The Best Live Music Venues in Southern California

By Jennifer Anderson of GoodDeedSeats

 

Southern California and entertainment go hand-in-hand.  And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCal has some of the best live music venues in the world.

To compile a list of the best, three criteria were used to measure:

  1. The venue had to frequently host some type of live music event.
  2. It had to be both patron-friendly and performer-friendly.
  3. It had to cultivate a live music experience that’s memorable and enjoyable.

Here’s a spotlight of some of the best venues with a capacity of more than 20,000.  (That’s why Staples Center and the Mattress Firm Amphitheatre didn’t make our list.)

ANAHEIM

Juke Joint

“A place where friends can drink”
735 North Anaheim Boulevard
(714) 778-1397
Monday through Sunday: 6am to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

The Juke Joint is an award-winning downtown bar beloved by punkers, rockers, and those who like to have fun.  At the Juke Joint, you can enjoy live music as well as more than 50 beers (20 are on tap), Keno, and the big game/big UFC match.
Getting There: Half mile from the Packing Plant
Venue Facts

  • Established in 1978
  • Three pool tables
  • Internet dart boards

Booking Examples: Guttermouth, Hot Rod Trio, Mindwarz
*Image courtesy of the venue’s Facebook page.

 

BAKERSFIELD

Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame

Performance art theatre
2230 Q Street
(661) 864-1701
Monday through Friday: 10am to 6pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

Country music fans are quite familiar with Bakersfield.  The Kern County city is home of the “Bakersfield Sound.”  The Hall of Fame has inducted such legends as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Bonnie Owens.  It also supports a Grade-A performance venue that has clear sound and comfortable seats.
Getting There: The Hall of Fame’s event entrance is on Q Street while its office is on R Street.
Venue Facts

  • Founded on December 8, 2015
  • 250-seat concert venue
  • The facility also houses a recording studio and coffee shop.

Booking Examples: Marty Haggard, Kim McAbee, Ty Herndon

 

COSTA MESA

The Wayfarer

“A house of social provisions”
843 West 19th Street
(949) 764-0039
Monday through Sunday: 5pm to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

The Wayfarer features live music, libations, and appetizing pub dishes.  This venue is the result of the genius, hard work, and inspiration of its owner, Jeffrey Chon.  He also owns the Tabu Shabu in Costa Mesa and Alley Restaurant & Bar in Newport Beach.  Tuesday night is dedicated to reggae music.
Getting There: You’ll find The Wayfarer between Monrovia Avenue and Placentia Avenue.
Venue Facts

  • The Wayfarer opened in July of 2014.
  • Formerly known as “Detroit Bar”
  • Capacity: 300

Booking Examples: Lindi Ortega, Purple Mountains, and Johnzo West & The Wayward Souls

 

LONG BEACH

Gaslamp

“Music + Bar + Kitchen”
6251 East Pacific Coast Highway
(562) 596-4718
Wednesday: 5pm to 1am
Thursday through Saturday: 5pm to 2am
Sunday: 10am to whenever (subject to change, always call ahead)

Gaslamp is a high-energy music venue, bar, and restaurant.  This live music venue is erected on the corner of the PCH and Loynes.  Sing karaoke on Wednesday and enjoy country music on Thursdays.  If it’s Friday then it’s “80’s with Knyght Ryder.” On Saturdays, Gaslamp hosts concerts, DJs, and/or UFC.
Getting There: To get there from 405, 605, or 22: exit on 7th street, take left at Bellflower, and then a left onto the Pacific Coast Highway (for complete directions visit venue’s website).
Venue Facts

  • General manager is Mike Neufeld.
  • Outdoor seating is available.
  • Checkout their huge chandelier.

Booking Examples: Tribute bands, Warren G, Metal Jam 2017

 

Alex’s Bar

“Dive Bar”
2913 East Anaheim Street
562-434-8292
Monday through Saturday: 5pm to 2am
Sunday: 3pm to 2am

Alex’s Bar is a happening locale to appreciate live music and pleasant libations.  The vibe is cordial and welcoming.  Visitors rave about Alex’s attentive staff.  If you need more reasons to check out this cool, hip establishment, parts of “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny” were filmed here.
Getting There: Entrance to Alex’s Bar is in back parking lot.
Venue Facts

  • Founded in 2000
  • They frequently host Karaoke nights.
  • All shows are 21 and over.

