Published on February 13, 2020

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Photography by Belle Morizio

For a day that’s all about getting personal, Valentine’s Day can be, admittedly, pretty cliché. Red roses, giant teddy bears, and chocolate boxes may be iconic symbols of the holiday, but let’s be real: You can do a lot better than a cheesy find from the drugstore. The best presents show real care and consideration, some deep thought about what your loved one would really enjoy—and more often than not, they’re not things at all.

So if you’ve put off making an advance order with a florist or you’re not feeling particularly inspired by any of the candies at your local grocer, never fear. You don’t need to buy a Valentine’s Day gift from a store. Instead, think about what kind of experience you can give to (or share with!) your significant other. We promise, it will be way more memorable than even the most delicious chocolates. Need some inspiration? Allow these creatives to share their best-ever nongift gifts.

A Lesson for the Books

I gifted my fiancé an introductory flying lesson at a small airport outside New York City. We took the train out, then the flight school picked us up and whisked us off to a private 60-minute lesson. I went with them, sitting in the back of a four-seater Cessna! Under the close watch of our instructor, Jon flew us over to Connecticut and back. At the end, he got a pilot’s logbook with his first hour recorded. Such a memorable day! —Kaylin Marcotte, founder of Jiggy

A Dinner-Turned-Dream

Every year around Valentine’s Day, my fiancé and I head out to Los Angeles for a week as the New York winter blues start to kick in. Last year he surprised me with dinner with our close friends at Jon & Vinny’s (bonus that the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a favorite film of ours, happened to be parked out front and we got to sit inside together). Afterward, we went to see a friend perform at a Bill Withers tribute night, which was special because I start most mornings listening to “Lovely Day” or “Grandma’s Hands.” Withers himself turned up at the venue and played his greatest hits, including “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” He was magic. It was a gift of an evening that wasn’t meant to be a gift, but it was a night I’ll never forget.
—Dianna Cohen, founder of
Crown Affair

A Sensory Experience

When I think about design, I think about the 360-degree experience and the five senses. Smell is so often ignored, but being surrounded by a customized scent can be game changing. One year, I gave my stylist in L.A. a scent-blending experience, and she was so inspired that she went on to start a business herself blending scents from organic oils!
—Christiane Lemieux, founder of
The Inside

A Highly Anticipated Vacation

I’m a classic Sagittarius (who loves travel and new experiences), so my best nonphysical gift has been a plane ticket for my fiancé to visit Tokyo, his favorite city in the world. Naturally, I needed to book a flight for myself, too. —Kat Collings, editor-in-chief of Who What Wear

A Custom Tasting

I once created a Japanese whiskey tour for a significant other. I selected three bottles, then compiled each one’s company history, geography, distillation method, aroma and tasting notes, food pairings, and fun facts into a small booklet that I had printed and bound at FedEx. We had a lot of fun sampling on our own and with friends on the weekends! —Abigail Cook Stone, cofounder and CEO of Otherland

A Neighborhood Adventure

For my fiancé Issey’s birthday last year, I surprised him with a trip up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, known as the real Little Italy of New York. We had so much fun visiting family-owned shops for handmade pasta, house-cured olives, and fresh mozzarella. We stopped for lunch at an old-school red-sauce joint where there are no menus and the waiter just tells you what they have for that day. The experience was like stepping back in time, and we left with so many delicious goodies to enjoy for the rest of the week back home in Brooklyn. —Trinity Mouzon Wofford, cofounder of Golde

A Special Snapshot

The best nongift I have ever received was a whimsical vintage family photograph taken during a trip to South Africa. We were on a safari, and my husband worked with the lodge to gather vintage props. To my surprise, one morning while we were on a drive looking for animals, our driver pulled up to a tree and there was a table set up with all the props (plus champagne). Now we have this epic family photograph to commemorate such a special trip! Gray Malin, fine art photographer

A DIY Moment

I once received a glassblowing class from my boyfriend. He knows I love collecting glass objects, and we had the best time creating our own pieces together!  —Marisa Hordern, founder and creative director of Missoma  

A Long-Awaited Reunion

A few years back, when we were long-distance, I went to visit my then boyfriend in Slovenia, where he had moved for work. We spent a whole day walking around the city, getting lost in the streets of Ljubljana. It remains one of the most romantic days of my life. —Hawa Hassan, founder of Basbaas

A Step Back in Time

The best nongift gift we’ve given each other has been Re-create the Date, our very own invention. Each year on our first-date anniversary, we switch off making a little booklet, like a stamp book, that features all of the activities we did on our first date in NYC and re-create it. A beer and a shot of Fireball at the Levee in Williamsburg; a walk to the water at North 3rd Street; a few hours of playing cards in McCarren Park; and then a walk home to Greenpoint—it’s always really fun and weird and definitely déjà vu–y.” —Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, founders of Ash + Chess

A Chance to Unplug

When we lived in Los Angeles, my husband, Ian, planned a trip for us to Joshua Tree, where we stayed in a house that was free from tech. We laid outside in a hammock for a few hours stargazing in wonderment and waxing on like new friends, even though we’ve been together a decade. —Eva Goicochea, founder of Maude

A Family Day Out

For Mother’s Day last year, my husband surprised my 4-year-old daughter and me with tickets to Frozen on Broadway after treating us to lunch at Benihana. I love having memories to hold onto more than material gifts—well, most of the time!” —Joyce Lee, senior vice president of design at Madewell

A Custom Treat for Each

Nisha set up a blind cheesecake tasting for me at home one winter. It’s my favorite dessert, and we had a great time sampling and rating six different slices from all over the city without having to brave the cold. —Brendan Kramer, cofounder of Sunday/Monday

I’m the planner in the relationship (but also love surprises), so I was thrilled when Brendan surprised me with a day of “Nisha’s Favorite Things.” The thoughtful day included visiting museums, a lovely picnic in the park with my favorite foods, and seeing friends, without any of the stress of planning.” —Nisha Mirani, cofounder of Sunday/Monday

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