If San Francisco's good at one thing it's live music. Throwing down music fests like Treasure Island and Outside Lands (and that whole rock and roll/counterculture/psychedelic/music-revolutionizing thing), it's no doubt SF has good taste. Stocked full of gritty dives, bass-heavy clubs and deluxe dance floors - here's our helpful picks for the best places to catch live music.
1805 Geary Blvd (at Fillmore St)
You can't talk about San Francisco music venues unless you're gonna talk about The Fillmore. Made famous by Bill Graham, the invention of liquid light shows, the poster art that flowed out of it and the cutting edge bands within it - The Fillmore revolutionized music with performances by Miles Davis, Jefferson Airplane, CCR, Pink Floyd and (of course) The Grateful Dead. While the bookings may no longer stay strictly psychedelic, it's still a musical rite of passage.
Tip: Make sure you don't leave before checking the historic concert posters coating the walls in the upstairs lounge.
628 Divisadero St (between Grove St & Hayes St)
Right in the heart of Divis and near neighborhood cafes, cheap drinks and tons of bars - The Independent is always a good excuse for a night out. Despite its fairly regular name changing (ie The Half Note/Vis Club/Kennel Club/Justice League), 628 Divisadero has been showcasing live music for over 30 years and The Indy brand has been going strong since 2004. With full throttle bass, spot-on light shows and a wildly diverse lineup that's almost always rad - grab a ticket or swing by on one of their Cinema Drafthouse nights to catch a free flick on select Mondays.
Tip: Recently refurbished, keep in mind that besides shiny new light fixtures - they switched the bathrooms. Awesome for women's lines. Not so awesome when you drunkenly stumble into the wrong one.
444 Jessie St (between Mint St & 6th St)
If indie, hip hop and electronic music is the name of the game - this is your club. Packed full with energy and sweat - Mezzanine at full capacity can be a wild experience. With an ear for what will get the venue moving, they've brought in the likes of Bassnectar, Justice, Grizzly Bear, Snoop Dog and Lady Gaga (4 realz). Three stocked bars, an upstairs with bottle service, and a dank sound system make this SOMA hotspot the perfect Friday night.
Tip: Tickets tend to sell out when shows are announce here. Stay dialed in and try your best not to wait to grab them at the door. Chances are you'll get turned away.
SF's Biggest: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
99 Grove St
As the biggest live music venue in San Francisco, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium takes its name from the legendary SF concert promoter who made his mark on the city with the opening of the Fillmore and the revitalization of San Francisco's music culture in the 1950's. Today, the Bill Graham Auditorium is reserved for the biggest shows of the season, hosting massive events for Bon Iver, Passion Pit, Further and more.
Tip: Take a seat in the very center of the balcony for the best acoustics and the clearest sound.
Best Dive: Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St (between Texas St & Missouri St)
Sticky floors. Underground bands. Cash-only bars. If that's the stuff that gets your juices flown' - this is place for you. Once dubbed "the best place to hear live music in San Francisco" by Rolling Stone, The Bottom has an ear and a knack for booking up-and-coming bands for insanely cheap ticket prices. Our Tip for getting there? Definitely grab a cab.
Tip: Need a breather or a smoke? Squeeze by the bathrooms and hit up the backdoor patio - or grab a seat in the back room next to the kitchen... it's almost always empty.
Jaw-Dropping Venue: The Warfield
982 Market St (at Mason St)
If you've walked down Market Street, you know where this place is - and if you've only seen it from the outside, you're in for a treat. Built back in the '20s as a vaudeville theater, the interior drips with glass chandeliers, sculpted walls and an impressive balcony that calls to mind more opera than rock and roll. Nonetheless, The Warfield has played host to the likes of the Grateful Dead and The Clash (who refused to perform unless the first two rows of seats were removed). With a variety of acts coming in every month, there's a reason those crowds packed all the way down the street.
Tip: If you're looking for a fast drink, sneak your way to the upstairs balcony bar. There's almost never a line.
Most Intimate: Milk Bar
18040 Haight Street
Directly across from Amoeba on Haight, this lounge-meets-hipster-venue has a knack for pulling underground music into their small back room. Since their opening a few years back, their small stage has been graced by the likes of Geographer, French Miami, Baths, Neon Indian, and more. Teaming up with industry folk like Terrorbird Records, Epicsauce, Yrs.Truly, and Popscene - this venue's calendar is always popping up with surprises.
Tip: Bring a crowd, grab a big booth by the door, and hope that it's $1 PBR night.
Best Food & Drink: Cafe Du Nord
2174 Market St (between 15th St & Church St)
Perfect for date night, this ex-speakeasy maintains its Prohibition-era charm with low lights and Victorian detail. Emphasizing the mellower side of music, Cafe Du Nord is one of the only spots in the city to catch singer-songwriters and indie folksters on the regular. Spark a little romance and reserve a table to dine while watching music in this intimate space. Menu options include Fire-Grilled Ahi Sandwiches, Spicy Hummus with Grilled Eggplant, and a Savory Steak Salad. Then wash it all down with a round of Old Fashions.
Tip: If you're looking for a pre-show drink, be sure to stop by neighboring Lucky 13 or Blackbird (depending on your style).
Hippest Bookings: Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell St (between Franklin St & United States Highway 101)
Rickshaw has an impressive knack for booking bands just before they get huge. Since their opening in 2004, they've played host to everyone from MIA and Vampire Weekend to Grimes and Bagraiders. Nearly always packed with a hip, in-the-know crowd, it's tough to find a show that sucks. Make your way up to the mezzanine when it's tough to see the stage for a better view - but be sure to order up a pint of their cocktail special first.
Tip: Make your way to the back of the mezzanine between sets to play a few rounds of foosball.
Casual Tunes: Amnesia
853 Valencia St (between 20th St & Cunningham Pl)
If catching a big name band isn't your priority on a night out, try your luck at Mission favorite, Amnesia. Offering live music seven nights a week, this small dive keeps things diverse with bluegrass, jazz, indie rock, indie electro, and anything else they're in the mood for. With rarely a cover over $5 (though most of it's free), Amnesia's the perfect spot to pop in for a few quick tunes. While they don't offer a full bar, a quick glance at their hand-selected beer menu always keeps the crowd happy.
Tip: Play an instrument? Check the calendar for open mic nights and jam sessions.
Most Nostalgic: Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave (between Taylor St & Chestnut St)
Today Bimbo's is mainly a private event space, but when they book it right - it's an event you don't want to miss. A magically intimate space with red velvet curtains and luxurious rooms, Bimbo's is a snapshot of old North Beach - a past that filled its stage with Rita Hayworth and it's audience with a burlesque-loving Herb Caen. While the venue holds onto that vintage glamour, contemporary performers have included Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Passion Pit, and The Raconteurs. Take our word for it that a show at Bimbo's is unlike anything else you'll ever experience,
Tip: Be sure to take a few moments in the entrance way to check out the vintage photographs of Bimbo's from the when it was a Burlesque venue.
Did we forget one? What's your favorite live music venue in San Francisco?
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