AZ Wine Co.
Molly Smith

Yes, Total Wine and BevMo are just around the corner, but it's worth the trip to this South Scottsdale wine shop. Here, you can find great deals on bottles from all over the world, and the knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to help you pick out the perfect bottle for the occasion. There are shelves and shelves of French, Italian, and, of course, Arizona wines, and if AZ Wine Co. somehow doesn't have what you want, it'll be more than happy to order it. Every Thursday at 6 p.m., the store hosts weekly wine tastings, which are great gatherings for wine geeks who want to talk shop and compare notes.

Readers choice: Total Wine

Sun Devil Liquors

A sister store to the well-stocked Tops Liquors in Tempe, Mesa's Sun Devil Liquor matches that store in selection, ambiance, and wonderful aroma (someone get Standard Wax on a "cardboard and hops" — stat). Like Tops, the store comes complete with its own satellite bar, but the Sun Devil Wine Cellar & Pub has one advantage over Taste of Tops: It's underground. Nothing makes you feel as though you're slipping into a speakeasy more than descending the staircase and finding yourself in the dimly lit cellar, where exclusive tastings are held and live jazz adds to the comfort.  

Readers Choice: Total Wine

Herb 'N Legend

If it can be smoked, Herb'n Legend in Phoenix has something classy to smoke it in. This head shop has inexpensive but decent glass and acrylic bubblers and water pipes that will get the job done. At the high end, masterpieces of glass art will impress the hell out of your pals both before and after a bong session. Prices are pretty good, too, for the average tools most smokers will need. And if you don't have a thousand dollars handy, it's worth it to spend a few minutes gazing at the colorful, artistic pieces on the shelves. You'll also find fancy tobacco pipes and a huge selection of dabbing rigs for wax aficionados. Fantastic selection, friendly staff, and high art — everything we want from a head shop.

Readers Choice: Sky High Smoke Shop

Harvest of Tempe

What's not to like about a retail store that sells marijuana in Arizona? Before voters approved the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, selling bulk buds and hashish was a severe felony with likely prison time for offenders. Now (if you qualify) you can walk into one of nearly 90 dispensaries in the state and walk out with a truly mind-blowing variety of marijuana products. Several factors make Harvest of Tempe better than the others. The selection is vast: At last count, the menu boasted 28 strains of pot, a smorgasbord of edibles purchased from other Valley dispensaries, a few tinctures including CBD-heavy mixtures that might be good for various medical ailments, and a cornucopia of concentrates like shatter and wax. Efficiency is the key feature at Harvest. Unlike most other dispensaries, you're in and out in minutes. Customers usually get buzzed to the showroom immediately, and it's not uncommon to find the sales area crowded with staff members chatting up customers with questions about the products. One wall contains shelves with jars of sample buds and edibles. It's a more casual, urban experience than dispensaries that try to emulate a doctor's office. Not that you'll find black lights and Bob Marley posters here. Professionally run, clean, with knowledgeable staff members on the sales floor and cashiers behind a glass security wall, Harvest has the quick-service model others should follow.

Readers Choice: Herbal Wellness Center

Most every smoker has his or her favorite marijuana strain, but for a little while in early 2015, something special was going on with a type of cannabis called Afghan Kush. Tight, fragrant buds, lots of red hairs. It was said to be an indica, which it must have been due to the full-brain feeling — not a strain for getting much work done. Great for sleep, pain, and TV. The strain was locally grown or perhaps came from California or Colorado. Several dispensaries in town carried it. When they did, it sold out quickly. By mid-spring, it was all gone.

"Got any Afghan Kush?" we'd ask repeatedly at the places that previously carried it.

"No," would come the response, always with a knowing smile.

"Do you have anything like Afghan Kush?"

"No, there's nothing like it," budtenders at two different dispensaries said.

So far, so true. Harvest time can't be too far away, though.

Found at various Arizona dispensaries
www.leafly.com

Contrary to popular belief, the worst thing about edibles is not that they might work too well, causing you to curl in a corner whimpering for eight hours like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. No, the worst thing about edibles is when they don't work. Paying serious green for a buzz that never arrives is something no true cannabist wants to do.

