It's harder to buy for a one-year old. The child has a year's worth of stuff. You don't want to duplicate anything the toddler already owns. You also don't want to clutter your friend's home (at least that's a major gift-giving principle for me). You probably don't want to buy your friend's kid anything too potentially annoying (for the parents), lest karma get you back down the line.
Here are some items Natalie has either received recently as gifts or has gotten as a hand-me-down or a rare item we've purchased for her. I hope this can give you some ideas next time you find yourself searching for ideas, as I did all the time pre-baby.
My number-one go-to gifts for babies and children are books. Not only are they gender-neutral, but they don't take up much space and they can be enjoyed for many years and easily shared among siblings. Added bonus: books are easier to return than clothes or toys, in my experience; take them to Barnes and Noble, even sans gift receipt, with your baby in tow and you'll probably get store-credit pity.
I highly recommend the Baby Einstein 12-Book set. Each book has a different theme (shapes, colors, letters, farm animals, etc.) and only contains about 10 pages. This format has worked well with Natalie, as the books fit nicely in her tiny hands and the simple pages have taught her some basic vocabulary words. Down side: she wants to read each of the 12 books over and over, which is exhausting, but she's super happy.
Baby Einstein: First Words and First 100 Words by Bright Baby.
Something book-like that Natalie adores are these DK Publishing My First Touch and Feel Picture Cards. She received the colors and shapes ones as a gift, but I'm sure any of the varieties they sell would be great.
I'm much more cautious when it comes to giving toys or even buying them myself for Natalie. I'm a fan of more interactive toys, ones that have more than one function and require a little imagination. Of course, that needs to be tempered by the fact that Natalie is not yet in the imaginative play stage. She's more in the putting things in and out of boxes phase.
Number one toy-buying rule: if it's electronic, make sure it has an off button.
Regardless, here are a couple winners these days:
The Earlyears Pound N Play -- I had something quite similar to this as a child. Natalie loves watching the balls slide down the ramp. It's also amusing to watch her walk around giggling while holding a plastic hammer. She is starting to (very slowly) understand that she needs to put each ball in the correct spot on the toy, so I guess there's some hand-eye coordination developing there.
B. Parum Pum Pum Drum -- OK, so this 7-piece musical instrument set violates most of my gift-giving principles, which is why I bought it for Natalie myself and haven't given it to anyone as a gift. But this toy is awesome. Again, I remember lots of happy playtime as a child spent with my now-obsolete Fisher-Price music set, and I'm glad Natalie gets a similar experience with this toy. It's easy for a one-year old to manipulate, but I think it's a toy that will grow with her, too. Though it doesn't have an off switch, I have carved out a drum-sized space in the toy box so I can make the set disappear when I've had enough for the day.
Speaking of baskets, though I've never given nor received this gift, I have thought about how the perfect gift for someone Natalie's age would be a basket small enough for a toddler to carry around, filled with toddler-friendly items such as egg shakers, stacking cups, Munchkin Snack Catchers, etc. As cliche as it is, it's true in my experience that a toddler would rather play with packaging and small household goods than play with a fancy toy.
This is the third main category for kids' gifts. Based on my experience, my three pieces of advice would be:
1) Buy clothes for the season ahead in the size ahead. For example, if a baby turns one in September, buy him/her winter clothes in size 18 months. The baby probably already has enough 12-month fall clothes by the time the first birthday comes around.
2) Buy clothes from (slightly more expensive) places the average parent is unlikely to buy from on a regular basis, such as Nordstrom or Baby Gap. That will decrease the likelihood of you buying something the child already has in his/her closet.
3) Buy accessories. Think hats, socks, hair bows. Toddlers receive a lot of outfits but few accessories. Bonus: accessories are more likely to fit and last longer than outfits.
For her first birthday, Natalie received an Amazon gift card that I promptly used to purchase her first pair of real shoes (these Stride Rite sneakers).
print the sizing chart, put your toddler's feet on the chart, plug in the measurements online, and you'll easily wind up with the correct size. Then you can browse the seemingly endless choices online while your toddler sleeps.
What gifts have you given/received that were a big hit for a toddler?