Image: The Evolution Store
The Evolution Store  /  AP
Head north to Soho, where you'll find The Evolution Store, 120 Spring St., which sells gifts for budding Darwins and other natural history types.
updated 11/26/2008 2:15:50 PM ET 2008-11-26T19:15:50

Some 11 million people visited New York City last year between October and December, according to NYC & Company, the city's marketing and tourism organization. Even if that number drops this year due to the economy, you're likely to find Manhattan plenty crowded over the holidays.

"The busiest time for visitation to NYC is typically the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said NYC & Company spokesman Chris Heywood.

In addition to seeing the Rockefeller Center tree and decorated windows, many December visitors come to shop. Naturally chain retailers — especially the Manhattan flagships for stores like Macy's — are a big draw. But New York is also full of one-of-a-kind shops and ethnic neighborhoods where you can find unique merchandise in all price ranges.

The city is home to several Christmas markets as well, selling everything from mittens to ornaments to arts and crafts and toys. Check out the Holiday Market in the red-and-white candy-striped tents at Union Square (East 14th Street); the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park (42nd Street and Fifth Avenue), where you'll also find a shimmering Christmas tree and a rink with free ice skating; and the 74 vendors at Grand Central Terminal's Holiday Gift Fair. Grand Central hosts its free annual "Kaleidoscope Light Show," Dec. 1 through New Year's Day, themed this year on a train ride through a snowy forest filled with carousels and magical creatures.

Be sure to include stores with international themes on your shopping tour. Takashimaya, the famous Japanese department store, has a Manhattan location at 693 Fifth Ave. (54th Street) so beautifully decorated that the displays could be in a museum. Look for accessories, cosmetics, home products, confections and teas.

Takashimaya is on the high end as Asian shopping outposts in New York go. For bargains, Elise Loehnen, editor at large at Lucky Magazine, suggests exploring the stores run by Indian merchants in Jackson Heights, Queens, by taking the No. 7 train to the Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street subway station. "That whole stretch, you can go into any single one of those stores, and buy all kinds of jewelry and intricate rings," she said. At Butala Emporium, 37-46 74th St., bangles are four dozen for $16. Loehnen suggests buying the batch and dividing them up as gifts. "They're really pretty," she added.

In Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, stores selling produce outside often sell nonperishables inside, like woks, hard-to-find seasonings and easy-to-use mixes. They make great presents for college kids perfecting their dorm cooking or tofu-eaters looking to spice up their lives. Loehnen recommends the Kam Man Market at 200 Canal St. "I love their collection of teas," Loehnen said.

From Chinatown, head north to Soho, where you'll find The Evolution Store, 120 Spring St., which sells gifts for budding Darwins and other natural history types: replica skulls and skeletons, anatomical models, posters, colorful mounted butterflies, scorpion paperweights and even flavored lollipops with genuine crickets inside.

One of Loehnen's favorite places in Soho is the Young Designers Market, 268 Mulberry St., between Prince and Houston, open weekends. The "small indie designers" change every week, and "the jewelry is particularly strong," she said.

Loehnen also recommends Kiosk, upstairs at 95 Spring St. "They do these pillows ($24) that are really popular in animal shapes," she said. "And every season they switch their focus to a different country and go on these buying sprees to bring home really unusual items."

Also worth a visit is Kidrobot at 118 Prince St., the Lucky magazine editor says. The store, which does have locations in Miami, Los Angeles and several other cities, showcases collectible and limited edition "art toys," from cartoonish 3-inch, $10 reindeers to foot-tall, two-headed furry creatures called "furillas," $37. A little farther uptown, Loehnen suggests checking out John Derian's stores, at 6 and 10 E. Second St. "He has an exquisite eye for one-off antiquities, curios and china," and he's known for his collections of decoupage, she said.

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Nearly all museum stores can be entered without paying admission to the exhibits. You'll find unusual jewelry, art books, housewares, stationery, posters and post cards in all price ranges in, among other places, the shops at the Museum of Modern Art (53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues), the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (2 E. 91st St.), and even the New York Transit Museum, which sells everything from subway map shower curtains to colorful purses made from recycled maps. (If you can't get to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, there's also a shop in Grand Central.) The shop at the Guggenheim Museum (Fifth Avenue and 89th Street) is selling a special edition of jewelry this season called "Restoration Rocks" made from bits of the museum's original Frank Lloyd Wright building that were recovered during a recent restoration; prices start at $125.