Booking Examples: The Billy Bones, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, CJ Ramone

 

Sgt. Peppers Dueling Pianos

“It was twenty years ago today…”
91 South Pine Avenue
(562) 499-4600)
Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday: 7pm to 12am
Friday and Saturday: 6pm to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

At Sgt. Peppers Dueling Pianos, you’ll almost hear as much laughter as you will music.  That’s because two piano players lead patrons in sing-a-longs.  You want to hear your favorite song?  You want to sing along to your favorite song?  Then come to Sgt. Peppers.  Bottom line, you’ll have the time of your life.

Getting There: One block north of Shoreline Drive
Venue Facts

  • Indoor/outdoor bar
  • They do have a menu—try the McCartney’s Wings.
  • All shows are 21 and over.

Booking Examples: Ronnie Shelton, Scott Doyle, Martha Boles, Time Butterworth

 

LOS ANGELES

Hollywood Bowl

Performance and event venue
2301 North Highland Avenue
323-850-2000
Box office hours vary.  See website for schedule.

If aliens landed on Earth and wanted to experience an outdoor concert, you’d probably take them to the Hollywood Bowl.  Not only is it one of the most famous amphitheaters in the world, it’s also one of the best.  Pollstar consistently votes the Hollywood Bowl the nation’s “Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue.”
Getting There: To avoid traffic try the bowl’s shuttle service.
Venue Facts

  • The Hollywood Bowl opened in 1922.
  • The Hollywood Bowl seats 17,500.
  • The iconic “band shell” was replaced in 2004.

Booking Examples: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lady Antebellum, Queen + Adam Lambert

 

El Rey Theatre

“General admission, standing room venue”
5515 Wilshire Boulevard
(323) 936-6400

The El Rey Theatre began life as a movie theatre.  It was turned into a live music venue in 1994.  As you might expect from an iconic building with a rich past, The El Rey Theatre is a registered historic-cultural monument.  You’ll find the El Rey in the Miracle Mile area of Mid-Wilshire.
Getting There: LA Metro lines 20 & 21 serve The El Rey Theater. They stop in front of the theatre on Wilshire (review bus schedule before leaving for your destination).
Venue Facts

  • Built in 1936
  • Art deco theater with a grand ballroom and a sweeping staircase
  • Capacity: 771

Booking Examples: Mount Kimbie, Gavin James, Brother Ali

 

The Wiltern

Live music venue
3790 Wilshire Boulevard
(213) 388-1400
Box office open 1 to 3 hours before show time (subject to change, always call ahead).

The Wiltern was originally a vaudeville theater and has twice been saved from the wrecking ball.  The venue underwent four years of renovation in the early 1980s and then further modification in the early part of this century.  Its interior is elegant, sophisticated, and unlike any theatre in the world.
Getting There: The Wiltern sits directly across from the Wilshire/Western station.
Venue Facts

  • Built in 1931
  • Famous for its art deco sunburst on ceiling
  • Standing room only capacity: 2,300
  • Seated capacity: 1,850

Booking Examples: David Crosby, The Jesus and the Mary Chain, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

 

Largo at the Coronet

Performance art theatre
366 North La Cienega Boulevard
(310) 855-0350
Will call is usually opened at least two hours before show time (subject to change, always call ahead).

Largo is a funny music venue.  Literally.  When they’re not hosting world renowned musicians, they’re hosting hilarious comics.  Arrive early, get your seat, and then enjoy a Guinness or a glass of wine in The Little Room.  Once you get a seat, you can leave Largo and get a bite somewhere in the neighborhood.
Getting There: Largo is one block north of Beverly Blvd at Oakwood Street.
Venue Facts

  • General manager is Michael Griffee
  • Don’t show up late.  You won’t be seated.
  • Cash only

Booking Examples: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Wild Horses

 

Five Star Bar

“Art.  Music.  Burgers.  Beer.”
267 South Main Street
323-428-4492
Monday through Friday: 12pm to 2am
Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

Five Star Bar has a wonderful vibe and a terrific staff.  There are a lot of good people who work at this establishment.  Heavy metal bands are frequently on the marquee, but they do book acts from other genres.  If you’re there before the music starts, make sure you enjoy one of their scrumptious burgers.
Getting There: Two blocks west of city hall
Venue Facts

