California Jazz Festivals

Best Annual Festivals for Jazz Music

You'll find jazz festivals all over California, year-round, in all kinds of places from hotels to the local park. These are some of the biggest, best, and most popular. They're also the ones that you might want to plan ahead for.

  • 01 of 12
    Enjoying the Sacramento Music Fest
    ••• Jake Guild/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Formerly known as Sacjazz, Sacramento's jazz festival now incorporates a broad range of musical styles, from western swing to zydeco and mariachi, while still emphasizing all kinds of jazz.

    The festival features more than 50 bands in more than 20 venues, including lots of nationally-known performers.

  • 02 of 12
    Stage view at the Monterey Jazz Festival
    ••• Courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival

    Founded in 1958, the Monterey Jazz Festival is the world's longest-running jazz festival, and it hasn't lost its appeal, selling out almost every year.

    It's held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, where jazz artists perform more than 50 concerts on nine stages. They also host interesting conversations and music-related interviews.

    This classic festival is one of Smoothjazz.com's picks for the world's hottest and sexiest jazz festivals.

  • 03 of 12
    San Francisco Jazz Center
    ••• Courtesy of SF Jazz

    It's almost like a jazz festival all year in San Francisco, at the SF Jazz Center. June is the San Francisco Jazz Festival, with a month of performances spanning all kinds of jazz styles.

  • 04 of 12
    Concert Crowd at the Hollywood Bowl
    ••• Margaret Napier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    There may not be a better place to enjoy a jazz concert than the Hollywood Bowl. The Philharmonic's Jazz at the Bowl Series includes blues, big bands, Latin jazz, and other styles.

    The two-day Playboy Jazz Festival and Smooth Summer Jazz (formerly JVC Jazz) also bring jazz greats and exciting newcomers to the Hollywood Bowl's summer lineup.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12
    SLO Jazzfest
    ••• Courtesy of SLO Jazzfest

    For a variety from funk to Latin Jazz to straight-ahead and New Orleans jazz and an intimate setting where you can actually get up close to the artists, attend the SLO Jazzfest, started in 2013 in San Luis Obispo, California. The surrounding college town, wine country, beaches, and attractions like Hearst Castle add to the fun.

    Past performers include Poncho Sanchez and Joshua Redman.

  • 06 of 12
    An Afternoon at the Fillmore Jazz Festival
    ••• kennejima/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    It's a big street party with three stages of continuous jazz performances, more than 300 artists’ booths, and plenty of food and beverages. Even better, it's free. In fact, it's the largest free jazz festival on the west coast, drawing up to 100,000 visitors.

    It's held on Fillmore Street, with no admission fees and three performance stages. You can also browse through a few hundred artists' booths and graze through the international food stands. The date is always close to July 4, making it a good thing to do during an Independence Day getaway.

    It's no wonder as many as 100,000 people attend every year - which is its only big drawback.

  • 07 of 12
    Playing at the San Jose Jazz Festival
    ••• Desmond Talkington at Flickr Under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

    The San Jose Jazz Summer Fest is one of the biggest in California, with performers in a wide range of jazz genres including straight-ahead, contemporary, and Latin jazz, R&B and funk, blues, big band, and salsa. The performers run the gamut from promising newcomers to big-name headliners.

    Online reviewers talk about how easy this event is to attend - and how affordable it is. Often, you can get tickets for the whole festival for less than the price of a ticket to see just one of the big-named performers somewhere else.

  • 08 of 12
    Jazz Festival on the Russian River
    ••• Mark Gunn/Flickr/(CC BY-SA 2.0

    Smoothjazz.com says this is one of the world's hottest and sexiest jazz festivals. Expect a mix of jazz and blues performers at this festival which has been going on for more than four decades. 

    It's held at Johnson's Beach on the banks of the Russian River.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12
    Catalina Island's Casino Building
    ••• Geoff/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    JazzTrax on Catalina Island lasts three weekends and features more than 30 artists. The location couldn't be nicer. It's no wonder people come from all over the world.

  • 10 of 12
    Kid Andersen Playing a '60s Gibson at the San Diego Jazz Festival
    ••• Steven Tyler PJs/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Held over Thanksgiving weekend (fourth weekend in November), this festival offers a variety of experiences from large concert rooms with double dance floors to small, intimate "listening" rooms.

    Their roots are in Dixieland, but you'll also hear traditional jazz, ragtime, swing, and rockabilly styles. 

  • 11 of 12

    Smoothjazz.com says this is one of the world's hottest and sexiest jazz festivals. It happens every Friday evening from June through October. You can listen to the stars of contemporary jazz, pop, vocals, blues and rock and watch the sunset over the beautiful Newport Beach Back Bay at the same time.

    Past performers have included Smokey Robinson, Sheila E., Boney James and Brian Culbertson.

  • 12 of 12

    California's Most Travel-Worthy Music Festivals

    Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festiva
    ••• Christopher Polk / Getty Images

    California is also the home of lots of big music festivals. To get the inside scoop on when they happen, where and how to attend, use the Guide to California's Most Travel-Worthy Music Festivals.