Let's not kid ourselves here: A lot of gift guides suck. They often feature a lot of really, really cool things, but nothing that you would actually consider getting a friend or loved one for Christmas/Hanukkah/Non-Denominational-Gift-Exchange-Day — seriously, anyone who considers gifting a bobblehead set representing the cast of Parks and Recreation, just because someone said "TV fans will love this!" isn't really your friend.
So, with that in mind, we've decided to put together a list of the best gifts that are from our fair city—or are, at the very least, pretty damn cool and can be bought from a place around here.
The Underestimated City
402 N. Fourth Ave
Now, if you're not familiar with Tucson's most fashionable homegrown label that doesn't rely on glitter and rainbows (sup, Lisa Frank?), you should get down to Fourth Avenue and acquaint yourself. The Underestimated City has a good habit of producing high-quality, sharp-looking designs that take cues from Tucson's icons and spin them in ways that won't make you look like you're wearing a shirt that was thrown into the stands during a time-out. Shirts featuring takes on Tuffy the Toro, sugar skulls and University of Arizona-related iconography look pretty darn good and won't look out of place on you, whether you're working in a kitchen or making millions in the NBA, like UA product Richard Jefferson.
T-shirts and snapback hats each cost $30, while sweatshirts can run up to $60; it may be a bit much for some of you cheap/broke bastards out there, but that's a small price to pay to rep the Old Pueblo in style.
Tap & Bottle
403 N. 6th Ave #135
One of Tucson's top new places to enjoy adult beverages is also one of Tucson's top new places to purchase gear celebrating adult beverages. Along with 20 rotating beers on tap and a plethora of fine fermentables in their coolers, Tap and Bottle offers a substantial amount of ways to enjoy beer culture even when you can't actually drink at that very moment (such as while driving, operating machinery, or talking to your child's teacher, for instance). There you'll find buttons, notebooks, growlers to take beer home in and/or turn into art and tools which help you clean said growlers/art jugs. The cream of the crop, however, are their shirts, printed in conjunction with the fine people at Fed By Threads, who donate proceeds from everything they sell to those who are in need of meals. Our personal favorite (the cream of the cream, as it were) is the "Put Beer In Me" design, which draws compliments from fellow beer fans practically everywhere it's worn.
Nothing at T&B will drain your wallet (don't expect to pay more than $25 per item), but be aware that a number of designs tend to drop out of stock as quickly as they become available.
The nice thing about living so close to the border in what's fast becoming a foodie-friendly town is that one could throw a rock most any direction and hit someone who is making quality salsa. If it's not at the many sit-down restaurants that produce great tomato/onion/pepper/garlic blends such as Guadalajara Grill and El Charro Café (hate if you want, but they know what they're doing when it comes to salsa), you'll find great sauce at stand-alone taco shops and taco carts alike. But if you really want to pack some flavor into your food, take a look at Chiltepica Salsa. Found in numerous small groceries and farmer's markets around town, Chilttepica is made by a local husband and wife team from chiltepin peppers and what we can only assume is the essence of joy. It's great for dipping, spicing up foods and surprising the hell out of people who think "Chalupa" when someone talks about Mexican food.
If you're reading this, there's a fairly good chance that you were born during a time when 8-bit and 16-bit games were all the rage; you may have grown up playing (or watching your older sister play) Super Mario World, Starfox, Earthbound or Legend of Zelda; or, you might be completely disenchanted with the current crop of grey-brown, dreary first-person-shooters featuring weary space marines that alternatingly kill waves of enemies and emote about lost children/families/comrades. If you identified with any of those sentences, or you're just a geek who loves great-looking shirts, you'll get along just fine with the folks at Fangamer.
Based out of Tucson, the folks at Fangamer have been providing video game fans with clothing and accessories that you wouldn't feel ashamed of wearing outside of your nearest video game store. In fact, you're more likely to face the knowing winks, nods and high-fives for having an awesome retro game shirt than you are laughs of derision for being a giant, friggin' nerd.
You can only buy gear from Fangamer's website, but you'll find a wealth of shirts, posters, pins and collectables to brighten up the lives of every geek who fondly looks back on their days trading Pokemon and playing F-Zero with their grade school friends.
Titan Missile Museum
1580 W. Duval Mine Rd, Green Valley
Admittedly, the Titan Missile Museum is juuuust a bit outside of town, and is definitely the farthest-ranging place to purchase gifts in this guide, but it's one hell of a trip if you've yet to go; after all, there's nothing quite like looking at a machine that was engineered to secure peace with rival civilizations by threatening to obliterate said-civilization, and realizing that it's been sitting in your backyard for as long (if not longer) than you've been alive. Seriously, go on a tour and support the preservation of history...and when you're done, make sure to pick up some of the surplus relics of the Cold War that just happen to be hanging out on the walls of the Museum's gift shop. Pick up the no-longer-potable canned water rations ($25) for a survivalist uncle! Buy genuine fallout shelter ($50 to $75 apiece) signs for your teen cousin that keeps slogging away in his punk band! And if you've got a bit more to spend, buy yourself or someone you love a genuine blast-door control panel that could, presumably, be wired into the security for your favorite room in the house.
