We know it's officially winter when it's finally time to put on a scarf, park at the AJ's on Central Avenue and Camelback Road, buy a dirty chai from a Dutch Bros. associate who is so busy he doesn't have time to be annoying, and knock out holiday shopping at Crafeteria. Every December, the handmade marketplace brings together around 50 specially selected vendors who set up shop in the Medlock Plaza parking lot for an evening of perusing, live music, and food-truck snacks.
Best One-Stop Shop for Arizona-Made Goods: Phoenix Flea
When people imagine Phoenix, they don't really think of jewelers, carpenters, clothing designers, or leather workers. But, oh, are they wrong not to. Hidden within this desert valley are some incredibly talented crafters, and there's no better place to peruse and choose which maker is your favorite than Phoenix Flea.
Best Mall: Scottsdale Quarter
Mall experts that we are, we know that a multi-level, multi-store day of shopping requires a, well, multitude of things. We also know that Scottsdale Quarter has all of 'em. Sustenance? The north Valley spot runs the gamut, with baked goods and caffeine by way of Press Coffee to easy lunches and light fare at True Food Kitchen and a full-blown fancy dinner at Dominick's Steakhouse. Shopping? There's your generic mall fare, including an Apple store, H&M, and Bath & Body Works; rarer finds like Warby Parker, Design Within Reach, and West Elm; and high-end offerings from Intermix and Suitsupply.
Best Latino Mall: Desert Sky Mall
We are not exaggerating when we say this mall not only has just about everything you could need, but more importantly, everything you could want. In one visit, you could buy a bike, see a movie, plan a quinceañera, snack on delicious tosti elotes, be entertained by student folklorico dancers, make funeral arrangements, and get your sewing machine repaired. See what we mean? Desert Sky Mall has it all.
Best Place to Buy Mexican Tchotchkes: Mexican Arts Imports
Need a cool gift for that person who has everything? Mexican Arts Imports is the place. The cool (and very funky) store at the southeast corner of 24th and Polk streets, across from the Arizona State Hospital, is definitely a destination even if you didn't know you needed a cool bronze sun with a mirror in it. Or a small statue of a lucha libre star from years gone by. Talavera, Day of the Dead, religious items ... it's all there in the jam-packed store.
Best New Boutique: Phoenix General
Joshua Hahn and Kenny Barrett have, among other things, stellar taste. So when the duo behind downtown's community garden slash co-op vintage shop GROWop announced that they'd open a new store called Phoenix General, we counted down the days. And boy, we weren't disappointed. An aesthetic departure from its cozy sister shop, the General's scene is more streamlined, with clean lines, simple designs, and minimal frills.
Best Boutique: Frances
Georganne Bryant's Frances has fans, the kind of people who might not know what they want walking in but are confident they'll walk out with something they love. Stock your wardrobe with seasonal Toms, locally crafted jewelry by against the grain, and Free People's latest take on a flowy top. Nab home goods including Two Trees Botanicals terrariums and Standard Wax candles. We recommend repeating the exercise every few months, if not sooner.
Best Gift Shop: For the People
We would've called it For the People with the Very Best Taste, but we get that brevity is fairly important when it comes to signage and marketing and other business-y affairs. And so we have For the People, formerly located at Biltmore Fashion Park's UNION. Now at home along the Central Corridor, the shop's increased square footage means more things to covet and, when we're feeling generous, buy for our nearest and dearest.
Best Candles: Standard Wax
A candle that looks as good as it smells? That's the dream. And for those who like to have it all, there's Standard Wax. The local company specializes in candles that not only make your home smell divine, but can also be repurposed as decorative storage, pots for plants — you name it. Try the Whiskey and Fig for a smoky, floral aroma, or go for something light and clean like the Basil and Thyme. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
Best Nursery: Desert Horizon
Yeah, we're aware that Queen Creek is about three trillion miles away from most of you. But we also promise that the schlep to Desert Horizon Nursery will be worth it for the Instagram posts alone, though it would be pretty silly to make the trek without a few things to pick up — or a few questions for the experts on hand at the sprawling plant store.
