Go. Give. Think. Do.

26 inspired, nonconformist, most-excellent ways to celebrate this holiday season Sacramento style

SN&R usually isn’t that stoked about the holidays.

Sure, we write things like “think creative,” “shop local” and “give, then do,” but ghosts of holidays past and their legendary gift failures—dead Tamagotchis, patches of dismembered Cabbage Patch Kids, mute Elmos—dance in our heads like visions of flooded cities. It’s all dark clouds with charcoal linings. We’re doomed!

Aw, who are we kidding? SN&R friggin’ loves the holidays just as much as the next kindergartner. Heck, G.I. Joe Ninja Showdown and Hannah Montana’s playhut are on our annual “better get me dis stuff or else” list (shoot, let’s double-check!)

Anyway, we dig all that iCrap just as much as the next gearhead, but what we really and honestly cherish most are the thoughtful, mindful gifts that have been lovingly purchased from locally owned businesses. So be creative with your hard-earned dollars. Think outside the consumerist box—while still giving cool gifts to the people on your list. Got it?

Good. So, without further ado: our A-Z guide to the holidays. Go! Give! Think! Do! Wrap it up, tape it, slap it, ship it, stick it under a tree, eat something Grandma baked and call it a year. Then have another drink (whoa, something’s in that egg nog?!)

Toddler trends: Kara Perez of Midtown boutique Crimson & Clover will have your baby looking like the most fashionable “lil alt” in Sacramento. Oh, and they sell plenty of fashions for grown-ups, too.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Barack Obama has been president for a year and has done a lot to alter America’s world image, but the impression of the tubby, unhealthy American persists. And for good reason: We’re lazier and fatter than ever. So while you’d probably earn more than a Nobel Prize for changing said global perception, it doesn’t take a fast-talking diplomat to take that first step. Consider: Pony up the $50 a month you were going to spend on heart-clogging fast food—or gourmet cheeses, you pretentious foodie—and gift a gym membership to a family member. You’ll probably only have to fork over a couple months’ worth of fees, because after 60 days, your out-of-shape bro or sis will love getting those endorphins pumping and eating nutritious sticks and twigs from the local farmers’ market. They’re gonna love feeling like they could beat Obama at one-on-one basketball (be careful; I hear he shoots lights out). Anyway, there are all sorts of gyms in Sacramento: Get off your ass and Google one, if you can sneak away from Gossip Girl for a minute. N.M.

It’s been a long, long year, and maybe you notice how your best friend’s been stressed, tired, barely holding it together for the day-to-day necessities. You can’t necessarily lessen her (or his) load, but you can help them take a load off. Happy Day Spa is a hidden south Sacramento gem, tucked away amid various Vietnamese and Korean restaurants. The spa has a simple but elegant décor with lush plants and soothing waterfalls; services include the standard full-body massages—deep tissue, hot stone, Swedish oil, et al.—but the foot massages are the real deal here. With packages starting at $25 for an hour-long session and $15 for a half-hour, this seemingly no-frills service is actually a tiny piece of nirvana that includes an expertly applied “foot reflexology” massage that also includes treatment to the neck, shoulder and calves. At those prices, you can schedule an appointment for two and make it a date. You know, to reward yourself for rewarding your friend. 6911 Stockton Boulevard, (916) 428-8880, www.sachappydayspa.com. R.L.

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services knows what people in our community need—and it’s not just that dusty can of green beans in your pantry. The food bank collects nonperishable food items, adult clothing in good condition, baby supplies, and even arts-and-crafts materials. Donations can be dropped off Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (7 p.m. on Wednesdays) in the food bank parking lot at the corner of 33rd Street and Third Avenue in Sacramento. Organize a food drive at your workplace, charity event or holiday party, and the food bank will supply collection canisters and pick up the donations. They also collect monetary donations online, and they’re so efficient, they can feed a family of four for four days on less than $10. What better bank to deposit your money? Visit www.sacramentofoodbank.org for a complete donation wish list, and see how many items you and your friends can collect. B.C.

A great way to please fans of theater, music and sports is to combine all three by giving the gift of ballet. The Sacramento Ballet has some exceptionally good prices for ticket packages (seriously, full-season tickets start at $85, and you can get a three-show package for as low as $45). We’re not just suggesting The Nutcracker, though it will be plenty of holiday fun, with three rotating leads in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Considering the variety of shows offered throughout the year (a reprise of Carmina Burana, the oh-so-cool Nine Sinatra Songs, and the always amazing Modern Masters program of contemporary choreography), this is an artful gift that is sure to please. 1631 K Street, (916) 552-5800, www.sacballet.org. K.M.

