When you live somewhere, it’s easy to take the beauty of the place for granted. But the Washington area has no shortage of beauty — or shopping for that matter, from cosmetics and cookbooks to high-tech gadgets and high-end experiences. That’s why we stuck to local businesses for this year’s holiday gift guide, although a few chains pop up now and again.
So while you wait for the wearable Apple Watch to come out, don’t miss out on the hidden gems sure to satisfy the technology wizard, spa lover, theatergoer or child in your life. Additionally, we feature staycation options to help you get (re)acquainted with the beauty that Washington tourists experience, rather than the meeting rooms and office buildings that its residents often see.
Happy holidays — and happy shopping.
Beauty and Spa
Reasonable: Erwin Gomez Cosmetics
1104 24th St., NW
Erwin Gomez, the local eyebrow guru with a cult following, now has a cosmetics line that includes makeup, brushes and tools. Pick up the Waterproof Eye Brow Pencil ($19) to keep brows in line or the Picture Perfect Powder Foundation ($35) to smooth skin with a matte finish. Gomez’s clients include Oprah and actresses Claire Danes and Rosario Dawson.
Splurge: Aura Spa’s Collagen 90-II Facial
Aura Spa’s 75-minute Collagen 90-II facial ($150) is a treatment by G.M. Collin Skin Care, founded in France in 1957, that combines a pure native collagen sheet with other ingredients to hydrate and firm the skin in addition to reducing signs of aging by minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Visit Aura Spa’s fourth and newest D.C. location at the Yards in Southeast (1212 4th St., SE).
Extravagant: The Mandarin Oriental Spa’s Thai Ritual – Journeys
1330 Maryland Ave., SW
Relax the body and mind with this treatment ($495) that involves meditation, controlled breathing and a combination of yoga stretches with muscle manipulation. Recommended for people with chronic pain and tension, Thai massage has been practiced in Thailand for more than 2,500 years.
Upshur Street Books
827 Upshur St., NW
This new bookstore in the Petworth neighborhood is the product of restaurateur Paul Ruppert and artist Kristina Bilonick — and their Kickstarter online funding campaign. Open since Nov. 1, it features books by local authors and topics for area entrepreneurs.
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washingtonians’ famous Politics and Prose bookstore continues to recommend the fictional work “All the Light We Cannot See” ($27) by Anthony Doerr, which came out this summer and is now on the shortlist for the National Book Award this year. On the nonfiction side, women have produced big sellers this year, the store’s director of marketing and publicity said. Among the top picks are comedian Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please” ($28.99) and Helen Thorpe’s “Soldier Girls” ($28) about three women who join the Indiana National Guard in the decade before Sept. 11, 2001. Become a member ($25 a year) and get 20 percent off all purchases Dec. 5 to 7.
Hay-Adams Author Series
800 16th St., NW
The hotel’s namesakes — John Hay, a personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln, U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom and secretary of state, and Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of U.S. presidents — hosted gatherings that included famous authors such as Mark Twain. It’s in that tradition that the Hay-Adams started its author series ($85) in 2005. Since then, writers such as Toni Morrison, John Grisham and Joyce Carol Oates have participated. The next event will take place in early 2015. It will include a three-course meal, wine and participation in the author discussion.
Reasonable: “Richard Sandoval’s New Latin Flavors”
Local award-winning chef Richard Sandoval has seven area restaurants, including Masa 14, Zengo, Ambar, Toro Toro and El Centro D.F., and more than 25 others in places such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Qatar. Now the Mexico City native shares 125 recipes for contemporary Latin cuisine in his new cookbook, released in October ($29.95). Dishes include quesadillas, ceviche, arepas and enchiladas in addition to cultural fusions such as the meeting of Japan and Mexico with the Togarashi Tuna in Mini Won Ton Bowl.
Splurge: Cooking Classes at CulinAerie
1131 14th St., NW
December classes ($85 per person, $175 per couple) include a holiday baking workshop (Dec. 7 at 2 p.m.), popular Indian recipes (Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.) and French favorites (Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.). Couples can enjoy the classes together at special date-night events such as “Date Night: Thailand” on Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m., when the menu includes papaya salad, pad thai, roasted duck and red curry, and coconut bananas.
Extravagant: Range and Reef
Don’t feel like cooking this upcoming holiday season? Hire a personal chef to prepare meals from Range and Reef (contact for pricing). Jim Holderbaum traveled to 60 countries in his pursuit of creating unique food experiences where cooking becomes part of the event. Meals to choose from include shrimp and seafood boils, lobster and clambakes, grilled ribs, and top sirloin and prime rib.
