Presents of Mind: Our Holiday Gift Guide

Our holiday gift guide takes the guesswork out of the shopping season.


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For those gifting an outdoor enthusiast obsessed with mountain biking, hiking, or cross-country running, Oakland’s Hydrapak is a sure-fire resource for necessary supplies. The small company offers a range of uniquely designed and unobtrusive backpacks ($59.99 and up) equipped with high-tech water reservoirs that won’t fill with mold or self-destruct after a few intensive escapades out on the trail. Water backpacks run from tiny to mid-sized and rugged. Each comes with a patented water reservoir resilient enough that you can jump on it, rattle it around in your bag, and get rough with it. It is also easy to clean, so with proper care it won’t turn into a petri dish.



Bites with Spice BBQ Recipe Kit

When Jupiter Henry met Lauren Fletcher as Craigslist roommates in 2011, they discovered a shared interest in cooking. Three years later, they are engaged and have produced their first batch of Bites with Spice BBQ Recipe kits. Each kit costs $9.99 and consists of a window-topped metal box that contains two jars of custom-made master spice blends and a barbecue recipe booklet. “The master spice blends do not contain standard pantry essentials such as salt, pepper, and sugar,” says Henry, who previously owned the locally renowned barbecue and DJ catering business Funk N Chunk. “Instead, the home cook adds those ingredients according to each recipe. The result is mouth-watering BBQ that anyone can make with ease.” Yum. For online orders and a map of stores that carry kits, visit



Pet Celebrity Portraits

Want to see your favorite pet showcased in pawsitively adorable style? Then send an e-mail to Oakland artist Ruth Marcus, founder of Pet Celebrity Portraits. Your four-legged loved one can be hand-painted in elegance alongside Obama, Madonna, or any famous face you follow with fervor. If your mom would love nothing more than to unwrap a one-of-a-kind work of art featuring her parrot perched on Cher’s shoulder or an original watercolor print of her beloved Siamese cat posed on David Bowie’s lap, then this is the gift idea that will escalate her yuletide cheer to reindeer-rooftop heights. So, grab a pic of that furry, feathery, or fuzzy friend, and place an order, but these custom pieces take a month to complete. (The deadline for ordering acrylic portraits to be completed in time for Christmas was Nov. 17; the deadline for water colors is Dec. 8, but Marcus says she accepts “bribes.”)



Sugarpill Cosmetics

A cruelty-free line of vegan, vibrant, richly pigmented cosmetics for animal lovers and color fiends alike, Sugarpill Cosmetics offers hip, glam colors for the more audacious pals on your shopping list. Designed by former Bay Area local Judy Shrinkle, these “bold high-performance cosmetics for the dangerously pretty” come in norm-defiant colors such as loose powdered Hellatronic and Supercharged Neon or subdued everyday tones such as pressed Subterranean and Diamond Eyes powders ($12). Other treats to be acquired for gift-giving include brushes, wild and crazy false eyelashes, and all-inclusive color combo palettes.



Romoss Sailing 3 External Battery Pack

Airports have already turned us into a people willing to strip down to our undies in order to prove we aren’t mass murderers. That’s fine. Now they expect Smartphone addicts—that is, everybody—to happily sit around tethered to power outlets to make sure our vital little devices work all the way to Houston. Give everybody on your list the freedom of a portable power supply. A low-cost external charger is a great alternative to bulky battery cases. The Romoss Sailing 3 has some special features, a great buy for the price of a decent lunch. It can charge a phone and a tablet, or even both at the same time. It has some blinking lights to show when it’s loaded. And it can overcome some sort of infernal software manufacturers build into their wares, so that charging efficiency is reduced when you plug their phone into some other brand’s charger. It’s also small and sleek, about the size of the phone itself, with nice rounded edges and unobtrusive gray-and-white color scheme. It can charge and be charged at the same time, and has enough capacity (7800 mAh, whatever that means) to juice an iPhone four times. Like just about everything else these days, it’s also a flashlight. Available at most computer outlets.



