David Puddy asked it on the television show Seinfeld: “What can you get at the Gap in Rome that you can’t get at the Gap on 5th Avenue?” Use this as your mantra while shopping in Tucson and Southern Arizona. The Old Pueblo has all the chains, more so than most midsize cities. But if you spend your time at the Gap you’re going to miss a unique shopping experience—a chance to find that treasure that has eluded you, to return home with an authentic artifact.
You’ll find merchants with Mexican imports, folk arts, Western Americana, and Indian jewelry; boutiques with clothes you’ll find nowhere else; and galleries featuring the work of artists from Tucson and the rest of the world. Take a short drive south to Tubac—an artist’s village that caters to, or better yet exists for, the discriminating treasure hunter—then on across the border to Nogales, Sonora, and you’ll find items you never knew you had to have. A brief scenic journey east and you’re among the antiques stores and artisan boutiques of old-town Bisbee. Fear not: Shopping in Southern Arizona isn’t just for the moneyed. There are finds for everyone, and for every budget.
If you’re looking for that truly Southwestern gift or souvenir to take home, there are many places to find such items. Some of the most popular items that just scream “Tucson” are the many Day of the Dead calaveras available throughout the borderlands; and, of course, anything with the beloved visage of the Virgin of Guadalupe will remind you of your time in the desert every time you look at it. There are also many antiques and resale stores here stocked with the former possessions of all those retirees who came to the desert to live out their final days in free and easy style.
The Best Shopping in Tucson
- Best Bookstore: Book lovers can’t miss Bookmans, a popular Southern Arizona chain with an amazing inventory and used books at less than half the original price.
- Best Music Store: The East Speedway Boulevard location of Zia Record Exchange is stocked full with an eclectic mixture of brand-new and gently used CDs, often for prices similar to, if not below, the big national chains.
- Best Thrift Store: “Vintage clothing for New Bohemians” is how the founder of Buffalo Exchange describes her first store, a popular Tucson original that spawned a nationwide chain.
- Best Shopping District: With over 100 mostly locally owned stores, restaurants, boutiques, bars, clubs, and coffeehouses, the treelined 4th Avenue district downtown is the perfect place to shop, eat, and drink the day away.
- Best Upscale Shopping: Tucson’s answer to the famous high-end shopping mecca of Scottsdale, La Encantada is an elegant outdoor mall in the foothills, offering all the most posh chains and a few local boutiques as well.
- Best Antiques: Prepare to spend hours in the Speedway Antiques District, where the best of the handful of antiques shops is Copper Country Antiques, a huge antiques warehouse with Western- and Southwestern-themed treasures and much, much more.
- Best Place to Buy Folk Art: Arizona’s first settlement, Tubac is now an artist’s colony and shopping village with more than 100 shops and galleries, many of them selling Mexican and South American imports.
- Best Gifts from the Desert: Take a piece of the Sonoran Desert home with you from Native Seeds/SEARCH, where you’ll find unique items from and about the desert, including videos, books, crafts, and heirloom seeds.
- Best Native American Arts: The oldest Native American arts shop in Tucson, Bahti Indian Arts sells some of the finest examples of Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo textiles, kachinas, jewelry, basketry, pottery, paintings, and sculptures in the region.