Reasonable: Holiday Afternoon Tea at the Willard InterContinental
1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Willard Holiday Hotline: (202) 637-7350
Take a break from fancy peppermint frappacinos and white chocolate lattes with a Willard InterContinental Holiday Afternoon Tea in the hotel’s elegant Peacock Alley ($51, or $65 with a glass of Moët & Chandon Champagne). As you listen to live harp music, you can munch on egg salad, smoked salmon, goat cheese on brioche, ham and brie mini sandwiches, candy cane puffs, mini chestnut rum Yule logs and gingerbread men. It’s available daily beginning Dec. 1 (except Dec. 25, 26 and 31) from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Afterward, see how the Willard has decked its halls with the complete White House Historical Association’s Christmas Ornament collection, including the 2014 ornament honoring President Warren Harding, who signed the first federal child welfare program and oversaw a 50 percent unemployment drop. Started by the association in 1981, the ornaments chronologically honor a different president or White House event each year. The decorations will be on the hotel lobby’s tree through early January.
Splurge: minibar by José Andrés
855 E St., NW
A famous dining experience, minibar’s menu ($250 and up) is at the whims of celebrated and award-winning chef José Andrés. Small plates of avant-garde imagination flow from the kitchen as they are ready. “The creations combine art and science as well as tradition and technique,” according to the restaurant’s website. “Here you will be taken on a culinary journey. Each bite is designed to thrill the senses by pushing the limits of what we have come to expect, and what is possible from food.” Reservations are required and can be made via e-mail each season.
Extravagant: Mari Vanna’s New Year’s Eve Special
1141 Connecticut Ave., NW
Mari Vanna feels — and tastes — like stepping into a traditional Russian home. The eclectic restaurant rings in 2015 with a prix-fix New Year’s Eve menu ($395 per person) that includes black caviar and a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with Russian classics such as piroshki, blinis, khachapuri and beef stroganoff.
Theater and Performing Arts
Reasonable: The Washington Ballet’s “Sleepy Hollow”
The Kennedy Center
Washington Irving’s ghostly love triangle will be told through ballet and original live music (tickets are $25 to $125). In the classic tale, a new school teacher, Ichabod Crane, finds himself smitten by a flirtatious beauty, Katrina Van Tassel, much to the displeasure of “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. A rivalry ensues and the Headless Horseman pays a visit one night. Costumes were designed by a Cirque du Soleil costume dancer, and art by the local firm Design Army will be on display citywide in early 2015. Seven performances run from Feb. 18 to 22.
Splurge: Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
1260 Avenue of the Americas, New York City
Get into the holiday spirit with a high-energy performance by the Rockettes at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York City (tickets are $46 to $109). Before the show, visitors can take pictures with a dancer or Santa, stock up on sugary treats at the sweets shop or sip cocktails at the Delta Sky360 Lounge.
Extravagant: Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ President’s Circle Membership
1645 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.
Membership ($25,000) has its privileges at Wolf Trap, whose stages have welcomed Art Garfunkel, Josh Groban and Ringo Starr. Members get priority seating, access to special events, insider news, backstage tours and the opportunity to buy tickets before they open to the general public. Memberships are available in other amounts, too, starting at $75.
Photo: BlackDog Advertising
Reasonable: DC Ducks
We live here, but do we really appreciate all that Washington has to offer? Take a seat on an original World War II DUKW amphibious vehicle for a 90-minute tour of the city’s most notable sites before floating down the Potomac River ($39 per adult, $29 per child). Pick up the tour at Union Station. From there it winds its way to the National Mall before sailing the river to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and returning to the train station.
Splurge: “Take in the City Tour” at the Hay-Adams
800 16th St., NW
This two-hour evening tour (starting at $529) takes you for a leisurely look at D.C.’s famous monuments illuminated with holiday lights. Enjoy the views while noshing treats from a deluxe champagne goodie basket. It’s part of a two-night getaway package that also includes accommodations, your own White House chocolates and a full American breakfast for two.
Extravagant: Capella Christmas Package
1050 31st St., NW
One of the District’s poshest places, the Capella in Georgetown is a luxuriously appointed escape from the surrounding bustle. Its Christmas package (starting at $645) gets you a one-night stay in a room with a view — of the C&O Canal and historical Georgetown — a welcome cocktail called the “Rye Ginger Totty,” a holiday stocking on Christmas morning and either Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day brunch in the hotel’s restaurant, the Grill Room. Additionally, a Christmas gift-opening ceremony will take place in the Capella Living Room and includes a gift for each guest.
Home and Garden
Reasonable: Custom Wreaths of Potomac
Local artist Linda Hobbins has been making seasonal wreaths, wall hangings and table displays in her Potomac, Md., studio for about five years, using fresh, dried flowers or silk flowers. She also designs custom arrangements and holly and mistletoe balls. Prices vary.
