.The Holiday Season Gift Guide: The Pandemic Edition

A pandemic-ready guide to holiday shopping

The Holiday Season Gift Guide.

Admit it, you never liked Black Friday. No one actually liked Black Friday. We all wanted to sleep in after eating or drinking too much on Thanksgiving and not have to drag our sorry butts to the mall at 3am in the California version of an unbearably cold winter morning (maybe even less than 50 degrees!).

Well, guess what, this year we can. In fact, this year we really should. We can think of few things that sound less safe in this pandemic-cozy time than crowding into a box store while sleep-deprived shoppers who may or may not think masking is an issue of personal freedom growl and tussle over big-screen TVs.

That’s not what this is about. This gift guide is for mindful readers who still value shopping local, who want to support community businesses when they need it most. It’s for gift givers who want to soothe the aches of their friends and family’s hard-fought year with something useful for surviving a pandemic, comforting after a hard day, relaxing when it all gets to be too much.

Use this to go full 2020: chocolate, weed, booze and stuff that just makes it feel good to hang out in our homes. ‘Cause, yeah, that’s where we’re all going to hang for the foreseeable future. There is no shame in this gift guide game, people!

The Essentials

Sometimes the best gifts are the most utilitarian, and as we learned from the great toilet paper fiasco of 2020, people can’t get enough of the basics. These may not be extravagant gifts, but every time your friend or family member picks up their pandemic essential, they’ll think of the kind soul who saved them a trip to get it themselves.

Breezy Excursion Bay Area
face mask ($20)
Nothing has proven more essential in the pandemic than a form-fitting face mask, and San Jose apparel company Breezy Excursion lets you show your Bay Area pride while staying safe.

Its trademark “BEST” logo is a classic, but the company also celebrates a brand that Bay Area techies know and love: the conspicuously eco- and fair-trade-friendly Patagonia. Breezy pays homage to the outdoors clothing brand by borrowing their instantly-recognizable font and colors on a San Francisco backdrop.

When worn in well-trafficked areas, such as in one of Silicon Valley’s many al fresco dining corridors, the mask serves as a useful reminder that even if you’re not a hiker—even if you haven’t stepped foot on a hiking trail once this entire year—there’s no shame in letting people think you are.

South Bay Spirits
hand sanitizer
695 Quinn Ave STE 2, San Jose; 408.620.4020
Mere months ago, hand sanitizer was a hot and hard-to-find commodity. Then, Bay Area distilleries—including San Jose’s 10th Street Distillery and South Bay Spirits—pivoted from using their vast stores of ethanol to make alcohol to instead bottle hand sanitizer—and make they did.

Both distilleries offer small bottles to enormous 55-gallon tubs of sanitizer while also selling premium bottles of hard liquor. The $4.50 bottle of gel sanitizer by South Bay Spirits is portable at only 4 ounces and inexpensive, but has 61 percent antiseptic, as prescribed by the CDC. The labels, donated by Santa Clara-based JP Graphics, feature a helpful reminder that even if you use sanitizer, it’s still important to wash your disgusting hands. —Sonya Herrera

Gift Cards

At first blush, a gift card may seem impersonal, but in the midst of a business-shuttering pandemic, it may be the gift that keeps on giving. Think back: Where was your favorite foodie’s default brunch or happy hour? Help them make sure their neighborhood home away from home is still there when this pandemic is over. —Janice Bitters

Sugar Highs
Tired: Godiva, See’s. Wired: Artisan sweets from local confectionaries.
As the weather chills and holidays approach, there’s nothing quite like sipping on hot cocoa or savoring a silky truffle—or spreading the cheer by extending such delectable pleasures to friends and loved ones. But instead of nabbing a generic gift box from Ghirardelli’s or Starbucks, pick one up from one of these mom-and-pop chocolatiers or boutique bakeries that whip up desserts you probably won’t find anywhere else.

1268 Lincoln Ave, San Jose; 408.295.9050
Tucked behind a charming cottage-like Willow Glen storefront, Mariette specializes in chocolate-dipped exotic fruits and brilliantly adorned truffles almost too pretty to eat. Visit the brick-and-mortar shop to browse from hundreds of selections in person or place an order for pre-arranged or custom gift boxes online.

