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Balboa Park Gift Guide (Part 2!)

Visit Balboa Park for fun and unique holiday gifts. Also see the first post in this series, the Balboa Park Gift Guide for Kids.

The Museum of Photographic Arts sells beautiful coffee table books featuring the work of greats like Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus, but we like the idea of unwrapping something a little more hands-on. In the age of megapixels, Chris Keeney’s “Pinhole Camera: A Do-It-Yourself Guide” ($19.95) instructs readers how to make and use their own pinhole cameras (camera without lenses or digital transmission) from everyday household items (like a Spam tin).


At the Museum of Man, find colorful and whimsical Oxaca wood carvings ($16-$300). Crafted to resemble animals and creatures from folklore, each carving is handmade and no two pieces are alike.  The carvings are popular collectables and are typically signed by the artists. Pieces created by the Arrazola and Hernandez families sell out fast—so be sure to avoid the holiday rush.

Nature-lovers will be thrilled when they unwrap a piece of original Aspen art from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Made in Colorado from Whispering Aspen grown in the Rockies, the collection features everything from reasonably-priced candle holders ($21.99) to large vases that would look great beside a glowing fireplace ($299.99). Each piece is made from naturally felled trees.


Give a piece of San Diego history. The San Diego History Center houses more than 2.5 million historic photographs depicting everything from the glory days of the Del Mar Racetrack to the construction of Balboa Park museums. Gift givers can purchase copies of any of these images in store or online. Prints are available matted ($10.99-$18.99) or framed ($20-$45).

The San Diego Museum of Art’s store offers an array of books, prints, calendars, and jewelry.  We especially love the wearable (and portable) pieces created by local artists. Pick-up a vintage tie wallet ($40-$50), handcrafted from the artists collection of vintage ties. Mom or grandma will love Night Sky Art Creations, gorgeous silk scarves hand-painted by one of the Museum’s educators and inspired by the paintings of Charles Reiffel,


The Mingei International Museum is home to hundreds of global gift ideas. But because we love a fun purse, we’re especially partial to the recycled pop-top bags (starting at $35), constructed in Mexico from used soda tops woven together with vibrant colors. Even better, your purchase helps support microenterprise and preserve Mexico’s cultural and natural resources.

The Japanese Friendship Garden’s shop carries a variety of items created by the Friendship Garden Craft Club. Adorn your tree in style with an ornament ($5), covered in Japanese rice paper and featuring adorable “lucky cats”  (Maneki-neko in Japanese).


For the adults in your life who remember when Pluto was still as planet, the San Diego Air & Space Museum shop carries a tongue-in-cheek vintage tee that pays homage to the “dwarf plant” with a hilarious epithet ($20, or better yet, two for $30).  For Maverick and Goose fans, consider a tee emblazoned with the “Top Gun” logo ($24.99).


The Fleet’s store sells a variety of quirky mugs sure to please any caffeine addict on your list.  The Battery Morph Mug ($9.00), features a battery that is “juiced” (i.e., changes color) when the mug is filled. As an added bonus, the color fades when the beverage is no longer warm, letting you know it's time for a refill. Pair the mug with a snack like Astronaut Ice Cream ($3.99)—a freeze-dried treat consumed by space travelers, or, for the more adventurous (or low-carb dieters), Larvets—spiced Mexican worms.



--Kathleen Bolus, Guest Contributor

Photos by Sterling Poggemoeller