Monterey Jazz Festival claims to be the longest-running jazz festival in the world, and it’s not surprising that this amazing three-day music showcase has stuck around for so long! Located in the small, central Californian town of Monterey (just over an hour from San Jose), the festival features jazz giants alongside the best and brightest upcoming talent. No wonder that nearly 40,000 people attend every year!
Not only that, but the grounds are beautiful, and it’s well worth taking some time out to wander through the lush grass and past the stately, mature oak trees. That said, shade may be in short supply at the RV campground at Monterey Fairgrounds, so be sure to bring a canopy with you. Hotel prices in Monterey can be pretty high during the festival, and you’ll certainly want to stay for the full duration, so RV camping is a fantastic idea.
If you’re a jazz lover, it’s unlikely that you’ll get sick of hearing music from over 500 artists, but Monterey Jazz Festival also has plenty of alternative activities on offer. Festival-goers can enjoy tasting wines from local vineyards, and tents on the fringes of the festival offer international food and arts and crafts from artists based in the region. There are also music-related seminars and classes, and a range of kid-friendly activities at scheduled times. Enjoy your trip!
Tickets for Monterey Jazz Festival generally go on sale in late spring, and prices depend on how long you’re going to spend there, as well as on stage access. Unlike many music festivals, the Monterey Jazz Festival offers reserved seating at the main stage. If you’re buying a full weekend pass with access to the main stage as well as the seven other stages on the ground, tickets will set you back between around $450 and about $350 depending on where you’re sitting.
If staying away from the main stage doesn’t bother you, you can get weekend access to just about everything else for around $170, with serious discounts for youths, students, and military personnel.
Full weekend access is required for RV camping, which can be purchased for about $200 per night per RV. You’ll need to call the admin office after buying your ticket to make an RV reservation. If you’d rather go for a day ticket, they cost from approximately $90-$180 depending on what day you want to go.
Whether you’re coming from San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose, it’s a relatively straight drive down Highway 1 to the festival. If you can, though, take the scenic route along the coast, running past Big Sur to the south of Monterey and the charming Carmel-by-the-Sea to the north. Trust us; the coastal views are breathtaking.
If you’ve bought a full weekend pass with access to the arena, you’ll be able to get the first pick of parking spots on the festival grounds themselves. However, it can cost around $120 for the full weekend, or around $50 for a day pass. These spaces are available to all ticket holders, but you’ll need to be quick in getting one!
Not only does the festival provide a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the grounds, but they also arrange a free bus from Sand City Station in Salinas to Monterey Fairgrounds (travel on the route to anywhere in the county is free to any ticket holder). If you’re coming from San Francisco or Oakland, you can reach Salinas by bus in about three and a half hours, or around five hours by train if you change to the bus line in San Jose.
The RV campground is located on the festival grounds itself, so you’re always just a stone’s throw away from the action. You won’t need to give up too many of your creature comforts either, as the festival provides water, electricity, and sewage hookups. If your RV is over 58’, it’ll have to be self-contained. Some sites are ADA accessible, but you’ll have to book early to ensure that you get a spot that suits your needs. Tent camping is not available.
The area is popular with tourists for its vineyards and natural beauty, so there are a wide variety of campgrounds not far from the festival grounds. You can choose from private RV parks, US National Forest campgrounds, and state park spots. Whichever you prefer, be sure to make your reservation well in advance.
Aside from the shuttle buses to and from the parking lot at the college (several of which are wheelchair accessible), you’ll need to get around the festival on foot. Despite the number of stages, the grounds are not massive, and walkways are well-maintained and level. If you’ll need an ADA accessible seat, contact the administration office.
It’s best to prepare for all types of weather. Monterey can have all four seasons in one day. A light waterproof jacket is recommended, as well as a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Although it’s usually relatively warm during the day, it can get quite chilly at night, so bring something to wrap around yourself or your favorite Jazz sweatshirt. As always, sturdy, comfortable, waterproof shoes are a good idea; you might need to stand in line for more popular shows.
One thing you’ll almost certainly want to bring is a seat cushion; the folding metal chairs at the main stage can become uncomfortable after a while. Other stages have bleachers or no seating at all, so bring a tarp or something to sit on if desired. Some food and souvenir vendors may accept cards, and some may not. Not to worry; there are ATMs on the festival grounds. Unfortunately, tickets don’t allow re-entry, so make sure you’ve packed everything.
Though there is a first-aid tent at the Monterey Jazz Festival, it’s still a good idea to bring your own kit for convenience. Sunscreen is absolutely essential, even if you think it’s too foggy for you to burn. Though free water is available at several stations around the grounds, it’s rarely a bad idea to have your own!
It is not likely that you will have adequate space to cook at the campground, so you may want to plan to utilize the stove in your camper. In addition, alcohol is not allowed on the festival grounds, so you can expect to enjoy one of the many bars on-site if desired. You can pick up snacks and cold foods at a number of grocery stores in Monterey, but you will need to keep them in your RV and bring them upon arrival.
The festival grounds are pretty close to Monterey town center, which boasts a variety of restaurants, ranging from moderately priced comfort food to haute French cuisine. The area is famed for its seafood–no surprise, given its proximity to the coast! Stop in at one of the eateries on the pier for dinner with a view.
You can find almost anything to eat at the Monterey Jazz Festival, from Thai to Jamaican to classic American soul food. A lot of the ingredients are sourced locally, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding gluten-free or vegan options. Be sure to check out the wines from the area, as well as a variety of craft beers.
Everyone gets searched by security at the festival gates–no exceptions. They may also ask to search your bag for contraband, which includes coolers, food, audio and video recording devices, and anything in a glass container. The grounds are patrolled by private security, and you can expect a police presence.
The weather in Monterey can change on a dime, so come prepared for blazing sun, chilly fog, or rain. The show will continue come rain or shine, but there are several events held in indoor venues. Make sure your jacket, bag, and shoes are all waterproof. Bring plenty of sunscreen, just in case.
EMTs staff the first aid tent at Monterey Jazz Festival. There’s an urgent care center in Monterey Bay, and a general medical center in town. You’ll also find several pharmacies in Monterey. Although the first aid tent is well staffed, it’s still a good idea to have your own kit with you in case you get injured at the other end of the grounds.