Best Yerberia: Yerberia Santa Fe
Yerberia Santa Fe is a beloved neighborhood yerberia on the east side specializing in natural Mexican and Latin American health products. Come here for the best and latest selection of health supplements, specialty teas, candles, plus a smattering of Spanish-language books covering everything from introductory tarot reading to dream interpretation.
Best Florist: Camelback Flowershop
Pretty sure flowers work for any occasion, particularly when they're from Camelback Flowershop. From "sorry" and "thanks" to "I love you" and "I might be over it," the shop's got an option. Air plants, succulents, bundles of ranunculus, and towering clematis are just a few bloomers you'll spot (when they're in season, that is).
Best Nail Artist: Sarah Waite
Though the title of her nail art blog, Chalkboard Nails, gives us pinching chills just imagining that dry screech, what Sarah Waite does with a nail bed often leaves us asking the annoying question, "How does she do it?!" Thing is, you can see how she does it — both through her online tutorials and by making an appointment with Waite to take you on as a client at The Spa at Camelback Village.
Best Facial: Skin Laundry
Ninety minutes for a facial? In the immortal words of YouTube sensation Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Wilkins, ain't nobody got time for that. Ten minutes, on the other hand, is a practically perfect amount of time to spend on professional skincare. And at Skin Laundry, that's all the time you'll need for a laser and light facial treatment.
Best Spa: The Spa at Camelback Inn
Try reading this without relaxing (and feeling just a twinge of longing): The Spa at Camelback Inn sits amid a desert scape with tranquil offerings revolving around such water treatments as whirlpools, a Turkish steam bath, Finnish saunas, and a heated outdoor pool. If you aren't already staying at the Inn, you gain access to all the aforementioned amenities with the purchase of a one-hour spa appointment. Your options there include massages, facials, and assorted salon services.
Best Place to Get Your Makeup Done: Sparkle Bar
The Sparkle Bar, a full-service makeup studio, is one of a kind here in Arizona and offers an array of services, ranging from quickie makeovers and false eyelash applications to in-depth master makeup lessons and glam-squad makeup at a location of your choosing for $65 (plus applicable travel fees). Packages and memberships are also available, too, should you need that sparkle in your life.
Best-Kept Shopping Secret: Sephora at Christown Spectrum Mall
If you've ever walked through Christown Spectrum Mall, then you know what it means to be simultaneously confused and disappointed. Imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered that, hidden inside this graveyard of godawful retail, there is (wait for it) a Sephora. Yes, an honest to God Sephora. Not a full-size one like you'd find in Scottsdale, but it gets the job done with a good selection of your favorite luxury cosmetics.
Best Eyewear: Framed Ewe
Looking for glasses that are anything but sheepish? Get your eyeballs to Framed Ewe. The eyewear boutique specializes in high-end brands with artsy cred such as Garrett Leight, Moscot, and Krewe. Framed Ewe is one of just a few shops to stick around at Biltmore Fashion Park after participating in the failed mini-store shopping experiment that was UNION. In June, the shop opened a second location at the newly developed Colony, where you'll find the likes of cartoonishly polarized lenses by Retrosuperfuture alongside See Concept's bendy Barbie-pink readers on the contemporary white shelving.
Best Shopping on Roosevelt Row: MADE art boutique
Whether you're new to Phoenix or just delving into the city's art world, MADE is the place to start. On the corner of Fifth and Roosevelt streets in a converted bungalow, the shop spotlights locally crafted functional art pieces that are lovely to look at and serve a purpose. The 700-square-foot space is packed with ceramic wares from Danielle Wood and Jeff May, jewelry by Alex Ozers, and delightfully plush animals from Sighfoo.
Best Shopping on Grand Avenue: Unexpected Art Gallery
On a summertime First Friday, we stumbled into Unexpected Art Gallery just off Grand Avenue to find a fashion show with original dance choreography that was inspired by meditation, crystals, and lasers, which shot from projectors to create the rectangular runway. Turns out, such out-there fare is fairly standard for the open warehouse-style space, which does nothing if not live up to its name.