This season, forget the planes and automobiles and stick with the trains. Take the family on a Christmas ride on the Sacramento RiverTrain, complete with story time, musicians, hot cocoa, cookies and a visit from Santa. If buying a gift for a significant other, check out other train rides, like brunch and sunset dinner excursions, New Year’s Eve Express and Murder Mystery rides. For those who want to experience the ruggedness of the Wild West in the comfort of the 21st century, the Great Train Robbery offers staged gunfights and a picnic lunch. Trips are two to three and a half hours long. Prices vary. Trains often sell out, so purchase tickets in advance. 341 Industrial Way in Woodland; (800) 866-1690; www.sacramentorivertrain.com. J.K.

The turkey is a bastion of American holiday tradition. Unfortunately for the bird, it’s also a basted holiday tradition. As more Californians go the vegetarian route, holiday feasts grow increasingly complicated. Anyone can serve a Tofurky next to the sausage stuffing as a peace offering, but nothing says “I respect you and your cruelty-free lifestyle choices” like the gift of a live turkey. Only $25 sponsors one of Farm Sanctuary’s birds for a year. This animal-rescue facility in Orland has saved more than 1,000 turkeys from slaughter since 1986. Your newly adopted turkey will continue to scratch out its days on the farm, and your vegetarian gift recipient will receive a turkey photo and an official adoption certificate. When the weather warms up, Farm Sanctuary is open daily for interspecies family reunions. Visit www.adoptaturkey.org for turkey portraits and sponsorship details. B.C.

This year, <i>glissade</i> on over to the Sacramento Ballet and buy a ticket package for a friend. Dancers Lea Rickers<b> </b> (lavender), Pilar Malim (red) and Elizabeth Anne Bertalino (teal), who are rehearsing for the upcoming performances of <i>The Nutcracker</i>, will <i>demi-plié</i> your generosity.

Photo By Anne Stokes

The city of Davis, for years, had only one music store about the size you could fit in your kitchen: small, cramped. Little to gawk at, a few guitar strings and some sheet music. Then two young musicians bought the place, moved it into a larger storefront right in the heart of downtown Davis, purchased a ton of inventory and held their breath: Sure, we’ve built it, but will they come? Is life really a Kevin Costner movie? Who knows, or cares: Watermelon Music is alive and well and kicking ass. Watermelon is now Yolo County’s “go to” place for those with the bank to give kids (and others) instruments for Christmas. It’s a full-line music store with all varieties of instruments for sale, but Watermelon’s real coolness is that its owners—Jeff Simons and Ron Cowden—have also dedicated the place to being a community hub for music instruction, instrument repairs and rentals, concerts and (often free) music clinics. Plus Watermelon sponsors music and art in local schools and hosts an annual food bank fundraiser (bring a can of soup, get your guitar restrung for free). 207 E Street in Davis; (530) 758-4010; www.watermelonmusic.com. M.W.

No doubt one of the best gifts you can bestow upon kin is kicking them out of the house during the holidays … for a daylong trek through the deep wilderness, of course. OK, so you at least should give them a sporting chance to survive and bestow upon them Steven Evans’ Top Trails Sacramento: Exploring Valley, Foothills, and Mountains in the Sacramento Region, which is the authoritative guide to area hiking. Evans’ book features more than 40 Sacramento area paths, from easy jaunts along the rivers to strenuous and even bizarre pounders through the Eldorado National Forest. Each hike comes with a rubric of sorts—how long, is there a cover charge or fee, is it dog-friendly, will you get attacked (by wolves, bugs, criddlers) or run out of water—and the photos of waterfalls and hidden lakes is enough to log off Hulu for six hours. A word to the wise: Hiking is no joke. Bring water, a compass, proper clothing and respect for nature. And this book. Find Evans’ book at The Avid Reader at the Tower, 1600 Broadway; (916) 441-4400. N.M.

One of the region’s best-kept secrets for holiday gift buying is The Artery, an inspired, artists-owned-and-operated cooperative in downtown Davis. Begun in 1974, the bright storefront and gallery features the fine arts and crafts of a rotating crew of artists from throughout the Sacramento region. We’re talking textile arts, jewelry, ceramics, paintings, blown and fused glass, metal and stone sculptures, woodwork, photography and then some. (Naturally, around the holidays, the place also fills up with trees brimming with exquisitely artistic, handmade ornaments.) As with many co-ops, the 65-member-owner artists themselves take shifts at staffing the store, with each working 18 six-hour stints per year. Oh yeah, another benefit of Christmas shopping at The Artery? The worker/artists wrap your gifts! 207 G Street in Davis; www.theartery.net. M.W.

