The countdown to Christmas morning and first night of Hanukkah is officially on. If you're still on the hunt for the ideal gift for your friends and family, we've got some ideas, from sweet cupcakes to a decadent $43,400 bracelet.
This year's gift guide is a little different from those of years past, though. Reflecting the eclectic shopping options in a city as diverse as Washington, more than half of the goods come from local, non-chain retailers, and not all big-ticket items are wildly out of reach, a nod to the continuing worldwide economic slump. So happy holidays — and even happier shopping.
Gifts That Give Back
Low: Founded this year by Washington native Read Wall, Read's Clothing Project (readsclothingproject.com) donates a book to a child in need through a partnership with Books for Africa for every purchase of the men's shirts, ties and accessories in Read's design collection, which feature a vintage, preppy-inspired look. The holiday collection of ties and bowties ($65) includes festively colored plaids made of tweed and wool tartan (right).
Medium: It's tough to see anything negative about TOMS Eyewear (toms.com/eyewear). Started by Blake Mycoskie as an offshoot of his wildly successful TOMS Shoes, TOMS Eyewear came out this year to offer stylish men's and women's frames at prices ranging from $135 for classics to $145 for aviators. For every pair purchased, the company provides medical treatment, prescription glasses or sight-saving surgery to someone in need in countries worldwide.
High: The holidays are a time to think of those less fortunate, and there was no shortage of natural disasters this year, such as Japan's earthquake and tsunami, that put plenty of people at a disadvantage. Oxfam America (oxfamamericaunwrapped.com) provides a chance to do more than make a small donation that you can't track. For $5,000, you can provide food, shelter, clothing, blankets, fuel, mosquito nets and more to an entire village in need. Oxfam also offers an extensive catalogue of charitable gifts in a range of prices, like giving a pair of sheep to help people make local textiles for $90 or training a midwife for $150.
Photo: Necktie - Read's Clothing Project
Food & Drink
Low: Toast the upcoming holidays with homemade seasonal drinks at Bibiana Osteria and Enoteca (bibianadc.com) through Dec. 25. The $12, female-named cocktails include concoctions such as the Samantha, made with VSOP cognac, homemade biscotti liquor, lemon juice and a dash of orange bitters. For the more adventurous, there's the Vin Cotto: red wine, Saba, dry fruit and nuts along with a homemade digestive made of 27 spices, coffee and barley.
Medium: Think the whole cupcake fad is fading? Tell that to the lines snaking out the door at Georgetown Cupcake (georgetowncupcake.com). With a hit TV show — "DC Cupcakes" on TLC — the sister-owned bakeries in Georgetown and Bethesda Row in Maryland continue to thrive. See what the fuss is all about by ordering a single cupcake or a dozen. The company offers five holiday-centric dozen boxes ($29 or $55 with nationwide overnight shipping). For the most variety, try the Christmas Collection, which has flavors such as white chocolate peppermint, Rudolph red velvet, Christmas caramel and holiday hazelnut.
High: Ring in 2012 with Bourbon Steak Executive Chef Adam Sobel's six-course tasting menu — $175 per person or $270 including wine pairings — at the Four Seasons in Georgetown (www.fourseasons.com/washington/dining/bourbon_steak/). The menu includes Osetra caviar sandwiches with toasted blini and fried quail egg, Chinese roast squab with foie gras, and grilled bison tenderloin with black truffle gnocchi and toasted hazelnut. Dessert includes pineapple treats from confit to soup to sorbet and the restaurant's signature brownie with bourbon cordial and chocolate cremeux.
Photo: Cupcakes – Georgetown Cupcake
Low: This winter, bring some of the outdoors in. H. Bloom offers a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly orchid subscription for $85 (hbloom.com) available in purple or white. Set the day and time for delivery that works best for the recipient and plant the seed for a gift that gives all year-round.
Medium: The Nebula Grande bowl by Tony Wurman ($220 at Room & Board, roomandboard.com) is a handmade swirl of emerald green and earth tones so beautiful it shouldn't be kept in a cupboard or even covered by food. The bowl, which looks like blown glass but is made using hot glue, can hold its own as a table centerpiece or in a display cabinet.
