I’m about to drop a hot take, and I need you all to stay with me. Candles ARE NOT A BORING GIFT. I get it, they get a bad rap for being the easy-out hostess gift. And sure, not everyone enjoys a scented candle. But these wax wonders can be complex, elevated, and intense. They can transform the way you feel in a space. The first thing I do in the mornings (when I don’t wake up too late and have to fly out the door) is light a candle in the bathroom and a candle or stick of incense in the living room. It’s a form of meditation for me, and I just really enjoy the warmth a candle gives a room. And you can bet there is always a candle lit in my office here at work. Plus, I’m an olfactory obsessee, if it smells good I want it. Candles, soaps, incense, perfume, GIMME. And I’m here to (hopefully) change your perspective on candle giving this season.
Over the years, I’ve bought and burned many a candle, some have topped the list and others were forgettable. Remember, not all candles have to smell like cloying sugar cookie dough or detergent. There are a lot of really cool makers out there producing really interesting scents in truly beautiful containers. Not only are these guaranteed to smell amazing, but they’re also gonna look great sitting on a desk, nightstand, or credenza. HAVE I PROVEN MY LOVE FOR CANDLES YET? They can get to be pricey, but there’re also a lot of great budget options out there (perfect for a co-worker, or white elephant gift). So without further ado, here’s a list of my 16 favorite candles across all price points.
1. Hearth & Hand – Sugared Birch: This candle smells like a fresh snowy forest, on a brisk winter day. It’s clean and surprisingly refined for a $5 candle. I’ve been keeping this tiny candle on a little tray in my bathroom for the past few weeks. It’s minimal, small, but throws a great scent.
2. Mrs. Meyers – Lemon Verbena: I once interned at a very well-known production company for a year and this was the signature scent for the entire building. It was the dish soap, hand soap, and the candles burning in the waiting room and every bathroom. So whenever I get a whiff of this, it takes me way back. But it’s a very nice scent, and I had a great time interning so all good memories. No one would be disappointed to have this burning on their desk (or in their home).
3. Voluspa – French Cade & Lavender: This isn’t actually a candle I’ve burned myself, but it’s Arlyn’s absolute non-seasonal favorite. Here’s what she has to say: “It has a crisp clean floral, and throws scent INCREDIBLY well (a little guy can fill a room with a soft scent that isn’t suffocating). If I burn this candle with guests around, they no-fail ask me what it is, plus it also mixes really well with other scents if I light numerous candles. I like to burn it with Capri Blue Volcano (Anthropologie’s signature scent). Anthropologie actually tends to burn both of these together as well, which gives you that ‘I never want to leave this place, I’m moving in’ feeling.”
4. Opalhouse – Juniper & Red Ginger: This little candle is perfect for stocking stuffing, gift bags, or multiple co-worker gifts. It packs a great punch for its size in both the smell and burn time departments. Juniper & Red Ginger is my favorite holiday-themed scent, without being overwhelmingly HOLIDAY. It’s warm, spicy, and very cozy. This scent also comes in a pretty glass version, if you want to up the glam factor for a few dollars.
5. Hearth & Hand – Cardamom & Vetiver: When I first sniffed this candle straight from the jar, I didn’t get much, but as soon as it started burning, the scent comes through. This is currently the candle burning in the office Arlyn and I share (there’s always at least one thing burning in there). It’s a warm, subtle scent that’s not overpowering but just whimsical enough that it’s perfect for a cozy winter night or a relaxing summer afternoon. Cardamom has a slightly floral scent while vetiver brings a sharper green scent that balances the sweeter tones of the cardamom really well. Plus the pretty label and brown jar make it easy to style in any home.
1. Rx Candle – White Sandalwood: I love a local candle maker, and Rx Candles checks that box along with making beautifully scented candles at a great price. White Sandalwood smells to me like a sweet incense and vanilla, minus the smoke. It almost has a nostalgic smell for me, like a perfume my mom might have bought me as a kid that was scented like gummy bears…but elevated and more complex. It’s a weird way to describe it, but it’s the description I keep going back to. IN A GOOD WAY. I burn this candle all the time, and I have the room spray, too.
2. P.F. Candle Co. – Patchouli Sweetgrass: I’m going to hit on two P.F. Candle Co. scents in this post, but they have SO MANY GOOD ONES. I haven’t really come across a P.F. Candle Co. candle I didn’t like. They come in their iconic brown jar container and are sold all over. So many small boutique shops here in LA stock them, and they come in various sizes to hit different price points. Recently one of my favorite scents has been Patchouli Sweetgrass. It’s an earthy, light, and natural smelling candle. This is actually a fairly neutral scent, so if you’re thinking of getting a candle for someone who might be strong-scent adverse, this is a nice option. The closest thing I can compare it to is hay (in a very GOOD way), and it makes me think of warm summer days.
3. P.F. Candle Co. – Night-Blooming Jasmine: Another favorite P.F. Candle Co. scent is their Night-Blooming Jasmine. While Patchouli Sweetgrass has me thinking about warm summer days, Night-Blooming Jasmine makes me think of warm summer nights. With it’s heady, deep floral scent, this is a moody candle. But unlike Patchouli Sweetgrass, Night-Blooming Jasmine comes in a beautiful terra-cotta jar perfect for a casual California home.
