Where to Shop in Seattle When You Don’t Know What to Buy
RIP my wallet 🪦
December 16, 2022
Gifting season can be overwhelming, even if you genuinely love giving gifts. The mall, or any major shopping district, is a parade of nightmares. The craft fairs are great, but wow, you have three days to come up with something and you missed them all except for the one that is literally all vintage resellers, and your grandma isn’t into oversize Garfield tees.
It turns out Seattle is full of little boutique gift shops that exist exactly for this kind of thing. They’re brick-and-mortar, so you do not have to worry about shipping woes, and you can touch stuff to make sure it’s actually good. Because they’re smaller businesses, chances are you’ll find something you can’t just find anywhere—and some even specialize in small-production, artisan wares. Others just make sure to stock fun little items that pander to your buddies’ specific interests.
These spots are great places to visit when you need a little inspiration or when you’re just completely lost. Even if you’re looking for a safe candle, you’ll find the best damn candle in the city.
Adress 1: 814 E Roy St + Adress 2: 604 S Jackson St
For those who love simple, artisanal objects and Japanese design, Kobo has a curated selection of high-design crafts and unique craft kits that make thoughtful, often functional, gifts built to last. Expect to find paper goods like postcards and art prints, textiles like linens and scarves, ceramics, bath products, and sculptural arts from prominent display pieces to knick-knacks, along with a beautiful collection of books. They even have some cute and clever stuff for kids. Stuck? Their Gift Kits ($20-$130) are a great place to start.
Their distinct aesthetic makes their wares different from other, similar gift shops, and it never feels close to a craft fair in there. It’s worth going in just to browse and touch stuff, whether at their flagship Capitol Hill location at the north end of Broadway or their larger outpost, Kobo at Higo, in the International District. Still, it’s hard to come out of there without something in hand, even if it’s just for you.
Northwest Art & Frame
4733 California Ave SW
Northwest Art and Frame is a staple establishment in the West Seattle Junction, founded way back in 1962. Two-thirds of the store is right what it says on the label, art supplies and framing, but a sizable chunk of the shop is devoted to a dense selection of gifts and cards.
Some of the options are for sure novelties—for example, there’s a long shelf of cult-fandom trinkets for Dolly Parton, Schitt’s Creek, and other crowd-pleasers. But there’s something in there to suit every interest, whether it’s a hiking guidebook, a hard-to-find kids’ book with a local angle, a unique plush toy, or a fancy face mask. The selection of generally witchy things has increased maybe tenfold in the last few years, and they have a truly impressive selection of Mad Libs. Honestly, the shop’s sheer volume of fancy candles alone would be enough to put it on this list.
There is, of course, plenty of stuff from the art and frame sections to make wonderful gifts. Think sets of fancy pens, a deep selection of Curiosity for Kids kits, coloring books for all ages, and so many stickers. It’s a wonderful place to go for some unique sure-fire hits and some extremely safe bets for the wildcards on your list. (Seriously, some of these candles are so fancy.) A selection of fancy giftwrap and bags make things easy for you, too.
Portage Bay Goods
621 N 35th St
Portage Bay Goods is full of fun, often inexpensive gifts. Think puzzles with swears on them, miniature Christmas Story lamps, offbeat awards ribbons, temporary tattoos, paint-by-numbers kits, and weird phone accessories like disco lights and karaoke mics. But you can go here for a little more longevity, too, including a selection of goods by local artists that probably won’t clean out your bank account. Jewelry, for example, maxes out at around $40. The card selection is similarly lighthearted and offbeat, full of pop culture references and the occasional fart joke.
For those who want tidings from the Emerald City, they also have a unique selection of souvenirs, including a teddy bear that says “stupid souvenir from Seattle,” prints and plushies from prolific muralist henry (love him or hate him!), and candles themed around landmarks like national parks and ferries.
513 N 36th St Suite A
This shop’s name comes from both the moth family Sphingidae and “Sfingi Day,” which the owner says means “Donut Day” in Sicily. I don’t see too many donuts around here, but I do see a designer-forward selection of items by small-production creators.
Some of these shops specialize in Northwest-made; Sfingiday sources from artisans all over the US and abroad, creating a unique selection of items to choose from at different prices. That includes ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, home textiles, clothing, and accessories. Yeah, you could get a $55 designer tote bag (it’s hand-sewn!) or $42 pet bowl (it’s wheel-thrown!), or leave with some cute enamel pins or one of a weirdly large selection of inexpensive wooden soap dishes. Earrings run anywhere from $7.50 to $220.