High: "High-fashion" and "bathroom" aren't terms that often go together, but Porcelanosa (porcelanosa-usa.com), a tile, kitchen and bath shop that hails from Spain and has a new 9,000-square-foot showroom in Bethesda, Md., seeks to change that perception. The Lounge Negro (visit store for pricing) is a stunning wall-mounted sink with a quilt effect on the front and a spacious counter area topped with a large white bowl sink and streamlined faucet to create a very modern, clean, black-and-white look.
Another recent store opening is the home goods and jewelry store Dalton Pratt at 1742 Wisconsin Ave., NW, offering unique items such as Waylande Gregory handmade ceramics from Peru. A set includes a square plate with a bright gold-and-orange tiger on it ($250), a large giraffe plate ($585) and a tiger bowl ($765).
Photos: Nebula bowl - BrandLinkDC; Ceramics - David Phillipich for Dalton Pratt
Women's Fine Jewelry
Low: Good things come in small packages, especially if the box holds a dainty flower-shaped pair of Suzanne Somersall silver-white sapphire-pearl Hanabira earrings from Bethesda's Ginger Boutique ($750, gingerstyle.com). The diamond-like white sapphires make up the petals while a five-millimeter white pearl sits in the middle.
Medium: Actress Angelina Jolie has been seen several times on the red carpet sporting big, sparkly green bling, and she's made a classic look trendy. The Aura earrings by Mark Patterson fit this category well. With 15.67-carat green tourmalines set in white gold with diamonds at the Tiny Jewel Box ($15,665, tinyjewelbox.com), they become an instant heirloom while looking modern and fresh.
High: A wrist stacked high with bracelets is a popular look, but this bracelet is made to stand alone. And at $43,400, you'll want it to be noticed. Chanel's 1932 bracelet (chanel.com) in 18-karat white gold with two strands of cultured pearls connected by a stunning bow of black-and-white diamonds epitomizes the combination of class and femininity that was the pearl-obsessed Coco Chanel.
Photos: Hanabira Earrings - Suzanne Somersall; Bracelet – Chanel
Accessories for Women
Low: There's no reason why a woman can't be techie and trendy. The cushioned nylon interior of the Stephanie Johnson iPad case ($63 at Nectar Skin Bar, nectarskinbar.com) will keep the precious Apple product safe and sound while looking like a million bucks with a glittering exterior. It accommodates Apple's iPad skin for iPad and iPad 2.
Medium: Animal prints are huge this fall, but a shirt or dress can be a big commitment to the pattern. For something subtler, try Pietro Alessandro's animal print purse at South Moon Under ($124, southmoonunder.com), which has several area locations. The faux fur cheetah print is trimmed in black with a gold closure and chain for wearing on your shoulder or across the body.
M29 Lifestyle (2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW), owned by the same company that owns the Georgetown Four Seasons hotel next door, bills itself as a lifestyle store, offering women's jewelry and accessories, fun home décor, and goodies for children and pets, too. Among the finds are cashmere and silk scarves by the well-loved designer Chan Luu ($195 to $245) and thick shawls by Jess Brown ($325) that are handmade in Bolivia using baby alpaca.
High: Through the Ostsee coat ($528), Leifsdottir has made the standard mid-calf black coat sexy and modern with a zipper and large leather buckle closures instead of buttons, a wide collar, and a sleek silhouette. It's available at Anthropologie (anthropologie.com), which has locations throughout the area.
Photos: iPad case - Stephanie Johnson; Coat - Leifsdottir / Anthropologie
Accessories for Men
Low: D.C.-based Taylor M. Llewellyn started Tucker Blair (tuckerblair.com) to marry high-end, preppy needlepoint patterns with full-grain leather and brass buckles to create men's belts ($65 to $95) that represent your personality. Available prints include American and G8 flags, beer bottles, fish, Frosty the Snowman, and "Santa's Taxi."
Medium: Practical yet stylish, UGG Australia genuine shearling gloves ($160, nordstrom.com) keep fingers warm on frigid days. Available in black, bomber chocolate and chestnut, the gloves share the same famous seaming of the well-loved boots.