As SN&R’s arts editor, I don’t want any music gifts. Please don’t give me tunes, “i” or otherwise, because I receive thousands of CDs, digital albums and vinyl releases all year long. So every day is like Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa combined when the mail boatload arrives here at work. Once, some dude even showed up in the SN&R lobby and said he was going to rap for me in person. Swear! So, yeah, no music. That said, I can indeed recommend five good local releases to bestow upon others. Just not me. For starters: Jae Synth’s Synth City, which you can get at any Dimple or The Beat, is good for the crunk’d rap fan in the house. Delorean’s No More Heroes has the refined lyricism and soulful hip-hop instrumentalism of yesteryear—with today’s spirit, perfect for stuffing stockings with sick beats for your cousin in the Che Guevara T-shirt. On the flip side, singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce’s All Masks is a lovely collection of somber tomes (get it at www.garrettpiercemusic.com), while Justin Farren’s Song From Spare Rooms is super addictive (www.justinfarren.com). Of course, you’ll probably have to buy your mom some tunes, and in this case, the new Dog Party EP (at www.myspace.com/dogpartylive) is full proof: If she hates these preteen girl rockers’ album, she really doesn’t have a soul. N.M.

Korean karaoke
No one in my family sings during the holidays, which is sad—and painful, because my mom plays a ton of Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand, and I’d rather endure Uncle Ed serenading “Edelweiss” than have to eat another bit of turkey while the Yentl soundtrack swoons as Mom bitches me out for forgetting the pecan pie again. Anyway, people need people, so we have to hang with the family. But people are so much better off ditching Mom’s Christmas Copacabana-fication after dinner and heading over to Rancho Cordova’s Koreatown, where at Rurulala you can imbibe some holiday cheer in the form of Coors Light and belt out your favorite East and West karaoke classics. Room rentals start at $30 a pop; if you bring bro, sis, nieces and nephews, that’s a cool five bucks an hour to sing along to trash from the past and watch zany Korean MTV. Just be sure to agree on a price first with the owner; you’ll be too drunk to negotiate if the bill isn’t what you expected come 4 a.m. 9721 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 366-3846. N.M.

Little ones
Babies are abundant. Those squishy little humanoids lack sartorial self-awareness, but that doesn’t mean their mamas and papas don’t care what their little ones look like. Crimson & Clover—formerly Atelier, now under new ownership with Nicole Honeyeater of Flaming Hag Folkwear and Kara Perez of Porkchop Rules—have a modest but adorable selection of vintage infant and children’s clothing, as well as punkish screen-printed togs by the Porkchop Rules label. Besides making a great gift to a well-styled youngster, it’s eco-friendly (vintage is recycled), and it’s pleasantly inexpensive (most garments are $2 to $8). Of course, the boutique offers vintage women’s and men’s items, too—something for everyone in the family. 1617 16th Street, (916) 442-1800. S.S.

Here’s the rub … OK, actually, there’s nothing difficult about setting up an appointment at Happy Day Spa with Stacy Tran for you or a friend. The only challenge will be getting out of the chair after an hour of soft-tissue shakedown.

Photo By Anne Stokes

My pony
Your darling daughter wants a horse. But taking care of a 1,000-pound beast is no easy task, financially, physically or mentally. Instead, why not make her a hero and help save the life of a horse by forgoing that new pricey iPod she asked for in lieu of contributing to The Grace Foundation of Northern California’s Horse Emergency Response Operation project? Grace, a mainly equine rescue and rehabilitation facility in El Dorado Hills, created the HERO program to prevent animal neglect when their owners encounter hard times. She can also give herself—and the horses—a gift by taking care of the animals in person, as the foundation offers volunteer opportunities for kids and adults alike. And if giving the gift of life doesn’t placate your little Veruca Salt, Grace also offers riding lessons, starting at $30. 5800 Latigo Lane in El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-0800; www.thegracefoundationofnorcal.org. S.S.

NASCAR phobia
The California Auto Museum offers a truly unique gift for any gearhead: a Model T Ford driving course. It’s a chance to go back in time to the days when engines were started by hand crank and ventilation came through open windshields. The museum even allows class participants to take one of its antique cars for a spin around its massive parking lot. Less daring friends might enjoy a simple afternoon stroll among the museum’s 160 classic cars—some of which date back to the 1800s. Admission is only $8 for adults and $7 for seniors, and tickets can be purchased in advance at www.toweautomuseum.org. Call (916) 442-6802 or visit 2220 Front Street for information about class schedules and registration. B.C.

With El Niño expected to bring intense winter storms to Sacramento—and lots of powder to Tahoe—it’s a great year for snow-sports gifts. But rather than forking over your cash at expensive sporting megastores, check out local, family-owned Clark’s Snow Sports (they actually have two shops: one in Rancho Cordova and Roseville). Whether you’re shopping for a rookie or a frosted veteran, the friendly experts will help you find snowboards and binding bundles, which start at $150. Burton, Lib Tech, Ride, Never Summer, Atomic, Rossignol—they’ve got all the brand names. Clark’s is also stocked with beanies, gloves, shirts, sweatshirts and soft-shell jackets, which are the newest cool thing in winter fashion. And they’re practical: If you eat it while boarding, that jacket will shed light snow and powder and keep you dry to the bottom of the run. 3515 Sunrise Boulevard, (916) 852-7735; 212 Harding Boulevard, (916) 791-7734. R.N.

Past due
Everyone dreads that time of the month when bills are due. With the economy still in shambles, more people are finding it difficult to pay their long list of bills this season. Just a few dollars a month can help someone who is struggling to keep their toes warm this winter. SMUD’s EnergyHELP program can add on as little at $1 per month to your monthly bill. It’s a slight increase for you to keep the holiday season warm and cozy for someone else. Visit www.smud.org for more information. J.K.

For some of us, the only way to endure the holidays is in a deep, liquor-induced stupor. This is where East Sac’s Corti Brothers becomes part of the holiday tradition. You don’t want to be the holiday drunk showing up like some jerk with a sixer of Old Milwaukee under-arm; be the sophisticated alky, the one who passes around shots of Chartreuse verte—an inimitable French liqueur made by reclusive monks—or offers pals a bottle from a hand-selected six-pack of singles from Corti’s extensive fridge o’ beer. And, of course, there’s the wine, of which Corti arguably has the most extensive selection in town. This writer’s holiday picks? Go French: the more affordably and seasonal-appropriate Beaujolais nouveau, a youthful and fruity, pinot noir-like wine; or the more refined (i.e., pricey) Bourgogne, of which I’m sure Darrell Corti or one of the stores’ many wine experts can recommend. Oh, and if you don’t drink, Corti has a wealth of unique sodas and spritzers, which can give a little punch to the usual Pepsi. 5810 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 736-3814, www.cortibros.biz. N.M.

Rocket fuel
Coffee. For some it’s just a morning beverage, for others a way of life. For those on your gift list who fall into the latter category (and really, what’s wrong with those people who fall into the first?), skip the usual Starbucks gift card and go for the local gold standard. Stop by the original Old Soul Co. and pick out a pound (or two, or three) of the company’s premium, locally roasted beans. With selections from around the globe (El Salvador, Ethiopia, Brazil, Indonesia, et al.), you can choose a roast for any taste or need: smooth, bold or mild, decaf or supercharged rocket fuel. 1716 L Street, rear alley; (916) 443-7685; www.oldsoulco.com. R.L.

Watermelon Music are all about the seeds. As in planting the sounds of music. You know, so that kids will learn to play instruments at a young age so that, by their teen years, the tradition of butchering “Stairway to Heaven” will be preserved well into the 21st century.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Sacramento artist Wendy Rivara has a new project just in time for stocking-stuffer season: one of a kind, hand-painted jewelry formed from Shrinky Dink plastic. Rivara’s heart-shaped pendants pulsate with romantic swirls of crimson, cobalt and gold to woo any lover. For a more casual gift, her cartoonish owl and parrot pins perch upon cardigans and instantly charm onlookers. You’ll find these plastic gems at the annual Over 100 Pieces for Under $100 show on December 12, alongside affordable gifts by dozens of local artists. The show is held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bodytribe Fitness, located at 920 21st Street. Local and lovely! You can also order online through Rivara’s Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/nocturnalminds. B.C.

Cooking classes, cookbooks, cooking gear—if you’ve totally played out all the gift-giving options for the food lover in your life, maybe it’s time to go for the edible goods. And we’re not talking some overpriced, pre-packaged gourmet snack item, we’re talking weeks (or months) of fresh, locally farmed produce. Spring for membership in a Sacramento community-supported agriculture delivery and give them the opportunity to eat better, live better and feel better. We like Full Belly Farm for its fresh abundance of seasonal veggies, recipe ideas and eco-friendly tips; they offer a weekly option, but if that’s just too much food, you can also opt for a bi-weekly service. Visit www.fullbellyfarm.com. R.L.

