White elephant gifts under $20 that are actually steal-worthy

Illustration by Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times; animation by Li Anne Liew / For The Times


This is part of the L.A. Times 2022 Gift Guide. See the full guide here. If you make a purchase using some of our links, the L.A. Times may be compensated.

White elephant gift exchanges are among the most popular holiday party activities. The gist of the game is simple: Each attendee brings a low-cost gift and draws a number to determine the order in which they get to pick a present out of the pile. However, a participant can opt to either pick a new gift or steal one that’s already been opened by someone else during their turn — that’s when things get competitive.

Here’s a list of items under $20 — some are quirky, others are practical, but none are gag gifts — that people will actually want. You can purchase most of these gifts in person in Los Angeles and at the last minute, phew. For the planners, there are some to add to your online shopping cart.

Plant from Latinx With Plants

A plant in a bag from Latinx With Plants
(Andi Xoch)

You really can’t go wrong with bringing a plant — a.k.a. the gift that keeps on growing — to a white elephant party. At Latinx With Plants, the popular plant Instagram page turned Boyle Heights plant shop, you can purchase a small plant for less than $15 — consider a pothos, hoya and calathea — then place it inside a Mexican-inspired gift bag or a one-of-a-kind pot that’s been handmade by a Mexico-based artisan.

$20 at Latinx With Plants

Sake set from Utsuwa-No-Yakata

A sake set from Utsuwa-No-Yakata

Utsuwa-No-Yakata, which means “house of pottery” in Japanese, has been selling authentic Japanese tableware and ceramics at its storefront located inside the Little Tokyo Galleria since 1981. You can purchase one of its stunning sake sets for $15.99 right now, instead of the listed price of $35. (The item will remain at this price until it sells out, according to the store owner.) Also, head over to the supermarket inside the shopping center to pick up a bottle of sake for as low as $2.99 to complete the gift.

$15.99 at Utsuwa-No-Yakata

Uniqlo’s colorful socks

Colorful unisex socks by Uniqlo

You can never have enough socks. Grab a few pairs from Uniqlo’s infamous wall of colorful socks, which is known to spark a rush of dopamine with its vibrant hues. The ribbed-knit, unisex socks, which come in 50 colors, are comfortable enough for lounging around the house or dressing up for a night on the town.

$3.90 or four for $12.90 at Uniqlo

Animal planters from Wacko

A llama planter from Wacko

You can easily spend a few hours wandering the aisles of Wacko, a family-run pop culture toy and gift shop based in Los Feliz, which has an inventory of more than 2 million items and has been around since 1971. (The store also houses Soap Plant and La Luz de Jesus Gallery.) As the name suggests, Wacko is where you can find eccentric gifts that no one else at the party will have, like Kikkerland’s Lloyd the Llama planter, which is leak-proof and perfect for succulents. The store also sells other adorable planters, including ones shaped like a hedgehog and a smiling mushroom.

$15 at Wacko

Goodies Santal candle

A Santal candle from Goodies
(Pornchai Mittongtare / Goodies)

Goodies, the boho-chic boutique known for its aesthetic homeware essentials and ceramics, doesn’t sell anything over $25. Consider gifting Goodies’ bestselling candle, the Santal, which some customers have called a satisfactory dupe of Le Labo’s beloved Santal candle, which would set you back $82. Goodies’ Santal Candle, which is made from all-natural coconut soy wax and consists of a blend of sandalwood, cardamom and cedarwood, retails for $22 (just a little more than $20, but worth it). The fresh-smelling candle has a 60-hour burn time. You can purchase the candle online or in person at one of Goodies’ four locations, in Venice, Costa Mesa, Atwater Village and Santa Monica.

$22 at Goodies

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AuxGod karaoke card game

AuxGod card game
(Mike Bamboo)

Created by Mike Rousseau, who strove to never sit through a boring party again, this music battle card game will have you jumping out of your seat, showing off your best dance moves and singing your heart out. To play, create three teams, one of which will act as the judging team and draw a question from the playing cards. (This team rotates each round.) The two remaining teams will respond by playing their selected song in a music battle showdown. The team with the best song is awarded a point by the judges based on AuxGod’s judging criteria. It’s sort of like karaoke, but way more competitive. AuxGod offers four versions of the game based on music genres: pop; hip-hop and R&B; soca and dancehall; and country.

$19.99 at Kohl’s

Govee lights

Govee LED Strip Lights
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

If you search “best LED strip lights on Amazon” on TikTok — because the app’s basically another form of Google — you’re bound to come across the brand Govee at least a dozen times. The smart home brand is currently selling its 16.4-foot, colorful LED lights for just $19.99 on Amazon, which can illuminate and uplift the energy in your home. Use Govee’s smartphone app to adjust the color and brightness of the lights and sync them to music to make it feel like a full-fledged concert.

