Jeff Terich

Best Live Music Venues in San Diego

lestats normal heights san diego live music venue

For decades, San Diego has had a vibrant and eclectic local music scene, and that’s reflected in the number of great places to see live music in town. There are dozens upon dozens of clubs, bars, theaters, coffeehouses and arenas to see a show — so many that it can be overwhelming to figure out where and when to go. Depending on where you go you can get a very different experience, so here are recommendations for a handful of the best places to see live music in San Diego.

The Casbah

the casbah san diego live music venue

The Casbah is your best bet for rock music.

In January, this local institution celebrates its 25th anniversary, and in those 25 years, The Casbah has played host to an incredible list of bands that includes The White Stripes, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, among hundreds of other greats. The midtown rock club is small, but on any given night there’s great music to see, cold beer flowing from the taps, and some vintage video games in the Atari Lounge if you feel like taking an 8-bit break. The vibe and kitschy decor is cool, but the main reason to come is the talent that occupies the stage, all year long.

Belly Up Tavern

belly up tavern san diego live music venue

M83 plays at the Belly Up in Solana Beach in 2009.

There aren’t as many great venues in North County as there are in the city of San Diego, but one of the best just happens to be in Solana Beach, just a short hop from the coast. The Belly Up Tavern is one of the bigger clubs in the county, with a capacity of 650, and its sound is impeccable. Plus, if you’re feeling peckish, the Wild Note Cafe — a full service restaurant — is adjacent to the club. Have a bite before you rock out.

Lestat’s

lestats normal heights san diego live music venue

Lestat’s is an intimate venue to see singer/songwriters.

For a more intimate, mellow live music experience, head to Normal Heights and catch an acoustic showcase at Lestat’s. A coffeehouse with an adjacent seated venue, Lestat’s is a prime venue to hear great local and touring folk acts or singer/songwriters. It’s laid back, comfortable, and open 24 hours! So if you feel like curling up in one of its comfy chairs and keeping the espresso flowing after the music stops, go ahead and make yourself at home.

Open Air Theatre

san diego state university open air theater live music

The Open Air Theater is big enough for large acts to play, but small enough to still feel close to the performers.

For bigger names, there are a handful of giant arenas that pull in some of the biggest acts in the country, but a good middle ground is San Diego State University’s Open Air Theatre, which is big enough to house a marquee act, but still small enough not to require a Jumbotron. The sound is great, and it’s outdoors, so patrons can listen to their favorite band while lounging under the stars.

This is just a sampling of the many live music venues in San Diego, but pick a night to visit any of these four and you’re guaranteed a good time.

jeff terich san diego music critic best san diego live music venuesJeff Terich is the music editor of San Diego CityBeat and has been writing about music for over a decade. A contributor to top music magazines including American Songwriter and ALARM, Jeff is also the founder of Treblezine.com, an independent music feature and review site.

Maren

All Aboard! Live Music on the San Diego Trolley

[youtube http://youtu.be/TL7Rlkw2osE]

Looking for live music in San Diego? From the famed Belly Up in Solana Beach to the House of Blues in Downtown, San Diego has everything from international headliners to local favorites performing at venues throughout town. See up-and-coming favorites at the Casbah, enjoy an evening of music under the stars at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, or catch an acoustic show aboard the San Diego Trolley.

[youtube http://youtu.be/3MY108ghf8Q]

You heard right! Breaking through the fourth wall of traditional musician/audience relationships is A Trolley Show, which not only brings bands such as Iration, Youngblood Hawke and The Silent Comedy to perform in the uncontrolled and unregulated performance environment of San Diego’s public transit system, but produces a video of each performance, come what may, to share with the world via the internet.

[youtube http://youtu.be/6ZaMbex0c_E]

While musical busking on public transit has been around as long as the transit systems themselves in cities such as New York City and San Francisco, San Diego’s public transit has a relatively adolescent and undefined performance culture. In this environment, the A Trolley Show removes live music from its culturally accepted place on the stage and brings bands that typically sell out traditional venues to the San Diego Trolley, not to busk, but to perform for an unwitting audience and let the cameras roll. I only hope I can be a pleasantly surprised audience member on my next trolley trip.

> Listen to more Live Music in San Diego

Tell us in the comments below, who would you like to see play aboard the San Diego Trolley?