Washington DC’s world-class museums showcase everything from art to history to space to espionage. So it’s no surprise the shops in those museums hold a panoply of unusual gifts as well. At these 10 museums, we promise you won’t mind exiting through the gift shop (and if you’re not local, most offer online shopping as well).
Make your astronaut dreams come true by shopping at the National Air and Space Museum © Barbara Noe Kennedy / Lonely Planet
National Air and Space Museum
Three words: astronaut ice cream. Children of all ages beg for this too-cool, all-time favorite purchase at the National Air and Space Museum. And, given the fact the museum is one of the world’s top-visited museums, they sell a lot of dehydrated ice cream. But you’ll find much more at this three-level shrine to aviation- and space-themed wonders. Some of the novelties include space suits for babies, a portable planetarium, aviator gradient sunglasses, a space rocket playset and books on any air- and space-related topic you can think of. Shop online here.
National Museum of the American Indian
The expansive, beautifully appointed gift shop on the second floor of the National Museum of the American Indian is a veritable exploration of tribes from Alaska to Peru and beyond through their handcrafted arts and crafts. You’ll find Navajo turquoise, alpaca sweaters from Bolivia, Jémez pottery, storyteller dolls from Acoma, Zapotec textiles and more – not to mention books on art, history, politics, culture and cooking. Don't miss the smaller store on the ground level. Shop online here.
The Renwick Gallery
The Renwick is where locals go to find special gifts. Devoted to American arts and crafts, this Smithsonian museum near the White House stocks jewelry, pottery, textiles, photographs and wall hangings created by contemporary local and national artists. Some pieces reflect the themes of special exhibitions, which change periodically. Examples include exquisite handbags by Michelle LaLonde, Tia Kramer paper jewelry, Jennifer McCurdy’s nature-inspired pottery from Martha’s Vineyard and kitschy game fish wall hangings by Larry Fuentes. There’s also a wonderful selection of books, notecards and photographs.
Decatur House stocks unique gifts inspired by American history © Barbara Noe Kennedy / Lonely Planet
There’s lots of history in this house, just steps from the White House on Lafayette Square. Originally built for Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr, the War of 1812 naval hero, it has also been home to Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren and Washington socialite Mrs Truxtun Beale. Since it's overseen by the White House Historical Association, it makes sense its lovely museum shop is filled with beautiful books, jewelry, porcelain, mugs and cosmetic bags celebrating historic DC and, especially, the White House. Some of the things you’ll find: sparkling jewelry inspired by Jackie Kennedy, First Lady paper dolls, ‘Union’ and ‘Liberty’ découpage plates depicting Brumidi paintings in the White House, and a White House gardening kit. The shop is also the official purveyor of the annual White House Christmas Ornament, and you can find past years as well as the current year on sale. Shop online here.
National Gallery of Art
World-famous masters old and new are showcased at this two-building museum on the National Mall. And many of their works have been translated into gift-worthy iterations at the enormous West Shop, located on the ground floor. There are Monet’s water lilies on an umbrella, Charley Harper’s birds on coasters, costume jewelry reflecting various art movements and Renaissance designs from Michelangelo’s time on ceramic dishes. You’ll find art books, books about art, journals with pretty covers, art-inspired notepaper, and museum-quality reproductions of van Gogh, Wyeth, Rothko, and others. There’s also a Concourse Bookstore, Children’s Shop and East Shop (featuring 20th- and 21st-century artists). Shop online here.
Gear for James Bond wannabes can be found at the International Spy Museum © Barbara Noe Kennedy / Lonely Planet
International Spy Museum
In a museum filled with gadgets, devices and intrigue, you know the gift shop has got to be good. And it does not disappoint. We’re talking unusual, spy-related gifts, including a peanut butter safe, a right-angle viewer, disappearing ink, a switchblade comb and a pen that claims to hold truth serum. The books are just as enthralling: Secrets of Masonic Washington, MacArthur’s Spies, Sultan and the King, Spies in Palestine...the list goes on. A must for wannabe spies everywhere. Shop online here.
National Building Museum
This gorgeous red brick structure, designed after Rome’s Palazzo Farnese, epitomizes the beauty of architecture and design. The recurring message: good design matters everywhere. Which is also a good theme for its award-winning gift shop. Indeed, you’ll find all kinds of creative items here, ranging from jewelry to toys to architectural models to sustainable housewares. There are cut-and-assemble kits to build paper White Houses, Himeji Castles and Notre Dame cathedrals; brass hammers and multi-bit screwdrivers; Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired picture frames; and earrings designed after Sullivan’s Stock Exchange building in Chicago. The book selection is diverse and thought-provoking. Shop online here.
Marbled glass pitchers are just one of the many unusual items on offer at the new Museum of the Bible © Barbara Noe Kennedy / Lonely Planet
Museum of the Bible
This brand-new museum near the National Mall is a natural go-to for bible-related items, including devotionals, crosses and prayer beads. But it also has a rich collection of items that work for the secular crowd as well, including Phoenician glass pitchers, Moriah jewelry from Jerusalem, olivewood statues, candles scented with cedar, frankincense and other ancient fragrances, scarves, tapestry pillows and more. Online shop is coming soon.
At this gift shop in a mansion once owned by a Post cereal heiress, the selection has an international flair © Barbara Noe Kennedy / Lonely Planet
Hillwood Museum & Gardens
Cereal heiress Marjorie Meriweather Post resided at an opulent mansion in NW Washington between 1957 and 1973 and filled it with ornate French and Russian collectibles (including several Fabergé Easter eggs). Today Hillwood is an unsung treasure, and the gift shop merits the same accolade. Here you’ll find all kinds of wonderful things echoing Marjorie’s luxurious taste, including dazzling replicas of her jewelry, Matroshka dolls, Russian-inspired porcelain dishes and fancy gardening gloves. The extensive book selection covers everything from the Romanovs to Fabergé to fashion to gardening to Hillwood’s own collections. There’s also a good selection of unique kids’ books and toys. Ask at the front desk to visit the gift shop without paying the admission fee (though you definitely should see the museum if you haven’t!). Shop online here.
Washington National Cathedral
While the National Cathedral is a sacred space open to all, it’s also an architectural masterpiece: experience its gargoyles, soaring arches and vast views from the observation gallery. It has two especially well-curated gift shops purveying a vast selection of high-quality goods both religious and secular. You’ll find stained-glass paperweights, gargoyle statues, beautifully made necklaces, and dish towels and bags with encouraging sayings such as ‘Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.’ There’s also a wide selection of books covering everything from cats doing yoga to gardening for mindfulness to an illuminated book of psalms. The many cute kid's gifts include plush animals, books and games. Shop online here.
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