Authentic Tucson Shopping
11 Uniquely Tucson Boutiques & Shops
By Monica Surfaro Spigelman
One-of-a-kind? Check. Artisanal curio? Absolutely. Whether you’re looking for quirky specialty or handspun local, you’ll score lovely finds in Tucson. It often takes a little digging to unearth cool shopping experiences, so here’s a hit list of where to go in our city to fill your shopping bag with thoughtful gifts, offbeat souvenirs, authentic crafts and rare treasures.
Shops are listed in alphabetical order (not ranked).
J Gilbert Footwear
Do your feet a favor and two-step over to J Gilbert’s (7041 N. Oracle Rd. 85704), the prestigious boot maker in historic Casa Adobes and Plaza Palomino shopping centers. Gilbert has been crafting one-of-a-kind boots with elegant leatherwork since opening in downtown Seattle in 1989. John Gilbert fell in love with Tucson and opened his first luxury boutique here in 2002. With signature tooling and stitching techniques that embody both trendy style and expert craftsmanship, Gilbert boots are structured like architectural masterpieces and cut like couture creations. The boutique also sells classic footwear staples such as sandals and loafers, as well as apparel and accessories with custom Southwest character.
The Lost Barrio
There’s a treasure hunt feel that comes with combing through this hip desert enclave of smart shops. The Lost Barrio (228 S. Park Ave. 85719) sells amazing accessories and furnishings sourced from around the world. Its quaint shops are full of great gift fodder: some stocked with quirky Mexicana, others a bazaar of Mexican Colonial furnishings, statement pieces from India, architectural moldings and accessories including folk art, lighting fixtures, punched-tin decorative pieces, hand-painted tiles and pottery. Whatever your fancy, this collective of artisanal treats offers functional pieces and just-got-to-have-it charm. Here’s a tip: check Facebook for special sale hours.
Mac’s Indian Jewelry
Many may claim knowledge about American Indian jewelry, but the McPherson family excels at showcasing exquisite traditional pieces that enchant the most passionate collectors. Customers are surrounded by stunning collections of both vintage and contemporary jewelry made by tribes in the region in this mainstay of the Tucson jewelry scene. Try on anything from dramatic squash blossom necklaces and turquoise silver cuffs, to beautifully detailed buckles and bolo ties. Mac’s Indian Jewelry (2400 E. Grant Rd. 85719) also has helpful staff to provide information and give non-pressured VIP treatment. An extensive collection of kachinas, pottery, fetishes, baskets and other decorative Southwestern items line the store and all lovingly reflect the native world surrounding Tucson.
Enter the doorway to this exceptional gallery and you’ll sense southwestern charm mixed with contemporary art. Don’t mistake this for anything routine—The Diana Madaras Gallery (3035 N. Swan Rd. 85712) and Gift Shop is world-class and a renowned shopping experience that lures customers globally with its exceptional collection of quintessential Tucson art created by its namesake, Diana Madaras. The remarkable Madaras watercolors and acrylics are meticulous works, with brilliantly intense swaths of colors that feature a mix of the Southwest’s natural elements. You’ll also find many other artists and art options at this beautifully curated gallery. It’s not hard to tell that each item is lovingly displayed and resonates the spirit of the Southwest.
Mercado San Agustín
If you have not shopped at the eclectic, utilitarian and just-plain-awesome Mercado San Agustín (100 S. Avenida del Convento 85745), you should. You’ll find a hip showcase of local and international talent in a re-created historic market that’s full of shopping opportunities. In one stop, you can nibble on Mexican pastries, slurp a snow cone, and browse interesting shops and eateries. Explore MAST first, to see the keen eye the shop owners have for stylish home and wardrobe picks and essentials. A mod sampler from this mold-breaking store might include a locally forged, iron bottle opener, a hand-painted scarf, small-scale botanicals and sublime embroidered and beaded clutches. Each piece is unique and influenced by trends in contemporary art. These are above-the-ordinary items, many locally sourced: MAST is perfection without pretension.