Anton SV Patisserie
1969 O’Toole Way, San Jose; 650.273.7357
Anthony Pham’s cakes are a marvel of engineering well worth the $88 price tag. From luscious cream slathered between 20 or more layers of delicately thin handmade crepes rises an elegant dessert that’s light to the touch but richly flavored with your choice of black sesame, matcha green tea, hokkaido milk, tiramisu or vanilla.

Plumed Horse Chocolaterie by Angelica
14572 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408.867.4711
This partnership between Michelin-star winning Plumed Horse and Angelica Duarte features colorful, hand-crafted confections. Chocolates can be ordered online for pickup Wednesday through Sunday between 5 and 8:30pm through Plumed Horse Boutique.

SWEET TOOTH: Timothy Adams’ chocolate buttons are a delicious work of art.

Timothy Adams Chocolates
539 Bryant St, Palo Alto; 415.755.8923
Named after co-owners Timothy Woods and Adams Holland, this Palo Alto confectionary is known for its sinfully rich sipping chocolate and “chocolate buttons” festooned with brilliant colors and exquisite patterns that make each morsel a work of art. For pandemic-safe shopping, go online to order the chocolate delicacies in pop-art-style gift boxes that come in sets of six ($35), a dozen ($53) or two-dozen ($89) morsels. —Jennifer Wadsworth

Chill Out

If there’s anything that 2020 needs, it’s a chill pill. But since we can’t stop the year from racing forward from one shocking development to the next, the next best option might be just to take the chill pill ourselves now and then, and learn to relax despite the chaos.

Summerland Ceramic Bongs
Shop Online; (415) 742-2455
Living during a pandemic means (most) people are paying a little extra attention to their interior design choices in a home they’ve barely left in months. A hand-crafted ceramic bong from San Francisco’s Summerland doubles as minimalistic decor. Crafted in the Sunset District, Summerland’s glossy white, matte charcoal and terracotta smokeware are made to be displayed proudly for all to see on a coffee table or bookshelf—not hidden away under the kitchen sink. The online shop offers three bong sizes, smaller hand pipes and “some hitters” for more discreet cannabis lovers.

Lagunitas Hi-Fi Hops
Available in CA and CO dispensaries
In a year filled with election drinking games and doom-scrolling-induced hangovers, those looking for a booze break may find the perfect alternative in Hi-Fi Hops. True to its name, this tangy, cannabis-infused sparkling water can stand in for a favorite IPA, with just the right balance of carbonation and citrus bite. North Bay’s own Lagunitas Brewing Co. partnered with AbsoluteXtracts to offer a slew of options: Reverb’s 10mg of THC brings a mellow buzz perfect for socially distanced picnics; the 18mgs of CBD in Unplugged offers a sense of calm and relaxation without any psychoactive effects; Tuner’s 5mg THC/CBD split is for those wanting the best of both worlds. —Katie Lauer

High Maintenance
blunt wand ($10)
It wouldn’t be winter in California without a few puffs of your finest flower, and dispensaries have exploded in the wake of the pandemic. But the most explosive phenomenon of this year—other than the virus—has been the widespread participation in protests organized against police brutality and to declare that, in case it wasn’t clear before, Black lives matter.

Enter the blunt wand to combine the two.

San Jose-based crafter High Maintenance offers colorful and creative wands on which to affix a cigarette, joint or blunt (or all three). The wand helps prevent a smoker’s delicate fingers from being singed by the embers of their vice while proudly displaying many feature slogans from this year, including “Black Lives Matter.” —Sonya Herrera

Local Pot Shops

The push to support local and equitable businesses is alive and well in the cannabis industry, despite fighting for shell space alongside national corporate names and former hedge fund investors.

The Bay Area has dozens of locally based dispensaries that offer delivery or in-person shopping, including several in the South Bay. Shop around for curated kits—like the newly launched themed packages from San Jose-based Airfield Supply Co.—as well as other subscription boxes, weed, treats infused with THC or CBD and cannabis lotions, balms, oils or other self-care finds that make a fun and useful gift for pot aficionados.

