San Diego is host to any number of live music events on a nightly basis, but come at the right time of year and you might find yourself attending one of the many music festivals that happen throughout the year. And there are a lot. Touring festivals like Warped Tour and Mayhem Fest swing through town during the summer months, while local radio stations such as 91X and 94.9 put on their own one-day festivals during the summer and around the holidays. 2015 has also seen the launch of the Kaaboo Festival and the EDM-focused CRSSD Festival.
For those who care to split their visit between San Diego proper and the nearby desert, Coachella happens two weekends every April, but there are some more interesting, locally focused festivals that present a more accessible (and usually less expensive) alternative. Here are four San Diego music festivals, each with their own unique character and charm, that are well worth marking on your calendar each year.
Normal Heights is one of San Diego's most charming neighborhoods, lined with local boutiques, mom-and-pop cafes, and amazing craft beer and cocktail bars. So when you add live music to outdoor stages all across its main business thoroughfare, Adams Avenue, it makes an already interesting corner of the city even more fun. Each year, the Adams Avenue Street Fair lines up more than 100 acts on eight stages for two days, typically with a handful of out-of-town headliners sharing stages with a long list of the best live acts in town. Better yet: The festival is entirely free and open to all ages. (For the grown-ups, however, there's craft beer tasting and beer gardens throughout the fair.)
Where: Along Adams Avenue
> Find out more about the Adams Avenue Street Fair
The closest thing to the multi-venue SXSW experience that San Diego has to offer, San Diego Music Thing - formerly North Park Music Thing - transforms the festival experience by focusing on individual, smaller-venue showcases rather than large stages in a central area. Every year, the Music Thing features a handful of bigger showcases featuring a touring headliner, such as Liars or Titus Andronicus, in venues like The Observatory or The Irenic, with a series of smaller shows happening throughout the city in Soda Bar, The Hideout, The Casbah, and other clubs. The festival also features music-industry speakers during the daytime, so with the purchase of a wristband, you can see as much live music you want, as well as learn something new about the state of the industry.
Where: Various venues throughout San Diego
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, 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.
Where: Downtown Carlsbad
> Find out more about the Carlsbad Music Festival
A local offshoot of the international Make Music Day, Make Music Day San Diego launched in Balboa Park in 2015, with a greater emphasis on making music accessible to everyone. The event revolves around a series of "Mass Appeal" events, in which people can join in on a group jam session with banjos, ukuleles, harmonicas or other instruments. And surrounding these are a series of open performances throughout the park, including special performances in the San Diego Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Man's St. Francis Chapel, and the Japanese Friendship Garden. Though cities around the world celebrate their own version of this, Make Music San Diego is unique to the city, simply because the landscape of Balboa Park makes for a venue unlike any other.
Where: Balboa Park
> Find out more about Make Music Day San Diego