Kids and Nature

Bay Area’s Top 10 nature gifts for the holidays

December 10, 2012

Hey, Bay Area nature lovers. Still on the hunt for a perfect holiday gift?

Stop pounding your head on a California sycamore like a downy woodpecker. We here at Bay Nature put our abalone shells together just long enough to come up with a shopping list that will make your Mission blue antennas spin.

The Bay Area has such tremendous natural resources that there’s easily something to please. So, rest your tule elk haunches long enough to spot a gift that will make your snowy plover peeps happy you thought of them.

Photo by Flower Factor.

It’s like an aquarium, but for plants. Terrariums are the perfect gift for beginning gardeners, DIY-types, or someone without a yard or outdoor space. Once the correct moisture level is reached, terrariums are easy to maintain with little attention. For advanced green thumbs, terrariums can help store delicate seeds from the harsh outdoors in the off-season.  Pre-made terrariums can be purchased from florists, or you can build your own. Succulence in San Francisco claims to have the largest collection of terrarium supplies in the city, and sells pre-made terrariums as well.

Santa Clara Valley Liveforever, Dudleya setchellii. Photo by Randomtruth/Flickr.

A succulent:
Adapted to surviving in some of the harshest of conditions, succulents can be a great gateway plant for someone who hasn’t mastered the art of — ehem — watering. Give a Bay Area variety and help ensure the continued propagation of native succulents. The dudleya succulent has two species common in the Bay Area: rock lettuce (D. cymosa), found on Mount Diablo, and powdery dudleya, or bluff lettuce (D. farinosa), which is strictly coastal. The endangered Santa Clara Valley dudleya (D. setchellii) is also a good choice. Dudleyas can live a couple decades, or even a century, making them a gift with lasting power. Native succulent plants can be purchased from nurseries and farmers markets.

Photo by Bob Baker/Flickr.

Bird Box:
In just a few short months, nesting birds will be looking for a place to call home. Chances are they’ll have trouble finding a dead tree cavity in our urbanized and manicured landscapes. Which makes a bird box a perfect gift for someone with a little outdoor space and a nurturing spirit. For best results, find out which birds are already visiting the neighborhood and choose a box designed for that species. And make sure to point out how to successfully place a bird box and care for its feathered inhabitants. Your loved one can also participate in efforts to track the health of bird populations. One good place to shop for bird boxes is the Audubon Workshop.

Photo by Cara Faus/Flickr.

Hand-picked green toys:
Need a gift for a babe, but feel like you need a PhD in chemistry to navigate the morass of products to find ones that are truly free of nasty chemicals? Fortunately, someone has done some of the work for you. Peek a green, an Oakland-based purveyor of natural baby and toddler products, sells everything from building blocks to feeding spoons from its online store, and even carries a special section on products made from sustainable bamboo. The products are hand picked to avoid toxic chemicals and to support renewable materials. At least one line of toy products it sells is local. Green Toys, from Mill Valley, makes airplanes, recycling trucks and the like out of recycled milk jugs.

Photo by MissMalaprop/Flickr.

Reusable shopping bags:
So many Bay Area towns are going free of plastic bags, making a reusable tote bag a great stocking stuffer. ChicoBag is durable and stuffs so small you can have one with you all the time. But there are plenty of options on store shelves these days. Project GreenBag manufactures organic cotton totes right out of San Francisco, and the company claims a bag pays for itself in about a year if you use it eight times a month.

Photo by Jasper Nance/Flickr.

Mushroom kit:
Ever dreamed of growing your own ‘shrooms? We mean, the culinary kind. A starter kit could be the right way of testing your mycology chops before you move to the big league. Oakland-based Back to the Roots sells $19.95 kits that lets you grow 1½ pounds of oyster mushrooms in as little as 10 days. The soil is made from recycled coffee grounds, and some lucky growers can get as many as four crops out of it, making the price per pound pretty good. For a personal touch, you can design your own box.

Photo by M kasahara/Flickr.

Local honey:
Here’s a way to taste your neighborhood. Buy a jar of honey made from local bees. Honey can taste very site specific, depending on the fauna present. With beekeeping becoming practically an obsession among urban farmers, you’ll have plenty of choices. Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper, a San Francisco-based honey and beekeeping supply shop in the Mission, sells jars and other honey-related paraphernalia like soap, and also will ship elsewhere. The store has also put together garden hive kits, so you can get your special person going in the dream of becoming a backyard beekeeper.

Photo by Born 1945/Flickr.

Birding kit: 
Just around the corner is winter break, and surely a child in your life will need something to do. Inspire their inner naturalist with a backyard bird discovery kit. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Sleuth program is selling $19.95 holiday birding packages for kids that include all the supplies a kid needs to start learning about their feathered friends. Even better, the purchase goes to support the lab’s K-12 education program.

Photo by Loren Javier/Flickr.

Whale watching trip:
Got someone with enough stuff in their life? Maybe a new experience would make them happy. Wintertime is whale-watching season, and the Oceanic Society leads tours starting in December out of Half Moon Bay. With 2012 being such a banner year for sightings because of ocean conditions, it may well be a good time to go. Program funds benefit environmental education and marine research in northern California.

Bay Nature Magazine:
And now for a little shameless self promotion. Is someone you know looking to expand their depth and breadth of knowledge about nature in the Bay Area? That’s what Bay Nature Magazine is for. Get one full year of Bay Nature Institute’s quarterly magazine at a discounted holiday rate of $17.95 (less with more than one purchase) [Ed: 2020 price is now $21.95 for 1, $19 each for 2 or more]. Plus you’ll support the non-profit that runs countless other programs — including get-togethers, toured hikes, and even more nature news and information on its online portal,

Alison Hawkes is the online editor for Bay Nature. 

About the Author

Alison Hawkes was a Bay Nature editor from 2011-2017. Before Bay Nature she worked in journalism for more than a decade as a former newspaper reporter turned radio producer turned web editor with each rendition bringing her closer to her dream of covering environmental issues. She co-founded Way Out West, a site dedicated to covering Bay Area environmental news.

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