Airfield Supply Co.
1190 Coleman Ave, San Jose; 408.320.0230

caliva.com 1695 S Seventh St, San Jose; 888.688.0303

Elemental Wellness
elementalwellnesscenter.com 985 Timothy Dr, San Jose; 408.433.3344

Purple Lotus
plpcsanjose.com 752 Commercial St, San Jose; 408.456.0420

shopharborside.com 1365 N 10th St, San Jose 888.994.2726 1840 Embarcadero, Oakland 1965 Marina Blvd STE C, San Leandro
—Katie Lauer

Treasure Trove

Holiday shopping is stressful in the best of times, but during a pandemic, the thought of venturing out to pick up thoughtful gifts may make some break a sweat.

Here’s one solution to make the whole experience a little less daunting: do it all in one go. San Jose’s Japantown has a collection of shops that offer experiences as well as locally made, one-of-a-kind or vintage wares. There’s enough variety to find something for anyone on the nice list (or for yourself).

THRIFTY: Classic Loot in San Jose’s Japantown has moved to bigger digs but still offers its same charming trinkets and clothing.

Classic Loot
570 N Sixth St, San Jose; 415.371.9091
Since opening its storefront in 2017, fashion-truck-turned-boutique Classic Loot has been an abiding source for timeless style in San Jose. Inside, patrons find a bricolage of cool, cultivated from the last 60 or so years, including 1960s style landlines cozying up alongside ’90s coveralls, ’80s sunglasses and the eternal kawaii Drake pillow.

Back in March, during the throes of the pandemic, the store sadly announced their lease on the corner of 5th and Jackson would not be renewed. “It’s not ‘Goodbye’ but ‘See You Later,'” owner Tam Tran promised.

Well, Classic Loot is back, and just in time to provide gifts for the style maven in your life. Relocated inside the defunct Classic Rock jewelry store, the neo Classic Loot is four times the size it was before, so customers can even practice social distancing while staying stylish.

The Arsenal
208 Jackson St, San Jose
San Jose painter Roan Victor’s murals have a flowing, tumbling quality, like dandelion seeds spilling in a breeze. On walls and bridges throughout downtown, her works portray humans intermingling with nature in scenes that capture the vibrancy of a tender moment. Since 2011, Victor and husband Sean Boyles (also an artist) have made Japantown’s The Arsenal a hub for South Bay artists at any stage of the creative process, offering classes and workshops, paints and supplies, studio memberships and gallery space. Their art supply store also recently expanded into a familiar location: Classic Loot’s old digs on 5th and Jackson.

While COVID has shifted most classes online, the Arsenal still offers evening youth art classes on Thursdays and Fridays, perfect for the young artist in the family who never wants to hear the word Zoom again.

Kogura Co.
231 Jackson St, San Jose; 408.294.3184
Behind the recently reopened doors of the nearly 100-year-old Kogura Company, shoppers can find a cornucopia of imported Japanese gift ideas, from housewares and stationary, to prints and ceramics, charms, tea sets, fans and waving maneki neko statues in black (for health) and white (for luck).

For the hobbyist in the house who already tried making sourdough, there are origami sets and sushi kits. And for that family member with a more, um, rarefied air (don’t call him snobby!) there are tools for ikebana, one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement. —Mike Huguenor

Make Weight

So the pandemic brought with it a few extra pounds, or maybe our favorite gym rat has mournfully watched their muscles dwindle without the dumbbells. Hey, we’re not here to judge, but why not help kick-start their New Year’s resolution with a useful fitness find? Just make sure you know your friend or family well enough that they won’t think you’re trying to send them an unwanted message about their beautiful pandemic physique.

Bala Bangles ($40+)
Upping the ante on a workout isn’t as easy as just adding a little more resistance on the elliptical while watching daytime TV at the gym anymore. Bala bangles can help tune up and tone up at-home workouts. The wearable weights, which come in half-, one- and two-pound increments, wrap around ankles or wrists to make walks, Pilates or other exercises a little more challenging. The bangles cost between $40 and $65 depending on the weight, and make for a handy gift for the exercise enthusiast looking to spice up their workout.

GRID Foam Roller ($35)
For many workers, dialing in from home is the new workplace status quo for the foreseeable future. But with that remote work comes hours hunched over a computer at what is often a makeshift workplace tucked into a tiny Bay Area apartment. Inevitably, neck and back pain follows. The GRID Foam Roller, with EVA foam on the outside and sturdy tubing on the inside, can help work out all the knots and kinks that have suddenly appeared uninvited.


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