Best Piñata Shop: La Nueva Piñata
Don't be fooled by the sparse exterior of the building; La Nueva Piñata has the best hand-made piñatas around — and for totally reasonable prices. Need a three-foot-tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle piñata or one that looks like a Bud Light bottle? This place has you covered. The owners make everything on-site, and if you bring along a photograph of what you want, they'll make it for you.
Best Shopping on 16th Street: The Bee’s Knees
For style with street-art sensibility, no shop delivers quite like the Bee's Knees. Located off 16th Street in the same complex as Julia Fournier's the Hive, the resale boutique stocks paper-thin tees and coveted band shirts along with day dresses, knick-knacks, small home goods, and locally crafted accessories — all with a side of art.
Best Shopping on Mill Avenue: ASU Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery
Nothing screams lack of imagination more than a generic coffee mug. There's no such thing at the ASU Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, which is part of ASU Art Museum but located in the heart of Mill Avenue's retail hub. The center has an ever-changing selection of functional and decorative ceramic works perfect for gift-giving or feathering your own nest, from rough-hewn vessels carved with deep textures by Patricia Sannit to polished, perfectly symmetrical, nature-infused works by Farraday Newsome.
Best Place to Buy Native American Music/Craft Supplies/Ephemera: Drumbeat Indian Arts
Blink and you'll miss it. Glance and you'll think it's closed. Yet inside the low, brown, adobe complex beyond the sign declaring "DRUMBEAT" in all-black caps is a little look at the Valley's often-overlooked Native culture. A wooden door opens to a tight space packed with crafting materials ranging from bird feet behind glass and dyed canary-yellow feathers to a color wheel of tiny Japanese seed beads packed into tubes.
Best Bead Store: Bead World Phoenix
They've got beads up the wall at Bead World Phoenix, the colorful shop for beads and beading materials at the northwest corner of 16th Street and Bethany Home Road. With a motto like "She who dies with the most beads wins," we know these people take this bead thing seriously. Shoppers find beads ranging from Swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls to wood, copper, Czech glass, and African Trade beads. You'll also see beading materials for stringing, tools, and tubes, plus jewelry-making kits for Chimera and meditation bracelets, and TierraCast jewelry.
Best Knitting Supplies: Tempe Yarn & Fiber
More than simply a store with yards (and yards and, okay, still more yards) of yarn, Tempe Yarn & Fiber serves as a community hub for crafters. Tempe Yarn is home to classes for beginners new to the needle game and aspiring crochet pros, as well as courses on weaving with a loom, using crafting website Ravelry, and how to spin your own yarn on a freaking Sleeping Beauty-style spinning wheel.
Best Art Supply Store: Arizona Art Supply
For more than 60 years, Arizona Art Supply has been the Valley's go-to resource for everything from high-end drafting and drawing materials to kids' art easels and crayons. Founded by hardware store owners back in 1950, the shop offers up all sorts of tools an artist — whether aspiring, professional, or somewhere in between — might need for such projects as framing, oil pastel sketching, or simply organizing that growing collection of Prismacolor markers.
Best Impression: Hazel & Violet
The small custom letterpress printing shop, located inside the historic Bragg's Pie Factory, has five letterpress printers — including two built during the 1920s. Hazel & Violet has mastered the fine art of mixing century-old technology with contemporary digital tools to create masterpieces ranging from humble coasters to super-slick posters — although the letterpress actually specializes in wedding invitations, announcements, and letterhead.
Best Spanish-Language Bookstore: Palabras
About 20 percent of the Valley's population speaks Spanish, per 2010 census data. And that is why it's mind-blowing that until pretty recently, there was a dire lack of Spanish-language bookstores. But Palabras is changing that. Inside the seafoam green and bright yellow Easter egg of the La Melgosa building on Grand Avenue, the downtown librería will sell and lend books to its lit-loving patrons.
Best Dress Alterations: Danese Creations
For more than 40 years, owner Sylvia Danese has been helping brides-to-be make their must-have gowns fit like a glove — even going so far as to make them from scratch if she must. Come for quality alterations, stay for fairy godmother-esque words of wisdom for your big day, because at this point, Sylvia knows a thing or two about weddings.
