Expert Tips


Venues for Best Nightlife in Orange County

Orange County is known for being on the sleepy side where nightlife is concerned which only means that communities and businesses are becoming more creative to entice residents out.  They are combining art walks with live music, cheese and wine tastings with open mic night and providing public transportation to larger public performances. 

Orange County's live music scene is growing as more venues, many of them intimate and reasonably priced, are opening up with the support of locals.  Santa Ana and Costa Mesa have seen huge growth in the number of cafes and coffee shops that have live performances on certain nights of the week.  While Yard House doesn't have live performances, the hip music played in the restaurant keeps the bar busy all night long.

In southern Orange County, at Mozambique in Laguna Beach and Iva Lee's in San Clemente, musicians play alongside the late-night dinner crowd.  At the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano it's business as usual with several concerts booked every week.  When clubs like The Observatory open up and showcase area LA up-and-coming bands, residents realize that they don't need to drive to Los Angeles to hear quality live music and look in their own backyards for live music venues.  


Costa Mesa

Boasting a number of locations in Orange County and Southern California, this fun-loving establishment delivers good food and what they call "the world's largest selection of draft beer." With anywhere from 130-250 taps at each location, Yard House gives you the chance to see what they're all about. As you sample the brews, indulge in terrific New American fare, kick back to the rock music playing, and catch up with sports and news on TVs that pepper the space. A fantastic place to while away some time with friends or colleagues.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Yard House consistently serves up quality food and fun no matter which location you choose and the service is excellent.

Local Expert tip: Happy Hour is a great value with over 20 half-priced appetizers and pizzas from 3 - 6 p.m. Monday - Friday.

Read more about Yard House →

There are few places in the area where teenagers can go to hear live music without their parents. Chain Reaction in Anaheim is one option. It's an all-ages club catering to teenagers. The tiny venue heats up quickly with hard core dancing, mosh pits and stage diving. Local bands lookign for their start frequent the stages which mainly showcase hardcore, metal and punk bands although other genres are featured occasionally. The emphasis is on low ticket prices between $8-$20 and free parking. Concerts have earlier start times at 7 or 7:30 p.m. to accommodate the younger crowd and the parents that drive them.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: This is one of only a few music venues that caters to teens in the area otherwise they need to head to LA.

Local Expert tip: If you're dropping your teenager off at the concert know that the dancing gets physical.

Read more about Chain Reaction →

The Yost Theater is Orange County's oldest and most storied theater. Built in 1912 for Vaudeville acts, the theater has seen silent film actors, club DJs, heavy metal bands and a variety of other actors and musicians grace its stage. The theater showcases everything from club nights to cultural nights with film screenings to mixed martial arts cage fights and burlesque dancers; it's entertainment for everyone. The renovated theater has a state-of-the-art sound system and plenty of room to dance or cheer. Late night fare like Sriracha Mac n' Cheese and Beer Braised Bacon Wrapped Bratwurst are a few of the menu options available when you need a nibble.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The historic venue and the variety of entertainment options are worth a visit.

Local Expert tip: Take some time to explore the theater; it's registered as a historic landmark.

Read more about The Yost Theater →

San Clemente

Iva Lee's is a Southern Belle located in downtown San Clemente. The restaurant specializes in Southern and Creole cuisine and live Blues and Jazz music. Wednesday - Saturday you'll find locals kicking up their heels in the recently renovated bar and lounge area. The band is up-close-and-personal and it's a cozy spot to stop for a drink after dinner or listen to the music from the comfort of your table. The bartenders are well versed in classic cocktails and all things Southern.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The bar and lounge area is cozy and it feels like the band is playing for a small group of friends.

Local Expert tip: If you're a classic cocktail drinker, Iva Lee's mixes the best bourbon old fashioned.

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Mozambique in Laguna Beach is known for its steaks and seafood; the Peri-Peri prawns are a staple. They also have a fantastic value daily happy hour and interesting South African wines. On Friday and Saturday nights they showcase live bands that range from cover bands to Motown to the English Beat. Cover charge is $5 unless otherwise noted. A primarily over 40 crowd rocks out to bands that play from 9 p.m. to midnight. Mozambique offers a complimentary Safe Ride car service within a three mile radius.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Mozambique is light, airy and always comfortable. You can listen to the music from your table or reserve a spot in the bar.

Local Expert tip: If you're looking for an earlier evening check out Reggae Sundays which start at 5 p.m.

Read more about Mozambique Steakhouse & Coastal Lounge →

Downtown Disney® Dist

Always-popular House of Blues in Downtown Disney finds favor with lots of folks who appreciate the outstanding music venue and restaurant as a fun destination throughout the day and night. Not only does House of Blues feature a roster of libations and a great musical lineup, but it serves a legendary Sunday Gospel Brunch as well, which has folks clamoring for terrific tunes and fabulous Southern cooking. The gospel singers are engaging and happy to talk with patrons afterwards. Sound, lighting, and spectacle are all top-notch, and any experience is guaranteed to be memorable. The parking in the Downtown Disney lot couldn't be more convenient.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: House of Blues is a staple in the live music scene in Orange County and the Gospel Brunch is a novelty for many visitors.

Local Expert tip: If you're vacationing at Disneyland and need a break from the mouse, check out the Sunday Gospel Brunch which is a family-friendly affair.

Read more about House of Blues →

San Juan Capistrano

It's been around a long time, but that only means that Coach House has earned its reputation as a top-rated place to catch local bands and touring performers. There's nothing elaborate about the venue, but it's a satisfying destination for dinner and a show (patrons have first choice of seats; show-goers must choose from the remainder). The food menu includes a few steaks, swordfish, and chicken. Past engagements have featured Gary Sinise & the Lt. Dan Band, The Growlers, Billy Vera & the Beaters, John Waite and The Fixx.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The Coach House is a legend in Orange County; it's a go-to venue when you want to hear live music.

Local Expert tip: Unless you want a specific seat, skip dinner and eat in downtown San Juan Capistrano or the Dana Point Harbor.

Read more about The Coach House →

Costa Mesa

OC meets hipster-LA at the intimate Detroit Club. A former punk rock venue in the 80s it now showcases an eclectic mix of indie groups, touring acts and rock n' roll. It's open seven nights a week and DJs spinning all genres of music, open mic and karaoke fill in the nights between concerts. There's free admission on Karaoke Sundays and Residency Mondays which feature a local band as part of a month-long residency program. Drinks are well priced and security staff is attentive so everyone can enjoy the evening. It gets crowded so arrive early to find a seat or a place to stand.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: It's a reasonably priced club with a good sound system and the small venue is a bonus.

Local Expert tip: Try the club on a Monday when it's low key and free.

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The Observatory sits in the same venue where the now defunct Galaxy Theatre was located. Reinvigorated by new owners and renovations, the 550 seat venue attracts LA Indie bands and rising stars that would otherwise not make the trek to Orange County. Past bands include Foster the People, Young the Giant, Edward Sharpe and Misfits. There are a limited number of dinner reservations available which guarantee a seat during the show. The Observatory also has a second smaller venue, the Constellation Room, withing the same building which seats 300 and showcases smaller bands and local acts.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Great music choices within a 30 minute drive of most of Orange County makes The Observatory a huge hit with area live music fans.

Local Expert tip: Parking is free at the venue but very limited. Plan to park in the nearby pay lot or read the parking signs carefully because tow trucks are out in full force when it's concert time.

Read more about The Observatory →


Meet Kristi Marcelle

Originally from Wisconsin, Kristi Marcelle found her passion for travel after studying and volunteering in Quito, Ecuador for two years.  She’s lived in Southern California for over ten years...  More About Kristi