There’s no shortage of Tucson’s diverse riches in plants and culture, and you can purchase creatively adaptive pieces of these riches from Native Seeds/SEARCH (3061 N. Campbell Ave. 85719), Create rustic gift baskets from treasures you’ll find at this interesting destination, which sources exemplary native arts, seeds, books and plants. Check out the tins of locally made molé and pancake mixes, jars of honey and traditional salsas, and the wonderful selection of local dried beans and chilies. Artisan crafts by natives of the region are another shop hallmark and you can purchase music, pottery, textiles and beadwork as an emblem of your Tucson journey.
Old Town Artisans
The local and fair trade focus in the quaint shops surrounding a tranquil, Spanish-styled courtyard and restaurant will make you smile. Here, you’ll find fine tailoring and baskets made by refugee artisans. You won’t be disappointed by the handcrafted selections, from a colorful Dia de los Muertos statue in Tolteca Tlacuilo, to cowgirl-inspired t-shirts at Art House Centro. There’s a great mix of compelling specialties in Old Town Artisans (201 N. Court Ave. 85701), where, after shopping, you can sip horchata or enjoy delicious Southwestern fare from the restaurant, La Cocina, in the inviting garden setting. Old Town, situated on the site of El Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, remains on Tucson’s cutting edge and is chock full of treasures year-round.
Conveniently located next door to Yikes, Picante Designs (2932 E. Broadway Blvd. 85716) is a one-stop shop for those looking to bring a bit of Mexico home with them. The multi-colored wonders filling the retail space include papel picado (tissue paper “pecked” into folk art featuring intricate designs), Dia de los Muertos figurines, clothing for women and children, and oilcloth sold by the yard for your crafting needs. There’s surely someone at home who would love something from Picante as a gift…then again, that person might just be you.
Trendsetters and bohemians converge in this eclectic shop. It’s on everyone’s go-to list for fun and whimsical items from innovative local designers. Bright artwork adorns every single wall, including magnets, fake taxidermy animal heads and street signs. Weave through clothing racks that are filled with vintage items, such as soft cotton skirts in delicate patterns that contrast (and complement) the button-down cowboy shirts, which are often embellished with leather, the next rack over. The hippy-chic draw of this shop can’t be beat. You’ll always find the perfect gift at Pop-Cycle (422 N. 4th Ave. 85705), whether it’s a glittered frame, upcycled bottle cap jewelry or a succulent planted in a dinosaur toy. A favorite baby shower gift: onesies with a cartoon javalina
Shops at Tohono Chul Park
For shopping with a twist of local nature, arts and culture, nothing tops the Tohono Chul Park (7366 N. Paseo del Norte 85704) experience, where three emporiums offer diverse options in an award-winning complex. The gift shop displays an exceptional collection of Southwest-inspired books, jewelry and pottery. Another market offers desert-inspired goodies and locally authored children’s books. On your way out, don’t forget to stop at the café for prickly pear iced tea or by the Greenhouse for unusual native plant species, beautiful pottery and expert advice. Nicest of all: The lush desert landscaping of this acclaimed park provides ample shade for a charming shopping experience.
Yikes! Toys (2930 E. Broadway Blvd. 85716) serves up a smartly chosen wonderland of appealing items for all ages (a mug with constellations for the coffee drinker; a ring-pop mold to fill with juice, freeze, wear and eat for the kid who does that type of thing). There are darling wooden pull toys and Tucson’s best selection of pop-up books. They also specialize in interesting tin windups, and have a wonderful assortment of Japanese imports. Smaller surprises include objects of conversation, like vegetable candy in tins, Haikubes and tiny puzzles. The curious shopper will find quality and an irrepressible brand of kitsch in Yikes.
Because style is so individual, what matters most is to have shopping options that think outside the box for that special something. While some shopping may feel a bit homogenous and predictable, we’re lucky to have Tucson’s authentic offerings, which are a slice of both the memorable and unique.
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