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Best live music venues in San Francisco // Bay Area

Photos by Sam Heller, Marc Fong, Maggie Corwin, James Nagel & Mike Frash

Photos by Sam Heller, Marc Fong, Maggie Corwin, James Nagel & Mike Frash

San Francisco is one of the best live music cities in the world — if an act is touring the western United States, they will most likely swing through SF. Packed into 7×7 square miles, the City by the Bay offers some kind of concert nightly. The East Bay, Oakland and Berkeley, respectively, is home to a growing number of live music options as more and more folks flee the City for better living costs.

Here are the best places to catch a show in or near San Francisco.

The-Independent

The Independent

628 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: The Independent boasts the best sound, artist curation and lighting in the Bay Area for any room close to it’s 500-person max capacity — and you can count on 3-5 shows per week. It’s a great venue to catch artists on the rise from virtually every music genre, and already-established groups such as Phoenix, Green Day, TV on the Radio and Band of Horses have performed at this intimate musical oasis.

Best Features: The general admission venue is a conveniently-shaped square; no matter where you watch the show, the sound is stellar and you can see what’s happening on the lifted stage. The staff is professional, friendly and drinks are easy to procure. The Independent is simple and perfect, an ideal platform to witness bands and DJs live before they get bigger.

Drawbacks: Bring earplugs and sunglasses if sensitive to sound and light. Arrive early to secure a parking spot if driving — if possible, take public transportation and grab a drink nearby before the show. Get there when doors open if you need a seat.

The-Fox

Fox Theater – Oakland

1807 Telegraph Ave. Oakland, CA 94612
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: Fox Theater Oakland is a premium, large theater-style venue with a general admission floor and sizable, assigned-seated balcony overhead. The renovation of this historic site was masterfully achieved in 2009, conserving the stellar artwork and design features.

Best Features: No expense was spared in this renovation. Cool air rises from hundreds of vents in the floor, keeping attendees comfortable. The multitude of bars are fully staffed and efficient.

Drawbacks: In order to accommodate BART travelers, the venue has a pretty strict curfew, with shows ending well before midnight.

The-Fillmore

The Fillmore

1805 Geary Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94115
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: The Fillmore is nondescript from the outside, but a classic gem once you enter and climb the stairs. Expect a warm welcome, a selection of free fresh apples in the tradition of Fillmore founder Bill Graham and a free poster of the evening’s show (if the event sold out three weeks in advance usually).

Best Features: A large general admission floor area (1,200 capacity), surrounded by adult-beverage facilitators, is overshadowed by the venue’s iconic chandeliers that add a touch of sophistication to any affair. There is an additional saloon upstairs with ample seating away from the stage, and live acts will perform here on occasion before and during the opening act. Also, be sure to head upstairs to view previous show posters.

Drawbacks: If having a seat is on the agenda, arrive early and head for the poster room. Snag a seat and cozy up to the balcony rail for the best view in the house, but the best sound can be found on the floor.

*Bonus Venue: The BooM BooM RooM across Geary Blvd. is an excellent place for a pre-show martini and to keep the party going once The Fillmore has wrapped for the evening. This room focuses on jamming into the late night, often until 4 a.m.

Great-American-Music-Hall

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell St. San Francisco, CA 94109
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: This historic space has been a beloved jewel for live music for well over 100 years, able to house some 600 attendees on any given night. As SF’s oldest nightclub, the Great American Music Hall can transport music fans to a more elegant era with its ornate balconies, soaring marble columns and elaborate ceiling frescoes.

Best Features: The Great American features a great variety of acts over the year and offers something for everybody. The space, sound and staff are top-notch. Opt for dinner and a show (quick tip: the food is great) to secure a seat on the balcony rail upstairs.

Drawbacks: The location is rather central to many areas of the city, though it’s not the safest in the the City. The venue’s lights are rather basic, but they aren’t needed in a room with such grand decor.

