Tattoos on vacation: 10 great parlors for that forever souvenir

Bringing home a souvenir tattoo from a trip is a long tradition, going back to sailors who would visit parlors when they stopped in distant ports, says Oliver Peck, co-owner of Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas ( and a judge on the Paramount Network tattoo competition series “Ink Masters.” “We do a lot of tattoos on people that are visiting Texas and want to get something to remember the trip. It’s really common to get the shape of Texas with the date.” He shares some favorites shops that take the art of inking to a new level.

Black Heart Tattoo, San Francisco

Travelers have been known to schedule their trip around an appointment at this famed parlor near the Mission District, although it also accepts walk-ins. The staff has a combined experience of more than 140 years. “It’s one of the best tattoo shops in the world. It’s a very artfully done shop. Lots of great art on the wall,” Peck says.

Hot Stuff Tattoo, Asheville, North Carolina 

This Blue Ridge Mountains city gets top reviews for its art, music and tattoos, Peck says. The shop inks a lot of tattoos with an outdoors theme, such as fishing, which makes sense since artist Danny Reed is a big fisherman and excels at natural images, Peck says.

Aloha Monkey Tattoo, Burnsville, Minnesota

This Twin Cities-area shop has a tie to tattoo royalty. The original owner was trained by Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, a Honolulu artist who found fame tattooing sailors passing through the city before Hawaii gained statehood. The Minnesota shop is named for a racy tattoo inspired by a pet monkey who lived in the Hawaii store. “It’s a lineage to nearly 100 years of tattooing. It’s an important tattoo shop in the country,” Peck says.

Kings Avenue Tattoo, New York City

Whatever the business, the competition is fierce in New York. But Peck says this shop has built its reputation by sheer effort. “To really make it in that city, you’ve got to be a step above. They recruit great artists to come there. If you work at Kings Avenue, everyone knows you’re the (best.)” The shop has a second location on Long Island.

Tattoo Faction, North Olmsted, Ohio

This Cleveland-area shop has an old-school vibe, but its reputation has spread around the world thanks to artist Greg Christian. “He’s one of the most-traveled tattooers out there. The shop is a bunch of hard-working guys.”

Atlas Tattoo, Portland, Oregon

Portland seems to have a tattoo parlor on every corner, which makes Atlas all the more remarkable, Peck says. “They’ve always managed to stay on top. No matter what kind of tattoo you want, you can to go to Atlas and have a great experience.” Walk-ins available Wednesday through Saturdays and most Sundays. Cash only.

Immaculate Tattoo, Mesa, Arizona  

Artist Aaron Coleman has put this 20-year-old shop on the map, Peck says. “He has an amazing art collection. It’s really impressive to see his shop in person. People will go to Phoenix just to get a tattoo.” Specialties include traditional Americana and Japanese-style designs.

Wild Zero Studios, Morgantown, West Virginia

Peck says he’s been impressed during visits to this small mountain town, home to West Virginia University. “It’s a beautiful shop. They’ve spared no labor to make this place look totally amazing. It’s such a draw that people come to West Virginia to get a tattoo, which is a pretty amazing feat.”

Hobo’s Tattoo, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Peck discovered this shop when he was taking a New England tattoo trip on a motorcycle and got caught in the rain. He stepped into this shop to wait out the storm and was impressed by what he found. “This place is like a hidden gemstone. Every inch of the wall is covered with tattoo designs. Some of the stuff has been up there for 50 years.”

Rock of Ages Tattooing, Austin, Texas

You’ve got to be really good to stand out in a tat-heavy town such as Austin. Peck says this shop, run by a former co-worker, has become a city favorite. Just this year a local brewery named a pilsner after the shop. “It took a lot of ingenuity and a lot of great tattooers coming together.”

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