High: Ideal for the world traveler in your life, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Geographic, left, watch ($11,200, tinyjewelbox.com) keeps track of the time in 24 time zones. It features a classic stainless steel case, white face and alligator strap.
Photos: Belts – Tucker Blair; Watch – Tiny Jewel Box
Girls and Boys
Low: The hottest toy on the toddler market this year is straight off the street — Sesame Street, naturally. That beloved fuzzy red sensation is back with Let's Rock Elmo ($54.88, amazon.com), which comes with a microphone, a tambourine and a drum set. Preschoolers can choose which instrument Elmo plays and let him sing, too.
Medium: Throw the ultimate holiday party for the little doll in your life and her friends by booking an event at the American Girl toy store (www.americangirl.com/stores/location_wdc.php). To see just how hot American Girl dolls are right now, you need go no farther than Tysons Corner mall, where the new store outside Bloomingdale's is buzzing with shoppers — and girls waiting for salon appointments for their dolls. Dining options include lunch or dinner ($16.50 per person), brunch ($15.50 per person) or afternoon teas ($11 per person). Go for the food and stay for an appointment at the salon, where stylists do dolls' hair ($10 to $20) and pierce their ears ($14).
The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner (www.ritzcarlton.com/tysons) is all about kids this holiday season, although adults will surely get a kick out of the festivities, too. Choose from the Nutcracker Tea ($70 per person), whereby members of the Creative Dance Center present a shortened, modern version of the classic holiday story, or the Princess Tea ($70 per person), where Cinderella, Tiana, Jasmine, Belle, Snow White and Chef Gusteau will sing and dance to Disney hits. A third option is the gingerbread house decorating class ($65 per person for children ages 3 to 12), which includes a treat to take home and hot chocolate to sip for inspiration.
High: For the boy who has everything, get him his first car. The Kettler '53 Chevrolet Vette Collector's Pedal Car ($1,119.99, fao.com) takes the term "ride-on toy" to a whole new level. Its plastic body covers a steel frame, and the car features a fully enclosed floor pan, chain ride crank with ball bearings, bike pedals, steel sprocket, classic grill "teeth" and chrome bumper trim.
Photos: Elmo – Hasbro / Sesame Street; Car - FAO Schwarz
Staycations and Local Events
Low: The Gaylord National Resort's annual "Christmas on the Potomac" extravaganza is exactly the kind of local excursion to get you primed for the holiday season (www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-national/christmas-on-the-potomac/). Overnight packages start at $149 a person and include tickets to the "ICE! featuring DreamWorks' Merry Madagascar" show at the sprawling resort complex. Highlights include a 60-foot glass tree and holiday decorations in the main atrium that looks out over the Potomac River and an indoor snowfall and winter wonderland sculpted from ice, as well as interactive experiences with DreamWorks characters from such films as "Shrek," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar," who apparently even do special wake-up calls for guests.
Medium: If this hotel was good enough for President Abraham Lincoln to call home in the weeks before his inauguration, it's lavish enough for you. The Willard InterContintenal Washington (washington.intercontinental.com) is offering winter weekend getaways until Dec. 25 for $299 per night or $377 per night including breakfast for two and valet parking. On New Year's Eve, $479 buys you a deluxe guest room, a bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne, valet parking and breakfast for two. One more perk is the Willard's annual "Holiday Lobbying" program, now in its 10th year. Nightly through Dec. 23, the hotel offers choral concerts by local groups ranging from the Grammy-winning Washington Chorus to the Arlington Children's Chorus in its grand lobby from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
High: The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C. and its signature restaurant, Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert, is teaming up with Ripert's famed four-star New York restaurant, Le Bernardin, (left) to offer guests a decadent East Coast culinary travel combo (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/WashingtonDC/). Starting from $1,025 a night, the package features a three-course lunch at Le Bernandin, including a meet-and-greet with chef Ripert, two roundtrip tickets on Amtrak's Acela Express train from New York to Washington, D.C., three-course dinner at The Pass at Westend Bistro, and club-level accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C.
Photos: Arlington Children's Choir – Willard InterContinental Washington; Le Bernardin – The Ritz-Carlton
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.
Last Edited on June 17, 2014