Consider doing some holiday shopping at Balboa Park museum stores, especially if you have people on your list who are difficult to shop for. For an NBC California Nonstop segment, I pulled items from four popular museum stores, that happen to be within quick steps of each other.

It’s a very pleasant experience to spend a morning or afternoon leisurely roaming Balboa Park versus the mall, especially this time of year. And, what a great way to support our community. Here are some of the gifts that caught my eye.

Museum of Photographic Arts

I asked quite a few San Diegans what their favorite museum store is. Even friends who are not photographically inclined picked the Museum of Photographic Arts. I completely understand why.

I was immediately taken with the Diana camera and, given the popularity of Instagram, I’m positive this is going to be a popular holiday gift item. Back in the 60’s the Diana camera was a cult legend with its lo-fi images. This new Diana camera is a twist on the old classic with some extra features added.

Museum of Photographic Arts Diana Camera

The Diana camera is lightweight plastic which lets in light leaks that distort the film. It comes in funky colors and takes 120mm film which you can still develop at camera stores and drugstores.

You can change the lenses (colored ones even), flashes and more. This allows you to get as artistic as you like and I’m told any level of photographer can enjoy this camera.

Diana camera photos

The Museum of Photographic Arts has a Diana gift package available for $103 which includes photo clips (pictured above) and film. This is a savings of almost 20%.

6 Stocking Stuffers For Under $6 At Fleet Science CEnter

Each of these toys appeal to both boys and girls, are fun for parents and have a learning angle too.

Reuben H Fleet Stocking Stuffers

Magnifying Glass: This is a hot toy for young kids. I was skeptical, but my daughter has spent a lot of time with it.
Galactic Goo: My husband really wanted to open this one. What kid (or adult, I suppose) doesn’t love multi-colored goo?
Geyser Tube: It’s a safer version of the Mentos and Diet Coke explosion. Search it on YouTube if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.
Grab a Bubble: These are bubbles you can blow, but they don’t actually float away. You can hold them.
Suddenly Snow: Blow your own snow.
Glow in the Dark planets and stars: These can jazz up any bedroom.
Blast Ball: This ball is filled with helium, which makes it bounce higher. I accidentally said hydrogen in the segment. My bad.

There are tons of other great gifts in the Fleet Science Center museum store. My husband put the tin can robot on his Christmas list. Really, I’m serious. The tin can robot and other items below are in the $18 range, give or take.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Right now, the San Diego Natural History Museum store has a rare stone in there made from volcanic rock from the Dominican Republic. It’s fairly rare and a very pretty sky blue.

It’s called Larimar and if you are a jewelry lover, check it out. I tried on a bracelet that was around $400. I had a conversation in my head about whether or not I should buy it on the spot.

Kids around the age of 12 (or even younger, I suspect) will love these grow your own crystal sets. It’s the real deal, not just little flimsy crystals. The smaller sets are $13 while the larger ones are $40.

San Diego Natural History Museum

There’s quite a bit in here that your kids will like, actually including lots of stuffed animals, jewelry, and fun toys.

Mingei International Museum

This is the largest of the museum stores I visited and probably the most overwhelming. There are tons of hostess gifts, origami and other unique crafting gifts, unique books and stunning jewelry.

Mingei International Museum Store

A lot of the items in here are fair trade and/or environmentally friendly. The Zulu bowls pictured above are handmade with wire by women in South Africa. The detail, which you can’t really see in the photo, is staggering. They range from $30-40 in price.

The little box is made from re-purposed Indian bangles and would make a great container for a small gift. It’s about $17. There’s a make your own Italian leather handbag ($79), a Russian stacking doll bedside carafe that’s really cool ($25), a crazy recycled utensil statue, stunning bronze pearl necklace ($250), and Peruvian finger puppets ($17).

The Japanese in me was totally taken with the tea sets and other Asian decor that reminded me of what you’d find in a nice Tokyo department store.

The Mingei has a Maneki Neko exhibit running now that includes 155 Japanese lucky cats. I love them. We have several on our Christmas tree right now.

Return Policies And Other Details

Most of the museum stores have a 30-day return policy, provided that the item is new and you have the receipt. The San Diego Natural History Museum will take items back at any time as long as you have the receipt. They will also issue gift receipts on request. Museum members will also get discounts in the museum stores.

Try holiday shopping at our local museums. I think you’ll be surprised by what you might find.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. Pingback: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Ticket Giveaway