Like many gift shops on this list, they have a selection of gift sets, too—some assembled by vendors, but others curated by the shop that are more focused on specific occasions like housewarmings and weddings.
4550 University Way NE
You don’t need to know what you’re getting someone at Gargoyles Statuary, but you should have a couple of folks in mind before you head to this iconic goth shop in the U District. It does, true to its name, have a lot of statues, not just of all shapes and sizes of gargoyles, but cats, goddesses, and other metaphysical things. It’s also got candles, toys, things for cats, pottery, jewelry, and pretty much every other gift shop trapping made a little magickal, in a way that’s more Eldritch and old school than minimalist new witchy.
Want a handmade leather purse with a bat wing motif? They have you covered. A cuddly lil Baphomet? Got that, too. Candles? Hell yes, but expect some Papyrus font on the label, because an ancient witch handcrafted it just for you. They also have a diverse array of incense burners, some wild-looking goblets, and some relatively mundane stuff like housewares that have just been made more goth by a dragon or Frankenstein or something.
3270 California Ave SW
This bright and shiny little gift shop in West Seattle is packed with easy crowd-pleasers, including some cheesy but unique holiday-specific items like Awkward Family Bingo, a box of Christmas activity ideas for kids, and wacky ornaments. Alair is of special interest to the truly stuck, though, because they will pick stuff out for you in a specially-curated gift box. You can buy them as a subscription or make a one-time purchase that you can pick up in 24 hours. You can leave notes for preferences or just let them pick out whatever. The Favorite Things Gift Box is more general, the Decor Box is what it says on the label, and the Relax Box features spa and self-care items, which are usually reliable hits. You can even open the box and re-wrap them to pretend you took forever picking out the perfect ones.
If you head in and browse, you’ll find a solid gift shop selection of toys, books, puzzles, home decor, clothing, and accessories, full of little surprises to spark inspiration. You know how it goes: You have no idea what to get your cousin until you happen across a cookbook based around hot cheese or a coloring book of famous gingers. Like any decent gift shop, it still has plenty of candles and stickers to fall back on, too.
5208 Ballard Ave NW
Everything at Ballard boutique Prism is very a e s t h e t i c, but not necessarily minimalist—it’s like modernism on weed. Yeah, you could get a stark-looking geometric vase, or you could opt for a candle shaped like a melting smiley face or a terra cotta pot with boobs on it. Their clothing selection, larger than many similar stores, has a similar vibe: Straightforward solid-color basics with giant hair bows to go with them. Raw denim, but also the occasional piece of inscrutable clubwear. It’s a fun place to be.
One thing that separates them from this particular pack is their selection of cannabis accessories that double as coffee table art; think glass blocks that happen to be pipes, sculptural one-hitters, and fancy lighter covers. Prism is big on functional art more broadly—which means plenty of stuff built from scratch. Or you could just grab some art books here.
Monster + Ugly Baby
Monster: 1716 NW Market St + Ugly Baby: 1430 Western Ave
Sister stores Monster and Ugly Baby, located in Ballard and Pike Place Market, respectively, have all the fun things you’d expect from a gift shop—cards, fun housewares, unique accessories—but specialize in crafts.
If you’re looking for a self-contained craft gift, this store is a great bet; they have kits for embroidery, knitting, papercraft, painting, punch needle, sewing, and weaving, including some kid-friendly options. Even better: They’re all assembled by smaller artists, many of them local, so they’re not the same crap you can get at Michael’s (and they’ll make stuff your recipient may actually want to display). They also have a selection of unique notions like needle minders for crafty friends that are more self-directed.
“Crafts” also includes goods made by local artists and by the owners themselves, like fun soaps and cheeky resin pour art. And if you want to find someone a unique Seattle souvenir, they have stuff beyond the standard fare, whether it’s genuinely beautiful art of local wonders or just a thing that says “this says Seattle on it.”
Sarah Anne Lloyd is a writer and lifelong Seattleite whose work has appeared in Seattle Met, The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, KNKX, and others. She lives on the outskirts of West Seattle with her partner, an absolutely perfect dog, and six terrifying chickens. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahannelloyd.