When we're shopping for a new deck for our nephew's birthday or want to add some sneakers to our closet, Cowtown is our skateboard shop of choice. It has what skateboarders need to hit the road and look good doing it, from boards and board parts to clothes, accessories, and protective gear. But we really love Cowtown because it's a local business that puts a lot of effort into supporting and enriching the local skate community. It just participated in an event on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that helped provide boards for kids interested in skating, and the annual Locals Only skateboard contest is a day of fun for participants and spectators alike.

In the Valley's endless sea of Circle K and 7-Eleven franchises, Brian's Discount Market is an oasis of snack-food delights. Tucked away in a strip mall in north Phoenix, the shop carries an assortment of sugar-addled goodies — like Slurpees, Cheetos, and Skittles — paired with more "exotic" delights, like off-kilter chips and soft serve. But more than all the sugar in the world, Brian's real draw is the massive assortment of beer, be it classic American brews, sturdy IPAs, or even a chai ale — plus, like, six pumpkin concoctions. Convenience isn't always measured in proximity or general customer service; it's about feeding as many hungers as possible with the least amount of effort. In that sense, a Brian's deserves to stand on every street corner from Litchfield Park to Queen Creek.

Let's clear the air. Yes, we realize that Red Star Vapor is a chain, and a sizable one at that (there are 23 locations just in the Valley alone). But it's a locally owned, locally grown enterprise that got its start here in Phoenix within the last five years and has since spread across four states like an enormous plume being exhaled by a hardcore vapehead. It's also hard to ignore the sheer convenience of having a Red Star within relatively close proximity, each of which is staffed by knowledgeable and affable employees and stocked with a wide variety of juice and nic salt, most of it economically priced. Red Star also sells CBD now, and has enough mods, coils, tanks, pods, and batteries to keep you happily vaping and away from cigarettes forever. So the next time a nic fit hits, ditch the Juul and make a vape escape to your closest Red Star.

When Old Town Scottsdale comes up in conversation, certain clichés immediately come to mind: overpriced nightclubs, cowboy art galleries, meat markets, drunken party girls vomiting in Ubers at closing time. The first thing that comes to mind probably isn't a head shop, and yet that's where Hi-Life Smoke & Vapor Shop chose to hang its shingle. Originally started in 2005 as a glass-blowing shop, it pivoted into a smoke shop a year later. The store has taken that smoke-filled ball and run with it, stocking the building with a dizzying assortment of pipes, cigars, hookahs, electronic cigarettes, scales, and more. CBD and kratom enthusiasts can also get their fill at the shop. With a knowledgeable and friendly staff behind the counter, it's the perfect place to stop with your buds before going to a bar nearby and paying $16 for a drink with the word "sex" in its title.

Close up of strain jars.
Nate Nichols
Close up of strain jars.

If Cersei Lannister and Bran Stark had to choose an apothecary who mixes up herbs for their medicines, they'd find it as tough as we do to pick a best dispensary. Except for a few posers, most do a good job — that is, they provide an adequate product that does the trick. We all have to have our secret go-to shop for special occasions when quality has to count above all. And in greater Phoenix, one seems to rise above the rest like a first-time dabber's coughed-out smoke cloud: TruMed. These buds have withstood the test of time; we've been stopping by here for years and always have been impressed with the quality. Whether ordering up premium flower or tasty medicinal-grade shatter, the homegrown cannabis from TruMed's Arizona cultivation center rarely disappoints. Other patients in the know agree with us. Placebo effect? Not likely in this walking endocannabinoid repository. The other great thing is the staff. Once out of the small waiting room, the budtender often greets you with a handshake before taking you to the expansive counters. While the waiting room can feel crowded, the showroom never is. Friendly people offering up top-grade marijuana — what more do you want?

With a Leafly rating that borders on perfection and a line of strains that can appeal to nearly every breed of cannabis user, this family-owned cultivator is a dispensary favorite here in the Valley, and for good reason. It might have to do with the fact that it was a key player in the local cannabis scene right from the jump. Sort of a "grassroots" thing, if you'll excuse the pun. (Which you shouldn't, in all honesty. It's a terrible pun and we apologize.) Visitors to the site will notice a rising tally that accurately shows off how many patients, employees, and strains GreenPharms has been able to claim. If you're looking for a real-time visual aid that shows just how well things are going down at the Pharm, you needn't look any further. Experience its products firsthand to see what Green can do for you.

This Payson cannabis company has been churning out products that can get you higher than the mountainous terrain it calls home. Its uniquely delicious edibles, specifically the organic vegan gummies, are a true standout in the wide selection of products. The consistent quality of these gummies ensures that the only surprise you'll get from them will be the initial reaction to just how damn good these things taste. And the high is just ... it's just .... wait, what were we talking about? All jokes aside, your first experience with Untamed's line of edibles is guaranteed to be unforgettable. And if you think that claim is a little hard to swallow, then pick some up and see for yourself.

When it came time to pick a winner for this category, the choice was clear — Vapen Clear, in fact. Other cartridges sold by competitors sometimes contain such nonessential ingredients as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, polyethylene glycol, or coconut oil. But Vapen doesn't resort to using any unnecessary filler material. The absence of additives and the presence of thick terpene taste make for a full high with a full flavor that's glaringly apparent from the very first drag. Lab tests show that these crystal clear cartridges contain up to 99.52 percent total active cannabinoids. For those of you keeping score at home, that's what we call an "A+" — truly head of the class.

The reliable and easy-to-use line of pens from O.penVAPE don't disappoint, but it's the Hero Grown Vaporizer that should receive a medal of honor. This patriotic piece of paraphernalia wins one for Uncle Sam every time you take a big ol' red, white, and blue drag. You see, the sleek variable voltage battery helps O.penVAPE raise funds for its crusade to help veterans and active military deal with their various traumas, so that these brave men and women don't fall victim to what has sadly become a new American tradition: opiate addiction. The pen comes in two designs, with one emblazoned with Old Glory herself, and the other rocking the desert camo look. Pick up one today and take a hit. All we ask is that you take your hat off before doing so.

This was a tough call, but we had to give Silver the gold. Its biggest claim to fame so far is taking first place at the High Times Cannabis Cup three years in a row. Granted, those years were 1997, 1998, and 1999, but its high Leafly rating and strong demand here in the Valley prove that its best days are not behind it by a longshot. No offense to Austin Powers or Sugar Ray, but SSH isn't some late '90s craze that eventually became lost in the sands of time. This love child of Skunk, Northern Lights, and Haze is a real stress-melter, but without that wiped-out lethargic feeling. It's like the mental equivalent of an end-of-day bath-bomb session, but with a cup of smooth cold brew readily available on the edge of the tub. Wake-and-bakers and nighttime users alike can truly appreciate this one, if they haven't already.

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