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. When it's done well, the style can be gorgeous and almost transport your home to another place. 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. Trust us. There won't be a sombrero in sight.

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. As of this writing, it's only open on weekends, with plans to launch a full schedule this fall. Until then, keep an eye out for Scrabble game nights and chances to contribute your gently used reads to the growing collection.

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. And quite a few Phoenicians have embraced them, too, sporting iconic sugar-skull images on everything from bolo ties to hipster socks. 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. Many are made by local artists, and there's a good chance you'll get to meet and talk with at least one local artist while you're there. Pieces of colorful tissue paper called papel picado, perforated to create Day of the Dead designs, hang suspended from the ceiling — proving that shopping, as you've long insisted, is actually an essential life-affirming act. Go ahead, get that fancy skull-print handbag or wallet. Your abuela (grandmother) would have wanted you to go for it.

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. Accent your new floor with a hand-painted chair or an armoire; they've got that, too.

When you were a kid, did you ever dream of hiding in a clothing rack and getting locked in a mall overnight? Being able to explore every part of every store, make whatever you wanted for yourself in the food court, and shop at your leisure with no one else around? Well, if we could get trapped in any mall, it would be 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.

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