2020 Holiday Gift Guide, Part I: Museum Gift Stores

holiday graphic for 2020 holiday gift guide

Museum stores are the best! They tend to feature interesting, original collections of beautiful, quirky, and cool items that make fantastic gifts. This year, most museums are closed to the public or are open only in limited capacities, but their gift stores are available for online shopping.

With the holidays quickly approaching, we suggest you check out the following amazing California museums that offer online stores full of great gift ideas. Browse through tote bags, kitchen towels, art prints, books and puzzles galore. Some museum stores even have a curbside pick-up option for locals. As a bonus, buying from them helps support the varied missions of these valuable institutions.

Autry Museum of the American West

The Autry Museum of the American West, located in L.A.’s Griffith Park, offers visitors an immersion into the cultures and histories of the American West as well as ways in which the West has influenced the rest of the world. Its world-class holdings of some 600,000 items include one of the nation’s largest collections of Native American art and artifacts. Co-founded by “the singing cowboy” Gene Autry, it also features plenty of movie memorabilia.

What’s in the Museum Store?

In the Autry gift store, find every Gene Autry item you could imagine for your movie-buff buddy, western-themed toys, books and puzzles for kids, uncommon décor items, branded souvenirs, clothing and accessories. Standout stuff includes enamel pins, frame-worthy notecard sets and books to teach kids about Native cultures.

Our Pick

Carved orange folk owl model on a wooden base created by Navajo artist Edith Herbert

Navajo Folk Art Owl by Edith Herbert, $35

The Autry Museum store offers a range of handmade art by Native American artisans. Most are very pricey, but this charming owl should fit into most gift-buying budgets.


The Exploratorium, a riveting museum on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, is “a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art and human perception.” Themes of its hundreds of interactive exhibits include sustainability, inclusion, climate and weather, optical illusions and every branch of science and engineering. Much of the museum is designed with curious kids in mind, but adults find it fascinating too.

What’s in the Museum Store?

The Exploratorium gift store offers fun science and engineering toys, puzzles and games for all ages, plus T-shirts and accessories to celebrate your geeky side. There are gyroscopes and microscopes, marble runs and robotic arms, books dedicated to women in science, light-up circuits and so much more.

Our Pick

Great White Shark 4D Anatomy Model, $33

This model of a great white shark’s anatomy reveals its cartilaginous skeleton and internal organs. It has 20 detailed, detachable parts that snap easily in and out of place for anatomical exploration, but it’s also just a cool thing to display on a shelf. Designed for ages 8 and up.  

Museum of Neon Art

Exhibits at the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale explore the connection between art, science and technology through neon and kinetic art. It’s the only such museum in the world.

What’s in the Museum Store?

With neon as a theme, it’s no surprise that the Museum of Neon Art gift store specializes in retro kitsch. It sells pins and patches, vintage motel themed art, rainbow versions of everyday items like reusable straws, and some great coffee table books about neon and plasma art.

Our Pick

Rainbow multi tool from the Museum of Neon Art gift store

Rainbow Multi-Tool, $15.95

For cyclists and anyone with occasional DIY needs, this handy gadget includes 10 different tools, among them various allen keys and screwdrivers.

Norton Simon Museum

Pasadena’s venerable fine art museum is almost a century old and has a global reputation for its impressive art collection. Among 12,000 items are masterpieces from the Renaissance to the 20th century, modern works, and South and Southeast Asian art spanning thousands of years. Works by such names as Picasso, van Gogh, Rafael and Monet are on display at the Norton Simon Museum.

What’s in the Museum Store?

At the Norton Simon Museum gift store are art prints galore, including many of most valued paintings in the Norton Simon collection. The offerings also include lovely desk and wall calendars, books and esoteric items relating to specific artists and exhibitions, and aesthetically pleasing home and office goods.

Our Pick

Botticcelli tarot deck from the Norton Simon Museum gift store

Botticelli Tarot Deck, $29.95

Bringing together the high-brow with the mystical, this deck of 78 tarot cards is illustrated with masterpieces by the Florentine painter, Botticelli (1445-1510), all augmented by gold highlights. We all know one person who would love this uncommon gift.

Bowers Museum

Orange County’s largest museum presents fine art and cultural exhibits showcasing items from a permanent collection of more than 90,000 items. While it was originally dedicated to the history of Orange County, the Bowers Museum has greatly expanded its scope and its space, today presenting top-notch exhibits on the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Oceanic art and culture, and its remarkable Chinese collection.

What’s in the Museum Store?

Returning to its local roots, the Bowers Museum is readying a 50th anniversary “Inside the Walt Disney Archives” exhibit, and the museum gift store has some unique Disney items to go with it. The store also offers some fabulous costume jewelry, home goods with a California poppy motif, and several amusing mugs.

Our Pick

California bear water bottle from the Bowers Museum gift store

Stainless Steel California Bear Hug Canteen, $21.95

Couldn’t we all use another reusable bottle? This one is quite special. Its BPA-free double wall insulation is suitable for hot or cold drinks, and it comes in a custom gift box. The adorable artwork is from the 1913 sheet music cover for the state song, “I Love You California.”

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Probably the best aquarium in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is dedicated to ocean conservation. Its oceanfront space includes over 200 exhibits, most memorable among them habitats for sea otters, sharks, penguins and mesmerizing jellyfish. Behind the scenes, the aquarium is a powerhouse of science and policy work to protect our oceans from climate change and plastic pollution.

What’s in the Museum Store?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gift store is THE place to buy gifts for that friend or family member who just loves sea creatures. Expect marine life in every form, from sea otter plushies to octopus-adorned T-shirts, eco-friendly kitchen items, art tiles and branded gear.

Our Pick

blue scarf with algae sketches from the Monterey Bay Aquarium museum gift store

Cotton scarf with algae sketches, $59.99

This elegant scarf (ideal for coordinating with a face mask, no?) is part of the aquarium store’s new “Sea Sketches Collection by Julie Packard” collection. The museum’s executive director turned her own sketches of local tide pools and rocky shores into gift store items to support its mission. The 100% cotton scarf is made using fair-trade practices by a woman-owned company. 

California Academy of Sciences

The remarkable California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park brings together an aquarium, natural history museum and planetarium under one living roof. Highlights include the four-story rainforest tower filled with butterflies and tropical birds, huge blue whale and T. rex skeletons, and a resident albino alligator. The academy is a scientific and educational institution with a mission to explore, explain and sustain life on Earth

What’s in the Museum Store?

The California Academy of Sciences gift shop includes lots of hip San Francisco-themed garments and accessories, items featuring its albino alligator and penguins, and creepy-crawly kids’ toys inspired by the “Venom: Fangs, Stingers, and Spines” exhibit. Dinosaur and STEM toys are a specialty too.  

Our Pick

t-shirt with penguins, surfboards and suns from the California Academy of Sciences museum gift shop

Adult Penguin Surf Tee, $34.99

Available in five adult sizes, this T-shirt pays homage to the museum’s adorable penguins, the sun and surf of the California coast and some icons of San Francisco too. It’s made from 100% recycled water bottles.

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