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.
Held annually since 1955, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is considered to be one of the largest gem shows in the world—if not THE largest. 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.
2020 Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TM) (the main show) dates are February 1 – February 16 at over 40 locations. However other shows start as early as January 26 and end as late as February 17.
What is the 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, that draws visitors and vendors from around the world.
According to Visit Tucson, the city’s official tourism site, nearly 65,000 people attended the 2019 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 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 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.
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.
Where to stay in Tucson for the 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.
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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. Riding on the shuttle is another option but not as convenient. The City of Tucson offers a transportation guide including shuttle information and parking lot locations.
While taxis and Uber are other ways to get around, there is a heavy demand for their services.
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, an old staple, has moved from First Avenue to Plaza Colonial at Sunrise and Campbell).
Contigo, Latin American, 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
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.
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.
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.
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