Discover what’s in store at Tucson’s historic mercados, urban malls, and colorful plazas. | By Elena Acoba
If you treasure taking some time to shop while on vacation, then set aside a bit of it while in Tucson. You’ll find ample opportunities to browse and buy, from vibrant city retail districts to suburban Santa Catalina Foothills shopping plazas. Learn about the Southwest aesthetic from local artisans and artists who offer a wide range of goods, including souvenirs and home decor, Mexican and Native American folk art, and traditional and modern fine-art pieces. Find your favorite national brands at convenient locations or for outlet prices. Or discover local delights that are elegant, whimsical, and unusual. The options are endless.
Best of all, each shopping adventure is an attraction on its own, combining shops with services, eateries, entertainment, or history—sometimes all four—that you can savor for hours. So whether you’re searching for a vacation memento, looking to turn your life into a Southwestern lifestyle, or stumbling upon a can’t-live-without-it find, there’s a store that will satisfy your shopping passion.
Shopping in the heart of Tucson is a snap, thanks to the Sun Link modern streetcar. The four-mile route connects Mercado San Agustín, at the west end of the route, to The University of Arizona, at the east end, passing through downtown and Fourth Avenue. Pay one fare for all-day travel through several shopping and entertainment districts.
Walk along the lively streets in the b Downtown Arts District, actually a number of sections throughout the city’s core that house galleries, studios, and shops. Local creatives work, show, and sell in the Congress Street area and the Warehouse District north of Toole Avenue. In recent years, stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment venues have invigorated these areas.
Several longtime businesses have seen the changes and continue to thrive in popularity. Got All Your Marbles designs unusual jewelry with small orbs, while Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio takes blown glass to an elegant, artful level. Santa Theresa Tile Works features handmade ornaments and gifts, as well as tile-art workshops.
Start or add to your fine art collection with the photographic offerings from Etherton Gallery and with works from the local contemporary visual arts scene presented by Davis Dominguez Gallery.
In the historic Presidio section, you’ll find home accessories, jewelry, vintage kitsch, and imports in Old Town Artisans, situated on the site of the 1775 original Spanish fort. The maze of shops is housed in 1800s adobe buildings with original ceilings made of saguaro ribs. Enjoy refreshments and regular evening music performances in the open-air patio.
Across the street is The Museum Store at the Tucson Museum of Art. Find books on traveling exhibits, as well as stationery, jewelry, ceramics, and gifts crafted by Arizona artists. For more artful books, T-shirts, and jewelry, check out the small shop at the Museum of Contemporary Art near the Tucson Convention Center, another arts district section. The museum itself is housed in an old fire station.
Outside of the city core is Fourth Avenue, from University Boulevard to Ninth Street, Tucson’s hipster area. The historic shopping district is part throwback to small-town shopping districts, with tree-lined sidewalks and street parking, and part event district, with signature festivals, including two annual street fairs that draw more than 400 arts & crafts booths. It also has an eco-friendly side, with several solar-powered buildings and an emphasis on up-cycling.
Fourth Avenue is internationally known for numerous quality vintage and thrift clothing shops like How Sweet It Was, specializing in duds from the 1880s to 1980s. Pop-Cycle showcases artworks, gifts, and wacky stuff—all made from recycled materials and reused goods.
Another popular Fourth Avenue stop is independent Antigone Books, chock-full of books by local authors and on progressive topics.
The four blocks of Main Gate Square are avid Wildcat country. Located just outside of the Park Avenue entrance—or main gate—of The University of Arizona, it caters to a college crowd with nightlife, restaurants, and shops. It’s where young fashionistas check out the latest styles at Grand Central Clothing and Collette Clothing. Ooo! Outside of Ordinary dresses both you and your home with stylish elegance and whimsy.
On the edge of downtown is The Lost Barrio, a charming group of old warehouses turned into retail shops along a walkable three-block section of Park Avenue south of Broadway Boulevard. Check out international imports, furniture, furnishings, and gifts, including worldwide antiques at Colonial Frontiers, handcrafted furniture from Southwest Furniture & Design, and an eclectic collection at Petroglyphs Tucson.
Mercado San Agustín west of Interstate 10 in Menlo Park is a cozy collection of eateries and shops, including MAST boutique, that surrounds an Old-World-style courtyard. It focuses on locally produced goods and hosts a weekly farmers market.
Monterey Court on Miracle Mile is a rescued 1938 motel. It now houses 12 art galleries and shops dedicated to presenting the works of local artists and artisans. Plan to hang out for eats and concerts, too.
Central Tucson provides convenient access to all types of shopping.
The Sunshine Mile encompasses a strip along Broadway Boulevard between Euclid Avenue and Country Club Road. It’s an architecturally historic district, an ode to mid-20th-century retail architecture and local business spirit. Among the 40 or so businesses, you’ll find delightful Mexican folk art and clothing at Picante Designs and Mexican furniture and home goods at Zócalo. Yikes! Toys speaks to kids and your inner kid with retro play things, kitschy gifts, and science kits.
Broadway Village, Tucson’s first shopping center, is the 1939 brick-clad jewel of the stretch, designed in the signature Spanish Mission Revival style of architect Josias Joesler. Relax at one of the half-dozen eateries after spending some time in Avenue Boutique. The shop features home goods and new and vintage fashions by independent designers, including the store owner.
