BRING HOME A MEMORY
Splurging a bit on vacation souvenirs for yourself or a significant other is understandable, but bringing home mementos adds up quickly when buying for friends and family. In this case, the ideal souvenirs won't tax your luggage or your wallet; that is, they're small, lightweight, and inexpensive. Cheapism.com identified representative keepsakes from each of the 50 states that satisfy these requirements.
Sneaky Pete's Hot Dogs are sold throughout Alabama, and the associated hot dog sauce (good on any beef, pork, or poultry, proclaims Sneaky Pete's) is a tasty vacation souvenir that jogs the memory with a distinct taste and smell. Bottles start at two for $20, but are cheaper in bulk (12 for $45).
Local crafts made by Alaskan natives are true keepsakes, although often expensive. Take the cheaper route and Look for cheap options, such as small woven birch baskets, dolls, or an Alaskan Ulu knife, all starting at about $20. Another possibility is Alaskan glacier mud; small individual mud masques made by the Alaska Glacial Mud Company sell for $3.50 each.
The state's official gemstone, turquoise, shows up on a variety of garments and as the focal point in lots of silver jewelry. Visit Native American markets on reservations or gift shops and marketplaces to find handmade pieces. The state's official travel guide, VisitArizona.com, lists 10 venues with large selections of vetted crafts.
Subiaco Abbey in town of Subiaco is a Roman Catholic day and boarding school. The monks who live there create and sell all manner of inexpensive souvenirs, including wood carvings ($35 to $65), calligraphy blessings and quotes ($30), peanut brittle ($24), and habanero pepper sauce ($9).
California is known for its redwoods and none are larger than the giant sequoias. The John Muir Trading Company in Mill Valley (just north of San Francisco and near Muir Woods National Monument) sells small sequoia saplings for $10 each. Travelers with a green thumb who prefer to start from scratch can buy grow-a-tree seed germination kits for $10.
The columbine, Colorado's state flower, is featured in many prints, paintings, and jewelry. The flower has five large spurs and petals (often red or purple), an inner circle of five white and colored petals, and a yellow center. Visit shops that sell locally-made goods and pick out a memento showcasing the blossom's beauty.
The Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Company has been making bells in East Hampton since 1832. It is responsible for the first bicycle bell, the early version of the car horn, the bell that opens and closes the New York Stock Exchange, and all the Salvation Army Christmas bells. Small fisherman's strike alarms, steel tea bells, and ornamental bells are available for $3.49 each; ornamental bells cost $1.99 to $10.
Without a state sales tax, souvenirs and gifts are slightly cheaper here. In fact, out-of-staters in need of a wardrobe update might want to shop till they drop while visiting. For an assortment of kitschy but fun souvenirs, take a stroll down the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, where you'll find ornamental sea shells and sponges ($4 and up), hermit crab shells ($3 and up), and so on.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The gift shop in the White House can be pricey but it certainly stocks some off-beat keepsakes: Declaration of Independence or Benjamin Franklin baseballs ($15), "Future President" bibs ($13), and lapel pins ($7).
It may be hard to believe that anything inside Disney World is free, but the Animation Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios offers a free half-hour animation class several times a day. Follow the teacher's instructions and sketch a Disney character to bring home.
An oddball memento that might elicit a few laughs: At the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Harlem visitors can browse memorabilia, watch a few films, and buy a replica hat for $5. The museum is small but gets good reviews; better yet, it's free.
Macadamia nuts and Kona coffee are popular gifts for the gourmet and are sure to disappear within weeks, perhaps days. For a souvenir that lasts, consider a purse or grocery bag made from a burlap coffee sack ($4 to $10).
In Idaho Falls the Golden company raises livestock humanely and produces a variety of beef, buffalo, turkey, and fruit jerkies. The company also offers several gluten-free jerkies. Three-ounce bags of these treats cost $4.99 to $8.99.
Chicago's Hoosier Mama Pie Company makes mouthwatering savory and sweet pies that are known around town. Reviewers say a few bites can transport eaters into a state of bliss. Bringing home a slice seems logistically impossible, but the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie ($17) is filled with recipes.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Indianapolis 500 and is worth checking out even by travelers who aren't racing enthusiasts. A gift shop on site sells memorabilia such as shot glasses ($8), coasters ($10), hats and belt buckles ($25).
Iowa leads the nation in soybean production and since 1985 the Lee Seeds Company has been roasting soybeans to make a crunchy and tasty snack Soynuts come in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, yogurt, BBQ, and jalapeno/cheddar. One pound costs $8 online, but in-store prices may vary. Lee Seeds Company also makes soy candles, soy lotions, and enamelware popcorn pots.
In Bennington, an hour and a half north of Wichita and a 20-minute detour off I-70, the Prairie Lavender Farm grows more than 3,000 lavender plants and sells, what else, lavender-based products. Cheap souvenir options include a small jar of lavender honey ($7), a large pillow sachet ($8.50), bath salts ($12), and lip balm ($2).