$19.99 at Amazon

From the vital to the whimsical, this unique gift guide features tech-enhanced products to help you unplug or stay connected in your busy life.

Nov. 2, 2022

Wine Condoms

Wine condoms in a box
(Wine Condom)

Wine Condoms are exactly what they sound like: a tongue-in-cheek but practical solution to storing your favorite bottle of pinot or chardonnay. Created by mother-son duo Laura Bartlett and Mitch Strahan, Wine Condom was inspired by a makeshift wine stopper made from plastic wrap and a rubber band. Presented in sleek black and gold packaging, the Wine Condoms, which are made with shrink-to-fit technology, fit nearly any bottle and provide an airtight, leak-free seal for your wine. Unlike regular condoms, they’re reusable as long as you don’t break them.

$14.97 for a set of six at Amazon

Blooming Tea from Chado Tea Room

Blooming Tea from Chado Tea Room
(Chado Tea Room)

Chado Tea Room offers more than 300 tea selections, including black, oolong, green, pu-erh and wine-inspired teas. One that would be perfect for a white elephant gift exchange is Chado’s blooming — also known as flowering — tea, which is a treat not only for your palate but also for your eyes. The blooming tea, which is available in a lychee flavor, consists of 1.6 ounces of tea leaves that have been artfully wrapped around a dried flower. Drop the blooming tea into a glass teapot or mug of boiled water and watch as it unfurls into a delightful flower. You can purchase it at one of Chado’s four locations, in Pasadena, downtown L.A. (inside the Japanese American National Museum), Torrance and Hollywood. For 4 ounces of blooming tea, purchase via Chado’s website for $35.90. (Chado Tea Room is also mentioned in our cozy gift guide.)

$15 at Chado Tea Room

Momoho’s Mini Bluetooth speaker

Momoho Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Momoho sells one of the smallest Bluetooth speakers on the market that actually has a decent volume for the price. Its compact size makes it easy to carry around in a pocket or bag, or even hang from your keychain. The winner of this gift can bring it along to their next picnic or hiking adventure.

$14.99 at Amazon

Dash Mini waffle maker

A Mini waffle maker by Dash and a gingerbread waffle

Speaking of miniature gifts, Dash offers an extensive line of bitsy cooking products, including its bestselling waffle maker, which comes in various festive shapes like a gingerbread man, snowflake or Christmas tree (use a matcha waffle mix, like the one by Ghetto Gastro, for the full effect on this one). This compact gadget is easy to use and clean, plus it won’t take up too much space on your kitchen counter. Whoever nabs this gift during the game can also stretch beyond waffles and make frittatas or pre-baked cinnamon rolls. Alternatively, grab Dash’s Mini Bundt cake maker, which also retails for less than $20. You can purchase the waffle maker in person at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond, or online via Dash’s website.

$12.99 at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Dash

Typo’s Double Dip bowl

A Double Dip Bowl from Typo

This is a great gift for the person who enjoys hosting, or just appreciates having nifty kitchenware at home. Typo, the lifestyle branch of retailer Cotton On, sells a Double Dip Bowl with a designated area for chips and a smaller section for a favorite dip. It comes in 14 playful designs.

$19.99 at Cotton On

Baggu reusable bag

Baggu's strawberry reusable bag
(Leanna Lin’s Wonderland)

Founded by mother-daughter duo Joan and Emily Sugihara in 2007, Baggu makes reusable totes that have been spotted at many local Trader Joe’s. The stylish, sustainable bags come in whimsical designs like a cluster of smiley faces, a shrine of mushrooms and a pattern of fluffy cats. There are also solid-colored tote bags for those who prefer a simple design.

$14 at Leanna Lin’s Wonderland or Baggu

Bed Bath & Beyond’s Simply Essential solid plush throw blanket

Simply Essential Solid Plush Throw Blanket from Bed Bath & Beyond
(Bed Bath & Beyond)

Bed Bath & Beyond’s ultra-soft throw blanket comes in four neutral colors including navy blue and taupe. Fans of all things cozy will try to steal this.

$20 at Bed Bath & Beyond

In-N-Out Burger gift card

An In-N-Out Burger gift card
(In-N-Out Burger)

In-N-Out Burger is offering festive gift cards for the holiday season. Snag one on your way to the party. White elephant players who love Double-Doubles or Animal-Style Fries will be excited to get this gift.

$20 at In-N-Out

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