Nonprofit Calendars

Bored with generic calendars from the mall? For 2015, delight your friends with a unique Bay Area calendar—produced to benefit a Bay Area nonprofit. The Birds of the S.F. Bay Area photo wall calendar by Golden Gate Audubon features stunning images of hummingbirds, owls, falcons, and other local birds ($20 at Pet owners will enjoy the dog, cat, and rabbit images in the Oakland Animal Services calendar ($20 at The Folk Art for Schools calendar supports Sonoma public schools with the whimsical work of Patrick Amiot, the “junk sculptor of Sebastopol” ($15 at Or festoon your wall with hunky guys—local ones, of course—in the Bare Chest calendar produced by the AIDS Emergency Fund in San Francisco ($20 at



Oculus Rift

At long last, virtual reality is coming your way. After years of development, the Oculus VR headset will become available to the general public in 2015. The Rift functions as a lightweight portable headset and features a 5.6-inch LCD display as well as dual lenses positioned over the eyes, for a full 90 degrees horizontal and 110 degrees stereoscopic image. When paired with headphones, the unit provides a completely immersive experience for your video, movie, or video game, allowing you to feel as if you’re part of the content that you’re playing, moving about with feeling little to no nausea. For players who wear glasses, the Rift features swappable lenses that comfortably wrap around your glasses, ensuring the headset doesn’t bump against them as you play. The Oculus Rift is expected to retail in the $300 range, although a final release date and pricing have yet to be announced.



Kisai Vortex

Smartphones have eliminated the necessity for a watch, but for the geeks on your holiday shopping list, show them the merits of a timepiece with Tokyoflash Japan’s new Kisai Vortex. The Kisai line reinvents how watches display time—some models camouflage the time in a maze or a Magic Eye–esque image–with the Vortex hiding two time zones in a spiraling LED whirlpool. At first glance, the watch face is completely unreadable—though beautiful and eye-catching—but bend your mind a little, and the time reveals itself in the absence or presence of specific LEDs along the spiral. The stainless-steel casing and gunmetal finish bring home the futuristic design—a big reason Kisai watches appear in movies such as Avatar and Iron Man 2—making it a unique fashion statement and great conversation starter.



Reusable Shopping Bags

Scrap the wrap and bundle the gifts for your loved ones in reusable, waterproof shopping totes, making it two gifts in one. Plastic bags are disappearing from the East Bay retail landscape and more stores are adding a bag charge. A $10 reusable bag will help reduce waste this holiday season. Available everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Try boutique home goods stores Rockridge Home, 5418 College Ave., 510-420-1928,; and Nathan & Co., 5636 College Ave., 510-601-1677, 4025 Piedmont Ave., 510-428-9638,, to name just two.



Outlaw Soaps

Everybody loves vegan bacon soap. For the porcine-prone in your midst, a slab o’ bacon soap—and it looks like the real deal—made from skin-friendly oils including coconut and olive is one gift idea from Oakland-based Outlaw Soaps, a company created by a married pair, Russ and Danielle Vincent, determined to spread eco-friendly soaps all over the world. Soap categories include Wild Lifestyle soaps, WTF soaps, and Outdoorsy soaps. Blazing Saddles, boldly declared “the best soap ever,” is a beautiful geological-looking slice of cream, yellow, and burnt orange. Sage Copper Canyon, Wild Grass, and Hair of the Dog include organic ingredients such as whiskey and coffee. Don’t forget colorful bars Unicorn Bacon and for those with a sense of humor, Unicorn Poop. Outlaw soaps are distributed through a number of local shops.



Shave & Haircut

For the hard-to-please man in your life, a gift certificate for an old-school straight razor shave ($30) or haircut ($25) shows your love without scripting the outcome. This way, they’re sure to get some pampering in a man-cave-like space without a lot of fuss and hoopla. Tucked away on a quiet side alley and owned by locals Brad Roberts and Nicholas Vlahos, the Temescal Alley Barbershop is an aesthetically pleasing space with an authentic barber pole, clean white-tile floors, skylights, and wood-framed old-timey barbershop photos. Roberts and Vlahos look straight out of the same era, albeit with modern tattooed chic. Temescal Barber Shop, 470B 49th St., Oakland,


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