The Washington area is more than a nexus of politics and government. In recent years, it's become a haven for fine retailers and restaurants. It's a center of culture, education and entertainment. It's also home to some of the fittest, most health-conscious people in the country, attracting occasional thrill-seekers and exercise-devotees alike. In short, it has personality and style — and plenty of gifts to match both.
Each year, to ease some of the stress of the gift-searching season, we scour the region for ideas that appeal to all tastes and budgets, from a $15 towel, to an almost six-figure futuristic jetpack, to a down-to-earth shopping trip with one of D.C.'s top interior designers. They all add up to some happy, healthy holiday-sharing in the nation's capital.
Food and Drink
Low: For wannabe sommeliers and wine enthusiasts, Brent Kroll, wine director of Adour at the St. Regis hotel (923 16th Street, NW), is offering a class Dec. 20 on sparkling wines from around the world ($60). Sip with the expert sommelier — who previously served as wine director of the Oval Room and Ardeo/Bardeo in D.C. — while enjoying the modern elegance of chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant, which specializes in contemporary French-American cuisine. adour-washingtondc.com
Medium: Time is something everyone could use more of. The "meals to go" option ($80) at Praline Bakery & Bistro (4611 Sangamore Road, Bethesda, Md.) buys just that by taking the planning and preparation out of five meals. Options, prepared by executive chef Christian Gautrois, include coq au vin, salmon with ratatouille, veal banquette, seafood paella, duck confit and beef tenderloin. The dishes will be available for pickup at the bakery until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends. praline-bakery.com
High: Got Brothers Grimm fans in your life? Turn them into Hansel and Gretel — minus the threat from an evil witch — with dinner in a real life-size gingerbread house at the Ritz-Carlton (1150 22nd St., NW). From Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, the first-ever Gingerbread House & Boutique is offering executive chef Yves Samake's gingerbread-inspired menu for $110 per person. It includes foie gras and spiced bread for the amuse bouche, spiced bread-crusted scallops wrapped in Kataifi pastry as a first course, butternut squash soup, four-spice and chestnut-roasted duck breast as the entrée, and a Jivara chocolate and gingerbread mousse bar for dessert.
The gingerbread-encased room can accommodate up to six people for dinner — the only meal served in the 200-square-foot house — but it is open during the day for guests to view and purchase holiday tarts, cakes and cookies by executive pastry chef Nelson Paz. There's also a gingerbread house decorating class for children on Dec. 9 ($75). Or, to make an entire getaway of it, the Ritz is offering a "Sweet Dreams Are Made of These" holiday package with overnight accommodations in a luxury suite, four-course dinner for two in the Gingerbread House, evening holiday tour of D.C., a $2,000 gift card to Saks Fifth Avenue, 80-minute couples massage and other extravagant goodies (starting at $10,000 per night). ritzcarlton.com
Good for the Soul, and Body
Low: Mommy Bootcamp (21770 Beaumeade Circle, Suite 130, Ashburn, Va.) is sort of a misnomer for Kathy Corbey's classes. Although they cater to moms' needs by incorporating kids into the workout (think bicep curls using your 20-pound baby), plenty of dads sweat out their parental frustrations here, too. Workouts involve cardio drills, strength training, core work and interval training. A 10-class pass costs $100, a 20-class pass is $160 and a monthly unlimited pass is $75 per month. All are good at the Ashburn headquarters and facilities in Chantilly, Springfield and Vienna. Holiday specials include free enrollment in December — a savings of $25 — for new members and two months of unlimited classes for $160. mommybootcamp.org
Medium: Shimmy and shake into 2013 with Saffron Dance (3260 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.), which specializes in different forms of belly dancing. Classes, including Latin fusion and Oriental techniques, are available for beginners and experienced dancers. Classes meet weekly and run 14 weeks for costs ranging from $260 to $280. Owner Saphira is offering a four-week crash course in January for $75 that includes a hip scarf. saffrondance.com
High: For someone looking to take adrenaline rushes to new heights, there's Skydive Orange (11339 Bloomsbury Road, Orange, Va.), a member of the U.S. Parachute Association that has been in operation for more than 35 years. Its Deluxe Tandem Package I ($380 cash or $395 credit) includes a tandem jump with a professional instructor; equipment such as goggles, helmet and jumpsuit; training; a 15- to 20-minute plane ride; a dive from 13,500 feet; a DVD of the experience; a CD of still pictures; and a skydiving certificate.skydiveorange.com
Low: Usually reserved for covering boxes, wrapping paper can be a gift in and of itself. Design Army, a graphic design firm (510 H St., NE), offers four styles of one-of-a-kind wrapping paper ($15 each). The "Holiday Techna" set of four sheets features patterns of pine, circuit, ornament and lights in purples, oranges, aqua and red. The "To From V2" eliminates the need for a gift tag because the "to" and "from" lines are right there on the paper. Each set comes with three sheets of each design. designarmy.com