4. Thymes – Frasier Fir: If you’re looking for the perfect holiday candle, THIS is the one. There are a lot of “Frasier Fir” candles out there this time of year, but for me, none have compared to Thyme’s timeless scent. Brady had this burning in his apartment one year while we shot Christmas content. He’s always burning a good candle, but this one really got my attention. It’s fresh and the perfect replica of a woodsy Christmas tree covered in crisp snow, without being overpowering. Hot Tip: Get the white wax version, I’ve found that the colored wax versions don’t throw the scent as well.
1. Spitfire Girl Goddess Candle – Cassiopeia: This might be the prettiest candle in the bunch, and I’ll gladly display this on my shelf any day. It’s from a collection of candles from Spitfire Girl all based on constellations. This one is based on the vain queen Cassiopeia, and has very royal notes of mandarin zest, bergamot, and vanilla. If anyone wants to get me another one, I’m happy to send you my address.
2. Otherland – Chandelier: Sophisticated and clean are the two words I would use to describe this candle. Saffron, champagne, and leather are the three notes here and they make this candle smell much more expensive than it is (though sure, it’s pricey). If someone’s coming over and I want to impress them, this is what I’m burning. They’ve just dropped a new line of holiday scents that I’m DYING to get my hands on (especially Silk Pajamas, Sacred Dusk, and Black Velvet)
3. Maison Louis – Neige de Printemps: The candle for the minimalist in your life. Everything from the beautifully designed type on the box to the clean and complex scent of citrus it has wafting through the air. It almost smells like the green part of a citrus tree. I also want to throw out an honorable mention for their spicy scent Aboukir, which almost took the spot on this list.
4. PLTNC – Forest Floor: This candle is made by a friend of Mac’s and we buy one every December to slowly burn throughout the year. It’s scent is mossy and dark, and comes in a very cool minimal jar (which is 100% guy approved by Mac). This is premium lifestyle-mafia-gift material, here. And I know for a fact that this candle is poured with love by a very cool dude who is probably the president of his local lifestyle mafia chapter.
5. D.S. & Durgas – Concrete After Lightning: Described as “Electric crackle, downpour, panic grass, sizzling asphalt steam. Respite on muggy summer days.” And THAT was intriguing, so I, of course, had to have it. I’m not sure if I get “panic grass” but I do love a high concept candle. It smells like what I would want a cologne to smell like if I made colognes, and the more I sniff it the more I think it does smell like wet concrete. The design and presentation get an A+ as well. Side note, their perfume “Cowboy Grass” is a favorite and I’m happily accepting donations of it to last me through the year.
The Best Budget Candle: Threshold – Coconut & Honey Crackling Wick
I was NOT expecting to enjoy this candle as much as I did. I picked it up at Target one night on a whim and haven’t looked back since. (I’ll admit, I really don’t ever leave Target without at least ONE candle, and I don’t think it’s a problem). This unassuming brown jar candle has a wood wick, which I feel really slows the burning time making your candle last longer. This isn’t proven science, just something I’ve observed. That wood wick also creates an amazing flicker and every now and then you get a great crackling wood sound effect. Best of all, these candles really throw. They quickly fill a room with their scent and warm burning wood vibe. There are several scents in this line, but my favorite so far has been Coconut & Honey. I don’t want to be gender assuming here, BUT I could easily see this non-decorative candle sitting happily in any dude’s space. Guys like their spaces to smell good too, right?
The Overall Favorite: Tatine – Garden Mint
But the spot for absolute favorite candle goes to Tatine’s “Garden Mint.” It’s herby, dark, mysterious, and extremely sensual. Once upon a time, I was shooting a home where the owner was burning this beautiful candle and I found a store that carried it THAT DAY and picked one up before heading home. I haven’t smelled anything like it since. I literally have my nose in this candle right now, as I try and decide how to best describe its complex notes. It’s certainly herby, but not floral. It’s minty, but not like a pack of gum. It’s like mint mixed with soil wet from a summer rain, and old bookstore on a crisp overcast fall day, AND I JUST WANT TO BURN THIS CANDLE ALL THE TIME. Plus it has the one characteristic that I think truly defines a good candle – you don’t have to be burning it for the scent to reach your nose. In fact, often just by setting out this candle, it does a great job of scenting the room without a match in sight (saving you some serious cash). For $40 you are getting a high quality, long-lasting, and beautifully crafted candle.
So, there it is. My magnum opus to candles, and why people shouldn’t be so bored of gifting them (or receiving them, you grinch). And if you’ve never been a candle person before, and you have a collection of gifted yet unused candles just…try it out. Really.
But before I leave you…a few last-minute tips: If you really want to round out a candle gift, try adding a set of cute matches, a ceramic match holder, or a wick trimmer along with your candle. What are wick trimmers and why are they important? Well, their name is pretty self-explanatory: they trim a candle’s wick. But their shape allows you to get into a deep candle jar to trim a wick in way that scissors can’t. And you should be trimming your candle wicks before lighting each and every time (even when they’re brand new). A short wick means a smaller flame, which distributes heat more evenly and prevents tunneling. Thus extending the life of your candle.
This year, give the gift of scent! It’s not weird or boring, I promise.
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp