Zebra salad servers (National Geographic Museum)

Only 29 shopping days until Christmas. With the turkey gobbled up, the inevitable countdown has begun. If you’re feeling your blood pressure rise in anticipation of hordes of people scrambling and grasping for the latest, lowest-priced gotta-have at an anonymous behemoth retailer, take a deep breath. We’ve come up with the antidote to stressful holiday shopping. ¶ Area residents have ready access to a secret resource — well, admittedly not-so-secret but often overlooked. Museum gift stores offer up an opportunity to escape the maddening crowds and return to a kinder, gentler era when shopping was a leisurely pursuit and salespeople eagerly helped you hunt. These stores pride themselves on unique merchandise that often also carries the politically correct “Made in the U.S.A.” label. Don’t expect to find something for everyone in these mostly (with one notable exception) small shops. Although you may have to spend a tad more, you will score some unexpected items bound to delight those difficult-to-buy-for folks on your list. Plus, with many stores located downtown and on the Mall, you can even manage to knock off a chunk of gift-buying during your lunch hour. Which is just what we decided to do on a recent Wednesday afternoon with a shopping expedition to the National Geographic museum, the White House Historical Association, the Renwick Gallery and the National Gallery of Art. Here are some of our top picks, along with ideas from other museum shops we’ve browsed in.

National Geographic Museum Shop

Ellen Tozer, National Geographic’s manager of retail, says, “We shop the world for you.” That means you don’t have to. Yet, you can scoop up stocking-stuffer-worthy tin zebra tree ornaments from Zimbabwe, knitwear from Nepal and carved wooden bowls from Kenya. Much of the store’s stock is related to exhibits, including the current “Birds of Paradise.” Felt owls in gray, blue and green make wise ornaments ($15 each), as do colorfully beaded hummingbirds ($12) from India. For the picky hostess, a small beaded votive ($4 each) will add holiday glow to a table, hand-carved salad servers with zebra handles from Kenya ($36) will toss some interest into dinner conversation. Other must-haves are a one-of-a-kind set of five bracelets ($38) of recycled glass beads from Ghana, flip-flops from Mali and plastic mats from Burkina Faso.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
1145 17th St. NW. 202-857-7588. www.shop.nationalgeographic.com.

White House Historical Association Museum Shop

You can fill a shopping cart with White House memorabilia in this airy, light-filled shop. (The older, smaller store on Lafayette Square carries the same merchandise.) “Anything with an eagle or a star on it or in red, white and blue is a winner,” says Michael T. Melton, executive vice president of the White House Historical Association. That includes a made-in-France red scarf ($150) based on a fireplace screen in the mansion’s Red Room and a Lego kit to construct a three-dimensional model of the house (ages 12 and up, $50). The 2012 White House Christmas ornament ($17.95) depicting President William H. Taft and his wife en route to deliver presents in a White Motor Company Model M would be welcomed by car buffs and history enthusiasts.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Decatur House 1610 H St. NW. 800-555-2451. www.whitehousehistory.org .

Renwick Gallery Store, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Take in the beauty of the Second Empire-style building with its 40-foot ceilings while browsing innovative items by American master craftsmen. Industrial artist Lara Knutson’s opalescent bracelet ($195), made of microscopic mirrors, will please cool, artsy types, while Michael Sosin’s blown-glass creamers ($58) and pitchers ($66) in cobalt or emerald with bejeweled handles offer a creative alternative to the bland selection found at big houseware emporia.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-633-1000. www.americanart.si.edu.

National Gallery of Art shops

You could probably check off your entire shopping list while strolling through the National Gallery’s 7,500 square feet of retail space in four shops. And you might be able to do it all without leaving the West Building. A sampling: pint-size magnolias ready to plant ($44), a culinary herb garden fetchingly boxed in bamboo ($45), art supplies for novices (Young Artist Learn to Paint Set, $20) and ornamented cloches ($75) and fedoras ($60). Be sure to pick up a Roy Lichtenstein pop-art hot dog luggage decal ($5.95). Keep the pint-sized (age 3 and up) entertained with the delightful and step-by-step instructional book, “I can draw animals” ($4.99). “Steal Like an Artist” ($10.95) will teach grown-ups a thing or two about how to be creative.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202-737-4215. www.shop.nga.gov

And more ...

National Museum of the American Indian Store, Smithsonian Institution

Along with the Peruvian pillow covers and wall hangings are more wallet-friendly gifts for kids and home cooks. A children’s puzzle book with eight puzzles made up of images from the museum’s collection is $15.95, and the Mitsitam Cookbook with recipes from the eponymous cafe is $23.95.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. 202-633-1000. http://nmai.si.edu/home/

Arthur M. Sackler
Gallery Shop

For the finicky fashionista, choose a Haori jacket ($75), constructed from pieces of recycled ’50s and ’60s kimonos. To see a greater selection, mark your calendar for a Nov. 30 trunk show at the Sackler.

10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. 1050 Independence Ave. S.W. 202-633-4880. http://www.asia.si.edu/

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens Shop

Slightly off the beaten track but worth the trip. In conjunction with the current exhibit of paper dresses and gowns inspired by historic costumes at Marjorie Merriweather Post’s glamorous home, artist Isabelle de Borchgrave has designed a line of paper jewelry. Earrings in royal blue or burnt orange resembling antique jewelryare $28; paper scarves painted with gold to use as a shawl on a rain-free evening are $65.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 4155 Linnean Ave. N.W. 202-686-5807. www.hillwoodmuseum.org

!Parting thought: Take a break from your artful shopping mission to treat yourself to some actual art. A Roy Lichtenstein retrospective, amazing avians or any of the above museums’ current exhibitions will refresh your eye and relax jangled nerves.

More form the 2012 Holiday Guide

Holiday activity listings

Gift ideas for everyone