With gas prices the way they are, it's just plain uneconomical to stay on the road too much, which is why we at the Weekly have done some of the work for you. When you know where you're headed, you spend less time craning your neck looking for interesting places, and you're less likely to crash into that slow-moving vehicle ahead of you. We even broke things down geographically, so you might even discover a place near home you'd been meaning to check out. And with all of this time and gas you'll save, you'll have more cash to spend on your loved ones, and more time to find them something they might actually like.
Heck, depending on where you live, you could even bike to some of these places, and burn off some of those holiday pounds. It's a good deal all around.
DOWNTOWN/UA/FOURTH AVENUEDesert Bloom Downtown
27 N. Stone Ave.
This Desert Bloom is affiliated with Desert Bloom Nursery on Tanque Verde Road, but you won't find plants in here. Instead, it's sprouting with downtown style: haute-couture, jewelry and an assortment of unique gift possibilities. There's a sign on the wall that says, "Life is too short--just buy the damn thing," and you'll find yourself taking that maxim into consideration when you see some of the goods: The belt made out of tons of buttons by Los Angeles designers Dick and Jayne ($110) and the floral tablecloths, designed in France and printed in India with French ink ($48-$68), are hard to pass up. This is the place to get those Los Portales de Tucson posters benefiting the Children's Advocacy Center, because all of the $20 you'll spend on the poster goes directly to the organization. While you're at it, maybe throw in a small green beaded picture frame ($20) or some locally made Belly Buttons hand lotion ($13). We also loved the baby T-shirt that says "I Love My Dads" ($24). Or, if you're into more scandalous gifts, there's gift card underwear; the card part may say "happy birthday," but on the inside is a nice pair of undies ($19.95).
Salud Spa Bar
943 E. University Blvd., No. 165
Salud is in many ways a breath of fresh air. It's one of the only stores in the new building on University that is locally owned and operated, and it's a place where you can get spa-quality products for a lot less than actually going to a spa. Here's how it works: You go up to the bar and select a treatment: A face mask is $14, or a foot soak is $16. There are different options available, and you can customize your treatment even further by adding an essential oil from Salud's wide selection. Then, you go into the relaxation room, apply and relax. If you're not in the mood for a foot soak (We have to ask: Why not?), then Salud has plenty of take-home products available, like an organic body wash ($11) and lotion ($13) that you can customize with essential oils (try the Salud signature blend). And wait, there's more: Japanese toothpaste in 31 different flavors ($4.50) make great and healthy stocking stuffers; Boss Lady body cream (honeysuckle-scented, $12.99) suggests you "rope 'em in with softer skin," and the white tea and thyme candle in a floral glass ($18) looks and smells amazing.
444 E. University Blvd.
What do you get for the hard-to-buy-for person on your list? Food. Wine. Beer. Time Market is the place to go for pizza and sandwiches, but it's also stocked with interesting gourmet food items, like Vosges chocolate bars ($5.99) that come in flavors like red fire (dark chocolate with Ceylon cinnamon, and ancho and chipotle chiles) and are worth the money. Seriously. A nice bottle of wine always makes a great gift, and Time Market has some hard-to-find brands. Or put together your own assortment of cheese, fancy crackers and cookies. We recommend the Byrd Trading Co. Green Tea Cookies ($3.99), which are slightly sweet and refreshing (and individually wrapped, for some odd reason). Time Market also carries Old Bisbee Roasters coffee (a pound for $9.96), and if you haven't had the pleasure of meeting the roaster, Seth Appell, in person, buying it here is the next best thing.
Rustic Candle Company
324 N. Fourth Ave.
Handcrafted candles not only look better; they smell better, too. One whiff of Rustic Candle Company's strawberry candle, or the green tea candle, and you'll never go commercial again. Plus, Rustic's candles are cheap; a really tall pillar is only $16.50, and a small star-shaped candle is $5.50. Place them on a square piece of slate ($5) or a square holder with butterflies ($8), and your friend or relative has a pretty and nice-smelling addition to his or her décor. If you don't want the hardware, little Karmic Cube candles that don't need a votive holder run $3.50, and teeny travel candles in jars are $2.75. But if you're looking for something flashier, there are beeswax botanical candles with flowers peeking through the wax in scents like warm cocoa spice ($36 for a round one).
