Holiday shopping with a side of culture

Whether you're seeking a perfect gift for the hardest-to-please on your holiday list or simply looking to inject some culture into your holiday shopping, the Cleveland area abounds with unique gift shops no further flung than the doorsteps of your favorite museums and cultural centers.

Although access to Cleveland's museum gift shops – which offer up some of the most fun, creative and unexpected merchandise around – is free of charge, you won’t want to miss an opportunity for discounted tickets if you plan to venture into the exhibits. A CirclePass offers admission to four of University Circle’s signature institutions, and the Science Rocks! deal combines stops at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Great Lakes Science Center at a considerable savings when compared to solo ticket prices.

Whether you plan to take advantage of those deals and have a heaping helping of culture alongside your gift shop excursion or just cruise the curated offerings in the dazzling stores, this roundup represents a truly alt-holiday shopping experience.

Local Love, Artistic Style

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland's gift shop, the MOCA Store, has a stockpile of quirky wares. Among them are mod-printed reusable bags, Slinky-style bangles and food-inspired desk accessories like the Pad of Butter notepad. In addition to the store offerings and ahead of the Black Friday madness, the museum will host SPECTACLE (formerly Artscape) this weekend, November 18 and 19. Billed as a "curated selection of top offerings from local artisans," the annual extravaganza showcases an array of high-end artisan creations. Admission to opening night of the event is $10 and includes preview access for advance purchases and a cocktail reception. The second day of SPECTACLE is free.

Museum and MOCA Store hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., 11400 Euclid Avenue, 216.421.8671

If only a masterpiece will suffice for your Rembrandt-loving recipient, then the Cleveland Museum of Art Store is an ideal spot for splurging. Handcrafted bangles carved from semi-precious stones and hand-blown vessels crafted by Cleveland-area artists are just a couple of examples of the finery you’ll find in the attractive shop in the stunning Ames Family Atrium, which is always worth a visit. If a thousand-dollar timepiece is out of the question, look for budget-friendly bets like a day timer with Dali’s work or a Georgia O’Keefe calendar instead. During the months of November and December, CMA members receive 25 percent off featured merchandise inspired by the embroidered lace collar that was the museum’s first acquisition. The CMA is always free, so plan for at least a few minutes of gallery browsing.

CMA and store hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; 11150 East Boulevard, 216.421.7350

Holiday Finds from the Natural to the Historical

A stunning window display signals your arrival at the Garden Store inside the Cleveland Botanical Garden. It features a statue of Saint Nicholas perched atop a lush pine tree and a life-sized reindeer surrounded in glittering faux snow. Revving up for the Glow Winter Spectacular, which runs from November 25 through December 31, the retail stop has been transformed into a North Pole workshop, packed from wall to wall with hundreds of holiday ornaments, festive decor and a Treetop Shop fashioned for pint-sized patrons. Enormous gingerbread houses, twinkling lights and train rides are just a few of the seasonal additions sure to delight everyone from the tiny tots to those grownups who are still kids at heart.

<span class="content-image-text">The Garden Store - Cleveland Botanical Garden</span>The Garden Store - Cleveland Botanical GardenGarden Store and Botanical Garden holiday hours: Closed Mondays except Dec. 19 and 26 from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Sundays 12 - 6 p.m.; Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.; 11030 East Boulevard, 216.721.1600

You’ll find a plethora of presents for your foodie friends at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History gift shop, featuring products curated around the Our Global Kitchen exhibit, which is on display through January 8. Bird-watchers who fancy BBQ can cover up their clothes while cooking with a fowl-flanked apron and chug coffee from a coordinating cup. With a bulging bookshelf of titles that extend beyond cookbooks, culinary buffs and cocktail aficionados alike can delve deeper into the culture and history of food and drink worldwide. The biggest year-round attraction at the museum is undoubtedly the flock of dinosaurs, including a towering T-Rex, all of which are immortalized in plush toys, tote bags, ugly sweaters and giant slippers in the shop. Solar system suckers and a tackle box of ‘moon rock’ candies are among the sweet stocking stuffers that won’t break the bank.

CMNH and gift shop hours: Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Wednesday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sunday Noon - 5 p.m.; 1 Wade Oval Drive, 216.231.4600

The restored Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel facing Wade Oval is a beacon announcing that you’ve arrived at the Western Reserve Historical Society, where you’ll find a treasure trove of Northeast Ohio nostalgia to browse. From baseball to Bob Hope and everything in between, there’s no shortage of stuff to impress every history buff you’re buying for in the WRHS Store. Decorate your digs with vintage prints of Cleveland scenery and amuse the kids with coloring pages of the city skyline. Mothers and daughters alike will enjoy paper dolls of fashionable First Ladies and a rack of vintage clothing, which are just two of the items highlighting the The Power & Politics and A Stitch in Time exhibits running into 2017.

WRHS museum and store hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday: noon - 5 p.m.; 10825 East Boulevard, 216.721.5722

'Tis the Season to Visit the North … Coast

With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Erie, the gift shop at the Great Lake Science Center offers one-stop shopping for fashionable pieces to let your geek flag fly, from geode earrings to solar system sweatshirts printed in ugly sweater style. You can outfit your tiny aspiring astronaut with a NASA-inspired jumpsuit and helmet, then stuff their stocking to the brim with space sweets: Freeze-dried astronaut ice cream is sold in an assortment of flavors including mint chocolate chip, Neapolitan and cookies ‘n cream. Want to wow your Secret Santa recipient this year? With any additional purchase, you can snag a Himalayan Salt Lamp at a 50 percent discount - a steal at $15.

GLSC and shop hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday noon - 5 p.m.; 601 Erieside Avenue, 216.694.2000

The last stop on this holiday junket couldn't be more appropriate. Like all the entries in this list, the gift shop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is open to all – no ticket required. Items for the hard-core head banger on your list include old-school vinyl selections, glass and ceramic selections celebrating all things Rock & Roll, from a British Invasion mug to one featuring a guitar handle. Keychains, magnets, a slew of shirts, caps and bags and even a tambourine for kids round out the selection. That it all comes with a stop inside the newly refurbished lobby is just a bonus.

The Rock Hall is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, extended hours on Wednesdays go to 9 p.m., 1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard, 216.781.7625The gift shop is open one-half hour later than the Hall for lingering visitors.

MOCA Cleveland is a member of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Tricia Chaves
Tricia Chaves

About the Author: Tricia Chaves

Tricia Chaves is a 'hair raising reporter' who splits her time between writing and and her Thousand Locks Charity project to increase awareness about hair donation among stylists and improve the availability of free wigs for women and kids with cancer. A former style and beauty editor, these days she's more likely to be wearing her toddler on her back than makeup on her face. You can follow the adventures of her foodie family at Planes, Trains and All of Our Meals.