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

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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.

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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.

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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?

Maren

Live Music in San Diego: November Rocks!

Transfer Band

Transfer Band

It’s rock, roll and robots this November in San Diego. From rock legends to hometown favorites, La Jolla Playhouse to the Casbah, November is the month to get indoors and see the myriad ways live music in San Diego rocks.

Walk the Moon

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With a youthful vibe and infectious rhythms, Walk the Moon has managed to rise to fame in as little as 4 years.  With hits like “Tightrope” from their self-titled album, released in June of 2012, they show little sign of slowing down.

Location: House of Blues – 1055 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (map)
Date: November 14, 2012
Time: 8:00 PM
Cost: $27 ($17.50 + $9.50 service fee)
> Get Walk The Moon Tickets

Dave Mason

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Take the chance to see rock legend Dave Mason, who first found fame with the rock band Traffic and has played and recorded with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Fleetwood Mac and Cass Elliot over his four decade career.

Location: Anthology Supper Club – 1337 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 (map)
Date: November 15, 2012
Time: 7:30 PM
Cost: $19-$79
> Get Dave Mason Tickets

Transfer

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See hometown favorites, Transfer, in their last San Diego appearance of2012. Alreadt winners of “Best Rock” and “Song of the Year” at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards, Transfer continues to win crowds over with soaring vocals and memorable anthems.

Location: Casbah – 2501 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101 (map)
Date: November 17, 2012
Time: 8:30 PM
Cost: $12
> Get Transfer Tickets

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Banner - La Jolla Playhouse

The music of the Flaming Lips comes alive through 14-foot robot puppets, dancers in “glowing” LED costumes and stunning projections in this world premiere musical at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Location: La Jolla Playhouse –
Dates: Now through December 16, 2012
Times: Vary by Date
Cost: Starting at $15
> Get Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots Tickets

> Discover more Live Music in San Diego

Let us know in the comments below, what rocks about San Diego?

Maren

29 Reasons to Listen Live in San Diego

Take a musical leap! Famed Italian opera composer Gioachino Rossini, born February 29, 1792, turns 55-leap-years-young today! And if Google is celebrating a musical leap day, who are we to argue? In no particular order, here are 29 reasons to listen live in San Diego.

  1. The Belly Up Tavern– voted “San Diego’s Best Live Music Venue” even before it was made famous by a visit from Prince Harry of Wales
  2. Celebrating singer-songwriter Jim Croce with great food, wine and nightly live music at Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar. Here, here!
  3. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at 4th and B on March 30, 2012
  4. All-you-can-eat Southern inspired buffet and gospel performances at the House of Blue’s World Famous Sunday Gospel Brunch. Hallelujah!
  5. Donning a fedora and pretending you are a part of the Rat Pack at Anthology supper club.
  6. Emerging art and pop culture collide at The Loft: UCSD, with Jenny Owen Youngs on March 2, 2012.
  7. The Casbah’s guaranteed cool factor- whatever you decide to see.
  8. DJ Scooter “playing all the coolest s*%t you’ve never heard of” at Analog Bar every Tuesday at 9 pm.
  9. A place that takes jazz seriously, Dizzy’s: where music matters most.
  10. MIXTAPE– the Greatest Hits of the 80s, at the Horton Grand Theatre, extended through April 29, 2012.
  11. Seeing a concert at Humphrey’s by the Bay, whether you buy a ticket, or pull up a boat. 😉
  12. San Diego Symphony’s annual outdoor Summer Pops concert series performed on San Diego Bay.
  13. Flamenco fever at Café Sevilla with rumba guitarist Joef of the Gypsy kings family.
  14. Listening FREE to music ranging from folk to rockabilly at Adam’s Avenue Unplugged, April 21-22, 2012.
  15. Music worth seeing at San Diego Opera with Don Pasquale, March 10-18, 2012.
  16. Catching home grown talent with the potential for national greatness:  The Silent Comedy, Cuckoo Chaos, Hyena perform regularly around town.
  17. Treating club music as an art and a DJ as a god, at Voyeur, voted #68 of the Top 100 Clubs in the WORLD by DJ Magazine in 2011.
  18. Listening to the San Diego Symphony in the original Fox Theatre, opened in 1929.
  19. Van Halen at the Viejas Arena June 14, 2012.
  20. Celebrating the Saxophone with SAXibit at the Museum of Making Music, May 19-November 30, 2012.
  21. The VIP experience of Taylor Guitars Private Dining Room at Anthology, named after the locally based, world renowned guitar manufacturer and Anthology sponsor, Taylor Guitars.
  22. Free shows in the hippest of hoods, Bar Pink in North Park.
  23. Elvis Costello or Rufus Wainwright at Humphrey’s by the Bay. How to choose?
  24. The balance of intelligence and entertainment at ArtPower UC San Diego.
  25. Close proximity to a slew of buzz-worthy bands at Soda Bar.
  26. The highly entertaining, audience request-driven duel of two talented piano players at The Shout House.
  27. The recently renovated and restored 83 year old Balboa Theatre, hosting a diverse line up of performances.
  28. Street fairs! Whatever the fair, live music is there! Try OB Street Fair and Chili Cook-off Festival, Cinco de Mayo in Old Town, Pride Festival, holiday block parties in the Gaslamp Quarter or ArtWalk in Little Italy.
  29. And last but certainly not least, San Diego Opera celebrates birthday boy Rossini’s “55th” with The Barber of Seville, April 21-29, 2012.