1724 E. Speedway Blvd.
Sure, Miller Curio is full of kitschy desert trinkets like candy rattlesnake eggs and coasters with saguaros on them, but look closer, and you'll start noticing things. Like the interesting local book selection with lots of titles from Byrd Baylor, Chulacan ceramic figures from Peru (a small woman playing a pan flute is $16) or authentic locally made sand paintings ($9.50 for the smallest). The real treasures here are the jewelry; there's a mixture of old Navajo silverwork from the 1940s and '50s, as well as more contemporary pieces made by local artisans. The owner's mother bought all kinds of interesting things from Native American artisans when she was alive, and you never know what you'll find--antique rings that seem heavy with their history, mysteriously mismatched earrings and brooches that beckon. While we were there, we saw a contemporary necklace of natural turquoise stones beaded in multiple strings and twisted, made by Corbert Joe ($295), along with some Betty Boop beaded earrings ($25). The closer you look at Miller Curio, the more things you'll begin to uncover.
2743 N. Campbell Ave.
Real music fans know: Buying a band T-shirt at the mall is about as un-punk as you can get. Buying it online means paying extra money for postage, and sometimes, they're out of the really cool stuff. What is a hard-core music fan to do? The kids at Dress Code have a solution for local music fans: stacks and stacks of band T-shirts. Three shelves of Radiohead. Several Weezer options. More AFI T-shirts then you thought possible. You could, potentially, get enough Misfits T-shirts to be able to wear a different one every day (although it would probably be more punk to buy one and never change it). They stock merch for the bands they love, and they'll take customer suggestions ... maybe. Most of the shirts are around $16.95, with long-sleeve and fancier ones costing more. Plus, there are Dickies pants (apparently, they make "cell phone pants" now; $24.95), lots of belts ($18.95 for leather, $16.95 for silicon and $16.95 for a yellow leather one with duckies), hoodies galore and "urban punk" watches ($24)--basically, everything you need to make your parents ask, "Is that what you're wearing?"
3022 E. Broadway Blvd.
Bon Ellen recently filled a vacant former restaurant space in Broadway Village, transforming it into a garden shop that feels like it should have been there all along. Marble fruit made in Italy ($18-$70) looks real enough to eat; stone mushrooms ($21.50) could add a permanent lushness to any desert garden; and a small maple-leaf-shaped wooden bowl ($26.50) hints at the fall we don't ever get to experience. In the back, Bon Ellen has a variety of succulents and cactuses in decorative pots; a small cactus is $8.95, and a little rosemary bush is $12. If you just want the pot, that's fine, too; a small mossy-looking one is $12.50. The new Bon Ellen has clothes (including silk-screened T-shirts with bunnies and birds and eagles, $54), bedding, stuffed animals and a selection of children's books; wrap it all up in gorgeous wrapping paper with colorful cakes ($6.25) or red birds ($3.95), and tie it with real ribbon ($6.25).
2936 E. Broadway Blvd.
Table Talk has lots of locations, but the Broadway Village one is our favorite; it was here long before Crate and Barrel, and has a better selection of cookware, dishes, kitchen gadgets and home décor. Their selection of Mario Batali kitchen accessories comes in green, brown and orange, and you'll have a hard time finding a better selection of Le Creuset cookware. You'll also find Cusinart small appliances, a variety of quality espresso machines, heart-shaped Chantel bakeware, and kitchen soaps and lotions by Fruits of Passion and Stonewall Kitchen in scents like rosemary lime or grapefruit thyme. How about a guacamole bowl in the shape of an avocado ($6.95), or a carrot-colored carrot curler ($3.95)? Or perhaps onion goggles that help prevent those burning tears ($19.95)? A bright set of Christmas kitchen towels ($9.95) is the gift for Grandma, and for your goofier friends: a spatula with eyes and a mouth cut out of it, along with a suction cup to hang it on that looks like a tongue ($15).
Dah Rock Shop
3401 E. Dodge Blvd.
If you're one of those people who waits all year for the Gem Show for the rocks, then Dah Rock Shop is the place for you. A wall of geodes greets you as you walk in; natural geode bookends range in price from $28 on up to $150 for some amazing (and enormous) amethyst pieces. Get a Field Trip in a Bag ($8.90) for the aspiring rock hunter, or, for that especially naughty person on your list, there's petrified turtle dung ($10-$20, depending on the size). Fish fossils ($10.95) and trilobites ($20-$40) help put our time in geologic history into perspective. (Plus, they look cool.) Dah Rock Shop also carries salt crystals, actual meteorites and a large selection of beads.