Bhang chocolate bars solve that problem. They start with Venezuelan criollo cacao from the company's California headquarters and then infuse it with hash oil and sell it at Harvest and other dispensaries. They look like Kit-Kats imprinted with Bhang logos and marijuana leaves. Bhang bars have a consistency in effect that others lack, and it's easy to get the dosing right. Pick single, double, or triple strength — whatever's right for your own needs; each is packed with a respective one, two, or three grams of hash oil — and decide how many of the four connected chocolate bars inside each wrapper to eat. Apart from some gummi candies that are sprayed with hash oil instead of made with infused oil throughout, no other edible contains as few calories for its potency, local budtenders say. Flavors include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, cookies and cream, and others we haven't tried yet.

Novices beware: These are the real deal. You don't want to end up like Dowd, so go cautiously at first. Ripping open the silvery inner sleeve, you won't find a golden ticket. But satisfying and delicious, covered in chocolate and a miracle or two — that's Bhang medicated chocolates.

www.gotbhang.com

Finding the perfect present is hard enough. But getting a gift for someone who seeks out the scientific and, more important, the strange? That's a special skill on its own. Lucky for buyers of the bizarre, Curious Nature caters to lovers of the creepy and crawly. The downtown boutique offers everything from framed insects and animal bones to taxidermy and wet specimens, as well as classes to learn how to make these creations yourself. If you aren't quite on board with accessorizing your home with anatomy, the emporium also sells stones, minerals, tillandsias, books, jewelry, posters, candles — even a few pampering products to keep your skin and facial hair in check. Admit it. You're curious now, aren't you?

We visited Al's with a neophyte beader this summer and came away with a single word: wow. Organized as though Martha Stewart herself had masterminded it, and completely covered in nothing but strings of beads of every make and color, Al's is so clearly the best bead store that it's enough to turn even the least-interested-in-beading crafter into a happy dabbler. Al's offers variety, selection, and quality, with a wide range of materials to both hobbyists and professional jewelers. The personable staff is wise enough to leave shoppers mostly alone to browse and get creative, and knowledgeable enough to confer on both materials and technique needed for pretty much every jewelry design. Glass cases housing silver and precious stones and tables of bead-filled bowls are surrounded by walls neatly arranged by material (everything from glass to jade to semi-precious stuff — and, oh, the turquoise!), color, and size. Al's can compete with any Garment District supply shop or gemstone-fair dealer, offering rare materials like watermelon tourmaline or simpler pieces made of paper or colored glass. Al's real secret weapon is Lisa, a beader who can answer any question you've got about beading ("Can I thread this on wire?") and will gently steer you away from mistakes she's made herself ("Don't mix crystals with those mountain-stone beads — trust me!"). The only problem with Al's is coming up with reasons not to go back there every single day.

We're not sure whether you know this, but knitting, the stereotypical pastime of grandmas everywhere, is a fairly difficult hobby to take up. You need needles. You need yarn. You need to know how to twist the needles and yarn together to make scarves or mittens or utter trainwrecks of aspirational crafts projects. It's all fairly intimidating, but not at Jessica Knits. The North Scottsdale store is part multi-colored (and sometimes sparkly) yarn mountain and part clubhouse. With workshops on everything from how to knit mittens and socks, how to crochet slippers, and how to craft felted knickknacks, there's plenty of reason to haul up the 101. New to the world of knitting? Jessica offers beginner classes and one-on-one sessions that'll have you purling like a pro.

If only for its in-house Blick Brand art supplies (Colored pencil sets! French easels! Tracing paper pads!), we would love Blick. But the friendly, knowledgeable staff provides us arty types with another reason to love this longtime friend to creative people. We find everything from canvas to archival papers to camel-hair brushes at this 104-year-old bastion of better art supplies. Four dozen different types of watercolor paper! Thirty-two different lesson plans for art teachers! We don't know what Awagami Shin Inbe colored paper is, but the fact that Blick (and only Blick) carries it means we want some! Don't miss the clearance aisle, a magic markdown store all its own.

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