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Best Tucson Shopping

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Although first-time visitors seem to expect they’ll find Hopi kachinas and Navajo turquoise everywhere in Tucson, those two indigenous nations are located a full day’s drive north, and have little to do with Southern Arizona Native culture. Tucson’s galleries tend to focus on modern Western cowboy art, Southwestern pottery (by gringos, largely), and many, many depictions of saguaros, both photographic and painted. The most intriguing local craft is fine furniture that’s handmade from mesquite, acacia and other desert woods; most of the makers are in the Fourth Avenue district (see below) and the old railroad warehouses west of Fourth.

Fourth Avenue

Neighborhood: Downtown

By far Tucson’s best, most-distinctive and most-popular boutique shopping district, Fourth Avenue stretches north from downtown along its eponymous boulevard. More than 100 stores line the “Ave” and side streets, almost all of them local or regional. Among the most interesting are How Sweet It Was (419 N. Fourth Ave.), a vintage clothing store whose compass goes all the way back to Victorian times; Toxic Ranch Records, an eclectic music store (424 E. 6th Ave.); WGH Woodworking, a furniture maker specializing in Southwest woods such as mesquite (419 N. Herbert Ave.); and Creative Ventures Craft Mall (522 N. Fourth Ave.), an indoor flea market—style mall featuring everything from regional foods such as jalapeno jelly to Mexican folk art. Dozens of small restaurants offer everything from pizza to pastrami, and the Historic Y Theater (300 E. University Blvd.) is the home of Tucson’s avant garde Rogue Theatre company.

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Fourth Avenue  

Tubac

Neighborhood: Interstate 19 South

Art towns can offer interesting anthropological adventures, and Tubac is no exception. Located 45 minutes south of Tucson along Interstate 19, this funky complex of adobe buildings was founded in 1752 and has morphed into an “artists’ colony” whose denizens create everything from practically unbelievable schlock to keepsake renditions of Southwest pottery, jewelry and painting. Do you need a canvas depicting combat by Hugh Cabot, “Official Combat Artist of the Korean War”? Here ‘tis. Look hard and you can probably find a black velvet painting, though I won’t promise Elvis. Bev Doolittle’s here, too. Western art is a mainstay in Tubac, and an influx of new, more sophisticated galleries has upgraded the overall quality from its original touristy beginnings.

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Tubac  

Bookman’s

Neighborhood: Midtown

You’d expect a university town to have a good bookstore, and Bookman’s is one of our favorites anywhere—a massive, warehouse-style collection set in an old strip mall building north of the University District a mile or so. Like the famous Powell’s in Portland, Bookman’s stocks both used and new volumes, and it’s a great place to simply get lost for an hour or two browsing, say, hundreds of shelves of mysteries.

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Bookman’s  

La Encantada

Neighborhood: Catalina Foothills

Tucson’s finest boutique mall is in the foothills area along North Campbell Road, a designated scenic drive that winds up from the valley. The mall anchor is AJ’s Fine Foods, an excellent gourmet grocery. Here, too, are chain outlets ranging from Apple to Victoria’s Secret; local flavor is supplied by Seasons of Tucson gift store, Spirit of Santa Fe (a local gallery chain) and Frost, a hugely popular Tucson-born gelato chain.

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La Encantada  

Old Town Artisans

Neighborhood: Old Town/El Presidio

Housed in a historic 1850s adobe in Old Town, this peaceful enclave features a handful of small shops offering Latin American and Native American art. La Zia is one of the best purveyors of Southwest art, including kachinas; Old Town Pot Shop offers handmade pottery by regional artists. The adjoining courtyard, shaded by native trees, is a fine spot for lunch.

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Old Town Artisans  
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