Twist and Shout
5741 E. Speedway Blvd.
Oh boy, is this place a find. There's a wall of 45s, in perfect condition, and boxes and boxes of LPs, some even factory sealed, for prices you wouldn't believe--$5 for a circa-1978 Sesame Street Fever, featuring Grover disco-dancing on the inside cover? Only $30 for a demo copy of four songs from Dylan's 1978 foray into directing, Renaldo and Clara? Factory-sealed records seem to run around $7.99, used 45s around $3 and used LPs around $4. Their jazz selection is amazing, the international box surprising. There's even a whole wall of CDs, both new and used, for those who gave up their turntable years ago. (We can't imagine why, but whatever.) Record stores like this are few and far between these days, and if you know someone with a passion for vinyl, you're certain to find them something that will make them hyperventilate at Twist and Shout.
EASTJeff's Mountain View Sports
6224 E. Speedway Blvd.
If someone on your list has a certain sports team they love, then Jeff's has something for them. From the traditional team pennants ($22-35) and hats ($10-$30) to slightly less-conventional items, you can help your loved ones show their team pride in style. How about a Dallas Cowboys coffee mug ($18), a Green Bay Packers trashcan ($18) or an Oakland Raiders dog bowl ($14.99)? There's even a St. Louis Rams birdhouse on the sale rack for $14.99. Bobblehead dolls of basketball players ($5)? Stone thermometers ($39.99)? Or you could play a mean joke on loyal Wildcats fans by buying them Arizona State University wall clocks ($29.95). For the serious collector, Jeff's has a whole wall filled with basketball and football trading cards, and everything you need for safe memorabilia storage. They also carry Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and Magic cards for the not-so-sports-oriented.
B&B Cactus Farm
11550 E. Speedway Blvd.
B&B Cactus Farm is about as far east as you can go on Speedway before you're in Reddington Pass, but it's worth the drive. The first thing you'll notice when you get out of the car is the smell: a mix of creosote, clean water and dry desert air. As the name suggests, they have every type of cactus imaginable, from $200 totem pole cactuses that look like the knobby knuckles of the Jolly Green Giant, to a baby saguaro in a painted pot ($7.95). About $40 can get you an already-planted assortment of succulents in a terra cotta pot; $21 can get you bundles of different cactuses in a smaller pot. There are strange planters that look like elephant's feet ($12-$50), planters carved out of lava rock (a small one is $25) and strange specimens called lithops, or "living stones," that, indeed, look like rocks ($3-$4). B&B Cactus Farm even ships anywhere in the country, so you can send your folks back East a prickly piece of home.
Stork's Nest of the Old Pueblo
6825 E. Camino Principal
Tucked away in the little complex next to Coffee Exchange on Tanque Verde is Stork's Nest of the Old Pueblo, where you'll find all kinds of nifty things for the younger-than-5 set. How about metal tea sets with flowers ($46), a plush fairy princess castle ($50), doorknob signs for the house that say things like "Shh, busy" or scarves that, if you tie them right, look like stuffed animals ($15)? Or maybe a box of socks in different camouflage colors ($28), or a T-shirt that says "Wait 'Til I'm a Teen" ($36)? There's even a "pee-pee tee-pee" that, um, helps catch the drips for those still learning the fine art of using the bathroom ($12), furniture and a selection of fashionable maternity clothes.
United Nations Center
6242 E. Speedway Blvd.
The United Nations Center is a nonprofit store that sells gifts from all around the world. Proceeds benefit UNICEF; the staff members are all volunteers, and you can rest assured that the money you spend is benefiting someone who really needs it. Plus, there's lots of cool stuff, like Russian nesting dolls (a smallish blue one was $17), Swedish Christmas soaps ($13) or bobblehead mice and sheep from China. The selection of toys is fascinating; there are international children's books, stuffed animals, Sri Lankan jump ropes ($9), UNICEF nesting blocks with the alphabet and animals on them ($15) and beautiful Peruvian folding chess sets ($28). At the front of the store, you'll find thousands of Christmas ornaments from all over the world, and in the back, you can purchase small flags of United Nations member nations, as well as flags of nonmember nations ($2 or 10 for $1.50 each), so you can show your international pride.
