PORTSMOUTH, N.H. --Visit a tourist destination these days and you collide with candles. So it is no surprise that this beautiful seaside city traffics in this tourist's tchotchke of choice. But by playing the intrepid shopper, you can sidestep the cliche in favor of gifts unique, offbeat, and not made of wax.
Just peer into the home furnishing shop Chaise Lounge and try not to be drawn in by the profusion of lamps. Made of materials like photo-vellum, tassels, or pulleys, they transport alternately to a Brooklyn loft or another century. Linger, and like a patient shell collector, register the many finds beneath the dusky light. A distressed steel apothecary-style CD cabinet will lend anyone's crib a cool industrial edge, or go retro with antique glass seltzer bottles that glow blue, green, and otherworldly. (104 Congress St.; 603-430-7872. Tuesday to Thursday 10 -6, Friday and Saturday 10-8, Sunday noon-5. Lamps $210-$950, apothecary cabinets $600-$850, seltzer bottles $80. )
Walk down a block and you come upon a storefront more West Village than Granite State. Nahcotta, an elegant gallery cum housewares shop, features products and art that are spare, well made, and tasteful enough to dazzle your highbrow mother-in-law. Cutting boards are a must, tree grain and edge retained, no two alike. Brushed-steel flasks are snug enough to sneak past the zealous guards at Fenway, the Decision Dice the easiest answer to your dating life: flirt, quickie, marry, dump? Don't dump Nahcotta's paintings. They're surprisingly sophisticated. (110 Congress St.; 603-433-1705; nahcotta.com. Monday-Thursday 10-6, Friday and Saturday 10-8, Sunday 11-5. Cutting boards $88, flasks $98, dice $9, paintings $400 to $3,000.)
Cross the street for a well-deserved shopper's nap. Somnia specializes in ''artistry for bed and bath," meaning it answers every conceivable need. The bathrobes are -- get this! -- made of Italian trees, or more precisely, wood fiber. The wooden sheets, duvet covers, slippers, and towels are plush. Decorative lacquered trays are the ideal delivery system for breakfast in bed. The ultra-soft baby crib throws and coverlets -- festooned with sheep -- have been flying out of the store, as often for adults as children. Turns out everyone needs a blankie. (107 Congress St.; 603-433-7600; somnia.net. Sunday 11-5, Monday-Thursday 10-6, Friday and Saturday 10-8. Robes and linens $15 to $392; breakfast trays $40 to $140; crib throws $64 to $120.)
Take Interstate 95 north to exit 7. Follow to Market Street, which in downtown Portsmouth turns into Congress Street.