And for the Design-Conscious Hippie?

Shopping the museums

If Enron froze your IRA so you couldn't sell when your retirement fund was plunging to an 80th of its former value, please skip this primer—delightful though it may be—on what local museum stores are offering the beleaguered Holiday Shopper. Instead, go haunt the Cypress swap meet (Cypress College, 9200 Valley View St., Cypress. Sat.-Sun.), where you can find bargains (if slightly pre-owned ones) and haggle like a fishwife. Also, the pawn shops of Stanton occasionally have deals, if you don't mind profiting off the misery of others—which, let's face it, you don't mind, given your recent run of bad luck on Wall Street. You've borne the brunt of it often enough. But if you are Kenneth Lay, by all means head to one of our county's delightful museum shops. Your loved ones will think you're discerning, in addition to being heartless and cruel! And hey, what's 10 large to a man who squeezed $150 mil out of a bankrupted biz?

Orange County Museum of Art. Most Ridiculously Expensive Thing: Dale Chihuly blown-glass bowl in shocking blue with an electric orange rim or an uglier one in chartreusey lime, $6,000 a pop. Best Buy: post cards, 75 cents each.

Since Jeanine McWhorter, former proprietress of the bitchen and lamented Artscape, took over the museum gift shop, we figured all the awesome artisans she had at her Long Beach shop would be back with their wondrous chess sets and carved boxes and silken scarves. They're not. There are Boris Bally's recycled stop signs—made into bowls that could be used for chips and dip if you are a Philistine—and there are copies of lots of cool teapots from the American Modern show the museum hosted last year. But the jewelry's iffy, and there's not much to look at except for some bizarrely colored pieces of china—eggplant and chartreuse? Thank you, no. 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122; www.ocma.net. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Orange County Museum of Art South Coast Plaza Satellite Gallery. Most Ridiculously Expensive Thing: again with the damn Chihulys! Only $2,500 here. Most Bitchenest Thing Ever: kaleidoscope dollhouse (a mod beach mansion with tiny little art collections), $220.

The home office may be a snooze, but McWhorter lets loose in the South Coast Plaza satellite. Perhaps it's the larger space she has to work in; perhaps it's because not everything here has to be so stiflingly "high-end." Instead, she gets playful, with a mix of pricy items for the artsy CEO's wife (gorgeous "crumpled" sake sets) and really sassy stuff for less than $10. Barbara Kruger's glycerin soap reminds you, "Your Body Is a Battleground" (and for only $9.95), or you could soup up your boring old light switches with Warhol's Campbell's Soup can switchplates. A party set of 10 tiny Japanese lanterns runs $29.95, and there are perfect stocking stuffers such as bowling coasters and $3 flip books. And for the design-conscious hippie? A $34 grater on a cute li'l kidney-shaped bowl would be perfect for your friend who likes to separate his seeds and stems. The satellite is a must-stop. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (949) 759-1122. Call for hours.

Laguna Art Museum. Most Not Very Ridiculously Expensive Thing: "Probably a piece of jewelry; we don't have anything really outlandish here." Best Buy: snow-globe ring, $4.

While there's a smattering of high-end staplers (the kind that for $75 better look real Modern on your desk), and of course (just like anywhere else) the children's art sets are a little steep for the number of markers you're actually getting, for the most part, Laguna Art Museum's (LAM) sweet little gift shop is moderately priced. Also, it is always filled with old ladies who say things like, "Oh, it's a key ring! How about that!" and murmur happily over slightly steep art sets for the grandchildren. God bless 'em. There's Alexis Bittar's sassy opalescent Lucite jewelry (LAM is pretty much the only gift shop that prominently displays its artisans' names) and some beaded evening bags ($36, or $75 for the ones with the big silly Sarah Jessica Parker flowers flopping on them), but mostly there are books. Serious books. Books about art. And artists. And, you know, art—something the majority of museum gift shops seem to forget. 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971. Call for hours.

Museum of Latin American Art. Most Grande Expensivo Thingamajig: an ugly piece of Talavera ceramic shaped like a knight in a game of chess (that's the horse) for a cool 10 and a half large. Keep in mind, Talavera is not the artist but the type of ceramic from which the horse is made. MoLAA wins! Coolest Buy: the red-toned portrait of Che on those beads one hangs from one's doorjamb, $100.

MoLAA definitely wins the prettiest gift shop award: it's all muralled rain forests and brightly colored imports. And not everything is outlandishly expensive. You can get an El Diablo Christmas tree ornament or a pretty candle for $5. Most reasonably priced are the children's items, which take up one corner of the store with mobiles of butterflies and Spanish-language tapes and plastic insects. We approve. We also like the hand-blown vases and bowls and the Frida Kahlo jewelry boxes, but with more than 50 people on our shopping list this year, y'all are getting things from Pic 'N Save. 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.com. Open Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace. Least Skinflinty Thing: Bill Clinton cufflinks, $695.
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