Medium: Towels aren't just for drying off anymore. Authentic, hand-woven Turkish towels ($15 to $17 for small ones and $36 to $56 for large) can be used as table runners or even scarves, according to Amanda McClements, owner of Salt & Sundry (1309 5th St., NE), which opened this month just in time for the holidays. Known as peshtemal, the towels are lightweight cotton wraps like the ones used at Turkish bath houses for centuries. shopsaltandsundry.com
High: Know someone looking to redo a room? Interior designer Kelley Proxmire (4519 Wetherill Road, Bethesda, Md.), a member of the Washington Design Center Hall of Fame, is providing two-hour shopping tours ($500). Visit some of her favorite shops, including Amano, Comer & Co. Antiques and Interiors, Marston Luce Antiques in Georgetown, and J. Brown & Co. in Alexandria, Va. Before shopping, Proxmire will either visit the shopper's home if it's within about 10 miles of Washington to study one room to make over or she will examine photos of the room.kelleyinteriordesign.com
Low: An Apple Inc. product for less than $50 is music to many a recipient's ears. The screen-less, two-gigabyte iPod shuffle (PRODUCT) RED — yes that's the name of it — is available for $49 in Apple stores throughout the area, including those in Georgetown, Arlington, Tysons Corner Center and Bethesda. Able to store hundreds of songs, the sleek little shuffle is about one inch by one inch, can clip on for easy portability, and offers 29 voice-over languages, including Cantonese, Finnish, Slovak and Thai. The rechargeable battery lasts for up to 15 hours. Bonus: A percentage of the profits from Apple's RED line goes to the Global Fund to support AIDS programs in Africa. apple.com
Medium: Turn a run-of-the-mill couch potato into the ultimate loafer with the Zeiss Cinemizer OLED ($749). The futuristic-looking goggles (technically called multimedia video glasses) take media watching up a notch by offering a three-dimensional viewing experience — at home or on the go. The glasses can connect to iPhones, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and computers so users can watch movies or become one with their favorite videogames. Its rechargeable battery lasts up to six hours, so you can even watch several movies on a long flight. amazon.com
High: The traffic in this area is enervating, to say the least. Rise above it with the JetLev R200 ($99,500 at Nieman Marcus; neimanmarcus.com). The package includes a 30-pound water-propelled jetpack, boat unit, jetpack stand, hose and control cable assembly, radios, and a pilot certification training and safety course. JetLev can take you as high as 30 feet at a top speed of 32 miles per hour, and it can last for four hours and 80 miles on one tank of high-octane gas. Bonus: For every JetLev R200 sold, Neiman Marcus will donate $2,500 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, Fla.jetlev.com
Pets and Pet Lovers
Low: Keep Fido or Fifi warm with a Chilly Dog pet sweater ($34.49 at Metro Mutts, 508 H St., NE). Styles available in the store include Tan Plaid, Little Monster, Gray Argyle, Pink Flower Skirt with a ruffle, Pink Aspen and Ski Bum Hoodie, but the store can special order any pattern or size. Chilly Dog works with Incan artisans in South America who hand-knit the wool sweaters. metromuttsdc.com
Medium: The animals might not be allowed on the couch, but a cushion depicting them should be. Urban Country (7117 Arlington Road, Bethesda, Md.), a luxury interior design and fine furnishings store founded in 1991, offers personalized 20-inch-by-20-inch pet pillows ($140) that are custom-designed and eco-friendly, made of natural linen and cotton. Pet lovers (or the friend buying this for them) can choose from 48 colors and specify the type of animal and the name to use on the pillow. urbancountrydesigns.com
High: Pets not only enjoy a good lap but the lap of luxury. Tote your travel companion around in style with a Louis Vuitton pet carrier ($2,590). The leather case with the signature LV pattern is water and scratch resistant and includes a double zip-up enclosure and a breathable mesh window. Personalization is available in nine colors. louisvuitton.com
Low: Hasbro's Furby ($59.99) is back. A craze in 1998, the furry rabbit-owl combination is now interactive. For instance, the toy starts out by being able to communicate only in its own language — Furbish — but as you engage with it, the toy begins to learn English. The cute critter comes in eight colors, including teal, yellow, white and purple (available at local Toys "R" Us locations). toysrus.com
Medium: Although sleeping is not a huge part of most kids' sleepovers, there's the P'kolini pullout bed ($115 at Urban Country) for when playtime finally ends. It's made with a microfiber cover and foam polyurethane filler and best suits toddlers. urbancountrydesigns.com
High: How does every kid want to celebrate the holidays or any day, for that matter? By going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Vacation packages include six nights and seven days with tickets to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom Park and Hollywood Studios. Prices start at about $2,000 for a family of four, plus airfare and meals. disneyworld.disney.go.com/vacation-packages
Low: For the woman who recognizes the value of the written word in this age of electronic messaging, the new floral motif collection of notepaper ($40 each for a box of 10 cards and lined envelopes) from Thornwillow Press is a lovely choice. Thornwillow Press, a publisher, custom bookbinder and bespoke stationer, sits inside the lobby of the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C. (923 16th Street, NW). The stationery is hand-engraved and features a variety of motifs and illustrations, from flying grasshoppers to bunnies and bumblebees. thornwillow.com/site/content/thornwillow-st-regis
