America (by which I mean the United States of America) is a shopper’s paradise, whether you head to one of its huge shopping malls and department stores, browse charming independent shops or buy branded merchandise from sports venues and tourist attractions. I also have a soft spot for supermarket shopping, as I love buying food and drink items I can’t find at home.
The Best Souvenirs to Buy in the USA
Barbecue Sauce | Candies and Cookies | Disney Merchandise | Ghirardelli Chocolate | I Love NY Merchandise | Kachina Doll | NASA Merchandise | New Orleans Voodoo Doll | Petoskey Stones | Team Baseball Caps | Turquoise Jewellery | Wine
Barbecue sauce is a classic American condiment, predominant through the middle of the country. Several countries use the term barbecuing, meaning to grill outdoors, but true barbecue includes basting, smoking, and a special sauce. For visitors to the United States, barbecue is a must try cuisine, and a bottle of sauce makes an inexpensive souvenir.
Barbecue sauce is highly regional, with varying ingredients, recipes, and flavors. In the east, Carolina barbecue has a tart mustard based sauce. Western states, such as Kansas and Texas, are known for a tomato and sugar based sauce that is thick and rather sweet. Most supermarket brands are based upon these recipes. In the deep south there is even mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce.
For me, the best and most evocatively American barbecue is found in the middle. Both St. Louis and Memphis are known for dry rub barbecue, with a vinegar and tomato based tart-sweet sauce, that perfectly accents the smoked meat.
The most renowned barbecue houses sell bottled versions of their own special sauce right in the restaurant. This is the best place to get a bottle as a souvenir. In Memphis, try Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, and in St. Louis try Pappy’s Smokehouse. Have dinner and take a bottle of sauce home. If you can’t make it to a restaurant, in St. Louis pick up a bottle of Maull’s Original at the supermarket. It is the most authentic brand of St. Louis sauce that you can buy outside of a restaurant.
Candies and Cookies
Wherever I travel, I’ll always visit at least one supermarket to browse for local treats, things that natives of the country might be surprised are even of interest to a visitor. As Roxanna recommends, savoury specialities such as condiments and sauces are often on my list, as are local beers and wines, as suggested by Wendy, below.
In the US, I always look for local sweets (candies in America-speak) and biscuits (cookies). I’m a huge fan of Trident sugar-free gum, particularly the Layers series, with flavours such as Swedish Fish, and Berry and Tangerine. There’s so much more choice on flavours than back home. There are many other sweets I also love, such as peanut butter M&Ms (the whole peanut ones are widely available but the peanut butter ones not so much) and candy corn.
I also love the cookie aisle, not only for brands like Oreos – we can get the originals in the UK but rarely the special or limited edition flavours such as berry – but also American favourites such as devil’s food cookie cakes and nutter butters.
And here’s a wildcard for you, when I was a child (in the 1970s and ’80s) we often visited family in Florida, where I developed an intense love of Lucky Charms cereal, with its multicoloured marshmallows liberally distributed throughout. So much so that we used to bring several boxes home with us and insist that when our family came to us in the UK, they do likewise. A box may still make its way into my suitcase all these years later!
Me, Kavey, blogging here at Kavey Eats. Find me on Instagram.
Disney World and Disneyland are classic American experiences and guests come from around the world to visit the four theme parks at Disney World near Orlando, Florida and the two theme parks at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. While visiting the parks, you can purchase just about any item with a Disney logo, attraction, or beloved character on it. Whether you want a souvenir T-shirt, hat, kitchen accessories, jewellery, stuffed animal, or crazy socks, you can almost certainly find it in one of the many gift shops at the parks and resorts. T-shirts are available with traditional park logos, popular rides, funny sayings, and of course, Mickey Mouse himself.
Mickey ears are another classic souvenir and fun to wear in the parks. They come in a wide range of styles from the classic black ones to elaborately decorated sets for specific characters and holidays. You can go with an ear hat or a Minnie headband, either of which are sure to liven up your park photos.
Coffee mugs are another favorite and the big gift shops at both Disney locations have dozens of options to choose from. My favorites are styled after characters, like a Chip teacup designed to look like the character from Beauty and the Beast.
Ghirardelli chocolates are indelibly linked in my mind with my favourite US city, San Francisco. Even though the chocolates are available everywhere, the little square treats always take me back to the first time I stared up at the enormous Ghirardelli lightbulb sign, and tasted the famous intense chocolate-ness of Ghiradelli chocolate.
