When I travel, I make it a point to hit up museum gift shops—sometimes without visiting the museum itself. Am I missing out on a significant cultural experience and falling victim to consumerism? Maybe. But those shops are where I've found unique, interesting items that will forever remind me of the city where I bought them—a book on the French underground-art scene at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris (of course I visited that museum) or a blouse by a local indie designer at the Museum of Textiles and Fashion in Barcelona (skipped the museum part).
I was thinking about all this while at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location the other week, drooling over jewelry by Ronni Kappos at MCASD's X Store (more on her stuff below). When shopping in your own city—for a gift or something for yourself—why not add museums and galleries to your usual rotation? In some cases, you're supporting local designers and, in all cases, San Diego's cultural scene.
What: Surfboard prints by Orange & Park
Where: Mingei Museum in Balboa Park
The Mingei's selling these 12-by-12-inch prints ($18 each)—featuring six different board designs on a slate-blue background—in conjunction with the current exhibition Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding. Coronado-based O&P are the folks behind those "California Coastal Counties" prints you've seen at shops like Progress in South Park. The surfboard collection is elegant in its simplicity and perfect for surfer guys and girls who've outgrown tropical prints and neon.
What: Cork containers by Emily Baker
Where: Low Gallery in North Park
Low Gallery curator Meegan Nolan is not only an exceptional curator—the small gallery's exhibitions, which rotate monthly, are always worth checking out—she also has an eye for cool stuff. Here you can find a large selection of jewelry by local designers and also San Diego artist Emily Baker's design-meets-function cork shot glasses and tumblers. On Low Gallery's Instagram page, Nolan cleverly shows them being used as succulent planters.
What: Biobou dishes
Where: Library Shop at the San Diego Public Library in East Village
OK, so the new central library isn't exactly an art museum, but it does contain a number of art displays (and a ninth-floor gallery) and a gift shop that rivals the sort of hip boutiques you'd expect to find in cities like San Francisco and Portland. The color palette of these Biobu dishes—midcentury-inspired shades of turquoise, orange, gray and white—by French company Ekobo caught my eye. Made from bamboo, they're biodegradable, dishwasher-safe and very durable.
What: Jewelry by IRK
Where: X Store at MCASD La Jolla
Ronni Kappos, a Los Angeles-based designer, creates stunning necklaces, bracelets and earrings using vintage German glass from the 1920s, '30s and '40s in art-deco colors. MCASD is the only place in San Diego currently selling IRK—and that's not a bad thing, because the X Store is, overall, pretty rad and worth a shopping trip. Necklaces, like the one shown here, are in the $110-to-$120 range, but since Kappos' jewelry is all limited-edition, you're buying a keepsake piece.