Monterey Jazz Festival

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. It's a mellow event, very popular and attended by large numbers of people, many of who seem to be veterans who go every year.

You'll also find merchandise for sale on the grounds, and author book signings (for jazz-related books).

Past headliners included Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Booker T. Jones, The Roots, and Gary Clark Jr.

Likes and Dislikes

The Monterey Jazz Festival tries to stay close to the intent of its founders, focusing on jazz music as an art form.

We rate the Monterey Jazz Festival 4 out of 5 for jazz fans. For the cost of an all-day general admission ticket (which is less than a seat for a single artist's concert most anywhere else), you can watch a full day of performances. Choose your day to best match your interests for maximum enjoyment.

The Venue and Crowd Factor

The Monterey Fairgrounds hosts the Jazz Festival. It's a nice place, with lots of trees and places to sit and watch the performers.

Because ticket sales are limited, the Monterey Jazz Festival never gets too crowded.

Monterey Jazz Festival Tips

  • Choose the day you attend carefully. Sundays are best for families, with artists such as the Banana Slug String Band whose performances particularly appeal to children. Sunday is also the day for concerts performed by the middle school, high school and collegiate student winners from the Next Generation Festival held in April.
  • Friday is opening day, and performances don't start until evening, which means you can get in on the excitement, but you'll also have less time to enjoy the goings-on.
  • You don't have to buy an Arena ticket to see the performers. Shows are simulcast to several places around the Monterey Jazz Festival grounds.
  • No food, drinks, picnic baskets or alcohol can be carried in, except unopened bottles of water. Thankfully, food and drinks sold at the festival are reasonably priced for this type of event, and a wide variety of foods are served.
  • On sunny days, take a hat and sunscreen.
  • Leave pets at home. They can't go inside.
  • Strollers are not allowed inside the Arena or other indoor venues.
  • Tickets don't allow re-entry. Be sure you have everything you need before going in.

Monterey Jazz Festival Seating

  • The Arena: The Monterey Jazz Festival Arena is the premiere performance venue, where several main shows take place during the festival. It's a large, open-air venue with seating on the arena floor, in boxes and on bleachers. This is where the big names are likely to perform, such as Diana Krall, Los Lobos, or Dave Brubeck.
  • The Grounds: All of these venues are general admission, with no reserved seats. Some are indoors, and others are outside.

Visit the festival website to get a seating chart for the Arena if you want to buy tickets for it, so you know where you'll be sitting.

Monterey Jazz Festival Tickets and Reservations

Arena packages are very expensive but give access to the top-named acts. Grounds tickets will get you into all other performance venues for much less money.

Everyone over two years old must have a ticket, but there are youth discounts for ages 2 to 18. They offer discount tickets for Military and students.

Buy Arena packages early online. Most years, even the Grounds tickets sell out before the Monterey Jazz Festival begins, so don't take a chance, especially if you want to attend on Saturday, which sells out first.

Monterey Jazz Festival Lodging

The Jazz Festival is one of the area's most popular events, and hotels in Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, and nearby Marina all sell out in advance. Room rates will be higher than at other times of the year, too. If you want to stay in town, reserve as far ahead as you can.

However, just two weeks before the festival, I found rooms still available (and at much lower rates) in nearby Salinas, which is less than 20 miles away.

Monterey Jazz Festival Basics

  • The Monterey Jazz Festival runs from Friday evening through Sunday night, on the third weekend in September
  • Admission is charged and advance ticket purchase is a necessity because they usually sell out. See below for more details.
  • Find more information about the festival on the Monterey Jazz Festival website.

How to Get to the Monterey Jazz Festival

The Monterey Jazz Festival is held at the Monterey Fairgrounds, 2000 Fairground Road. It's just off CA Highway 1. You can also get there via CA Highway 68 from Salinas.

A limited number of prepaid parking spots are sold in advance, or you can park in the daily lots for a fee. They're located on the west side of the fairgrounds.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer received complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review. It has not influenced the outcome of this review. However, Tripsavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. 

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