San Francisco live music venues are plentiful and diverse. The City has widely and historically been known as a city that knows how to make musical artists feel welcome, both audience-wise and performance space-wise. There are a wide variety of nightclubs and stages in town for performers to storm, ranging from incredibly tiny to airplane hangar-huge. Here's our selective survey of great San Francisco live music venues for locals and tourists.
San Francisco Live Music Venues: Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Avenue (at Chestnut Street) (415) 474-0365 Website & Performance Calendar: Bimbo's 365 Club
This wonderful North Beach venue has the look and feel of a Rat Pack-era Las Vegas nightclub, complete with tuxedoed bartenders and kitschy orange candle chandeliers. Bimbo's originally opened on Market Street in 1931, but moved to its current address in '51, where it quickly became one of the premier spots in town to catch dinner and a show. Today it hosts a wide variety of musical acts, ranging from indie rock to hip-hop, from electronica to alternative country. The sound system is good - stake out a space in the middle of the floor and back about 40 feet from the stage. The mixed drinks are tiny, weak, and expensive, so stick with beer if you plan on drinking.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th Street (at Missouri Street) (415) 621-4455 Website & Performance Calendar: Bottom of the Hill
Cozily tucked away in what I refer to as the flatlands of Potrero Hill, Bottom has been the #1 spot for scrappy, hungry, up-and-coming rock bands of all stripes to play when on tour. It's a small space with a great sound system, as well as patio for smokers and a billiards lounge. The walls are decorated with posters from shows past, and tickets to all shows are some of the most affordably priced in town (some shows cost as little as $8 to see). Be advised that you should get tickets to BOTH show pretty soon after they go on sale, especially if the act you want to catch is quickly gaining steam. As I already stated, the venue is small, and shows have been known to sell out quickly.
1805 Geary Boulevard (at Fillmore Street) (415) 346-6000 Website & Performance Calendar: The Fillmore
The granddaddy of San Francisco live music venues, The Fillmore has played host to an extraordinary number of legendary musical acts since the late, great Bill Graham took hold of the reins in 1965. Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Cream, Santana, Captain Beefheart, and Jimi Hendrix have all wowed audiences here, and the venue continues to be one of the best spots to see a great band play before they explode and move on to HP Pavilion-size concert halls. The main floor is enormous, making it easy for you to wiggle your way towards the stage even on the night of a sold-out show. There's a massive balcony section with limited seating, plus a large dining room designated for food, drink, and conversation. The crystal chandeliers-bathed in a purplish-blue light throughout all performances-add a one-of-a-kind psychedelic opulence to the space.
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street (between Polk and Larkin Streets) (415) 885-0750 Website & Performance Calendar: Great American Music Hall
Stepping foot into this astoundingly beautiful, almost aristocratic theater feels like stepping back in time to when it opened in 1907-the ornate ceiling frescoes, grand marble columns, and gold-trimmed balconies make you stop and think, "I'm seeing a grungy punk rock show here?" Great American Music Hall offers an amazingly wide variety of musical acts, and what is in my humble opinion one of the best sound systems in town-no matter where you're sitting or standing, the sound is top-notch. A wide variety of acts (mostly in the rock vein) have played here; from seasoned veterans like Patti Smith to up-and-comers like The Arcade Fire, and due to GAMH's intimate size, every show feels as if it's unfolding in your living room. Food service can be had at all shows (go for the French fries), and when the draft beer stand is open, a good imported pint of brew can be had for only $4.