The-Greek

The Greek Theatre – UC Berkeley

2001 Gayley Rd. Berkeley, CA 94720
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: A seasonal venue from the Spring to the Fall at the top of the UC Berkeley campus, The Greek Theatre can pack 8,500 folks into their popular, yet infrequent concerts. Constructed after the ancient Greek theater of Epidaurus in 1903 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, this space often inspires magical performances.

Best Features: The sound from within the bowl provides incredible acoustics, but get there early for a spot in the seated steps or within the pit. If all seats are taken, get closer and stand in the general admission area as close as possible for a memorable live music experience.

Drawbacks: Don’t retreat to the grass — the magic is lost outside of the main bowl area. Getting to the venue (and back) requires walking up the campus, or driving to the top. Parking near the theater also means it will take forever to leave, and it will cost you $20 or more. Give yourself plenty of time and plan on walking. Shows won’t go past 11 p.m. due to the campus’ curfew, and be sure to head to the top of the grass for the quickest bathroom lines.

The-Warfield

The Warfield

982 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: A 2,300-capacity theater located on Market Street, The Warfield beckons a near century-long history as a premier downtown music venue. Ornate gilding and details are found throughout this lovely space, and a recent renovation upgraded many areas in need of a little help.

Best Features: The tiered floor has become a staple for California mid-size venues like The Fox in Oakland and The Wiltern in Los Angeles, allowing an array of sight-lines for attendees. It’s in an easily accessible location with decent bars and restaurants within proximity.

Drawbacks: Mid-Market is trying to revive itself from a once-peppered history. Similar to many other “overhang” theater venues, the sound can leave a bit to be desired if in the middle or back of the general admission floor.

Bimbos 365 Club

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, CA 94133
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: Bimbo’s 365 Club, located on the fringes of North Beach, offers one of the most unique live concert settings in SF. Red velour curtains and exquisite details lend to an entirely classy experience in this 685-capacity, theater-like live performance space.

Best Features: It’s not like any other venue in the City in regards to location and style — side rooms and bars create an ideal pre-show place to socialize and imbibe. The low stage creates an intimate atmosphere with the limited acts that grace the stage over the year.

Drawbacks: The North Beach location is not the easiest venue to reach in comparison to others, and the booking leaves much to be desired as folks love this space.

Rickshaw-Stop

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell St. San Francisco, CA 94102
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: This recent hot-spot hosts many up-and-coming indie acts bursting onto the scene before they graduate to larger rooms. Expect a hip crowd sipping on strong drinks in a no-frills room, enjoying heat-seeking artists from across the globe. Shows start late, even on weekdays.

Best Features: Rickshaw Stop has very dynamic booking, bringing in all sorts of parties to utilize this Civic Center area venue. The bar is efficient for a small-ish room that can fill up nicely, but not overly.

Drawbacks: It’s basically a long narrow room with a small “balcony”, therefore sight-lines can be rough for those who are vertically challenged on the main floor.

Mezzanine

Mezzanine

444 Jessie St. San Francisco, CA 94103
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: Mezzanine specializes in up-and-coming club scene shows, hosting DJs from all over the world and bands that incorporate electronic elements into their music. Expect young people ready to party in a rectangular room that can hold up to 1,000 people.

Best Features: DJs will perform on the ‘side stage’, cultivating a dance-centric environment before and after live acts. A great choice for birthdays, bachelor parties and other special occasions, secure a table and bottle service on the floor or in a private area upstairs.

Drawbacks: Ins and outs are not permitted, and it can get a bit crunchy near the front and in the smoking area. Getting drinks can be a challenge during peak times.

Brick and Mortar

Brick and Mortar Music Hall

1710 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94103
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: An intimate, square space for live music, Brick and Mortar Music Hall in the Mission hosts concerts almost nightly, and they are always affordable. Rock, bluegrass, funk, soul and many more types of shows go down here.

Best Features: Brick and Mortar has that “neighborhood rock/club” feel — if you are in the ‘front row’, then you are basically on the stage — and it just became the new home of outcast swine-house Bacon Bacon during lunchtime.

Drawbacks: Cash only at the box office. It can get a little tight during capacity shows unless you squiggle to your left against the wall.

