Best Live Music in San Francisco

Feel the Beat at San Francisco's 10 Best Music Venues

The power of live music to make folks feel good is on full display at a host of San Francisco night clubs. If listening to bands and vocalists show off their skills is how you like to spend an evening, you'll find that San Francisco does things right. Multiple options let you tap into the venues that 10Best readers favor, like Biscuits and Blues, or you can get a taste of the city's offerings by visiting places like Bottom of the Hill, which is known for its Rock music. While many venues on the local music scene are clustered in the Union Square area, know that terrific places to hear live music can be found throughout San Francisco.

And the sounds of San Francisco are as eclectic as the restaurants and the neighborhoods. The city is legendary for the Chinese fare of Chinatown, the Italian cuisine of North Beach, and the Latino food of the Mission. But the musical offerings are just as delicious. Whether you're in the mood for rock, pop, reggae, classical or country, San Francisco is a city big enough to attract world-renowned acts but small enough to  still have backroom bars where locals can croon to their hearts delight. Whatever type of music gets you in the groove, we promise our San Francisco list will help you find it.


Just as in the days when Rita Hayworth kicked things up as chorus girl Rita Casino, this San Francisco mainstay embraces grand 1930s style while maintaining a contemporary edge. Each night's artists are unique, and the place features everything from the best in local jazz to big band tunes and hot pop performers like Chris Isaak and Jewel. Call for show schedules and ticket prices. And, don't miss the latest incarnation of Dolfina, the world-famous "Girl in the Fishbowl!" And Bimbo's hasn't missed a beat with the latest cocktail craze going on in San Francisco. If you like your music with a finely made drink, head to Bimbo's.

Recommended for Live Music because: If you like a well-fashioned cocktail with your music, Bimbo's is the spot for you.

Tom's expert tip: One-time speakeasy hosts indie, rock and pop vocalists and bands.

Read more about Bimbo's 365 Club →

Hemlock is big enough to have something for everyone. Just need a drink? Join them for their daily Happy Hour from 4-7. Want to dance? They have great live shows as well as popular local DJ's spinning at all hours. Need a snack? Grab a bag of hot roasted peanuts for just a buck. Need a smoke? That's even taken care of by the popular smoking lounge, a rarity in smoke-free San Francisco. If you want a big night out - but don't know exactly where to start - kick your evening off with a visit to the Hemlock Tavern.

Recommended for Live Music because: Martuni's is a great choice for those who want to experience old-time San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: What's great about this big space is that you can join the loud crowd or find your own small, more peaceful corner.

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For great rock 'n roll, make a point to catch top-notch live acts at Slim's, including a number of on-their-way-to-the-big-time bands. The first floor features a stage and small dance floor, while the upper level offers a small balcony for watching drummers and guitarists do their thing. Hip-hop, rock, jazz, Latin, and reggae are in order, given the day, and both local and well-known bands perform. Bar and dining menu available. Slim's has a long history of hosting some of the classic names in rock and roll. If you want to impress true rock and roll fans back home, tell them you caught a show at Slims.

Recommended for Live Music because: Slim's is a local legend and a great spot for no excuse, no holds-barred rock and roll.

Tom's expert tip: Slim's partners with the Great American Music Hall.

Read more about Slim's →

Bottom of the Hill

This club's a standout in a town filled with great clubs. Its intimate environment attracts a host of hip folks, and the place reverberates with the sounds of live rock and alternative music. In fact, international, regional, and local artists have caused "Rolling Stone" to give the place an enthusiastic thumbs-up. A pool table and an outdoor patio offer pleasant diversions, and if you're hungry, the small, tasty menu includes standbys like hamburgers, chicken, and pasta. Unlike some of the other venues that cater almost exclusively to tourists, visitors from out-of-town will be sure to rub elbows with some authentic locals at the Bottom of the Hill.

Recommended for Live Music because: Bottom of the Hill is one of the few old locales that have survived several tech booms and busts.

Tom's expert tip: Nightly shows at this local favorite deliver the best, rock to pop, punk to folk.

