Sigh. I should just blog this instead. Maybe I'll copy/paste.
Okay: WordCamps are terrific. They used to be free, but now the trend is to put them in the $30-$60 range, at least the ones in BC; that generally includes a lunch on the premises that's not fancy. Sandwiches, wraps, salads, that sort of thing.
They are in the Un-Conference tradition, which means they tend to be un-fancy, in whatever premises they can get for free, and not have big, splashy events or sponsors. There are exceptions, like WordCamp Whistler, which basically happened because the organizers wanted to have an event up in Whistler, because it's gorgeous. But usually it's low-rent and the biggest event isn't an event at all but the mingling in the social room and the hallway. They are VERY collaborative events.
The standard of teaching is quite high, which is not to say it's techy at all. Most ones I've participated in have at least two tracks: blogger and tech. The blogger track is for people interested in, you know, BLOGGING. The tech track is for people interested in SEO, plugins, theme hacking, code development, etc.
They are almost invariably, as a result, suitable for both beginners and highly experienced bloggers, although the more experienced you are the fewer talks you attend and the more "gosh, haven't seen you since Gnomedex" chatting you engage in, as a general rule.
Try to find a WordCamp that has more than one workshop going on at a time. Yes, you'll have to make some hard choices. But at least you won't have to sit through "how to sign up a WordPress.com blog" OR "php for advanced hackers" if those don't interest you.
If a WordCamp charges you more than $40 and doesn't supply lunch, something is wrong somewhere, and somebody's making too damn much money.
I find out about these things because the organizers are friends of mine, or through Twitter, or sometimes being emailed out of the blue to speak at one. I've gotta get my passport tuned up, because I've had to turn down some cool opportunities just because of the damn border. There is also an official WordCamp site that lists the biggest WordCamps going on (I don't think it lists all of them).
The cost is no indication of the quality of the experience. That depends entirely on the organizers. If you want to read scuttlebutt about how their last big event was, Facebook is a good place to start, as are other people's blog posts; the official site of each event rarely allows critical fallout comments to stay up there.
Sometimes, if the organizers are really good, they can get phenomenal sponsors. I'm just back from spending two nights at one of the most famous hotels in the world, gratis, because I spoke at WordCamp Victoria and they were smart enough to get the Empress as a sponsor. And Victoria Gin, which I had slagged on Twitter, actually gave me a bottle of their gin to try again, which I then used as an example of good social media strategy and brand evangelism in the blogger panel. I'm still not entirely sold on the gin, but as an example of courage under fire and proactive use of Twitter, I've gotta give it up for them.
By the way, I'm organizing WordCamp Okanagan in the fall. After many abortive attempts to set a date, we're looking at early October, since it's still pretty in the interior of BC then, not too cold, and the vintners are done the heavy lifting of September. If anyone knows a community centre or school who wouldn't mind loaning out their site for a couple of days, I'd like to do Social Media Camp on the first day, and WordCamp on the second.