The-Chapel

The Chapel

777 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA 94110
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: The newest venue in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, The Chapel opened in 2012 and includes an attached restaurant and bar. The building was originally built as a mortuary, so the funeral home’s Chapel was converted to the music room upon renovation. There is a mezzanine above the floor level of the Chapel for bird’s-eye view observing.

Best Features: The restaurant and bar is brand-new and swanky, and the high ceilings and beams in the formerly sacred space give it a unique, striking feel for live music. More acts are booked with each passing month, and bigger names becoming more frequent too. Artists usually have a rootsy and indie sound aesthetic, but The Chapel recently had their first DJ night.

Drawbacks: It’s a great location for nightlife, but not for parking. The stage is small, and it can be tough to secure a drink at peak moments.

The-New-Parish-why

The New Parish

579 18th St. Oakland, CA 94612
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: This unique venue has recently sprouted up in the East Bay, and many are taking notice of their recent success. With a courtyard and large, wrap-around balcony, The New Parish offers many options for patrons to get down, watch the act or be social with friends.

Best Features: A plethora of national touring acts are opting to stay east of the bay and hold court in this ever-rising space. Securing a view of the stage isn’t terribly tough with a less traditional venue setup. Proximity to the Fox Theater makes it a popular place to keep the night going.

Drawbacks: The design of the space is unlike any other, and this has a few negatives regarding access to the bar or sound being optimal. It’s in Oakland and goes late, so not great for SF-bound BART riders.

Civic-Center

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

99 Grove St. San Francisco, CA 94102
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: As big an open, indoor floor space that exists in the Bay Area (not including arenas), the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium can fit 7,000 people into its vast confines.

Best Features: There’s plenty of floor space — and plenty of seats upstairs if you arrive early enough. The location adjacent to City Hall makes it easy to get to via public transportation. When the Civic Auditorium is packed and full of energy, it comes alive.

Drawbacks:
When the venue isn’t sold out, there’s an empty, hollow feel to live music here. The sound can seriously lack at times, especially from the sides. The best bet is to get in front of the large speaker banks (duh). Some acts, like Phish, bring additional sound equipment to fill out the copious space in the building.

Bottom-of-the-Hill

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St. San Francisco, CA 94107
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: This legendary little rock club at the foot of Potrero Hill has room for 350 partygoers of varying ages. It’s a well-oiled and well-regarded space that breeds lively shows by bands of all sizes and eras.

Best Features: Not exclusively a 21-and-over club, Bottom of the Hill allows patrons of all ages the chance to enjoy a high-energy show in this wacky space. Ample parking, a large smoking section and reasonably priced drinks as well as tickets make it an ideal spot to rock out.

Drawbacks: The booking doesn’t veer terribly far off the path of rock ‘n’ roll. The lights are simple, as one might expect from a venue like this.

Cafe-Du-Nord

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94114
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: Walking down the stairs into the main room lends the vibe of a classic speakeasy with red velour and classical seating in the back. It’s yet another historic space to enjoy some fresh artists of the 21st century in an intimate setting.

Best Features: Located rather conveniently on Market Street makes Cafe Du Nord both accessible and flush with pre-show drink options. Cafe du Nord is amazing for the fan hoping to engage with his or her favorite artists.

Drawbacks: The room has an odd shape with a bar, seating and even a pool table in the back, while the front is slightly sectioned off for live music.

Slim's

Slim’s

333 11th St. San Francisco, CA 94103
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: Slim’s is located in a lively section of SOMA, and the venue hosts a vast array of lively acts for an all-ages crowd with a maximum capacity of 400. A high-ceiling room with few frills makes it a good option for dedicated fans.

Best Features: A large bar makes grabbing a beer or cocktail a snap, and they offer dinner with premium, upstairs seating if that’s your thing. The sound is just fine to accommodate either hardcore punk-rock or some of the Bay’s finest hip-hop.

Drawbacks: Oddly-placed pillars can obstruct attendees’ views and make a sold-out room that much more less appealing.

Public-Works

Public Works

161 Erie St. San Francisco, CA 94103
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect:
Expect two venues in one. Public Works offers a live music space and a separate room dedicated to dance music curated by some of the best DJs around. A separate ticket is needed for each option.