3050 N. Campbell Ave. #160
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've surely heard about Tucson's last professional sports team. You know, the guys who have been beating major league teams, are having their own stadium built at the Kino Sports Complex and aren't going to be moved to El Paso only to be given a lame-ass mascot?
FC Tucson has been taking the city by storm thanks to a combination of their exciting play, a built-in soccer-loving fan base and an awesomely named fan club (The Cactus Pricks, who definitely deserve a shout-out for blowing into other cities for road games and showing off real footie fandom, by the way). So, why not grab some gear from one of the few professional teams that's not likely to blow away like so many others in this town (Arizona Heat, we hardly knew ye)? The Shop, Tucson's local soccer, lacrosse and rugby outfitters, are the home for all of FC Tucson's gear, selling authentic ($70) and replica ($30) kits that happen to look pretty dang swanky, as well as shorts, polos and even baby onesies for those families who all wear their cleats to the game on the off-chance they'll be called down from the stands to help out.
Allegro Gelato446 N. Campbell Ave.
Anyone who loves ice cream but has yet to try gelato will be pleasantly surprised by the first taste of the alternative to what you'll find in the supermarket's freezer section. Gelato is richer, creamier, denser than the airy, fluffy stuff that's at Cold Stone or Baskin-Robbins...and despite what those chains will have you believe with their cheesecake or bubble gum flavors, gelato is far more experimental with their flavors.
That willingness to play with flavor, combined with a desire to make the best frozen treat possible, is what makes Allegro Gelato worth boxing up in a cold container and sending to your friends across the city, state or country. Everything is made by hand, using the freshest seasonal ingredients, such as the pomegranate sorbet that tasted like it was just picked, or the sea salt caramel gelato, which uses salted caramel made in-house for a more controlled, individual touch. There's no such thing as an incorrect flavor combination, so sending someone in blindly with a gift card is fine, but bringing someone a pint ($10, containing up to four flavors) of this delicious confection will ensure that you're getting more than just a Christmas card next season.
Sacred Machine Museum and Curiosity Shop
245 E Congress St #123
Tucson-born artist Daniel Martin Diaz, in case you haven't heard, has become a fairly big deal within art circles over the past few years; his art, with heavy mystical, surreal and spiritual themes, has taken him to Canada and Europe for exhibitions; earned him album cover designs with major musical acts; and given him the opportunity to create large public art projects for cities across Arizona, including a major piece in Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. He's also the man responsible for the Proscenium at Club Congress, so take a look above and beside the Club Congress stage next time you take in a show.
So the fact that he's made it easy for Tucsonans to acquaint themselves with his work at Sacred Machine, his museum and curiosity shop in downtown Tucson, is a fairly big deal; there, you can buy original artworks from Diaz, signed prints, books, t-shirts, limited-edition artwork...and even a human skull, once used for medical study by a Prescott doctor. Prices range from $15 for his band's CDs to $30,000 (in case you're interested in the skull).
Picante2932 E. Broadway Blvd.
Picante is one of the best places in town to buy gifts—shoot, we said as much back in our 2007 Best of Tucson guide, outright calling it the Best Place to Shop for a Gift.
The good news is, that hasn't changed at all in the past six years.
Their small shop on Broadway Boulevard is packed full of great goods from Mexico and beyond, featuring all manners of jewelry, dresses, bags, figurines and folk art pieces.
We dig the Dia De Los Muertos figurines in particular (one can never have too many skeletal mariachis looking down on them from high shelves), but you'd be hard pressed to find something that wouldn't impress your mom, nana, or folk-art-obsessed in-laws.
Knock-off UA gear from street corner vendors
Just kidding. You won't find anyone trying to capitalize off of UA sporting success with knock-off gear until long after the holiday/football season is over. Wait 'til March.
Honorable Mentions: You can never go wrong with a growler of beer from any of Tucson's spectacular breweries; Dragoon Brewing Co., Borderlands Brewery, Barrio Brewing Co., Ten-55 Brewing and Nimbus Brewing have all made waves in the craft beer world and are putting Tucson on the map with their high-quality brews, and thanks to the prevalence of stores around town offering sales direct from the tap, you're never too far away from a local brew; Tap and Bottle, Total Wine and Whole Foods (among other retail outlets) will be able to help you, but there's nothing quite like buying directly from the breweries themselves.
We've mentioned previously that Hamilton Distillers' Whiskey del Bac is currently set to only be available in cocktail bars around town, but due to a distribution error, there happen to be a few bottles in the wild, floating around retail shelves around town at places such as the Rumrunner and Plaza Liquor and Wine. Their bottles are priced from $35 for the clear mesquite-smoked whiskey to $45 for the aged mesquite smoked variety, but they're worth snapping up as soon as possible, if you get the chance.
Multi-time Best of Tucson award-winner Heroes and Villains, 4533 E Broadway Blvd., is one of your best options for buying comic books in the city, with a huge selection of new books, board games and collectables—and if you need help figuring out what the geek in your life would love, they're more than happy to help you out (our recommendations include Hawkeye, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and The Walking Dead).