Medium: Few things boost one's confidence like an updated look. And even fashion stores need a makeover every now and then. The new Ann Taylor Concept Stores at Tysons Galleria (2001 International Drive, McLean Va.) and Union Station (50 Massachusetts Ave., NE), which opened in the past few months, offer clothes such as the soiree dress ($198) that tweaks the little black dress with dainty details and a pleated skirt, as well as accessories, such as a flower pearl necklace ($88) that works seamlessly for the office and the office party. The new shops are designed to feel homey with crystal chandeliers, hardwood floors and plush ottomans (there's even a proprietary lighting system with flattering backlit mirrors). And the looks have been sported by the likes of first lady Michelle Obama, actresses Angelina Jolie and fashionista Heidi Klum. anntaylor.com
High: Keep time with precision and elegance thanks to the Omega De Ville Ladymatic watch ($20,000 range), the reintroduction of a style originally launched in 1955. The Ladymatic was one of the brand's first self-winding watches to be designed specifically for women and it featured the smallest automatic movement Omega had ever made. The classically designed timepiece features 18-karat red or yellow gold (or stainless steel) and your choice of polished or snow-set diamond-paved bezels, while the polished caseback has a sapphire crystal that reveals the movement that powers the wristwatch. www.omegawatches.com
Low: For the man on the move, the Billy Jealousy Wanderlust Travel Kit ($36) at Nectar Skin Bar (1633 Wisconsin Ave., NW) is a go-to must-have for out-of-town trips. The five-piece set includes hair gel, body wash, shampoo and shave cream. Bonus: For every product sold, Billy Jealousy donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Green Corps. nectarskinbar.com
Medium: Neckties are almost cliché as a holiday gift unless they come from D.C.-based Read Wall. The brand — and the man who created it — has added outerwear, pants and accessories to his line of shirts. A wool stripe tie ($110) in navy or gray is modern, fresh and definitely not typical. All pieces are handmade in the United States. readwall.com
High: New to D.C. as of late October is Michael Andrews Bespoke (1604 17th St., NW), which specializes in slim-fit suits, shirts, tuxedos, sports coats, trousers and overcoats for men. Lauded in New York City, MAB will cater to clients here through its skilled stylists, who help navigate 10,000 fabrics from the world's finest mills. Andrews himself measures each customer, who choose the inner and outer patterns as well as thread color and button type (wood, horn or mother-of-pearl).
The ultimate MAB suit starts at $2,395, although less expensive options, including the Primo ($1,395) are available. From Dec. 1 to March 1, MAB is also offering a holiday "His & His" package for men who make an appointment for two, offering two complimentary shirts with the purchase of two suits. Shopping is by appointment only, and plan extra time to enjoy the fireplace and eight-foot bar with its variety of select scotches, whiskies, bourbons, craft beers and homemade cocktails (all complimentary). michaelandrewsbespoke.com
Good All Around
(Because charitable giving can run from a dollar to a million dollars, we grouped this category from local to international.)
Local: Hunger in America is very real, affecting roughly one in every seven families. And in these tough economic times, many families right next door are struggling to feed themselves. Since 1989, DC Central Kitchen has prepped 25 million meals for low-income and at-risk neighbors in Washington, D.C. But DC Central Kitchen is more than just a soup kitchen. It offers culinary job training for unemployed men and women, locally sourced meals to D.C. school children, and a variety of programs and partnerships with local businesses that aim to break the cycle of hunger, poverty and poor health. dccentralkitchen.org
National: One of the first responders to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast — and the familiar face at so many national disasters — is the American Red Cross. From blankets and blood donations, to shelter and mental health services, the Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the United States every year. These can include home fires that affect a single family, to hurricanes that affect tens of thousands, to earthquakes that impact millions. redcross.org
International: Five years ago, Lawrence Dunham, the former assistant chief of protocol at the State Department, introduced The Washington Diplomat to Nyumbani, Kenya's first and largest facility for HIV-infected children. Nyumbani, nyumbani.org, which is Swahili for "home," does just that — provide a home for abandoned orphans, along with community outreach programs, state-of-the-art diagnostic testing and other services. Under its executive director, Sister Mary Owens, the organization has steadily expanded its reach and won devoted fans in Washington, D.C., including Chris and Kathleen Matthews. It's also won over The Diplomat, which has covered Nyumbani's progress over the years, including in the latest edition of the Diplomatic Pouch (see www.washdiplomat.com).
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.
Last Edited on July 11, 2013