Splurge: Lori Graham Design + Home
1412 14th St., NW
Logan Circle, D.C., resident Lori Graham recently added a line from Canadian design team Gabriel-Scott to her showroom. A must-have from the collection is the Marx Stool, available in a black steel base with brass fittings for $850 or with a brass base for $1,350. Both versions come with a heather-grey herringbone cushion.
Extravagant: Eames Aluminum Soft Pad Management Chair by Herman Miller at Room & Board
1840 14th St., NW
This leather desk chair ($2,839) is available in 12 colors, including classic black. For something to liven up the office more, however, try red (they call it Canyon), olive or white, which costs $90 more. The chair was first created in 1958 by Charles and Ray Eames. It’s made with two-inch-thick foam padding and cast aluminum ribs.
Reasonable: Kinder Haus Toys
1220 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, Va.
At this Arlington toy store, anything associated with Disney’s latest animated hit “Frozen” is flying off the shelves, with charm bracelets, costumes, activities and picture books especially popular, an employee said. The Washington-based picture books by Sue Pyatt, “Call Me Madame President” and “D.C. Daniel – Washington Superhero” ($18 each), are also tough to keep in stock.
Splurge: The Puppet Co. Party Package
7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md.
Add a little culture to this year’s holiday party by taking your kids and their friends to see “The Nutcracker” on the main stage (for kids in pre-K through fourth grade) or the “Nutcracker Fantasy” for Tiny Tots ages 0 through 4, both through Dec. 30 ($295 for main stage, $255 for Tiny Tots). Afterward, head to the party room, which gives you access to a fridge, freezer, sink, closet, tables and chairs. The package includes 20 tickets to one of the day’s performances.
Extravagant: Wisp Resort
296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Md.
When the weather outside is frightful, get out and dive into it. Wisp Resort offers learn-to-ski programs for kids ages 3 to 14. A full day’s session runs $89 to $159, while a two-day goes for $209 or $229. An extracurricular hour-long private lesson goes for $64. In addition to skiing, visitors can go snow tubing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. While the kids are riding the slopes, parents can stay warm in the hotel’s heated indoor pool and hot tub. Call for pricing and packages.
Reasonable: Bliss Spa Products
515 15th St., NW
You’ve had your massage/facial/body scrub and now you have to maintain it. Enter Bliss Spa’s pampering products. There’s the Buttah Bing ($39), which includes bliss lemon+sage body butter, grapefruit+aloe body butter and blood orange+white pepper body butter; Mistletoe Gems ($12), which comes with bliss high-intensity hand cream and Fabulips lip balm; and Diamonds in the Rough ($12.50) with bliss snowflake hand cream and peppermint hand cream.
Splurge: Shinola Mini Backpack
Area Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus
Purses from the Motor City? Shinola proudly manufactures American products in Detroit that range from bicycles to watches to fine leather goods. The Mini Backpack ($255) emphasizes minimalist design and handcrafted details and was cut and sewn by expert craftspeople in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., from genuine Horween leather produced in America’s oldest continuously operated tannery. Purses come in five colors and each is individually numbered, with a hand-sewn, whip-stitched internal card pocket.
Extravagant: Tiffany and Co.
Tysons Corner, Va., and Chevy Chase, Md.
The little blue box with the thick white ribbon. It’s been mentioned here before, and it appears again because it rarely disappoints. This year, we point out the delicate yet dazzling Tiffany seed pearl and diamond tassel pendant in platinum, which is part of the Tiffany Masterpieces 2014 collection. It debuted this fall and was created by design director Francesca Amfitheatrof (pricing available on request).
Reasonable: Kiehl’s Since 1851 Essentials for Him
Who says women should get all the pampering? Bluemercury, one of the area’s fast-growing local-based chains, sells a Kiehl’s holiday package for guys ($31) that includes the Ultimate Man Body Scrub Soap, Facial Fuel Energizing Face Wash, Facial Fuel Energizing Moisturizer Treatment for Men and Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream – White Eagle.
Splurge: Sock Drawer Makeover by Nice Laundry
A couple of Washington residents launched this online company last year after noticing that many men’s socks could use revamping. Choose any three packages of six socks ($99 each) to liven up your selection. The socks come in bright or muted colors and prints such as argyle, camouflage, stripes and dots. Athletic socks are now available, too. Bonus: Send Nice Laundry your old socks and they will have them recycled.
Extravagant: Meisterstück 90 Years Skeleton 149 Fountain Pen
Technology may be overtaking handwritten notes, but for die-hard writers, there’s nothing like a quality, classic writing instrument. This pen ($9,600) is inspired by Montblanc’s first Skeleton Pen from 1999, designed for the Meisterstück line’s 90th anniversary. It has a ruthenium-plated finish and a special anniversary design. Meisterstück is the flagship line of pens from Montblanc, the Germany-based company founded in 1906.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.