  • 50 styles of beer
  • Serves lunch
  • Jukebox

Booking Examples: Scrapmetal, Spacetrucker, Greenskull

 

The Theatre at Ace Hotel

Performance and event venue
929 South Broadway
(213) 623-3233

Getting There: Located in the heat of downtown Los Angeles’ historic theatre district
The Theatre at Ace Hotel is stunning.  This awesome LA music venue has a 2,300-square foot grand lobby, an intricately ornate mezzanine, and a vaulted ceiling plastered with tiny mirrors.  Throw in all the great acts that grace their stage and you have a venue worthy of every music fans’ bucket-list.
Venue Facts

  • Movie palace from the 1920s
  • Three-story grand lobby
  • Capacity: 1,600

Booking Examples: Pixies, The Flaming Lips, The New Pornographers

 

The Orpheum Theatre

“One of L.A.’s most venerable landmarks”
842 South Broadway
(877) 677-4386

This historic venue has hosted performances by Judy Garland, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, and American Idol.  The Orpheum Theatre is a multi-purpose space and regularly schedules theatrical productions, film screening, variety shows, award shows, weddings, and religious events.
Getting There: The Orpheum Theatre sits between the Santa Monica 10, Hollywood 101, and Harbor/Pasadena 110 freeways.
Venue Facts

  • Opened on February 15, 1926
  • Its Wurlitzer organ is one of three working pipe organs in Southern California.
  • Capacity: 2,000+

Booking Examples: Brandi Carlile, Mercyme, Tedeschi Trucks Band

 

NORTH HOLLYWOOD

Kulak’s Woodshed

“Singer/Songwriter, Video/Music Recording Studio, Venue/Listening Room”
5230 Laurel Canyon Boulevard
(818) 766-9913

Paul Kulak created Kulak’s Woodshed in 1999.  It’s a remarkable space that’s for performers and music fans.  Not only is KW a live music venue, it’s also a recording studio.  This inimitable venue has drawn all types of performers to its stage, everyone from established Grammy winners to emerging new artists.
Getting There: Located north of West Magnolia Boulevard and south of Chandler Boulevard
Venue Facts

  • Pet friendly
  • They serve soft drinks, coffee, and tea, but no alcohol.
  • Every Monday is free open mic night
  • Capacity: 49

Booking Examples: Delaney Bramlett, Jackson Browne, Ray Parker Jr.

 

SAN CLEMENTE

OC Tavern Grill and Sports Bar

“We have something for everyone!”
2369 South El Camino
(949) 542-8877
Monday and Tuesday: 11:30am to 10pm
Wednesday through Friday: 10:30am to 2am
Saturday: 9am to 2am during football season (otherwise 10:30am)
Sunday: 10am to 10pm during football season (otherwise 10:30am)
(subject to change, always call ahead)

OC Tavern has it all.  Besides being a live music venue, they are also a full restaurant and sports bar.  Furthermore, they have the first mini-satellite horse wagering bar (with live tellers) in the state.  On Fridays and Saturdays, come to the OC to dance the night away to tunes spun by California’s hottest DJs.
Getting There: Next to San Clemente Municipal Golf Course
Venue Facts

  • Two full bars
  • 15 beers on tap
  • Capacity: 300

Booking Examples: The Freeks, Hot Buttered Rum, The Chololas, Cubensis

 

SAN DIEGO

The Casbah

Live music venue
2501 Kettner Boulevard
619-232-HELL (4355)
Doors open at 8:30pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

If The Casbah could talk it would probably brag about hosting concerts by Nirvana, The White Stripes, and The Breeders.  They suggest picking up your tickets at will call.  That way you don’t have to worry about getting them in the mail or your dog eating them. They do have pool tables, pinball, and Galaga.
Getting There: If you’re taking the trolley, take the Blue Line to Middletown.  Then, walk up to Kettner and toward Laurel (review trolley schedule before leaving for your destination).
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1989, moved to current location in 1994
  • Original capacity was 75.  Today, The Casbah’s capacity is 200-plus.
  • All shows are 21 and over.

