Updated 10.15.2018: What started out in 2012 as an article about the African Art Village at the Tucson Gem Show has morphed into my boomer travel tips for the Tucson Gem Show. Each year, I update the information to help you create the best experience at one of my favorite happenings in Tucson, Arizona.
Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TM) (the main show) dates for 2019 are February 2 – February 17. However other shows start as early as January 18 and end as late as February 18.
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, 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 through the the African Art Village.
In 2018, the African Art Village relocates 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.
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.
In 2018, you’ll find Marta Howell exhibiting at the Riverpark Inn, 777 W. Cushing St., Court Pavillion, Booths 121 & 134. I don’t receive any money for promoting this jewelry line. I just happen to be a fan.
Tips for Visiting the Tucson Gem Show
- The Tucson Gem Show is actually 47 separate shows so you’ll need a plan of action. Here’s a list of shows that includes dates 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.
- Book lodging ahead of time. Accommodations fill up early. Expect to pay a premium rate. When booking a room, ask if any shows will be located at your hotel and if they will distract from your stay. Start your hotels in Tucson search with us.
- The City of Tucson offers a transportation guide including shuttle information and parking lot locations.
- 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 (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.
Yes, there’s an app for the Tucson Gem Show that contains show listings, transportation information, dining suggestions and an interactive map. Download the free Official Tucson Gem Show Guide at the App Store or on Google Play.
Boomer Travel Tips for After the Tucson Gem Show
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.