Best Custom Wedding Rings: Mother of Gideon
He went to the mall? Well, that's too bad. Especially when you consider that he could have given you a custom-made piece from local jeweler Mother of Gideon. Business owners Charis Elliott and Seth Fainkujen specialize in one-of-a-kind creations that are as edgy as they are beautiful. Adding to their elusive charm, Mother of Gideon recently closed their brick-and-mortar location, so interested buyers must seek them out at their Phoenix studio by appointment only.
Best Jewelry: Xappaland
Under the banner Xappaland, artist Christina "Xappa" Franco crafts metal jewelry that blends minimalism, goth tendencies, and statement making in a way that looks distinctly Arizonan. There's a beautiful but eerie heft to the dangling pendulum earrings with an earthy pink patina, her wiry crowns that wouldn't look out of place in a nymph-filled fairy tale, and the stabbing point of a stackable copper ring.
Best Day of the Dead Treasures: La Tiendita at Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) might roll around only once a year, but the skulls, monarch butterflies, and other motifs meant to celebrate ancestors who've died are a part of everyday life in Mexican culture. Walls, bins, and shelves at La Tiendita (meaning "the little shop") inside the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center are filled year-round with jewelry, magnets, masks, home decor, fashion accessories, and crafts channeling Day of the Dead and other Mexican traditions.
Best Place to Buy Mexican Furniture: Casa Decor
When we hear someone has chosen to style their home with a "Mexican" or "Southwestern" twist, we can't help but cringe a little. It's not that we don't like and appreciate this kind of decor. But all too often, "Mexican" basically means sombreros tipped over the face of slouching figurines. If you want to do it right (and for a great price), check out Casa Decor in Tempe (and now in Cave Creek). Take your pick from rich, sturdy wooden cabinets, high-backed carved dining chairs, wardrobes with iron flourishes, and more.
Best Pins: Bermuda Press
Dunno if you and your denim jacket have heard, but pins are happening in a big, err, we mean small way. And in Phoenix, nobody's on their pin game quite like Bermuda Press, a subsidiary of local apparel company Hello Merch. A bizarro mix of Arizona pride, pop-culture obsession, and sci-fi allure, Bermuda's stocked locally at Frances, but you can order online, too.
Best Mexican Tile: Handcrafted Tile, Inc.
This place is off the beaten path, for sure, but we think you'd be hard-pressed to find such a varied and creative selection of tile north of the border, so never mind if you have to head to an all-but-deserted swath north of the airport. The gregarious staff will shove, er, nudge you toward just the right choice, whether it's large and plain or tiny and ornate.
Best Mod Barware: RegencyMod of Scottsdale Marketplace
Kim Wessinger can do without the kitschy cult following of Midcentury Modern. That's because the longtime owner of pristine barware boutique RegencyMod offers a different caliber of one-of-a-kind glassware better classified as Hollywood Regency style. Wessinger's cocktail sets predominantly feature art deco graphics completed in actual 24-karat gold and immaculate, artist-signed tumblers — the limited-edition sort that only would have been available once at, say, Neiman Marcus in 1961.
Best Rockabilly Shop: Rocket a Go~Go
Established in 2011 as Rocket Resale, this Tempe punk shop at Southern and Mill avenues has plenty to offer in the way of women's and men's clothing. Within heavily decorated walls, you'll find retro-cut dresses, alternative and upcycled accessories, chunky shoes, band shirts, and geek-themed purses. Owned by mother-and-daughter-in-law duo RoseAna Dodge and Stormy Love, Rocket a Go~Go carries favorite brands for rockabilly- and punk-leaning girls and boys like Hell Bunny, Sourpuss, Kreepsville 666, Dr. Martens, Iron Fist, and their own house brand.
Best Quinceañera Dress Shop: La Moda
If you've ever wanted to feel like you were walking into a Lisa Frank print, try La Moda just north of 16th Street and McDowell Road. Around since 2007, La Moda specializes in dresses ideal for weddings — offering bridal gowns, bridesmaids' dresses, and flower girl getups — plus proms, baptisms, holiday parties, and of course, quinceañeras. Think ruffles, beads, and skirts in every cut and color of the rainbow.
