We can safely say that there is no store in town like Curious Nature. It's like walking into someone's weird uncle's den — and we mean that as a compliment. The small store is packed with strange, macabre, and fascinating items, most of which are nature-themed. Think gorgeous mounted butterflies, a surprisingly wide selection of animal skeletons and bones, and organs in jars. There's taxidermy on the walls. There's a basket of vintage death photos by the door. And yes, the store even sells human skulls, although you can expect to drop more than $1,000 to take one home. In addition to the merchandise, Curious Nature offers taxidermy classes and drawing events where you can sketch the store's macabre offerings.

Best Place to Experience Japan on the Cheap

Cutie

Airfare to Asia can be pretty expensive, but everything at Cutie's two Valley locations is dirt cheap — $1.50, to be exact. Most of the products are Daiso brand merchandise, a Japanese company that has thousands of discount stores in Asia. Cutie has a little of everything, from snacks and craft supplies to holiday goods and socks. The Mesa location opened earlier this year and is significantly bigger than the original north Phoenix space. The larger footprint means there are wider aisles and way more to look at. We love to wander the store and fill our basket with low-cost beauty supplies, ramen, and paper goods while listening to the aggressively cheerful Japanese pop music.

Whether you like true crime, forensic science, or — oddly enough — movie posters, Crime Scene's got something to interest you. The company does a lot of its business online, selling forensic equipment and supplies to entities like the FBI, the ATF, and the FDA, but interested shoppers can visit the strip-mall storefront to check out some very interesting merchandise. There are body bags, evidence-collection kits, crime-scene tape, and much more. And if movie memorabilia is more your thing, a few rooms of the space are dedicated to vintage film posters, some of which can be had at really reasonable prices. Whatever your motivation for checking out the store, it'll be an unforgettable experience.

Half the fun of container gardening is picking the container, which is one reason Matt Pfeilstucker is one of the best makers around. Instead of boring, uninspiring planters, he makes planters with a fun twist — drawing on everything from zombie lore to skull iconography. His own personality shines through in his work, which helps others create spaces that show off their unique ways of looking at the world. In his world, every planter tells a story. His small-scale pots resonate with alternative culture, and you can find them in several art and retail spaces around town. Our favorites include his zombie baby heads, which we think everybody should fill with a festive plant and place on the dinner table for their most conservative relatives when holiday time comes around. They're miniature works of art and conversation starters, all rolled into one.

Come on, you really think we would go with something else for this one? At this point, Changing Hands is metro Phoenix's bookstore. Across its two locations, the Valley institution carries all the books you could ever need, with its buyback program ensuring you'll be able to get rid of your old books in favor of something new (or gently used) and better. We're particularly fond of the Phoenix location, which, while not as large as the main Tempe branch, is more centrally located, includes the First Draft Book Bar and plenty of dedicated space for lectures, readings, and other events, and usually has a more refined selection that's easier to browse.

All About Books and Comics

There is no hellish disdain like the look given by snarky comic shop staff when you ask if the new Power Rangers or My Little Pony annual is in stock. Luckily, at All About, you'll never get this look. These are the nicest people in the business, able and willing to carry on a conversation about whatever your weird fascination is and tell you exactly where to find more of it. Their stock is immense, so much so that they have a second location four doors down with older, discounted materials for the more adventurous (our personal favorite find is a Batman graphic novel published in the early '90s done entirely with then-cutting-edge digital art, with the titular hero pitted against a computer-virus Joker). Top that off with unlimited arcade games and an excellent drink selection at Bonus Round right next door, and you have yourself a New York slice of geek heaven.

Bookmans Entertainment Exchange

Calling it "Bookmans" is kind of a misnomer. Walk into the labyrinthine used-media emporium, which also has locations in Tucson and Flagstaff, and you'll certainly find books — thousands of them, from fiction and nonfiction to comics, manga, even vintage magazines — but you'll also find a massive cache of DVDs and Blu-rays, CDs and vinyl records, classic video games and consoles, pop culture merch, and much more. As if that weren't enough, the store also sells musical instruments — guitars, brass horns, woodwinds, drums — along with sheet music, production equipment, and even a couple of oddities (anyone want a hammered dulcimer?), all at economical prices. You could easily lose a day here, along with some hard-earned, well-spent cash, and if you need some more, Bookmans will take a look at any old stuff you've got lying around.

Bookworms and collectors throughout the Valley have been known to stow away cash for this annual sale months in advance, and with good reason. For one glorious weekend in February, the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association fills a warehouse at the Arizona State Fairgrounds with hundreds of thousands of donated books, from museum catalogs and ancient tomes to comics, paperbacks, religious texts, and even volumes in foreign languages. Vinyl records, CDs, and DVDs are also available for perusing. Best of all? A massive chunk of the selection can be had for less than $5, with many of those going for just a buck. Bibliophiles from all over gather in the chilly predawn weather to make sure they get into the sale early enough to get the best selection. Make sure you know how you're going to bring all those books home, though — you're likely to fill at least one shopping cart by the time you're finished.

You're not going to find a discount bin at Record High in Phoenix. That's because you won't see any scratched or damaged vinyl inside this small record store located alongside the auto garages and strip clubs just south of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. You will find an audiophile's dream in this small but well-organized store, with a curated inventory that boasts a robust jazz and blues selection in addition to rock and indie favorites. If you're just starting to build your collection, don't be intimidated by what you're reading. The friendly and knowledgeable staff won't rake you over the coals for asking if they have a copy of the Dave Matthews Band's debut album.

Stinkweeds

If you're sick and tired of racking up data by streaming music on your plan, just cancel your Spotify subscription and head to Stinkweeds in uptown Phoenix. The store, which has been in business for over three decades, has a wide selection of compact discs from buzz-worthy indie artists, groovy soul groups, and local musicians. Listening stations are located throughout the store, so you can try before you buy. Sure, they have vinyl, too, but you can't play wax in your car. This Valley staple will help put your vehicle's long-neglected CD player to great use.

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