In a consumer mecca like New York, some of the best secret shopping spots are hiding in plain sight: the City's museums. Even if you're too time-pressed to check out the Picassos or the planetarium, it's a smart idea to pop into the gift shops to browse their remarkable inventories.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met's one-stop art shop carries everything you need to admire masterpieces or create your own. Bring home a bonded bronze sculpture of one of Degas' dancers, playing cards with a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window design or a watercolor set for the aspiring Rembrandts in your life.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The MoMA Design and Book Store prides itself on stock as groundbreaking as the exhibitions in the museum. Whether you're looking to accessorize your apartment with a sleek Eames chaise or yourself with a cartoonish 8-bit computer icon watch, or looking for a journey into the surreal for your coffee table, like Dalí & Film, or a surreally amazing gadget, like a wireless travel speaker, you can find just the thing among the shop's hip modern marvels.
American Museum of Natural History
Fossils, minerals, telescopes, rocket ships: the American Museum of Natural History's Museum Shop is a brain-candy emporium for Einsteins both little and large. Future explorers can get their bearings and navigate their neighborhood with a shiny new compass, and tech fanatics will love the Hydro Power Calculator, which runs on electrons extracted from fluid molecules—no batteries required! Or wear your smarts on your sleeve with a T-rex T-shirt.
The New Museum Store, like the remarkable structure it's housed in, can't be missed. A reflection of the museum's astonishing and avant-garde collection of contemporary and experimental art, the shop has cutting-edge media and conversation pieces that you can be sure your friends don't. Pick up Rorschach coasters, featuring the 10 famous inkblots, or a handkerchief that looks like a breakup letter (yes, a breakup letter). And, of course, there are items that celebrate the building's unparalleled silhouette, like a vase designed by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
Brooklyn Children's Museum
The Brooklyn Children's Museum's KidShop seeks to continue the institution's mission of adding excitement to kids' education long after they leave the bright yellow building. It's brimming with fun learning tools like books and special play sets.
Rubin Museum of Art
The Rubin Museum of Art is home to one of the most extensive collections of Himalayan art in the country. If you can't travel to Tibet or India to snap up Himalayan handicrafts, travel to Chelsea for one-of-a-kind jewelry, candles and journals. Decorate your living room with Nepalese singing bowls, do the downward-facing dog on a museum-exclusive cotton yoga mat made by Indian artisans or give your child a Tibetan doll handmade by a Buddhist nun or one of the institution's signature stuffed yaks.
Queens Museum of Art
A bonanza for art aficionados, history buffs and nostalgic New Yorkers alike, the Queens Museum of Art Museum Shop's array of unique local souvenirs includes unmatched memorabilia from the 1939–1940 and 1964–1965 World's Fairs (the museum's home was originally built to house the New York City Pavilion for the 1939–1940 fair, and its must-see main attraction, The Panorama of the City of New York, was installed for the 1964–1965 fair). Vintage mementos and newer replicas—such as posters, jackets and miniature models of the Trylon and Perisphere—delight both the shoppers who made it to the World's Fairs and those who wish they'd been there.
Museum of the Moving Image
The Museum of the Moving Image is the only US institution to focus on the art, history, technique and technology of the moving image. As such, you'll find many entertaining goods in its gift shop. One best seller is the custom flip book. Visitors stand in front of a white screen for three to four seconds, and their actions—dancing, kissing, general silliness—are translated into a series of 40 images. Also popular are the clapboard keychain and T-shirts with slogans like “Not Yet Rated” and “Formatted to Fit Your Screen.” Be sure to peruse the store's curated selection of DVDs, chosen for their relevancy to the museum's collection and programs. Kids will love the books and kits sold here, as well as the items from Sesame Street, filmed at the nearby Kaufman Astoria Studios.