Temporary "pop-up" stores are not unusual during the Christmas shopping season, but one at 680 Fifth Ave. (open through Jan. 4 near Takashimaya) is the first of its kind: a store selling the RED-branded designer merchandise that benefits African AIDS programs. The sometimes hard-to-find RED products include Converse sneakers created by artists around the world as well as other limited edition items from Armani, the Gap, Apple, Dell, Hallmark and others.

Finally, don't forget the city's specialty bookstores, including Drama Book Shop in the theater district, 250 W. 40th St.; Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, 163 W. 10th St., specializing in rare and old cookbooks, and the new Idlewild Books, 12 W. 19th St., which sells guidebooks, novels and other literature about places around the world, along with maps, globes and custom-made destination kits. Idlewild was the original name for Kennedy Airport.

For more detailed shopping guidance, check out Suzy Gershman's "Born To Shop New York" (Frommer's, $17). Recommendations include chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat, Madison Avenue near 78th Street; silk flower hairclips from Dulken & Derrick, 12 W. 21st St.; and a visit to Bergdorf Goodman, Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, which Gershman rates as one of the best department stores in the world.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Take a Bite Out of The Big Apple

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  1. A full moon rises over the skyline of New York City, as seen across the Hudson River in Weehawken, N.J., on April 25, 2013. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Commuters move through the grand hall of Grand Central Terminal in New York City on Jan. 25, 2013. Since its grand beginnings in 1913, when it was dubbed the greatest railway terminal in the world with an $80 million price tag, Grand Central has been an integral part of New York City. (Brendan Mcdermid / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Revelers cheers under falling confetti at the stroke of midnight during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square on Jan. 1, 2014. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One World Trade Center overlooks the wedge-shaped pavilion entrance of the National September 11 Museum, lower right, and the square outlines of the memorial waterfalls in New York. (Mark Lennihan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks back to the dugout after flying out in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians on June 13, 2011, at Yankee Stadium. Located in the South Bronx, the new stadium opened in 2009. (Jim Mcisaac / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Central Park was the first public park built in America. Its 843 acres include woodlands, lawns and water. Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and a New York City Landmark in 1974. More than 25 million visitors enjoy Central Park each year. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Saint Patrick's Cathedral is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the U.S. The cathedral's construction began in 1858, and it opened its doors in 1879. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Skaters glide around the rink at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. The ice rink, open between October and April, has attracted more than 250,000 people a year since it first opened on Dec. 25, 1936. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons line up outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem to see Amateur Night. Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has launched the careers of famous entertainers such as Billie Holiday, James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, and many others. (Jonathan D. Woods / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City commemorates those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. (Justin Lane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Pedestrians pass along a walkway under falling snow on the Brooklyn Bridge on Jan. 3, 2014, in New York. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S., the Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Statue of Liberty looms over a visitor as he uses binoculars to look out onto New York Harbor on Oct. 13, 2013, in New York. About 4 million people visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Coney Island features entertainment parks, rides, an aquarium, a public beach, a boardwalk, fishing and Nathan's restaurant. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. New York City Subway dancer Marcus Walden aka "Mr Wiggles" performs acrobatic tricks on the subway while passengers watch Nov. 23, 2010. More than 4.3 million people ride the New York subway system every day. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of two-mile-long Roosevelt Island - between Manhattan and Queens - was dedicated in 2012. (Paul Warchol / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has been around since 1924 and includes large balloons, floats and performances. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors view the Manhattan skyline from Rockefeller Center's "Top of the Rock" observation deck. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Pedestrians walk along a path on the High Line park on June 7, 2011, in New York City. The High Line was formerly an elevated railway 30 feet above the city's West Side that was built in 1934 for freight trains. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The moon rises at sunset behind New York's Empire State building, which opened in 1931. At 102 stories high, the Empire State Building is the fourth tallest skyscraper in America. (Gary Hershorn / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
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