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was started in 1852 by an Italian immigrant, Domenico Ghirardelli (he changed his name from the Italian Domenico to the Spanish Domingo when he came to California). He reportedly came to California in search of gold, but soon realized that chocolate was his true calling!
In 1893, the company moved to the location now called Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. The famous illuminated sign was created in 1923. In 1982, Ghirardelli Square was placed on the National Historic Register and is today one of the most visited places in San Francisco. In 1998, Ghirardelli was acquired by Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier.
The famous Ghirardelli square chocolates were launched in 1999, and they are my favorite sweet treat. The company also sells chocolate bars, and their ice cream is delicious. Ghirardelli chocolates are sold all over the USA and the company has a sales web site as well, where they offer their chocolate in special USA and San Francisco gift tins and bars, ranging in price from US$7.50 to US$49.95. These gift packs make the perfect souvenir from the USA, representing, as they do, the realization of the American dream by an individual willing to follow his dream.
Dhara blogs at Not About The Miles.
I ♥ NY Merchandise
Was “I ♥ NY” the first “I love” logo? I don’t know, but it sure seems that it is the most popular. Everyone visiting NY wants something with that on it to take home. Personally, I think the cheaper the better when it comes to cups and T-shirts, which will probably get ruined in the first wash… or not! Sometimes the cheaper quality turns out to be better. It is buyer beware to decide this.
The usual is a white background with black letters and a red heart but in some NYC shops I’ve found cups with many background color choices. I guess the secret is to keep looking until you find the item that steals your HEART. Figure the cup might go as low as $2 and the T-shirt might go as high as $20. They are likely to be most expensive at the airport. I bought my cup on Canal Street for about $2. I remember it was dusty and uninviting, but ironically, after 5 years it is still looking good.
Kachina (katsina) Dolls are small figures carved and ornately decorated, by the Pueblo native Americans of Arizona and New Mexico, most notably the Hopi. They represent ancestral spirits and are traditionally carved from cottonwood root by Hopi men and given to girls each year as they grow up as a way of instructing them about the ancestral spirits. There are over 200 different figures and the colors, clothing, masks etc. all have specific meanings. Traditionally, they were hung on walls, but they are now often made to stand up.
They are also a common souvenir in Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and nearby places in the American South West. Good quality ones are made with great attention to detail. Consequently, whilst making great souvenirs of your travels to this region, Kachina Dolls are not cheap. We bought one for about $200, but most good ones cost an average of $500-$1,000 and can go as high as $10,000 (or $250,000 for rare antique ones, but that’s for a serious collector!) Better ones are carved from one piece of wood (look for glue as a telltale sign that they are not) and are incredibly detailed. Make sure feathers are not from exotic birds such as eagles!
James blogs at Travel Collecting.
I was just a small kid interested in the magical world of space. So when NASA announced the success of Apollo 11 and an exhibition on the mission at New Delhi, India, I was excited.
NASA displayed various artifacts, the Command Module “Columbia” and the Lunar Module Eagle (I am now sure they were models, but at that time I thought they were for real) and the highlight of the exhibition was the mysterious looking “Moon Rock”. There was a kilometre-long queue to see them. These memories were deeply etched and at one point I wanted to be an Astronaut too.
With time these memories were pushed deeper. All of them came rushing back after over 4 decades when I was in the US and got a chance to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, where Apollo 11 Mission Control Center was located.
Having come thus far I wanted to pick up a few Apollo 11 souvenirs including the medallion, Saturn V, Columbia, the eagle and figurines of astronauts, maybe. They had run out of Apollo 11 medallions at that time and the last 3 decades had changed the face of space exploration so much that memorabilia pertaining to Discovery in particular and NASA in general, were available in great numbers. Eventually I picked a key chain, a hat, a T-shirt and a NASA magnet that still adorns our fridge. I am yet to use the hat and T-shirt. The key chain is displayed along with other key chain collection.
Nisha and Vasu blog at Lemonicks.
New Orleans Voodoo Doll
If you’re searching for the perfect souvenir from New Orleans, a Voodoo Doll just might be the answer. No other souvenir I’ve found is capable of granting wishes, revenge, or simply making your unfaithful ex miserable so easily. Having your own Voodoo Doll puts the power of happiness in YOUR hands.
On the Voodoo Doll, there may be a small card with instructions on the proper use. “Your doll is a medium to solve a problem or desire. You may personalize it with hair, a small photo, or any small personal item. Tuck them into doll. Every morning and every evening make a ceremony by lighting a candle and incense. Stick pin in doll. In heart for good. In stomach for bad. Say aloud 3 times your desires or intentions and concentrate for 3 minutes. Repeat for 9 days and you shall have your desire.”
