If you’re a boomer traveler who wears jewelry, makes jewelry or enjoys rock hounding, then add the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase to your travel list. Each winter, The Old Pueblo puts on an extravaganza that draws visitors and vendors from around the world. But there’s more to the two-week show than buildings and tents filled with glittery gems, beads and rocks. The event has morphed into an eclectic affair, especially if you take a walk down the frontage road near I-10 and 22nd street to the African Art Village.
My favorite memory from the Tucson Gem Show was when a girlfriend and I (shopping isn’t Alan’s cup of tea), visited the African Art Village on the last day of the show in 2011. After parking in the public lot on Grant Road, west of I-10, our afternoon of bargain hunting began. The plan of action? Walk south as far as we could down the frontage road, then double back to the jewelry shows in the row of hotels and motels located along our path.
What did we discover as we neared I-10 and 22nd street? The African Art Village—a tent city filled with handmade items from Africa and around the world. My friend and I browsed to the beat of drums and the hunger-inducing scent of meat grilling at a nearby food stand. Tables filled with colorful baskets competed with art masks and strings of handmade beads for our attention. Embroidered wall hangings hung next to tie-dyed t-shirts. And the sounds of foreign languages made us feel as if we were traveling on another continent instead of walking in a field next to the interstate in Tucson.
Parking is available south of 22nd Street, but then you’d miss all of the shows on hotel row not to mention the exercise. As my friend and I made our way back to the car, we bopped in and out of the tents and hotel rooms looking for last-day bargains. Jewelry items ranged from inexpensive costume pieces to the real thing with a price tag to match. And then there were the tents filled with geodes, fossils and meteorites. I came home with a mother of pearl bracelet by Hawaiian jewelry maker Marta Howell and two sets of Egyptian cotton sheets. Sheets? Like I said the Tucson Gem Show (as the locals call it) is an eclectic affair.
Tips for Visiting the Tucson Gem Show
- The Tucson Gem Show is actually more than 40 separate shows so you’ll need a plan of action. Here’s a calendar listing of the show dates and another list with show names, operation hours and address. It’s best to concentrate on one area of town per day of your visit.
- The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (TM) is held in the Tucson Convention Center on the second weekend of February. Your $10 admission ticket (adults) includes access to the retail show in the exhibit hall.
- Book lodging ahead of time. Accommodations fill up early. Expect to pay a premium rate.
- The Tucson Visitor’s Center offers a transportation guide including shuttle information and parking lot locations (although the lot that we used on Grant Rd. is not listed).
- Most of the shows are free and open to the public, but you’ll need a business license, taxpayer ID and business card to enter the wholesale only shows. A few of the wholesale shows also require proof that you are in the jewelry or lapidary trade.
- Wear casual clothes and comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking miles!
- Don’t forget the sunscreen, some of the shows are outside. The Tucson sun is strong.
- Bring a canvas shopping bag to carry purchases.
- Tuck bottled water in that canvas bag, you’re going to get thirsty. Including a snack bar or two will help those hunger pains on long shopping days; however, you’ll find food vendors at many of the show locations.
- Don’t wait until the last day to find deals, by then, many of the exhibitors have packed up their goods. Try the next to the last day or the day before that for bargain hunting.
- Save time for exploring Tucson. Check out my article at Santa Fe Travelers: A gem of a visit to the Tucson Gem Show for ideas.
Tucson Gem Show dates for 2016 are January 30 – February 14.