The Best Tucson Gem Show Travel Tips for 2024

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It takes a plan to enjoy a trade event as large as the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. My Tucson Gem Show travel tips will take you there. As an 11-year resident, I visited the show many times. In fact, I even worked at one of the wholesale shows for a couple of years.

Held annually since 1955, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is considered to be the largest, oldest, most prestigious gem show in the world. Visitors will find museum quality gems, meteorites, beads, fossils, jewelry making supplies and more.

You’ll rub shoulders with wholesalers, jewelry enthusiasts, crafters and budget shoppers browsing an assortment of products at all price points. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun!

2024 Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TM), the main show at the Tucson Convention Center, dates are February 8 – February 11. However other shows start as early as January 16 and end as late as February 11…providing almost a month of gem show shopping.

What is the Tucson Gem Show?

 Baskets and wooden sculptures at the African Art Village of the Tucson Gem Show
African Art Village at Tucson Gem Show

If you’re a boomer traveler who wears jewelry, makes jewelry or enjoys rock hounding, then add the Tucson Gem Show to your Arizona travel list. Each winter, The Old Pueblo puts on an extravaganza at the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase (official website) that draws visitors and vendors from around the world.

According to Visit Tucson, the city’s official tourism site, every winter over 65,000 people attend the Tucson Gem Show. What does that mean for visitors to the show?

It’s imperative that you book accommodations and transportation as early as possible. And you also need a plan for attending the shows.

Tips for Visiting the 2024 Tucson Gem Show

Purple geode
Amethyst geodes at the Tucson Gem Show

The Tucson Gem Show is actually 40 separate shows so you’ll need a plan of action. Here’s a list of shows that includes dates, location and whether the show is open to the public or just the trades. It’s best to concentrate on one area of town per day of your visit.

The main show—Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (TM)—is held in the Tucson Convention Center on the second weekend of February. A small admission fee (adults) includes access to the retail show in the exhibit hall. If you’re a first timer, this is an excellent show for learning about gems and minerals from vetted vendors.

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.

Check out the Tucson Gem Show page from Visit Tucson for show listings, transportation information, dining suggestions and an interactive map. Find it here.

Where to stay in Tucson for the Tucson Gem Show

Tucson accommodations fill up early for the Tucson Gem Show so book lodging ahead of time. Since most hotels will max out, expect to pay a premium rate as hotels raise their rates by as much as 200%.

When booking a room, ask if any shows will be located at your hotel as the noise and crowds may distract from your stay. When choosing a hotel, factor in how far you’ll need to drive to attend the shows you want to see. 

Getting to Tucson

If you’re flying to the Tucson Gem Show, I recommend arriving and departing from the Tucson Airport. The ease of traveling through a smaller airport makes up for a possible (but not always) higher-priced flight into the city.

If you don’t mind adding about 2 hours of driving time, cheaper flights may be found at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Be sure to compare flight prices as well as car rentals before making a decision.

Interstate 10 is the major highway that accesses Tucson. If you have the time, turn your visit into a road trip through the Southwest

Transportation in Tucson

Since the shows are spread throughout the city, you’ll need a rental car to thoroughly explore the Tucson Gem Shows.

While taxis and Uber are other ways to get around, there is a heavy demand for their services. So bring your patience.

The Tucson Sun Link Streetcar is another option for getting around downtown. The street car services Downtown Tucson, Main Gate Square, Historic Fourth Avenue and Mercado San Agustin. Cash is not accepted.

Sun Tran bus service is Tucson’s version of mass transit. The bus system offers more than 40 routes throughout the city and its outskirts, including 13 express routes. Click here for route maps and schedules.

Where to Eat

Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy so you won’t go hungry. However during the show, restaurants will be crowded. Make reservations whenever possible.

Tucson local and owner of First Impressions, Gayle Petrillo, recommends trying some of the newer restaurants in town: 

The family that owns El Charro Cafe has opened three new restaurants: Charro Vida in Casa Adobes Plaza—mostly a vegetarian restaurant with some meat/fish options. Or try Charro Steak and Charro Del Rey (seafood) both downtown on Broadway.

Wild Garlic Grill, a perennial favorite, has moved from First Avenue to Plaza Colonial at Sunrise and Campbell.

Contigo Latin Kitchen has the best lamb anywhere! Be sure to try the chorizo stuffed dates!

More Tucson Gem Show Tips

Staying cool and comfortable is key to enjoying the show. These handy tips will help you make the most of your Tucson visit:

  • Wear casual clothes and comfortable shoes (I love the stylish look of Sketcher Mary Jane flats), you’ll be walking miles!
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen, some of the shows are outside. The Tucson sun is strong so be sure to use our skin cancer travel tips to protect your skin.
  • 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.

Tucson travel tips for after the show

Pink wildflowers with saguaro cactus in Tucson
Save time to explore the lush Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson.

After your Tucson Gem Show shopping spree, spend a few days exploring Tucson. If you’re an active boomer traveler who prefers a touch of luxury, I recommend staying at Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain.

Located in the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson, the luxurious resort seems to meld into its lush Sonoran Desert setting. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and golf, along with the amenities one would expect from a Ritz Carlton property.

You’ll find plenty to do off-property as well. Spend time meeting the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert at The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

While you’re on the west side of Tucson, enjoy a scenic drive or hike in the Tucson Mountain District of  Saguaro National Park. Do you have 3 days for exploring? Follow my advice in 36 Hours in Tucson for the Active Baby Boomer.

Did you know that Tucson is the first U.S. city to be named a Capital of Gastronomy as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network? While this Smithsonian article explains why Tucson is deserving of the honor, I’ll just point you to breakfast with the birds at Tohono Chul Garden Bistro.

If you’re looking to experience the Old West at an authentic Tucson dude ranch, book a stay at White Stallion Ranch. Recover from all that shopping with horse rides and nights by the campfire while staying in spacious guest rooms or a hacienda villa.

A favorite memory from the Tucson Gem Show

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 through the African Art Village.

Boomer Travel Tip

In 2018, the African Art Village relocated to the southeast corner of S. Linda Ave. and W. Cushing St. in the Mercado District of Tucson. After shopping in the village, visit the Native American Show or enjoy a meal at one of the Mercado restaurants.

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 when it was located along the I-10 frontage road. 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.

Display of handwoven baskets and colorful wall hangings
A table full of handmade baskets at the Tucson Gem Show

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.

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 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.

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Tips for visiting the Tucson Gem Show in Arizona: Make the most of your trip to the Tucson Gem show with our travel tips.

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