Booking Examples: Grace Mitchell, All Them Witches, Gary Wilson and The Blind Dates

 

Soda Bar

Dive bar
3615 El Cajon Boulevard
(619) 255-7224
Monday through Sunday: 8:30pm to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

Soda Bar has created a fun atmosphere to enjoy terrific live music.  That’s awesome because attending concerts should fun.  The Soda Bar has a full bar.  They don’t take reservations, so if you want a booth arrive early.  If you don’t want to drive home, the Lafayette Hotel isn’t too far away.
Getting There: Found in North Park/City Heights between the 805 and the 15
Venue Facts

  • All shows are 21 and over.
  • They have arcade video games
  • Capacity: 230

Booking Examples: Foster The People, Japandroids, Xiu Xiu

 

Music Box

“San Diego’s Premier Live Music, Event, and Entertainment Venue”
1337 India Street
619-795-1337
Monday through Sunday: 8pm to 1am (subject to change, always call ahead)

Music Box hits the sweet spot.  It’s just big enough to attract world class artists but small enough to host those world class artists in an intimate setting, the kind music fans cherish.  Just about everywhere you go inside Music Box you’ll have a view of their stage.  Their VIP experience is one of the best in the state.
Getting There: Situated two blocks from Santa Fe Depot and Little Italy
Venue Facts

  • Spacious three-level venue with booths, lounge areas, and an outdoor patio
  • “Audiophile-quality acoustics”
  • Capacity: 800

Booking Examples: Of Montreal, Betamaxx, Poncho Sanchez

 

Patricks Gaslamp Pub

“Quaint, friendly, comfortable, and fun Irish Pub”
428 F Street
619-233-3077
Monday through Friday: 10am to 2am
Saturday through Sunday: 9am to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

Patricks Gaslamp Pub serves live music every night of the week.  They also serve up daily drink specials and popular Irish potions.  What really separates Patricks is their amazing staff.  They are friendly, obliging, and have a passion for live music.  The venue books established, as well as burgeoning, artists.
Getting There: Located east of the Westfield Horton Pizza
Venue Facts

  • Located in the historic Keating Building
  • Founded in 1937
  • Rustic exposed brick

Booking Examples: The Bill Magee Blues Band, Len Rainey’s Midnight Players, Johnny Vernazza

 

Whiskey Girl

Sports bar
702 5th Avenue
619-236-1616
Monday through Saturday: 11am to 2am
Sunday: 10am to 2am
Monday through Sunday: 21 and over after 7pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

Whiskey Girl is the happening place to watch the big game and have a delicious bite to eat.  Then, celebrate your favorite team’s victory with some live entertainment.  This live entertainment comes in the form of acoustic sets and DJs spinning the hottest platters.
Getting There: Within walking distance of Petco Park and the Convention Center
Venue Facts

  • Karaoke and photo booth
  • State-of-the-art audio and video system
  • Plenty of HDTVs to watch the big game

Booking Examples: J Marc Thrasher, Super DJ Romeo, The Heart Band, Kenny Eng

 

Cat Eye Club

“Cocktail lounge and Tiki bar”
370 7th Avenue
(619) 330-9509
Thursday: 5pm to 1am
Friday and Saturday: 5pm to 2am
Sunday: 11:30am to 5pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

Want to take a trip back to the mid-20th century when nightclubs had an island flare?  Then come to Cat Eye Club in San Diego’s East Village.  At Cat Eye Club, you’ll relish the retro atmosphere as you partake in first-rate live music.  Best of all, Cat Eye Club serves drinks in some very cool decorative glasses.
Getting There: Across the street from Petco Park
Venue Facts

  • Red padded door
  • Lots of bamboo and wicker
  • Cool “Tiki Lounge” neon sign

Booking Examples: Tony Davis, Jason Hanna & The Bullfighters, The Fink Bombs

 

Moonshine Flats

“Live Free. Rock Hard”
344 7th Avenue
619-255-7625
Thursday through Saturday: doors open at 8pm
DJ and dancing start at 10pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

Moonshine Flats is not your father’s honky-tonk bar.  It is, however, a target for those that love to dance to country music as well as rock and pop.  When you’ve had your fill of line dancing and partying, visit their extension, “Deck at Moonshine Flats,” for some BBQ, a craft beer, and a laid-back atmosphere.
Getting There: Next to Petco Park
Venue Facts

  • 18,000 square feet
  • One of the largest LED screens in Southern California
  • Enormous wooden dance floor

