A first-timer’s take on San Diego music festivals

Lessons learned at KAABOO Del Mar to remember at CRSSD, Wonderfront and beyond


Walking through the KAABOO gates earlier this month, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though the San Diego music festival just celebrated five years, 2019 was my first time gracing the grounds — and I had a lot of questions.

Should I get there early, or wait and stay late? Would my outfit match the weather? Which shows should I see? And how the hell could I fit everything offered at the music festival into just one day?

During my eight hours at KAABOO with my festival companion (my mom), I took notes throughout the day and walked away with six tips to get the most out of the event.

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that KAABOO is moving from Del Mar to Petco Park in 2020, so next year’s downtown experience will likely have some differences. However, most of these insights apply to the San Diego music festival scene as a whole. With CRSSD happening this weekend and Wonderfront coming up in November, here are a few lessons I learned at KAABOO 2019.

1. Spend time to explore the grounds — right away

From food to art to hot air balloons, KAABOO is packed with so many other elements aside from the stages. It wasn’t until the sun went down that I discovered the Fashion + Indulgences room was an air-conditioned haven, and that the Artwork + Palate area was stocked with craft beer stands. Get to the gates early afternoon before the crowds hit to leisurely scope out all of the amenities ahead of your first music set.

2. Take a chance on a performance

I’m not really into electronic music (and neither is my mom) so EDM trio Cheat Codes wasn’t on our radar. But out of curiosity, we strayed from our schedule and moseyed on over to a neighboring stage of a show we weren’t that into. Our low expectations were blown away by the high-energy and interactive performance — which included Trevor Dahl throwing a wad of cash into the crowd — and ended up being one of the highlights of my day.

During the Cheat Codes show, member Trevor Dahl threw a large wad of cash into the audience.
(Sara Butler)

3. Favor quality over quantity of music sets

I made the mistake of trying to see a little bit of every performance, but constantly hopping around to different stages meant we didn’t get the best vantage points for many of the sets. Though we could see the crowd having a great time, not being able to see or hear well led us to feel indifferent about some of performances. If we were closer to the action — like we were at Squeeze’s set — I think we may have been more satisfied with the shows that disappointed us, like Sublime with Rome and Black Eyed Peas.

4. Don’t be afraid to arrive (or leave) a set early

If you aren’t feeling an act — or didn’t score a prime spot in the crowd — don’t be afraid to dip early. Leaving halfway through a half-ass performance can let you snag a better spot for a different show. We didn’t enjoy Blind Melon as much as we thought, so skipping the remainder of the set to get a front-row spot at Cheat Codes turned out to be well worth the wait. Just remember to be patient and polite when weaving out of the audience to not ruin the experience for your neighbors.

5. Eat and drink beforehand, but save room

Just like any festival or major event, the costs don’t end with the wristband. Food and drink is pricey and can empty your wallet pretty quick. We grabbed a quick bite on our way up to Del Mar, so we felt a lot less guilty indulging for dinner: a delicious artichoke sandwich that was big enough to share. (We drove, but if you’re taking an Uber, Lyft or public transportation, this advice also goes for alcohol.) Plus, one less food or drink line you have to wait in = more time you can spend enjoying other aspects of the festival.

Food at KAABOO Del Mar
The artichoke sandwich at Roxy Restaurant’s food truck was delicious and big enough to share.
(Sara Butler)

6. Think your outfit through, carefully

It’s important to thoughtfully plan out your outfit, and know that the formula is not one-size-fits all. For me, it was jean overalls + tank top + Birkenstocks. This combo worked surprisingly well. The large pockets in my overalls let me leave my purse at home, and the long pants (paired with a sleeveless top and breezy sandals) kept me sunburn-free and warm enough for the evening sets without lugging around a jacket.

However, that outfit recipe may not work for everyone. Be realistic about what’s most important to you — if you’re planning on spending large amounts of time close to the stage, closed-toe shoes may be a better fit; if it’s the sun you’re after, lather up with sunscreen and throw on some shorts.

After studying all these notes, I think the biggest lesson I walked away with is pretty clear: a music festival cannot be done in one day. For KAABOO, CRSSD and Wonderfront, take advantage of the the three-day pass to make sure you get the most out of the festival. Sure, it may be more exhausting, but events like these are nearly impossible to do all in one go.


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