You would do well to steer any aspiring musicians on your holiday gift list toward the ukulele. Ukuleles are affordable—decent beginners’ models start at $100—and even novice musicians can quickly learn the basics with a dedicated teacher. Sacramento music instructor Bill Trainor believes there’s no better instrument for fun and fellowship, so he tailors his ukulele classes to emphasize singalong accompaniment. With a strum reminiscent of Hawaiian vacations, the handily portable ukulele begs to be carried along to backyard barbecues and campfire singalongs. Once you’re there, making s’mores and listening to your loved one pluck her way through a new arrangement of “Under the Boardwalk,” you’ll be glad you didn’t buy her that drum kit. Trainor teaches ukulele classes and private lessons at the Sierra 2 Center, located at 2791 24th Street in Sacramento. Call (916) 248-6002 for information on rates and schedules. B.C.

We don’t know how many ways we can say this: Skip the mall this holiday season. (Skip it all the time, if you can. Trust us, you’ll be happier.) Instead of schlepping around the stores for something sparkly and new, look for the value in something vintage. Yes, vintage probably means used—get over it, because it also means unique and affordable. The Sacramento Antique Faire, which takes place the second Sunday of every month, features hundreds of dealers selling everything from vintage clothing, jewelry and linens to old albums (vinyl!), tools, furniture and quirky home accessories. Listen, your best friend totally needs that pink poodle-shaped planter. Sacramento Antique Faire, every second Sunday, under the freeway at 21st and X streets; www.sacantiquefaire.com. R.L.

Why so serious?
Buy the joker on your list the gift of comedic community. Classes at the Sacramento Comedy Spot are a great way to overcome stage fright, improve speaking presence and hone acting technique and writing skills. (It’s also really fun to engage a roomful of strangers in slow-motion samurai sword fights and invisible roller-coaster rides.) A Comedy Spot membership buys unlimited improv and sketch comedy classes, as well as free entry into some of the club’s weekly shows. A single class costs $10, which makes membership a steal at $25 per month. The Comedy Spot moved to larger, swankier digs in Midtown’s MARRS building earlier this month, so now there’s plenty of room for everyone to make the funny. 1050 20th Street, Suite 130; (916) 444-3137; www.saccomedyspot.com. B.C.

Got somebody on your Christmas list that’s been naughty—or, at least, would like to be? Midtown’s G Spot has you covered for all your XXXmas needs, and we’ve got all the cheesy yuletide euphemisms to go along with them. For starters, there’s a variety of gift boxes offering sensual lotions, oils and lubricants to enhance any couples’ rockin’ around the Christmas tree. The apparel adventurous will find a few special items with which to ho-ho-ho it up, including a sexy Mrs. Claus outfit, complete with fluffy red hat and arm and leg cuffs (for the reindeer, perhaps?). Stockings, too, will be well-hung by the chimney this year, with various vibrating holiday options, including a Santa-faced “Old St. Prick” to assist in you getting your jollies. For those who may wish to have their stocking stuffed a little more discreetly, there’s the Candy Cane Hide-A-Vibe, the gift that keeps on giving with no man the wiser. Don’t forget to throw in some batteries, too. Oh, and speaking of stockings, G Spot’s got those as well—red vinyl ones, in fact, with 4-inch heels. 2009 K Street, (916) 441-3200. K.B.

Ah, garter-stitch scarf, my old friend. The one-move introduction to knitting that looks pretty, with a price tag that’s even prettier. Plus, there’s bonus points for being DIY, and for being thoughtful and personalizing by picking your friends’ favorite colors. Rumpelstiltskin should be one-stop shopping for all you need to get going. Stick to one color, and opt for thicker yarns and larger, wooden needles (12s should make for a fast and loose but not too doily-feminine stitch), and soon you’ll be whipping out a neck warmer per hour for your loved ones. Knitting’s meditative qualities are a gift for you, too, so zone out and get into it this holiday season. Hint: Stick to gifting those that know little about knitting or “have always wanted to learn.” They’ll be impressed; your grandma won’t. 1021 R Street, (916) 442-9225, www.yarnyarnyarn.com. K.B.

Herbs are an important component when crafting culinary masterpieces or comfort-food staples. A bit of basil can turn a grilled cheese sandwich and steamy tomato soup from a kindergartener lunch to a savory adult meal. But making a trip to the farmers’ market or grocery store isn’t always an option—especially when cooking in pajamas or a birthday suit (which is not recommended). That’s when homegrown herbs come in handy. Plus, it’s an affordable gift for a person on a budget. Just make a box for the windowsill with some found wood—or buy one if you’re carpentry-impaired. Spruce it up with personal designs, buy a bag of dirt, some packets of herbs and wrap with a beautiful bow. Try East Sacramento Hardware, 4800 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 457-7558. J.K.