In September, my friend Jamie and I went to Kaaboo Del Mar, largely because of my obsession with seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (and boy am I glad that we did, considering his passing just a couple of weeks after this concert). The experience was exhilarating and exhausting. And after some time decompressing, I’m finally ready to write about it. I have enough to say that this post would be super long if I tried to write everything, so instead, I’m breaking it down into a few parts.
In Part 1 (this post), I’ll cover general information about Kaaboo, as well as things we wished that we’d known beforehand. Part 2 will cover our specific Kaaboo experience in 2017. In Part 3, I’ll talk about what we did in our time away from Kaaboo. And in Part 4, I’ll provide a Kaaboo packing list (what I took, and what I wished that I’d taken with me.
Kaaboo Del Mar
2017 was the third year that this festival had ever taken place. It is billed as a festival for grownups, with real bathrooms, good food, an outstanding line-up of musicians and comedians, and more options for entertainment including displayed and live art. But you do have to remember that it is a festival. And that means not being entirely comfortable. But it is so much fun that the discomfort is outweighed, and with proper planning can be alleviated.
There are few places to sit down (some picnic tables near the food trucks), and none with a view of any of the stages. If you want to sit on the ground, it’s either pavement or dirt, and don’t expect to be able to see any of the musicians performing, as everyone stands through every concert. We had seen pictures online of people lounging in the grass watching the musicians perform. These photos are not realistic. The only “grass” (Astroturf) was in the area for those who had upgraded passes. And the only time that you’d be able to sit and watch would be the very earliest acts of the day, nothing after about 3:00 in the afternoon. So comfortable shoes are an absolute must, unless you upgrade at a hefty cost.
We took Uber to and from the festival, as they recommended public transportation options. So I can’t speak to the parking situation, other than to say that we thought it was pretty expensive. There didn’t appear to be any other options for parking other than the official and pricey parking on-site (cars that parked on the street in violation of posted signs were towed promptly). You’ll have to check out the pricing ahead of time and decide if it’s worth it to you. With respect to Uber/Lyft, there is a designated drop-off/pick-up area available, and it worked fairly well on Saturday and Sunday evenings. It was terrible on Friday, and so jammed up with traffic that we (and many others) elected to walk out of the grounds and to try to get rides. We were very thankful that it worked smoother on Saturday and Sunday nights.
We arrived between 3:00-4:00 p.m. each day, and found that the prices to get to Kaaboo were fairly consistent with the prices to get anywhere else in the area. Leaving each night, the surge pricing was outrageous. When the main act finished up, the prices would surge to about $90 for a ride. On Friday night, we left the fairgrounds to combat this. On Saturday night, we went to a late comedy act to wait out everyone leaving. And on Sunday night, we just waited around for a bit until the pricing came down.
The drop-off/pick-up point is across the racetrack from the actual festival grounds (and you can’t cut across). They have shuttles trams that ferry people around the racetrack between the drop-off and the festival, but there are lines to get on these. We walked it about half the time, and rode the shuttles about half the time, depending on how long the line was, and how our feet were feeling.
We elected not to stay at any of the partner hotels to the festival. We instead stayed at a LaQuinta Inn about 12 miles away because it was significantly cheaper. Some of our Uber drivers acted as if this was really far away, and others thought it was close. We did notice at breakfast that there were others who were also attending Kaaboo staying at the same hotel (the wristbands were the giveaway). So I guess it’s just a matter of perspective. There were hotels that were quite close and offered shuttle service, so again, it’s just a matter of what your own preferences are. We were happy with our choice, as it included free breakfast, had a pool, and had comfortable and clean rooms at a reasonable price.
The food and beverages are insanely expensive at the festival. I don’t think $30 for a slice of pizza and a lemonade, or $12 for a beer are reasonable prices. You cannot bring in outside food or beverages, but can bring in an empty bottle or an empty Camelbak to fill with water for free at the Hydration Stations. There are tons of vendors giving away freebies, including chips, granola bars, and Rockstar. Between eating a large meal before heading to the festival, and the free snacks and drinks available, we were content to not pay the crazy festival food/drink prices. But you will have to decide for yourself what you want to spend in this regard. Just don’t be gross like the people who smuggled in liquor in their emptied out sunblock bottles (eew!).
We knew going in that we were going to rent a locker, and made sure that this was one of our first stops on Friday when we arrived (as there are a limited number of lockers). I think this is a must, although there were lots of people who didn’t rent lockers and just carried backpacks around. The backpacks were super annoying to all of the other people at the concerts though, when these people would turn around and take people out with their bulging bags. You can rent lockers by the day or for the whole weekend. Jamie and I rented for the whole weekend (which also meant we could leave things overnight), and shared a locker. It was plenty big enough for both of our purses, a blanket, a couple of water bottles, sunblock, jackets for our walk back to the Uber point at the end of the night, and extra shoes. I do recommend taking a look at the list of things that you can/cannot bring to the festival in advance, so that you actually get to bring your belongings in, and aren’t forced to ditch them in the trash cans at the entryway. But the locker was worth every penny for those items that you are allowed to bring in.
I do recommend spending some time walking around and checking out the vendors throughout the weekend. There are a ton of them, and some pop up for brief windows of time. Many were giving out freebies, including chips, granola bars, Rockstar, t-shirts, bandanas, backpacks, and many other things. And quite a few of them had games that we had fun with. We thought that this was a great way to spend some time before concerts start, or between sets. And at the entryway, there was a vendor that gave away fans with the schedule on them, that I was really glad that I’d picked up. The schedules were helpful to have, since the different stages have overlapping shows, and the internet/phone service was sometimes spotty with so many people in one location trying to use it. And it was just really nice to have a fan when packed in like sardines for the headlining shows.
There are three levels of passes for Kaaboo, and you can purchase passes for specific days or for the whole weekend. Hang Loose are the cheapest, Hang 5 are the intermediate level, and Hang 10 are the most expensive. We purchased the 3-day Hang Loose passes. If I was going to go back again, I’d go with the Hang 5. The Hang 10 passes come with some amazing perks, but I just can’t justify spending that much to go to 3 days of concerts. The Hang 5 passes get you access to an additional viewing area that Hang Loose passes don’t get access to. Both can get equally close to the stage, but with the Hang 5 passes, you wouldn’t have to work quite so hard or battle as many people to get close to the stage for the headliner acts. Jamie and I both agreed that on a return trip to Kaaboo, the additional cost of the Hang 5 would be justified for us. But the Hang 5 and Hang 10 passes are limited in number, so you have to book fairly early if you want these levels. And the passes get more expensive closer to the festival.
The passes are mailed out in advance, and it’s super fun to get a tin in the mail with your wristbands in it. There are quite a few warnings not to try the wristband on in advance because it locks, and then you can’t get it back off. They mean this. I had to cut mine off when I got home, even after wearing it for 4 days. So not putting it on until you’re headed to Kaaboo is really the best idea.
The wristband can also be linked with a credit card, so that you can purchase items throughout the festival with a swipe of your wrist. This is a pretty neat feature, but I could see how it might be a little dangerous to your pocketbook if you’d had too much to drink. I used it to purchase a lemonade and my event t-shirt, which worked very smoothly.
Overall, I found Kaaboo to be a really great weekend, and quite well-organized. I’d go again of the lineup was as amazing as in 2017, but would make a few changes to my preparation next time around.