Shopping at a museum offers more gift varieties

Nowadays, visitors can take home more than a postcard from the museum or a rock from the park. It’s not just T-shirts and key chains anymore, either. Most museums will not charge admission if you head straight for the merchandise, but why not make shopping itself a worthwhile experience? Think of it as window browsing.

Who needs jangling coins for those remote outpost calls when you can use a prepaid phone card imprinted with wilderness images? The California State Parks is also the source for designer grizzly logos on T-shirts to jewelry. The catalog (paper and on-line) sells dolphin massagers, quail puppets and a gold miner pen set, all for under $30. Cal-Parks Store, P.O. Box 942896, Sacramento, CA 94296-0001, 800-777-0369, Telephone hours 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays or fax 24 hours at 916-654-8928.

If you find yourself frequently staring off into space during buying expeditions, at least you have plenty of landscape to admire from the viewpoint of the Mount Diablo summit museum. The historic sandstone building perches upon the highest peak, affording views of cities, lakes, mountains and open space in several counties. The in-house gift store sells books, T-shirts, maps and gift items. At the top of Mount Diablo, Walnut Creek, 925-837-6119, Open winter hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

The local Sierra Club store has just leased part of its space to Turn Around Products, which makes recycled goods ranging from the ever-vital toilet paper to speed bumps to computer papers. The club merchandise revolves around the formidable book selection, T-shirts, calendars, cards and outdoor-oriented gifts like TOPO CD-ROM maps. 6014 College Ave., Oakland, 510-658-9671,, open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays.

Sure, floppy-eared puppies and mewing kittens may be cute in department-store windows, but how often will you see an Andean condor while holiday shopping? The Lindsay Wildlife Museum may not have a bird feeder especially built for the world’s largest flying bird, but it has them for other beaked buddies and even tiny handmade bird feeder ornaments ($8). The stock runs the gamut from music, field guides, clothing, educational toys and games for all budgets. The big seller is the triops: Just add water and watch the crustaceans grow ($5-$8.50). 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, 925-935-1978, Winter store hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays.

Lawrence Hall of Science provides knowledge you can chew. From interactive books to CD-ROMs to just plain old toys, the museum store believes hands-on is the route to math and science. Kids can make their own gummies and chewing gum, fizzing volcanoes and robots. Gifts can get as sophisticated as the supersonic ear (listening to birds, no Linda Tripp-style eavesdropping here) or as low-tech but challenging as the favorite standard Mancala. Centennial Drive, Berkeley, 510-642-1929, Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Other listings:
  • California Historical Society, 678 Mission St., San Francisco, 415-357-1848, Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
  • Ecology Center Bookstore, 2530 San Pablo, Berkeley, 510-548-3402. Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Call for evening readings.
  • John Muir House, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez, 925-228-8860. Open winter hours 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
  • Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, 510-238-6305, museumstore.html. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
  • Richmond Museum of History, 400 Nevin Ave., Richmond, 510-620-6842. Open 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times