I'm a sucker for gift shops, especially those attached to museums, hospitals, railway stations, airports and visitors centers. I love these gift shops because they're so eclectic; you never know what you're going to find in them and half the fun is in the browsing.
This is just as true of brick and mortar shops as it is of online shops. Of course, it's always best to support local gift shops first but some of my favorite online gift shops are attached to U.S. and state government agencies. Where else can you get such items as inflatable space shuttles, Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI (both Full Blooded Italian and Federal Bureau of Investigation) baseball caps and Central Intelligence Agency playing cards?
The Library of Congress Gift Shop, which isn't all about books, is a great place to start. You can find everything from Banned Book bracelets and “Legal Latin” ties to “Little Bookworm” T-shirts for toddlers and World War II plane-spotter playing cards.
That inflatable space shuttle is from the Kennedy Space Center gift shop, www.thespaceshop.com, where you can also get National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission patches. Also check out www.spaceshoponline.com for the Goddard Space Center and www.shopnasa.com for the Jet Propulsion Lab.
The CIA playing cards are at The White House Gift Shop, www.whitehousegiftshop.com. This shop also has Air Force One hoodies, busts of past presidents, presidential apparel for the entire family and a presidents' collector baseball.
The U.S. Government Printing Office, bookstore.gpo.gov, is a great place to shop for books, pamphlets, posters and magazine gift subscriptions, including everything from Civil War battle guides to National Park posters and a subscription to the Marine Fisheries Review. Some of the printing office titles might seem a bit boring. “Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, V. 2” doesn't sound like a blockbuster does it? Neither does “United States Tax Court Reports” but if you want to know how to prune trees or eat like a Navy Seal, this is the place.
Do you want an Albert Einstein bobble-head doll or sail-boat wind chimes? You'll find them and much more at www.smithsonianstore.com. How about serving dinner on Pres. George Washington's reproduction tableware from The Mount Vernon Shop? Or maybe you know someone who would love a Mount Vernon Cribbage Board.
Need some maps? Check out www.store.usgs.gov for U.S. Geological Survey maps of just about everything on this planet and a few selected areas of “out there.” For items a little closer to home, including “Hiking Colorado's Geology” and “Messages in Stone,” check out the Colorado Geological Survey Bookstore at http://geosurveystore.state.co.us/. Most states have gift shops, too, so you can keep your money in the state if you want to.
I particularly like name of “The Buck Stops Here” store at the Harry S. Truman Museum and Library. In fact, a lot of presidents have museums and libraries and, of course, gift shops. Just think, you can get an authentic Pres. Kennedy Rocking Chair or reproductions of Jacqueline Kennedy's jewelry at http://store.jfklibrary.org/ or a “Trust But Verify” mug from the Pres. Ronald Reagan Museum Store, www.reaganfoundation.org.