Read more about Bottom of the Hill →

Biscuits and Blues

This evocatively named club offers a slice of Memphis right in the Bay area. And luckily, the name isn't just a gimmick. The place has a reputation as one of the best blues clubs in the country. Plus, the kitchen serves up hot biscuits, catfish, and chicken to eager patrons as they partake of sweet jazz, Memphis-style, of course. And visitors will love the location, just off of union Square, smack dab in the middle of all kinds of restaurants and late night activities. If you think great food and great music make a memorable pairing, make it a Biscuit and Blues night.

Recommended for Live Music because: Although tis relatively new to the San Francisco music scene, Slims has made quite an impression.

Tom's expert tip: Sensational blues downstairs and lip-smackin' Southern fare upstairs.

Read more about Biscuits and Blues →

Pier 23 Cafe
Photo courtesy of Pier 23

More known for its live music than its food, Pier 23 is THE nightlife spot on the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero has enjoyed a real renovation over the last few years, so visitors could easily plan an entire day around a live show at Pier 23. Start off with a delicious local breakfast at the Farmer's Market, which offers a large selection of organic bites and snacks. Work your way down the Embarcadero with a visit to the newly redesigned Exploratorium, which has enough free exhibits around its exterior to while away several hours. Grab dinner some seafood at Pier 39 for sustenance, and then dance the night away at Pier 23.

Recommended for Live Music because: Pier 23 is one of the smaller venues for live music, so it offers a really intimate experience.

Tom's expert tip: Pier 23 is on the Embarcadero, which also offers a beautiful walk along the bay.

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If your taste in nightlife tends towards the classy, dress to impress, and step into the 1930s-era glamour of Harry Denton's. The chic club is known for incredible live music, elegant decor, suited doormen, and a brief, upscale menu. Nightly rhythms are provided (Thursday through Saturday) by the best local swing and jazz artists; earlier in the week, DJs are standard. Since the club sits atop the Drake Hotel, you're sure to get spectacular views of downtown and the bay. And you may just spot some celebrities too! If you need that signature event to top off your San Francisco vacation, you can't go wrong with a trip to the Starlight Room.

Recommended for Live Music because: Harry Denton has top-notch live music, but the view from the top is alone worth the visit.

Tom's expert tip: Glamour reigns at this romantic spot where jazz and swing hold court.

Read more about Harry Denton's Starlight Room →

Boom Boom Room

It's all about blues music at this Fillmore Street club, which also throws in soul, R&B, and gospel for interest and good measure. Regulars often follow-up a spin around the large dance floor with a drink at the bar, indulging in one of the club's killer cocktails. In fact, focus on music and dancing is the main draw, although you may want to check out the great photographs lining the walls. Since the place is open every day until 2am, you'll be able to take in a large share of fun for a good price. And if you need dinner, Japantown and all its savory offerings is right across the street.

Recommended for Live Music because: Boom Boom Room is a carryover from the great days of jazz and blues of the Fillmore District.

Tom's expert tip: Boom Boom Room has one of the better Happy Hours in San Francisco, too.

Read more about Boom Boom Room →

What makes San Francisco unique is its diversity, all packed within forty-nine square miles, and The Plough and Stars is a great example. For a full day of fun, wander up and down Clement Street, popping into dim sum joints or thumbing through paperbacks at legendary Green Apple Books. Top off your night with live Irish music and a creamy pint of Guinness at the Plough, and you've had a true San Francisco day. The Plough and the Stars have been featuring live Irish music for years, so you'll be sure to enjoy a professional production of authentic Irish music.

Recommended for Live Music because: The Plough and the Stars is a great option for those who want to stomp their feet to fantastic Irish music.

Tom's expert tip: Best place for Irish music in San Francisco.

Read more about The Plough and Stars →

A great destination for groups, Great American Music Hall offers guaranteed good times, complete with live entertainment and drinks. Comedy acts grace the stage many nights, and live musical groups are a constant as well. The decor hearkens back to the days of the California Gold Rush, and the two-level venue offers dancing on the first floor and a bar with a small dining menu on the second floor. What makes GAMH unique is its ability to feel like both a big-time concert hall and an intimate venue. Check their website for special concert dinner events, always a popular ticket.

Recommended for Live Music because: Great American Music Hall has a central location and an eclectic mix of acts to please a broad variety of patrons.

Tom's expert tip: A broad variety of music enlivens this elaborate, turn-of-the-century venue.

Read more about Great American Music Hall →


Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

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