Since the CRSSD music festival and KAABOO Del Mar debuted in San Diego in 2015, both festivals have become mainstays of the local music-lovers’ scene and the growing international music festival industry.
Building momentum since their respective premieres, both festivals have enjoyed rising crowds and reputations, bolstered in part by the impeccable vibes of world-class musical talent in two unmatched locations: San Diego’s Waterfront Park and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Though the festivals differ in their genres and style, with both festivals slated to return in fall of 2018, the events promise fans a chance to enjoy craft beer and gourmet food, along with top musical acts and performers.
Local fans have long known that San Diego’s live music venues are great places to discover buzz bands before they break nationally, but visitors are quickly discovering that San Diego is a top destination for live music that everyone can enjoy.
The following are a few of the newer offerings and best standbys for music lovers headed to San Diego:
KAABOO and CRSSD are the headliners of the fall festival lineup, but alongside these bigger events are some smaller neighborhood music festivals that offer more local and undiscovered talent. And, with year-round nearly perfect weather, the city’s festivals can be enjoyed outdoors.
- Now in its fourth year, CRSSD Festival, the two-day electronic music and dance fete in San Diego’s Waterfront Park, will return Sept. 29-30, 2018, with ticket information and lineup to be announced. The twice-a-year extravaganza has previously garnered a daily audience of 15,000 visitors, who are undoubtedly drawn by the 21-and-up festival’s craft beer and cocktails, gourmet food, sunsets on the bay and headlining musical acts and DJs performing on CRSSD’s three outdoor stages, including Flume, Miike Snow, Empire of the Sun, Chromeo, Odesza and Chet Faker.
- Held at the seaside Del Mar Fairgrounds during Sept. 14-16, 2018, the all-ages KAABOO features performances on six stages by more than 60 musical acts, this year including Halsey, Imagine Dragons, Katy Perry, Foo Fighters and more. The festival, which draws an estimated 40,000 attendees each year, also includes a dedicated comedy stage, this year featuring Netflix-acclaimed comedians Craig Ferguson and Iliza Schlesinger, VIP amenities, food and beverages from local and celebrity chefs, craft breweries and local wineries and an extensive arts village.
- Southern California's largest free two-day musical festival, the Adams Avenue Street Fair lines up more than 80 acts on six stages, with a handful of out-of-town headliners sharing stages with a long list of the best live acts in town. Held Sept. 29-30, 2018 in the charming neighborhood of Normal Heights, the festival takes place along Adams Avenue, which is lined with an eclectic selection of local stores and mom-and-pop cafes. Adding live music to outdoor stages makes an already interesting corner of the city even more fun. Better yet: the festival is entirely free and open to all ages. For the adults, there are craft beer tastings and beer gardens throughout the fair.
- Much of the festival activity in San Diego focuses around rock and pop music, but just a little up Interstate 5 in Carlsbad is the Carlsbad Music Festival , held Aug. 24-26, 2018, which brings together everything from folk to jazz and modern classical performers in an eclectic and unusual spin on the music festival setup. There are ticketed performances in theaters and churches, but much of the activity happens out in the open in different corners of the village, in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It's a feast for the ears, particularly with those for whom conventional pop music might not be enough to quell your appetite. It's also open to all ages—a family friendly festival for your arty kinfolk.
No matter what kind of musical experience visitors favor, from punk and noise rock to low-key singer songwriters to big-name electronic dance music (EDM) DJs, the following San Diego venues offer something for everyone.
- Since the Casbah opened in 1989, lucky fans have seen the first local shows by Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Lemonheads and more. Today, up-and-coming local and national bands hit the Casbah stage in downtown’s Little Italy neighborhood at least six nights a week. Cover charges and drink prices are refreshingly modest, and the back bar offers vintage 80’s video games.
- One of the longest running venues in San Diego County, the Belly Up Tavernopened in 1974 in Solana Beach and has been consistently hosting excellent local and touring acts, which range from reggae legends like The Wailers and contemporary indie rock artists like Twin Shadow to occasionally full evenings with artists such as Graham Nash or Rufus Wainwright. The venue has a capacity of 600 guests, which makes it one of the bigger bars in which to catch a show, and the Wild Note Cafe located next door offers a chance to grab a bite beforehand.
- For those looking for country flair, Moonshine Flats, a country-music themed club and bar in downtown San Diego features live music, line dancing and DJs spinning top country, rock and pop music. With over 18,000 square feet, 2 levels and a spacious lounge, the venue boasts a massive wooden dance floor, and regularly hosts guest performers, including Old Dominion, Frankie Ballard and Kellie Pickler. On a weekly basis, Moonshine Flats has anywhere from 6-8 live music acts and on a busy weekend will see 8,000 people gather for live music and line-dancing. In May 2018, the Academy of Country Music Industry Awards nominated Moonshine Flats for Nightclub of the Year as part of their 53rd annual ACM awards.
- A historic venue in the center of North Park, the Observatory (formerly known as the North Park Theatre) was built in the 1920s and still features much of its original art deco décor. Once a venue for opera and dramatic theater in its colorful past life, its acoustics make it a surprisingly strong place to catch a touring rock or pop group. The spacious floor comfortably accommodates 1,100 concertgoers. The calendar at Observatory North Park is always full, whether it’s showcasing alternative-rock A-listers like HAIM and Franz Ferdinand or one-of-a-kind filmmaker and camp icon John Waters.
- There is something happening every night of the week at the Soda Bar, a neighborhood hangout in City Heights. Locals know this hidden hot spot always has music worth seeing, usually for a low cover charge ($10 or less, depending on the show). The venue regularly showcases talented, young local bands, and hosts a long list of notable touring bands throughout the year. Recent acts on stage at the Soda Bar include Beach Slang, Sparta and Chris Farren.
- Located on picturesque Shelter Island, Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bayshowcases jazz, soul and rock legends in the city’s most beautiful outdoor venue, perched along the waters of San Diego Bay. Fans unable to get tickets to popular shows have been known to hang out in kayaks and on inflatable rafts on the bay to catch the music from the water.
- For EDM fans, San Diego regularly hosts live performances from world-famous DJs and up-and-coming electronic acts. Downtown’s historic Gaslamp Quarter and neighboring East Village are home to a number of clubs, including Bang Bang and Omnia, that continually book the biggest DJ names in the industry. Also downtown, FLUXX often welcomes top names in hip hop and rap, like Nipsey Hustle and Trey Songz.
- Even metal fans have a venue to call their own in San Diego. Located between Mission Valley and Mission Bay, Brick by Brick hosts rock bands—mostly of the metal variety—from around the country. With a capacity of 400 guests, this is an intimate venue to rock out with likeminded music fans.
Visiting music fans know the best way to learn about local music is to check out the city’s independent record stores. San Diego has great record stores with knowledgeable staff to help visitors pick out the perfect musical souvenir or get the low-down on the hottest local shows.
- Serving local music nerds for more than 30 years, Lou’s Records in Encinitas houses an impressive selection of vinyl, CDs and cassettes. Prices are reasonable, and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.
- M Theory Music carries indie, punk, rock, electronic and underground hip-hop at their popular Mission Hills store. The shop features an excellent selection of local music plus vinyl and hard-to-find imports. Also, M Theory hosts frequent in-store shows by local and national touring bands.
- Folk Arts Rare Records in North Park packs a huge selection into their small storefront with new and used albums that span the genres of punk, garage, funk, 60’s psych, soul, rockabilly and more. The independently owned shop opened in 1967, making it one of the oldest record stores in California.