Best Features: The location is pretty central to most of the City. The live venue offers a balcony overhang — get there early for the best spot in the house. The staff is friendly.

Drawbacks: There are a few columns that make the live space a bit cumbersome at times, and the mobility at sold-out shows can be tough.

The-Recency

The Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter St. San Francisco, CA 94109
View Current Show Listings

What To Expect: The large, well-worn ballroom with a horseshoe-shaped, wrap-around balcony and teardrop chandeliers can hold plenty of people at The Regency Ballroom. Most shows are general admission.

Best Features: There are plenty of seats to grab upstairs if sitting is a must.

Drawbacks: Shows here are infrequent, and the sound can get drowned out at times by the massive space of the ballroom, especially from the seats. Drinks are priced astronomically.

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Comments

  1. Berkeley , Oakland, SF,San Rafael, San Jose, Half Moon Bay have some of the best live music venues and in the world. I tour all across this Nation and across out greet state.

    My only regret is that I never thought I do most of dates solo. Its a blast with or with out.
    The Bay-area rules, when it comes to Live Rock music, & National Touring acts. But the jut-joints in the bay that play or cater to blues/soul music , acoustic music whether blue pop soul or acoustic jazz . New York is the best ~!!~ I have ever experience. Our music is light years ahead meaning that we do all j pop soul originals and we make-out pretty well regionally, nationally and internationally well. Were do all over the state of California now, we get calls and we just go .It’s for the people. We love the new feeling in the Bay area , its home being ala New Yorker style people come out to have a great time and because they treat us like were family. Since I been back bay area has endorse our new found fame in the genre of funk/prop.soul and were doing all our gigs all over in Berkeley starting @ Eat @ Thai,

    The new U C Theater venue Downtown Berkeley , it will boost the new energy up even more and all around the greater Bay Area . It’s nothing like hearing new home ground live talent with their sound of live music right here in The Bay Area. It’s about time to hit the hot spots but you know we have all week and now all weekend to find your spots that caters to your maturity of your music feel or genre. Only in America ~!!~ California Flight the Hottest Funk band in the whole wide world they’re fun act all from the bay area. ” Let’s here it! For the Bay-Area we got a good thing in 2016….. Bringing ~!!~

  2. Recently moved out here from Colorado and am already collecting some fond memories from the Independent (Yeasayer OSL aftershow, John Butler Trio, London Grammar). In this age of rampant scalping however, it seems that the Indy will sell out quickly whenever a band with the slightest bit of hype is on the bill…do you think that the city is missing a standard 600~700 capacity venue? 500 just seems slightly undersized for the acts the Indy pulls…which does make it special for those who can get tickets of course.

  3. Great list. Should have a mention though of Monarch, Mighty, and Neck of the Woods. All great places to catch a show. I would add downsides as well Rickshaw stop in that the shows are known to start really late for headliners (sometimes 1230 on a Thursday night for a headliner) and for the Regency as the bathroom situation can be awful if it’s sold out. Love this list though it’s great!

  4. New in town and this list is exactly what I’m looking for. Thank you!

  5. QUANDT!!! It’s Rory. Seen you at plenty of these joints. Honorable mention (even though it is now closed) should be the 12 Galaxies. No other tiny venue lets you take rips off a volcano in the balcony or will you see trapeze artists flying through the air during a Banyan show. Of course with the frequent sightings of Frank the Sign Carrying Intergalatic Space Traveler, who can forget this gem that is now lost. RIP 12 G’s.

    Otherwise, excellent article. See ya showbams folks at BGCC for the Phish.

  6. Terrapin Crossroads should be on that list!!!! PHIL!

  7. Regency has THE WORST bathroom situation in the city. It’s often enough to drive me away unless it’s an act I just can’t miss.

  8. Great article on SF music venues! Good to see the pros and cons of each venue.

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  5. […] Rum kept the string-based goodness going after Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival October 4 at the Independent in San Francisco. Marc Fong was on the scene to get some […]

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