You don’t need a high tolerance for open fields, concession-stand dining, or possibly mud to enjoy KAABOO, a unique weekend music festival along San Diego County’s coastline. The crowd-pleasing September festival combines an A-list lineup of acts—including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers —with locavore cuisine, San Diego craft beer, and creature comforts like shade, ample seating, and even spa treatments.
KAABOO was a hit in its first year (2015) for perhaps three reasons. For starters, its home base—the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the beachside summer home of the Del Mar Racetrack—is a comfortable venue with indoor space and ready-made seating, including VIP-style boxes.
The weekend also creatively stretches the boundaries of a music festival with art, comedy, and foodie-friendly cuisine. “People loved that there was stuff to do other than just listen to music,” says Bryan Gordon, founder and CEO of the festival. “They loved the multisensory aspects, like the live painting—seeing the blank canvases being transformed into full murals over the three days.”
Third, September is a blissful time to visit San Diego: The ocean is at its warmest, the evening air is balmy, and summer’s tourist population has thinned.
The KAABOO grounds, aside from the main stage area, feature a smaller stage with its own pool and sandy beach (including cabanas and chaise lounges), and an indoor comedy club, which has featured stars like Dana Carvey, Janeane Garofalo, and the cast of HBO’s Silicon Valley. And, as a bold contrast to any possible mosh-pit scene, KAABOO offers a small indoor spa with massages, blow-outs, and makeup consultations.
Catch a concert at the small beach stage, snack on cuisine by San Diego’s celebrity chefs, or bliss out during a massage between shows.
The music, though, still takes center stage. Beyond the three top headliners, the 2017 lineup includes a mix of classic, alt-rock, and crowd-pleasing favorites such as Jackson Browne, Alanis Morissette, and Ice Cube. Other highlights include Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, and Kesha. For the late-night party crowd, an indoor dance venue features DJs and more bands from 10 p.m. until 2:30 a.m.—notably including DJ Diesel, aka Shaquille O’Neal.
KAABOO also puts a serious emphasis on dining. Even the grab-and-go dining area, Posh Nosh, promises gourmet takes on standard festival fare. And don’t miss the Palate area, where you’ll find demos, samplings, or full meals from local star chefs like Richard Blais and Brian Malarkey—paired with limited-production wines, local craft beers, and small-batch mezcal and bourbon.
Insider tip: You can buy a range of passes, from the general-admission-style Hang Loose pass to the VIP-level Hang Five and Hang Ten passes. Also known as the “Amplify” option, the VIP passes offer varying perks, such as preferred seating at stages, access to special lounges, and even a few exclusive shows, including Barenaked Ladies. Most passes are for the full three days, but single-day passes tend to go on sale closer to the event, and all passes likely sell out before the end of summer.