wei’s Sophie’s, in Montclair Village, stocks more than 300 artisanal teas, specializing in Chinese teas, from “Iron Goddess Light” to “Scarlet Robe.” Or buy a pal a “Virtual Tasting.” For $45, the recipient is sent three teas and the chance to taste and learn during an online class.


Eco-conscious friends and family members are easy to shop for in Berkeley’s Eco Center Eco Store. Dryer balls are hugely practical and save a lot of energy by hastening drying, and the Eco Store’s are just plain cute.

Or how about one of the store’s favorite books, which include Golden Gate Gardening, by Pam Peirce? The store says it’s An indispensable guide to food gardening in the Bay Area.” And there’s Afro-Vegan, by Bryant Terry: “Farm-fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern flavors remixed by a local chef.”


Albany’s Umami Home and Gift carries a highly original combination of new and vintage items, and it specializes in “ethically made products from various eras and areas.” Vintage items, of course, are one-of-a-kind.

Owner Melanie Goldberg suggests these unusual and fun gifts: The Wooden Speaker, which uses no power, but increases sound by about 25 decibels, available in multiple colors; a Handpoured Candle in Jarrito by Oakland artisan Fonzie Gonzalez, which leaves a hand-painted mug when the candle is finished and is available in agave, cafecito and horchata scents; or the kitsch-but-adorable vintage Pixie Elf Salt & Pepper Shakers.


A recycled glass jellyfish “artfully suspended” in heavy glass, paired with an LED base to glow and glimmer could be the perfect “lit” gift at Berkeley’s Earthsake. It is available in several colors and two sizes in this store, which specializes in home goods.


If paper products are a favorite with someone on the list, OakPo Paper Co., in Oakland’s Chinatown, offers all kinds of options—plus handmade, zero-waste kitchen items and pet toys. Consider the Hand Marbled Traveler’s Notebook, which has 240 pages and is refillable, or 12 reusable paper towels, or, for the artistically inclined, a fish fabric pencil roll that also holds crayons and brushes. Dog pals are not forgotten: The handmade “snuffle mat” can also be personalized.


Support a Black-woman-owned business at Oakland’s Queen Hippie Gypsy, which describes itself as a “crystal botanica [providing] the holistic spiritual tools needed to help women of color heal and restore from trauma.” Stocking crystals, herbs, incense, candles and bath products, many handmade by owner Lilly Ayers— this might be a true find for a special person. Ideas: the “Winter Warrior” herbal tea blend; the “Divine Feminine Set” with candle, bath salts and oil; or the gorgeous gift baskets, ranging from $111.11 to $188.


For Those Whod Rather Be Experienced

Giving an experience can be one of the most inspired gift choices, if the recipient’s faves are known.

Theater events/subscriptions:

Lots of great theatrical activity is coming in 2024. Cal Performances presents Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo on Jan. 27-28, soprano Renee Fleming on Feb. 9, Kronos Quartet on March 2 and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on April 2-7. These are just a few of the choices.


Berkeley Rep presents world-premiere musical Galileo, directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer, starting in May, and Octavio Solis’ Mother Road, inspired by The Grapes of Wrath, starting in June.


The Aurora Theater Co. opens Manahatta in February, about a young Lenape woman returning to her ancestral homeland, Manahatta, to work as a securities trader on Wall Street, “the once walled street built by enslaved Africans to keep the Indigenous Lenape out.”


A subscription to Oakland Theatre Project’s 2024 season, “Ghosts of Past, Present and Future,” could include the world premiere of The Ghost of King, about Martin Luther King Jr. and/or the towering classic, Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2. Various packages are available.


Local independent movie theaters Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and Rialto Cinemas Cerrito both offer subscriptions to screenings of London’s National Theatre Live productions, this year including, among others, Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in Skylight, Ian McKellen in King Lear and Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.



Museum subscriptions:

Oakland Museum of California membership offers, in addition to free admission to shows and galleries, Member Gallery Chats and discounts at the shop and cafe. On view now through June: “Por El Pueblo: The Legacy and Influence of Malaquías Montoya,” featuring the activist/artist’s posters, prints and murals.


The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s membership offers numerous perks, including museum admission, discounts on film screenings, reciprocal privileges at several American museums, and discounts at local restaurants and shops. On view Dec. 13 to April 14, 2024, are “MATRIX 283 / Gabriel Chaile,” consisting of “Soaring” clay sculptures inspired by the forms, rituals and traditions of  pre-colonial cultures in northwestern Argentina; and “MATRIX 284 / Sin Wai Kin: The Story Changing,” which uses “speculative fiction and storytelling to create multilayered performances and moving image works.”


One suggestion for something a bit farther afield: Fake supermarket-cum-art-installation Omega Mart, in Las Vegas, also offers subscriptions, and as one visit just doesn’t scratch the surface, their new annual Portal Pass might be the ticket. Also available: VIP Package, Scavenger Hunt and the Art Experience.


If They Really Have It All

Sometimes looked down upon as a gifting cop-out, a donation to a cause the recipient supports can actually be perfect for the many people now requesting “no gifts.” The list of organizations and causes is immense, but here are a few suggestions:


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