What are your reasons for listening?

Maren

Listen Live in San Diego: January 19 – February 2, 2012

Thank you, Martin Luther King Day, for being the holiday after the Holidays we all needed. Now, welcome back to the 5 day work week. The year has officially started. Luckily, a plethora of great live music around San Diego in the coming weeks is sure to keep that holiday magic alive.

Casbah

Hump Day Pick: If you need to do something today, I suggest hitting up Olin and the Moon tonight, January 18, OR catch them next week on January 25. Either way, their music is infused with the “endearing hope that a good song can cure even the worst hang over,” a sentiment that also pertains to the rest of your week.

House of Blues

See the solo acoustic Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional this Friday, January 20. And what do you think about this fun San Diego connection? The song “Stolen” was filmed at the famous Hotel Del Coronado, but there is something a little off in regards to the weather…can you guess what it is?

4th & B

Nada Surf performs January 28 in conjunction with the release of their new album on January 24, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. Their specific blend of rhythmic groove and introspective chords shaped around Caws’ soulful voice has made Nada Surf a crowd favorite since the nineties, and on January 28 they will be joined by San Diego based favorites, The Soft Pack, Cuckoo Chaos and Republic of Letters.

Belly Up Tavern

Get your tickets fast for Ozomatli on Friday, January 27th. This Los Angeles group is an urban collision of hip hop, salsa, samba, funk, East L.A. R&B, New Orleans second line, Jamaican ragga and Indian raga living by the mantra: we’ll take you around the world by taking you around L.A. I’m excited to see them at their already sold out show on Saturday, January 28th, and hoping someone other than me will recreate this Drew Barrymore/Ozomalti classic.

Aki

Live Music in San Diego: Nov 26 – Dec 3

Thanksgiving is upon us. And while we’ll all indulge in the bounty of the season – with an oversized helping of turkey or that extra slice of pumpkin pie – the best way to shake off that tryptophan-induced coma is by seeing some live music.

San Diego’s robust music scene offers diverse options for concert goers. From intimate venues and expansive outdoor arenas, to iconic rock clubs and moody jazz halls, you can quench your thirst for good live music any day of the week.

So get off that couch, leave the Thanksgiving leftovers at home and indulge your senses with some lively performances.

Here are some great shows at some of my favorite local venues:

Saturday, November 26
Crooked Fingers at THE CASBAH
w/Strand of Oaks & Little White Teeth
Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
$12, 21 and up

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Led by singer Eric Bachmann, this North Carolina-based band recently released their sixth full length record, Breaks in the Armor.

November 30 & December 1
Boney James at ANTHOLOGY
Shows at 7:30 pm & 9:30 pm
$19 – $98, All ages

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A three-time Grammy Award nominee, Soul Train Award winner and a pioneer of urban jazz, Saxophonist BONEY JAMES combines traditional jazz with elements of R&B and hip-hop.

Wednesday, Nov 30th
B.B. King w/ Walter Trout at Belly Up
8:00 pm
Doors at 7:00 pm
$99.00 / $104.00 day of show, 21 and up

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Don’t miss this chance to see the reigning King of the Blues, B.B. King up close and personal at this local favorite intimate venue in Solana Beach!

Saturday, December 3
The Holiday Hootenanny! at the Jenny Craig Pavilion at USD
My Morning Jacket, Two Door Cinema Club, Matt & Kim, Delta Spirit, and the Blackout Party
7:00 pm
$40 +, All Ages

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This annual holiday concert festival has a line-up that will surely get you movin’ & groovin’ for the holidays.