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail traverses the state, leading bourbon lovers to nine distilleries over the course of three days. Samples are provided at the end of each tour, and small bottles can be bought for several dollars each as take-home souvenirs.
Beignets are deep-fried French pastries topped with powdered sugar and a popular New Orleans breakfast treat. A souvenir box of Café Du Monde beignet mix ($3 to $5) makes it easy to whip up a few at home. If morning sweets aren't your thing, a voodoo doll ($15 to $20) from Voodoo Authentica in the French Quarter should do the trick.
Carting fresh lobster all the way home doesn't seem like the best idea, nor is the sea creature an especially frugal memento. Stick with the lobster and cooking theme but opt for something different. Lobster-shaped cookie cutters ($2), apron ($20), or lobster cracker and pick ($5.45) are practical keepsake alternatives.
The Maryland Store in Westminster stocks all sorts of trinkets and gifts with a Maryland twist. Find crab-themed clothing, jewelry, and housewares, including T-shirts ($15), crab earrings ($16), and a pint glass ($14).
Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston is a hub of tourist activity. There are carts and retailers, such as Sock It to Me Boston, Irish Eyes, and Merry Trading Company selling all sorts of items. Fans of the TV show Cheers can buy a shot glass ($9) or dimple mug ($8) from the replica Cheers bar (the original is nearby on Beacon Hill).
Sanders Chocolates has been a Michigan institution for more than 125 years. Although the company was purchased by Morley Candy Makers in 2002, Sanders products are still widely available. Try the extra dark chocolate, dark chocolate peppermint paddy, milk chocolate, classic caramel, or cinnamon pear caramel dessert toppings; all cost $4.29 for a 10-ounce jar.
The Minnesota Historical Society preserves many of the state's historical sites and runs several museums. Visit the gift shops at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis or the History Center in St. Paul to find handcrafted goods from local artisans, retro collectibles, books about the area and its history, and tasty bites. See examples of some of the items and shop at the online store.
At the Mississippi Crafts Center in Jackson, the wares aren't especially cheap, but that's because they're handmade by local artists. Stock up on cheap souvenirs for everyone on your gift list at the Old State Capitol Museum gift shop and then head to the crafts center for a special, personal keepsake.
The Branson Mill Craft Village in Branson is filled with small shops run by leatherworkers, jewelry makers, basket weavers, and other types of artisans. There are many cheap and mass-produced items for sale as well, but focus on the handmade goods and go home with a unique souvenir.
Montana Gift Corral opened shop in downtown Bozeman in 1993 and now runs stores or concessions selling western-themed gifts and souvenirs within the local Walmart, the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, and at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Several inexpensive Montana-made souvenirs include wild huckleberry hand cream ($5), huckleberry taffy ($6.50), and Christmas ornaments ($4 and up).
HR Poppin' Snacks is headquartered in Gibbon, less than two hours west of Lincoln, and specializes in making gourmet and specialty popcorns. Sweet flavors, such as birthday cake and caramel apple, are contrasted by the likes of savory bacon cheddar and vin de mais, a wine-flavored popcorn. Bags sell for $4 to $6 each.
The Black Rock Mud Company has made a business out of selling mud, or illite clay, to be exact. When applied, the clay is supposed to draw out toxins and impurities from the skin. Purchase a 1-ounce MudPot for $15 or a 2-ounce geyser thermal spring water spritzer for $14. There are also bars of soap, including the MOM (milk, oatmeal, and mud) and Clean as Mud (with activated charcoal and mud), for $10 each. The products are available at several locations in Reno, Las Vegas, and Fernley.
Like its neighbor Vermont, New Hampshire is known for maple products, and Ben's Sugar Shack in Temple offers all sorts of goodies made with maple syrup. Return home with a container of maple jelly beans ($7), a maple lollipop ($2), a maple syrup sampler ($12), or leaf-shaped maple candy ($3.50).
A visit to the Garden State is incomplete without a stop at the shore. Saltwater taffy is a sweet gift to bring friends and family as long as you'll be home within a week or two. The taffy keeps longer if it contains preservatives; if not, stash it in the freezer.
Small Native American fetishes (charms or amulets) can be found in several states. Often made of stone or antler, they depict animals associated with specific powers or traits depending on the material used. Small fetishes are sold throughout New Mexico and priced as low as $10 and up to hundreds of dollars.
NEW YORK "I 'heart' NY" t-shirts are among the most common souvenir brought home from the Big Apple. Depending on the quality of the shirt and quantity bought, each costs between $5 and $20. A cheaper and more delicious present is an authentic New York City bagel. Some well-known bagel shops offer overnight shipping.
Which state reigns as the barbecue capital of America is up for debate, but the barbecue capital of North Carolina is officially Lexington. Go home with a bottle of award-winning mustard or barbecue sauce, such as Jack Cawthon's Carolina Bar-B-Que Sauce ($6) or Mack Daddy's Tangy Carolina Mustard ($7.25).