Booking Examples: Maggie Rose, Jacob Bryant, Scotty Alexander

 

SOLANA BEACH

Belly Up

Live music venue
143 South Cedros Avenue
(858) 481-8140
Box office: 12pm to end of show
When no show, box office is open 12pm to 5pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

Belly Up is a highly touted live music venue in Southern California. The astounding staff works hard to bring top acts to the stage and to make your experience memorable.  The 21 and over club does serve bar food and drinks.  If you’re looking for an enchanting meal, step next store to the Wild Note Café.
Getting There: Within walking distance of the Solana Beach Coaster Station
Venue Facts

  • Established in 1974
  • Free parking available
  • Capacity: 600

Booking Examples: Com Truise, Nick Waterhouse, Preservation Hall Jazz Band

 

VENTURA

Bombay

“Burgers. Bar. Music.”
143 South California Street
(805) 643-4404
Tuesday through Thursday: 5pm to 12am
Friday: 5pm to 2am
Saturday: 12pm to 2am
Sunday: 12pm to 9pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

For over 30 years, Bombay has been entertaining Venturans with great live music and mouthwatering burgers—which are currently created by Chef Andy Brooks. This Ventura landmark is rocking two stages and two state-of-the-art audio systems.  The staff is superb and if you don’t like burgers try their wings.
Getting There: One block west of Plaza Park
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1986
  • Heated patio lounge
  • Longest bar in Ventura county, it’s over 140 feet.

Booking Examples: Tommy Marsh and Bad Dog, Boyfriend Material, DJ Erok

 

The Majestic Ventura Theatre

“The best venue between LA and San Francisco”
26 South Chestnut Street
805-853-0721
Box office open Tuesday through Saturday: 11am to 6pm (subject to change, always call ahead)

The hip Majestic Ventura Theatre will impress you with its great sight lines and terrific acoustics.  It really doesn’t matter where you are in the venue, you’ll feel close to the band.  The Majestic welcomes artists from every musical genre imaginable.  If you’re driving, there is an accessible parking lot nearby.
Getting There: Half a block north of Plaza Park
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1928
  • Mission-style architecture
  • Capacity: 1,200

Booking Examples: Tribal Seeds, Panteon Rococo, PHORA

 

WEST HOLLYWOOD

Troubadour

“Dance and night club”
9081 Santa Monica Boulevard

Troubadour has seen a lot of history over the years.  Ringo Starr jammed with Joe Walsh and Don Was in 2012.  Price played two surprise shows in 2011.  Also that year, John Legend and The Roots played “Wake Up” for the first time in L.A.  And let’s not forget, Elton John made his U.S. debut here in 1970.
Getting There: Located between North Doheny Drive and Willey Lane
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1957
  • General admission and mostly standing room only
  • Capacity: 500

Booking Examples: Joe Purday, Good Riddance, Balkan Beat Box

 

The Roxy Theatre

Legendary music venue
9009 West Sunset Boulevard
(310) 278-9457
Monday through Sunday: 7pm to 1am (subject to change, always call ahead)

The Roxy Theatre is a West Hollywood landmark and an iconic music venue.  Over the years, The Roxy Theatre has hosted sets by Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Smith.  In fact, all three of those artists have released concert albums which were recorded at the historic Roxy Theatre.
Getting There: Take Metro Bus 2 (review bus schedule before leaving for your destination)
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1973
  • Previously a strip club
  • Capacity: 500

Booking Examples: Breakbot Live, Ronald Bruner Jr., Son Volt

 

The Viper Room

“Johnny Depp’s Joint”
8852 Sunset Blvd
310-358-1881
Monday through Sunday: 8pm to 2am (subject to change, always call ahead)

The Viper Room has a reputation for being a hangout for celebrities.  After all, Johnny Deep co-owned the venue until 2004.  On Halloween of 1993, The Viper Room saw River Phoenix die from a drug overdose.  Two years later at the VP, Australian singer Jason Donovan fell into a drug-induced coma.
Getting There: Situated between North San Vicente Boulevard and Larrabee Street
Venue Facts

  • Opened in 1993
  • Lower level is a whiskey bar
  • Capacity: 250

Booking Examples: Tidal Babes, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Queen of Kings

 

Author: So Cal Life Mag Guest Post

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