Voodoo is such an integral part of the culture of New Orleans. You’ll find Voodoo Shops with spectacular dolls for almost every occasion. Most souvenir shops in the French Quarter of New Orleans carry Voodoo Dolls for under $10, but if you’d like to buy them in bulk to share with friends, the open air French Market is your best option to find them for around $2 each.
If you’re headed to Michigan, you should definitely bring home a Petoskeystone. This unique rock is actually a 350-million-year-old fossil of a coral that lived during the Devonian period. While not rare, it can only be found in the state of Michigan and has been recognized as the official state stone since 1965.
Petoskey stones are most abundantly found along Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay in the town that gave the fossil its name – Petoskey, Michigan – but you’ll also find large numbers of them in neighbouring bayside towns such as Charlevoix and Fishtown. Prices vary according to the size of the stone and whether or not it has been polished or made into jewellery.
If you prefer to hunt for one yourself, it’s completely free and legal to take less than 25 pounds from the beach (although a single pebble should suffice). Due to the movement of frozen lake ice grinding against the shores each winter, a new batch of stones is overturned and exposed every spring. At least for now, Michigan is in no danger of running out of fossils anytime soon, and the Petoskey Chamber of Commerce actively encourages tourists to take home these unique treasures as souvenirs.
Jillian blogs at Adventure Dragon.
Team Baseball Caps
One of the best souvenirs to get in the US is a baseball cap. Baseball is an all American sport and honestly, there’s not a trendier accessory that goes with so many outfits from sporty to fashionable. You’re likely to make fun conversations with Americans that you meet abroad who will most likely compliment you on your hat and maybe ask you about baseball and it’s a great conversation starter while traveling in the US!
If you’re visiting New York, I recommend picking up a Yankees or Mets cap. Although Yankees caps are easy to buy around the world, a baseball cap from the Mets baseball team in Queens is a bit harder to find.
An authentic item, rather than a rip-off, tends to cost more (upwards of $20). That said, it’s easy to buy baseball hats with various team logos that are unlicensed for as little as $6-$15 in many US cities. You can tell if it’s authentic based on the holographic sticker that will say MLB. I’d recommend buying the licensed ones as they are more likely to last longer.
Karen blogs at WanderlustingK.
The turquoise gemstone has special significance in many Native Indian cultures, especially amongst the Navajo tribe in Arizona. Historically, the Navajo people used turquoise as currency and as a symbol of wealth and prestige. It was also a symbol of good luck and fortune in ancient times. Today, turquoise jewelry is a symbol of the fine craftsmanship of the Navajo people and a way to understand the Native American heritage.
I found unique turquoise jewellery set in sterling silver at many Navajo trading posts while road-tripping in Arizona especially near the Indian reservations around the Grand Canyon, Four Corners National Monument, and Monument Valley. The jewellery was uniquely designed and stylised and came in a range of earrings, rings, necklaces, and pendants. Buying Navajo turquoise jewellery from the Navajo women manning the stands and shops was a great opportunity to learn more about their culture and life on the reservations.
Ketki blogs at Dotted Globe.
I think most people would be surprised to know that there are more than 3,000 commercial wineries in the United States, and that wine is produced in each of the fifty states. Throughout the US there are dozens of wine regions offering visitors scenic drives and lovely tasting rooms. Due to the great variety of ecosystems, every state has something unique to bring to the wine industry. Some regions specialise in reds, others whites, and a few are even able to produce excellent sparkling wine. So for visitors looking for souvenir, a bottle of wine is ideal.
If you are visiting California, a bottle of wine is an absolute must for a souvenir. This state produces 84% of the country’s wine. The varieties are endless and the quality is consistently high. Even better, there are great options for bottles of California wine for $10 and less.
For those fortunate enough to visit one of California’s wine regions – Napa, Sonoma, Temecula, Central Coast – do stop by one of the many wineries and purchase your souvenirs there. But if that isn’t possible, then make a trip to BevMo or Trader Joe’s, where the staff can help with your purchase once they know your price range and general tastes.
Wendy blogs at Empty Nesters Hit The Road.
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Find more of my posts on the best souvenirs to buy around the world.
With many thanks to all my contributors for helping me to compile this guide to the best souvenirs to buy in the United States of America. All images are by the authors of the relevant entry, unless credited otherwise.