Best Place to Buy Antiques on a Budget: Zinnias at Melrose on Third Thursdays
We'd be hard-pressed to think of a better method of whiling away an afternoon than sifting through vintage furniture and goods. And that goes double when there's a deal on the table. Which is precisely the case with Third Thursdays at Zinnias, when the multi-level Melrose Curve shop knocks 20 percent off of nearly everything in stock, save for the fancier furniture in its front room.
Best Antiques Mall: Brass Armadillo Antique Mall
The expansive operation is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and features more than 600 antique dealers selling everything from military memorabilia to books, home decor, and historic crystal, china, and pottery collections. Shoppers can take home anything from comic books to bikes to those vintage, Flintstones-adorned Welch's jelly jars. Brass Armadillo also offers a snack bar and free lessons to dealers and the public on how to post antique items through iAntique, Craigslist, and eBay.
Best Place to Buy Vintage Clothing: Antique Sugar
We have this thing with display windows — and particularly, the Valley's lack of them. There's something special about a stylishly posed swing dress catching your eye, and the ladies at Antique Sugar know this all too well. Not that we need convincing to step inside the shop. Sugar has been a favorite spot for both men's and women's vintage clothing for years now.
Best Adult Clothing Resale Shop: Poor Little Rich Girl
Follow uptown boutique Poor Little Rich Girl on Instagram at your own risk. Well, your own risk of needing to make trips to the shop on the regular — not that we could possibly discourage that, given the resale inventory the store stocks. Think floral Toms with tags still attached, tiered Diane von Furstenburg summer dresses, and Joie blouses, all at just a fraction of what you'd pay buying them brand new.
Best Kid Clothing Resale Shop: Love Child
We love to reduce our carbon footprint by buying cute, previously worn shoes for our kids at this small shop where the selection is wide and ever-changing. The staff is super friendly and accommodating to our diva children, who take over the dressing room whenever we visit. And bonus: We love to trade our gently used kids' clothes in exchange for credit so we can buy more.
Best Kids Clothing: Baby Teith
One look at this clothing line, and you'll swear somebody's kid out there is dressed cooler than you are, donning New Wave and alternative band shirts, shimmering metallic leggings, and spacey prints like galaxy, moon, and rainbow dragons in the form of little dresses, skirts, shorts, and tops. Accessories include psychedelic headbands.
Best Denim: HUB Clothing
The folks at HUB have the best selection in town of raw and organic cotton jeans for both men and women, from hip brands like Naked and Famous, Won Hundred, Diesel, Acne Studios, and Nudie. The staff there knows what's what, too, and they'll clue you in on all the tricks (mostly, don't wash 'em) to keep your dungarees in fine shape, along with accessories and outerwear to pair them with.
Best T-Shirts: Bunky Boutique
Perhaps you're familiar with the notion of skirting the issue. The stylish team at Bunky Boutique has more of a yen for, um, shirting it. Owned by Rachel and Jim Malloy, the small central Phoenix shop is our favorite place to pick up casual cotton tops. You know, T-shirts.
Best Cowboy Boots: Cowtown Boots Tempe
Looking to up your boot game without breaking the bank? Here's your spot. At Cowtown Boots in north Tempe, you can often score quality, brand-name boots at seriously discounted prices. We're talking all the best brands — Justin, Ariat, Tony Lama, and more — at prices that will make it difficult not to walk away with a half-dozen pairs.
Best Shop for Sneakerheads: High Point Shoes
Like it or not, the athleisure trend is only getting warmed up. And luckily for Valley dwellers looking to get in on the action, Scottsdale Waterfront shop High Point has been in on the kicks game for a while now. A veritable sneakerhead's paradise, the boutique shoe store stocks men's and women's footwear, ranging from old-school canvas lace-up Vans to retro low-top Jordans, perforated New Balance 696s, and Pumas so pretty they'll make you wanna cry.
