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So here’s our little holiday secret: We love to shop the gift shops for the holidays — at museums, zoos, science centers, art centers, anywhere and everywhere there’s a gift shop.


Why? There are no lines. There are amazing unique gifts that will have people remarking, “Wherever did you find this, you clever person!” Even better, the money you spend goes back to support the organizations, so you can feel good as you shop. A bonus: If you are already a member, you get a discount. And many of the prices are quite reasonable — lots of stocking stuffers and gifts under $10 to be had.

Note: Check ahead, but usually you don’t need to pay admission just to pop into the gift shop, so it’s convenient, too. It’s a win, win, win.

Here are a few of our favorites, with some ideas for pretty much everyone on your list.

Rebel-Nell-RingThe Detroit Institute of Arts gift shop is a favorite — as expected, there are lots of beautiful books and objects for art lovers. There are unique children’s gifts, too. But we’re absolutely in love with the jewelry. Museum gift shops often have the most unique jewelry (kisses begins with DIA, too!). This year, our favorite offering at the DIA is the line from Detroit’s own Rebel Nell, like this ring. Rebel Nell’s product line starts by repurposing graffiti collected after it has fallen off of walls. This re-purposed graffiti round ring ($75) in sterling silver is hand-made in Detroit by the women of Rebel Nell - an enterprise dedicated to employ, educate and empower disadvantaged women with the goal of transitioning them to an independent life. Find more at the DIA or online at

Giftsoaps1The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s annual holiday shop is extensive. No, really, it’s enormous. More than 100 artists are represented, with
lots of beautiful art, ceramics, fashion accessories, ornaments, hand-made baby items, and more. We especially loved the treasure trove of pretty soaps and bath items — perfect for stuffing stockings or teacher gifts.  Open through Dec. 20. Hours and more information here.

The museum store at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is small, but there are lots of treasures for the science kid on your list. And what kid wouldn’t flip out over astronaut ice cream or glow stars in her stocking? On a recent field trip, our 5th graders couldn’t get enough of the stuffed animals shaped like microbes — called Giant Microbes. Plus you will find books on birds, space, geology, dinosaurs and more. Hours and more information here.

birds1The Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery is filled to the brim with cool gift ideas. You can browse before you go on their Pinterest page here. Got a nature lover, glass lover, art lover, or gardener on your list? We love especially love the bright colors of the glass birds from Kevin Boyce ($12). Also note the A2 Art Center’s “Art Off the Wall” exhibit opens Dec. 12 and will feature works from 10 local artists each showcasing up to 25 original works of Art “Salon Style,” each ranging from $100 to $1,000. Hours and more information here

The Detroit Artists Market transforms into a gift-givers paradise this time of year. Their gift shop always features unique gift items by local artists, but at “Art for the Holidays” it takes over the entire space on Woodward Avenue. There’s just so much here, we had a hard time choosing our favorites. The painted skateboard decks could work for a cool kid in your life. And the fun handmade plush monsters are so cute we wanted them for our own bedroom. Also, check out the fascinator hats — a killer gift for the fashionista in your life. Hours and more information here.

Some of the most unique ideas can be found at the MOCAD gift shop. We find the kiddie offerings in particular to be really one-of-a-kind, and many encourage creativity and hands-on play. Someone on our list is getting the 40-piece art-to-go set, with colored pencils, pastels, watercolors, paint brush and marker pens in a handsome case, for $14. And someone else is getting Cubebot, robot toy made of wood that can pose in dozens of different ways ($24). For adults, look for Detroit Denim goods, Ghostly t-shirts, and more. You can shop online or in person, details here

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra gift shop is primarily open during show times, so check the schedule before you drop in. We’re picking up one of the kids t-shirts for the “treble maker” in our house. You will want to swing by for some wonderful items, like instrument-shaped ornaments and a wide array of classical CDs and books. More information here.

Zoofari - PlushThe Detroit Zoo's Zoofari Gift Shop is the place to go for animal lovers of all ages. There's always the kid in your family who loves some kind of exotic animal — flamingos, rhinos, penguins, giraffes, etc. You say your kid loves polar bears? The zoo has you covered. You can find a plush version of all of their favorites at the zoo gift shop. Also, don't rule out adults, too. The shop has clothing, ornaments, and arts and crafts from all over the world. Find hours and more information here.

ET Mugs-Book1The gift shops at The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village are a great example of a not-just-for-the-kiddos shop. And you don't need to pay admission to shop there. Many of the items are Greenfield Village specialties and made by the artisans at the village: tin items, glass, pottery, stoneware, wool and even a horsehoe. We love the tankards and especially the Eagle Tavern sprig mug — made by the potters on-site ($45), perfect for the beer enthusiast, history buff, or pottery fan in your family. For more information on The Henry Ford gift shops, including hours and online shopping, click here. For a cool interactive holiday catalogue, click here

MisSciDressYou can also visit the Michigan Science Center "Explore Store" without paying admission. This is a favorite stop for finding gifts that you won't find in a typical toy store. For kids who love space, they have a wide range of kits and activities to capture their imaginations. Toys that sneak in a little learning into the fun are a big win in our book. We also love the pint-sized lab coats and giant magnifiying glasses. Forget princesses, get your girls to dress up like scientists! For hours and information, click here.