The eclectic sounds of San Francisco seem to pour out of virtually every street corner bar and concert venue. And it’s at some of these local hot spots that Billboard-topping artists got their start. Music festivals, nightly live performances, and a constantly rotating stream of big acts make their way through the Bay Area on a regular basis. So where can you go to catch an intimate performance by the greats, or hear the “next big thing” before they get famous? Here are five of our favorite San Francisco music venues that should definitely make your ‘to-do’ list:
1. The Fillmore
No list of San Francisco music venues would be complete without a reference to The Fillmore – the spot that introduced icons like The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and more. Any venue can luck into giving a star their big break now and again, but The Fillmore has been ‘The’ spot for new music artists for decades. Since its opening, it has kept its historic vibe and nightclub ambiance. The purple chandeliers continue to shed light on the best and brightest musicians of today.
2. 924 Gilman Street Project
For a truly unique musical experience, you can’t beat the 924 Gilman Street Project. Started in 1986, this all-volunteer project has given rise to many punk icons, such as Green Day, the Foo Fighters, and The Offspring. As part of the philosophy of the venue, here you can enjoy a night out that does not include drugs, alcohol, or violence. In fact, bands that use lyrics that promote hate and division are not allowed to play at this iconic venue. Don’t be fooled by the punk theme, either. This venue caters to all sorts of rock sounds, from ska to metal.
3. Cafe du Nord
Intimate, cool, and hipster vibes float through the air at Cafe du Nord. Once a prohibition-era speakeasy, this venue retains that same vibe today, while hosting many internationally known musicians and up-and-coming bands almost every night of the week. Many big names got their start here, as well, including The Sounds, Noisettes and the John Butler Trio.
4. Great American Music Hall
Have you ever heard of Journey? Even if you’re not sure of the name, you’ll likely recognize their music: their single “Don’t Stop Believin’” was the top-selling iTunes catalog track in 2009 – although it was first released back in 1981! Their music still gets incredible radio play today, years after the band got their start at the Great American Music Hall. Formerly a burlesque club, then a jazz club, it is now a popular indie rock venue that holds the distinction of being the city’s oldest club – even surviving the 1906 quake.
5. Bottom of the Hill
For a stop that doesn’t always make the list of must-see San Francisco music venues, be sure to visit Bottom of the Hill. Good food, great drinks, and friendly service round out the night as you catch small indie groups; the venue is known for hosting many artists and bands before they were famous, such as Green Day, Death Cab for Cutie, and The White Stripes. The Bottom of the Hill has also won the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Best Of The Bay award for Rock Venue several times.
Each of these venues offers a unique atmosphere and sound, making any of them a great choice to catch a show. If you want a large concert venue, check out The Fillmore or the Great American Music Hall. For more intimate performances, Cafe du Nord and Bottom of the Hill are the places for you. For something in between, with an atmosphere as unique as the music lineup, try the 924 Gilman Street Project. These are just a few of the San Francisco music venues out there, so don’t stop after hitting this list!