Shop in the hacienda-style setting of Plaza Palomino at Swan and Fort Lowell Roads. Its fountain courtyard is the perfect venue for weekly concerts and the Saturday Mercado, a weekly blend of farmers market and arts & crafts fair. Longtime favorite shops of the locals include La Contessa, where women can find sophisticated style, and Dark Star Leather, offering custom-made clothing accessories. Find dramatic formal and breezy casual women’s fashion at Maya Palace.
Take a quick side trip across Swan to the new home of Madaras Gallery, which showcases the Southwestern paintings and prints of Tucson artist Diana Madaras.
Whatever you’re trying to find will likely be along Campbell Avenue between Grant and Fort Lowell Roads. There’s a concentration of shopping centers with national stores, local shops, and eateries.
Crossroads Festival at Grant and Swan Roads houses 34 shops and restaurants anchored by national chains. Catch a movie and meal while you’re there.
Fort Lowell Furniture District boasts several independently owned stores along and near Fort Lowell Road between Kelvin and Country Club Roads. Find furniture, lighting, rugs, framing, and metal arts.
El Con Center on Broadway Boulevard and Country Club Road is a massive power center with familiar national stores, including Walmart, Office Depot, JCPenney and Target. They’re surrounded by well-known restaurants, shops, services, and a movie multiplex.
Add spectacular vistas and lush desert surroundings to your shopping adventure as you head into the foothills of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains.
Take in the fine works of more than 140 local and regional artists represented at B Plaza Colonial, with its distinctive copper dome, and at the mission-style c Gallery Row at El Cortijo, which holds Sunday art walks. Both shopping plazas are located on the swanky retail corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue.
Artists working in different mediums and across several genres are represented by three galleries: the Wilde Meyer Gallery, Jane Hamilton Fine Art, and Artful Living Gallery & Studio. Artful Living also features Jeff Ferst’s vibrant clothing and home furnishing lines. For more options in furnishings, check out California Closets and Sunset Interiors, where furnishings and design reflect the Tucson regional style.
Surround yourself with the tranquil settings of the distinctive shopping centers at River Road and Campbell Avenue. St. Philip’s Plaza’s whitewashed buildings, towering eucalyptus trees, and central courtyard fountain provide a Colonial Spanish backdrop for boutiques, arts, jewelry, gifts, and weekend farmers markets. Find contemporary Southwest Native American fine arts & crafts at Bahti Indian Arts. Clothing, jewelry, and accessories by designers worldwide are presented at Limited Additions, while AK Jensen Apparel offers sophisticated women’s fashion. A touch of class surrounds you as you casually stroll among the shops and restaurants in Joesler Village, built in the Spanish Colonial Mission architecture style made famous in this region by mid-century architect Josias Joesler. Stop by Clique for chic casual clothing and at La Jolla Diamonds & Gems for spectacular jewelry.
Casas Adobes at Oracle and Ina Roads is another Joesler retail masterpiece, combining tile and brick and arches and fountains for high-end boutique shopping. Relax at independent restaurants.
La Encantada at Campbell Avenue and Skyline Drive is Tucson’s upscale open-air shopping center. It features world-class brands and local treasures such as the Southwest crafts shop Spirit of Santa Fe. You’ll want to spend some time relaxing in the flower-filled courtyard, allowing kids to let loose in the play area, grabbing a snack or meal, or enjoying one of many special events.
Tucson Premium Outlets at Interstate 10 and Twin Peaks Road in Marana features more than 60 national stores that sell their popular brands at discount prices.
Tucson Mall on Oracle and Wetmore Roads is the area’s largest mall—a two-story enclosed center with more than 200 retailers, including four department stores.
Mini-malls and neighborhood shopping centers hold treasures for you to discover.
Ventana Village at Kolb Road and Sunrise Drive is on the eastern side of the Santa Catalina Foothills. The busy neighborhood retail stop is made special by Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery. It’s a purveyor of antique, folk, and contemporary Native American and Mexican art, as well as works by Western and Southwest artists. Visit the gallery’s Maynard Dixon Museum to learn about the life and works of this acclaimed Tucson artist. Take care of some essential shopping and services, then enjoy one of the several restaurants there.
The Plaza at Williams Centre on Broadway Boulevard and Craycroft Road is a convenient urban shopping center. Its specialty shops offer cigars, men’s business attire, women’s lingerie, specially fitted shoes, women-themed gifts, and custom-designed jewelry. Casual dining options abound.
Tucked within what’s known as the east side’s restaurant row is La Plaza Shoppes on Tanque Verde Road. The mix of eateries, services, and spas include galleries and shops that focus on local artists and artisans.
Trail Dust Town on Tanque Verde Road replicates a 19th-century Western burg, complete with a train ride, cowboy stunt shows, steakhouse, and the Museum of the Horse Soldier. Shop for novelties, chocolate, fine art, and antiques.
Park Place on Broadway Boulevard is Tucson’s oldest enclosed regional mall with 132 retailers, including three department stores and a movie theater.
Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba admits that she’s a sucker for shops with artful, vintage, or quirky merchandise.Read the rest of this issue online