Dakota Seasonings in Harvey makes an array of products that can be served up as inexpensive travel gifts. Rhubarb, chokecherry, or juneberry syrups ($8.25 each), wild jams and jellies ($7.50), soup mixes ($8), and an Aronia berry barbecue sauce ($10) are a sample of what's on offer.
Buckeye, the state tree and the source of the state's nickname, grows primarily in the western part of the state. A much-loved chocolate and peanut butter candy mimics the appearance of the buckeye nuts and also bears its name. A Buckeye State Chili recipe (there are many!) from Betty Crocker even incorporates those candy ingredients. Jars of Buckeye chili ($8 for meat or vegetarian) made by the Gourmet Farm Girl can be found throughout central Ohio.
Despite its name, the Beef Jerky Emporium in Oklahoma City carries all sorts of jerky: alligator, elk, boar, kangaroo, emu, and more. On Yelp, a vegetarian reviewer gives the shop a top rating because of the interesting non-meat alternatives lining the shelves: pickled food, nuts, cheeses, and sauces, to name a few.
The carpet at Portland's airport has built up quite a following over the last few years. The design can be found on souvenirs such as socks ($15), totes ($20), and mugs ($12); there's even a Rogue PDX Carpet IPA for $8 a bottle. Alas, the beloved carpet is being torn up and replaced, a lengthy process that should be complete by late fall.
Visit Philadelphia and buy a replica Liberty Bell that will sit on a shelf and collect dust, or head over to Cheesesteaktees for Philly-themed T-shirts ($15 and up), tanks ($24), and candles ($15). Also check out the Pennsylvania General Store, which is stocked with local treats and sweets.
Kenyon's Grist Mill got its start in 1696 and is one of the oldest businesses in the state. Take home a gift that incorporates grains from the mill or choose a Rhode Island delicacy. Clam cake and fritter mix ($4.51), a variety of pancake mixes (from $6.05), sea salt ($5.04), and bottles of coffee syrup ($9.50) are all on the menu.
A perfect souvenir for cocktail enthusiasts: Small-batch tonic, grenadine, and elderflower tonic ($16 each), aromatic bitters ($12), and bourbon cocktail cherries ($16) come from the Jack Rudy Cocktail Company in Charleston.
The go-to destination for souvenir shopping in South Dakota, Wall Drug Store, is a 76,000-square-foot behemoth of a roadside attraction. Filled with several gift shops, restaurants, and, of course, a drug store, there's everything from cheap keepsakes to fine handmade goods. Not sure where Wall is? Don't worry. Billboards mark the path for miles in either direction along I-90.
Nashville is a music haven and what better way to remember a trip than by bringing home some vinyl. Grimey's is one of the best-known record shops in town, but The Groove, Third Man Records, and Ernest Tubb Record Shop are worth exploring, as well.
The Lone Star State is known for many things: barbecue, Tex-Mex cuisine, cowboys, and a strong sense of pride. Bring back a bit of this spice with a gift from Tears of Joy in Austin, which sells hot sauces, BBQ sauces, mustards, ketchup, rubs, jams, and jellies (from $4).
Wasatch Brewery in Park City makes a line of beers that are as witty as they are tasty. The Polygamy Porter with its "why have just one!" tagline is one example, and Evolution Amber Ale that's meant to pair with "small mammals, invertebrates," may be old news to locals but still make an amusing gift for out-of-towners. If bringing back beer seems too cumbersome, there's always a t-shirt ($20).
A small bottle of Vermont maple syrup will sweeten up a few weekend breakfasts. Don't get confused by the grades, which indicate color, not quality. The real stuff comes in Fancy (lightest hue and maple flavor), Grade A medium amber, Grade A dark amber, and Grade B (darkest hue and strongest maple flavor).
Chesapeake Bay's Bay Beyond Inc. has been in business for 30 years and continues to thrive. Pick up a bottle of its award-winning Sting Ray Spicy Bloody Mary Mixer, sold under the Blue Crab Bay Company brand, for $8.50.
Take a cue from the rapper Macklemore and explore the thrift shops in his home town of Seattle. The stores are well picked over, but inventory turnover is high so there's always a chance of finding a bargain treasure. Check the book or jewelry sections for souvenirs for the folks at home.
Off I-77 in Beckley, Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia showcases arts and crafts from across the state. There are several resident artists, a theater with free live performances on Sundays, and information about the state. Grab a souvenir while supporting local artists and a bite at the food court, whose deli, grill, and bakery feature local foods.
When staying near or passing through Pleasant Prairie (about half an hour from Milwaukee), stop at the Jelly Belly warehouse for a 30-minute tour that covers the company's history and candle making. Finish up in the candy shop and grab a few bags of Belly Flops, beans that are misshapen or stuck together, have misprints or mismatched colors and flavors. Large bags sell for $5 each.