4410 S. Mission Road
You'd hardly know it from the outside, but inside Turquoise Skies is an amazing selection of Native American art--and we're talking the real thing. The small store contains the handiwork of more than 1,700 artisans from numerous tribes through the desert Southwest, with a specialization in baskets and pottery. They have Seri baskets, Navajo baskets, Apache baskets, Hopi pottery, Hopi and Navajo kachinas, and Navajo blankets and rugs--and we're just beginning to scratch the surface. Ask to see the tiny (and we mean tiny) baskets: They're the size of a piece of popcorn and woven out of horse hair (the one we looked at was $8, but they range in price from $3 to $12,000). The walls are lined with dream catchers of all sizes, made by former Navajo Tucsonan Marcela Parker (priced $2 per inch), and there's something for even the smallest spender: A 25-cent cowboy keychain, or a CD of Native American music ($19.95).
5147 S. 12th Ave.
Walk in to Jus-Ta-Dream, and go straight to the back. Look to your left. Yes, those are piñatas. Yes, even the 5-foot-tall Budweiser can and the enormous Strawberry Shortcake. For $50, Jus-Ta-Dream can make you a custom piñata, even resembling a real person; all you have to do is bring in a photo or a smaller version of what you want your piñata to look like (say, a doll, or a stuffed animal). Give them a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the craziness of your piñata; fill it with candy, and you've got yourself a real holiday fiesta. You don't have to be a kid to have fun whacking something with a stick, especially if there's chocolate involved. Heck, have them make a George W. one, then invite all your Democratic friends over, and do the holidays up right.
NORTHSeasons of Tucson
2905 E. Skyline Drive
Seasons, located in La Encantada, has all those kinds of nifty gifts that no one ever really knew they needed until they saw them. Like triangular tea bags in flavors like ginger citrus, or bath fizzies that look like scoops of ice cream ($8.50). Seasons has Hanukkah menorahs made in Israel ($178) and beautiful Toikka glass birds; there was one in metallic blue, orange and yellow that caught our eye ($270). For the more practical and economical, the lead-free pewter coffee scoops designed by Oregon artists cost $24, but look like they're worth much more. Seasons also carries cards, candles, children's books, toys and thyme soaps and lotions.
Antigua de Mexico
3235 W. Orange Grove Road
Sure, stores that sell imports from Mexico are as abundant as Walgreens in our fair town, but Antigua de Mexico has the added distinction of being way, way, way out on Orange Grove--and enormous. Among the massive wooden tables and wrought-iron pieces are some of the prettiest paper flowers we've ever seen (the orange dahlia, $6.50, is our favorite), a large selection of tin light switch covers ($3.50) and tin tissue box covers to match ($24). A green ceramic ristra ($32) will last much longer than a real one, and some papier mâché boxes that also look like watermelon are intriguing ($12). Their collection of Oaxacan carvings includes a cow riding a bike ($72). Who wouldn't love to find a colorful cow riding a bike in a box under the tree? For the even bigger spender, there's a wrought-iron rabbit/turtle ($120--yes, a rabbit/turtle) that needs a good home.
6360 N. Campbell Ave., Suite 150
Skyline Gallery owners Ursula Rodgers and Lucine Dirtadian used to run the kinds of art shows that they now buy from for their northside gallery, so you know the things they have are quality. Colorful glass wind chimes look like surreal dream images ($28-$200); simple and elegant glass and steel vases beg for flowers ($115-$140); and one shelf holds a civilization of glass salt and pepper shakers ($12 each). An amazing selection of wooden boxes includes a pyramid-shaped jewelry box with shelves that swivel out ($250), and in the back are prints of paintings that feature cactuses shaped as chairs ($45). Ornaments are in stock for the season ($10-$35). But the real star of the show at Skyline Gallery is the jewelry--there are pieces even non-jewelry-wearers would appreciate.
7131 N. Oracle Road, Suite 151
Old Brazil is more like a combination of traditional and modern style--handmade felt rugs by New York artist Liora Manné are nestled among handwoven table linens from Brasilia (napkins $4, placemats $6). Little spotted clay hens sit in clusters around the store ($12 for a set of four), and rose-shaped candle holders made out of metal ($12 for small, $16 for large) seem even brighter in contrast with the earth tones of Brazilian ceramic vases ($38) and hand-loomed throws ($78). For the patriot or die-hard futbol fan, there are vinyl tote bags of the Brazilian flag ($36), and a wooden toilet paper holder brandishing a bikini-clad bottom ($49). It just wouldn't be Brazilian without some buns, now, would it?