The PNC Bank Arts Center (originally the Garden State Arts Center) (known as “PNC”) is an outdoor amphitheater located in Holmdel, NJ just off the Garden State Parkway. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Philadelphia and the immediate suburbs, and just about a 60 minute drive from the general NYC area. The venue holds 17,500 people, with 7,000 seats (most under cover) and capacity of another 10,500 on the lawn.
As mentioned above, the venue was originally called the Garden State Arts Center when it opened in June of 1968. In 1954, legislation was passed to build the Garden State Parkway. That legislation also called for recreational facilities to be built along the Parkway’s route.
While the venue is only open for concerts during the summer season, the facility is home to a huge holiday light display from the end of November through the beginning of January. Visitors can make the 2.5 mile drive through over 5 million lights displayed throughout the venue’s parking lots. At the end of the display, there is a Winter Village which features a skating rink, snack bar and shop.
Tip #1: Make sure when you visit the venue that you look up and check out the roof. It’s 200 ft. and in the shape of a flying saucer that’s supported by eight large concrete pillars. The shape of the roof makes for some great acoustics.
When the venue was first opened, it primarily featured classical music performances, along with some popular musicians. It was also utilized during the day to provide free daytime music programs. During the 1990’s, the focus of the venue changed, as the management wanted to expand the seating capacity of the venue in order to compete with other large outdoor venues on the summer concert tour market. Prior to the 1996 season, the venue added another 2,000 seats to get to the current capacity of 7,000. It also doubled the capacity of the lawn.
In 1996, PNC Bank purchased the naming rights to the venue, which led to its current name of PNC Bank Arts Center.
If you will be attending a show at PNC this summer, here are some tips and tricks to optimize your visit.
If you are traveling from out of town, there are a couple of hotels close to the venue that are good options. The two brand name hotels closest to the venue are the Holiday Inn Hazlet (https://www.ihg.com/holidayinn/hotels/us/en/hazlet/hztnj/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=YextLocal-_-USA-_-HZTNJ) and the Best Western Hazlet Inn (https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-details.31066.html?iata=00171890&ssob=BLBWI0003G&cid=BLBWI0003G:yext:website:31066). There is also a Comfort Inn a little further away in Middletown, NJ (https://www.choicehotels.com/new-jersey/middletown/comfort-inn-hotels/nj187?pmf=yext&mc=llyxyxpx).
Tip #2: Even if you are staying in a hotel near the venue, make sure you plan ahead for traffic. The traffic on the Garden State Parkway can be brutal – particularly for weekday shows when you might hit rush hour. Also be aware that in the summer, a lot of people use the Garden State Parkway to get to various shore locations. This can add a lot of traffic on Friday afternoons/evenings and Sundays.
Getting to the Venue
The entrance to the venue is right off the Garden State Parkway. In fact, there is a special exit (Exit 116) just for the venue.
Tip #3: Be sure to watch the signs on the Garden State Parkway for the various exits. The parkway splits, and you want to make sure you are in lanes that will allow you to exit at Exit 116 for the venue.
If you are driving to the venue, parking is plentiful. However, if you don’t get to the venue early, you could end up parking in one of the remote lots and have to take a shuttle bus back and forth to your car. There is VIP parking available for a fee, so if you want to guarantee a close spot, consider that option. There is also handicap accessible parking available right near the venue entrance.
Tip #4: If you want to be sure to have a close parking spot without paying for VIP parking, get to the venue early. The lots “technically” don’t open until a couple of hours before the show. However, for the last two years, we’ve gotten to the lots at 2:00 p.m. There were no attendants on duty, but we pulled in without a problem and ended up with a prime spot right across from the entrance and box office.
Tip #5: If you do end up parking in a lot further away that requires you to take a shuttle, make sure you pay attention to where you are parked and how to get back there after the show. The first time we went to this venue, we were parked in one of the remote lots. It seemed really easy to get to the venue on the shuttle bus. However, after the show when it was dark and we were all turned around, we couldn’t figure out where to get the shuttle to get back to our lot. We ended up trying to walk and had a hard time finding our way back to our car. There were definitely a few moments of panic when we couldn’t find the lot our car was parked in!
If you don’t want to drive to the venue, there is a free shuttle that will take you there. Just take NJ Transit to the Aberdeen/Matawan train station. From there, you can get on the PNC Bank Arts Center Shuttle and it will take you directly to the show.
Before the Show
Full disclosure…. we always go straight to the parking lot before a show here and tailgate, so I am not personally familiar with any food or bar options close to the venue. A quick Google search pulled up dozens of food options within a couple of miles of the venue. This includes several chains such as Texas Roadhouse, Houlihan’s and Bertucci’s.
The venue is a great place to tailgate, as well. The parking lot is pretty laid back. There are recycling and trash receptacles located throughout the lot for people to use. There are also multiple porta potty’s stationed throughout the lots for everyone’s use. As with any venue, be responsible when you tailgate – pour alcoholic beverages into cups rather than the original container, clean up your trash before you leave, and be respectful of your neighbors.
There is a “hosted” tailgate area in the grassy area just in front of the main entrance to the venue. For a fee, you can utilize the area, which is comprised of several tents and seating areas. Unless there is a catered hosted event, the cost of admission does NOT include food or alcohol, so be sure to check what is included before making a decision to purchase this option.
About the Venue
As mentioned above, the venue has both seats and a large lawn. If you have seats, when you enter the venue through the main gates you will want to follow the walkway around until you get to the food court area, and then follow the signs to enter the seating area.
Tip #6: There is a set of bathrooms right near the main entrance, however, there is almost always a long line there prior to the start of a show. Particularly if you have seats, keep walking to the food court area. There are restrooms at ground level, as well as additional restrooms down a set of stairs (look for the sign) that are typically not as busy.
If you are on the lawn, the venue does permit you to bring in your own lawn chairs, if they are not higher than 9” from the ground. You can also rent chairs from the venue for a fee. The back lawn is spacious, but does get packed in for sold out shows.
Tip #7: If you don’t care about having a view of the stage, there are lawn areas on the sides near the entrance to the seated area. They are smaller spaces and don’t typically get crowded, so you can have more space to spread out.
If you have seats, there are four different seating areas. Ticket prices vary depending on what level of seating you are in. The 100 and 200 level seats are in the lower area closest to the stage. Additionally, there are box seats at the back of the 200 level. The seating area then steps up a level, and there is a wide walkway before you get to the 300 and 400 level seats.
Tip #8: During the last show we attended we were in Section 302, Row D right about in the center. I found these to be great seats. Because the seating elevates there, you are above the lower sections which allows for a better view. While getting in that first row of the 300’s ensures that no one is seated directly in front of you, be aware that you are directly behind the main walkway in the seated area. You will have people walking in front of you throughout the show. Additionally, I noticed a lot of people stopping right there to try and get a better view. While security would eventually ask them to move on, it seemed to take a while in some cases.
There are a lot of food choices throughout the venue. They do a nice job with having a lot of stands – both for food and for drinks. As with any venue, you will pay a premium price for anything that you buy inside.
Tip #9: As with most venues, they do allow you to bring in one 20 oz or less factory sealed water bottle. You can also bring in an empty water bottle and fill it at water filling stations. This is a great way to save some money on buying water during the show.
This is a great venue for seeing a show. Compared to a lot of other venues I’ve been to, even getting out after the show is fairly easy, as all of the traffic from the lots just dumps out onto the Garden State Parkway. Being conveniently located for most people in New Jersey, Philly and NYC, it’s a nice option for seeing concerts in the summer.