Best Running Store: Runner’s Den
Sure, running can be a low-maintenance sport, but any real enthusiast knows a good pair of shoes makes all the difference, and for that, you'll want to jog on over to Runner's Den. The shop's knowledgeable staff will happily help you find the perfect pair of shoes for any type of training, plus all the additional swag you need to get yourself from point A to point B.
Best Bike Shop: The Slippery Pig
Someone stole the front wheel off our Down Hill hardtail. So, it sat in the garage for a couple of years. By the time we got around to getting that wheel replaced, our poor old (new) bicycle needed a full service before it was going to be street-ready again. We took it straight to the Slippery Pig, a place we knew was home to expert riders and obsessively tidy mechanics that get all turned on by bikes. With more than 15 years of matching bikes with riders both novice and expert, the guys at Slippery Pig get our vote.
Best Bike Co-op: Bike Saviours
People love their bikes in Tempe, and the Bike Saviours Co-op is a great example of this. Located across Roosevelt Street from Boulders on Broadway in Tempe, Bike Saviours is a public, nonprofit, volunteer-run bicycle education center available to teach cyclists and the community bike repair, maintenance, and safety. Backed with the tagline "We Save Your Bike," your confidence in these people should be soaring.
Best Bookstore: Changing Hands
It must be disonancia cognitiva. Right around the time we quietly landed on our theme for this year's Best of Phoenix issue — Border Town — we began to notice that Changing Hands Bookstore was sponsoring Spanish-language events, including a story hour for kids. That's just how it seems to go with Changing Hands — it's like the staff can read our minds and know what we want, like a second indie bookstore in Phoenix, with a wonderful bar with killer coffee, a great wine and beer selection and good snacks, and expanded programming, including workshops.
Best Used Bookstore: Old Town Books
This tiny outpost on Mill Avenue is easy to miss, but it's also well worth a visit for any bibliophile. Just make sure you set aside a nice chunk of time, since it's all too easy to get lost among the store's somewhat messy stacks of previously loved reads. Old Town's appearance can be overwhelming, but perseverance pays off as you can find everything from affordable paperback copies of classics you've been meaning to revisit to hardback vintage editions that will leave the avid reader in your life swooning.
Best Book Sale: VNSA Book Sale
Some people have the Super Bowl. Others have Coachella. But for the literary junkies of the Southwest, there's the VNSA Book Sale. Short for Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association, the annual VNSA Book Sale is a treasure trove of gently used paperbacks, rare and unusual hardcovers, and the occasional audio-visual item, all organized neatly inside a warehouse at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.
Best Comic Book Shop: Ash Avenue Comics & Books
With comic book heroes headlining so many summer blockbusters, the market for superhero stories has never been bigger. But one of the best things about Ash Avenue Comics & Books in Tempe is that while the staff stocks and totally gets down on whatever Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool are up to, their knowledge extends to a wide variety of comics outside of the Big Two publishers, from creator-owned independent books and science fiction to horror and autobiographical alt-comics.
Best Record Store: Asylum Records
Mesa has blossomed into an arts destination these past few years, with music festivals and new venues popping up to complement the city's thriving art scene. And then there's Asylum Records, the best record store in the Valley. The store has a surprisingly well-stocked collection of classic rock records, and its metal collection is pretty terrific, too.
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Best Record Store for CDs: Zia Records
Need that one Mötorhead live CD to complete your collection? Most likely, you can find it at Zia Records. There really isn't a better place to buy new and used CDs in town. Zia's selection is just that much bigger — there really is no competition or comparison. If the price is important to you, the bang for the buck at Zia is usually pretty great for the new and used CDs you must have before the medium completely goes away for good.
Best Guitar Shop: Bizarre Guitar & Drum
Bizarre Guitar founder Bob Turner passed away last year, but it would seem his legacy is in good hands, as the shop has continued on, maintaining his high standards. Famously featured in a Miller Beer advertisement that ran during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, Bizarre Guitar doesn't have that impersonal, warehouse-like feel that makes other places so nightmarish. Instead, the staff is attentive and quick to answer questions about the new and vintage guitars, amplifiers, pedals, and drums.