Let's Hear It for Live Music in Santa Barbara

Get ready to rock, Santa Barbara! Or roll. Or swing. Or snap your fingers. Whatever the case may be, there's a music venue for you. Although live music can be a little tricky to find in the sleepy city by the sea, it's not impossible. Let 10Best be your guide to the best live music finds in Santa Barbara.

If you don't read any further, come away with this: do not miss an opportunity to see a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. This stunning outdoor amphitheater books all the biggest stars from April through September every year - from local boy Jack Johnson to legendary acts. Bob Marley played his last show here, in fact. Adding to the wow factor is the aerial view of town.

If you're looking to have a fun night out with friends, visit one of the local bars to catch a live band in the act. The Velvet Jones and Soho both host bands regularly. Or head to the James Joyce for Irish folk music and other jazzy live acts almost every night of the week.

For a more sophisticated evening, look up the schedule at the Lobero theater. This beautiful venue is home to symphonies, ballets and other visiting guest artists. 


Whiskey Richard's is a bar and music venue on lower State Street. It is dark and welcoming for a night of casual drinking. They have pool tables, pinball and a photo booth. Drinks are strong and prices are fair. There is both indoor and outdoor seating. Live bands play there frequently at night, usually with a rock or punk rock vibe. There is a small dance floor but this is not really your typical dance club, just a decent place to enjoy some loud music, people watching and a drink (or three). Take a cab or walk, although there are parking lots nearby.

This funky little coffee house is a find! Only locals and in-the-know travelers visit this bohemian hideout a few blocks off bustling State Street in Santa Barbara. During the day, it's the perfect place to grab some caffeine and do some studying or chat with friends. There are indoor lounge areas and outdoor spaces, too. At night, there are frequent art shows and live bands. In addition to coffee and pastries, Muddy Waters Coffee House also serves sandwiches, salads and... beer! It's a comfy spot for intellectual and artistic exchanges. Free parking on the street out front. Capacity is limited to 150 people, so it makes for an intimate show atmosphere.

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If you're planning on spending a Thursday night in Santa Barbara this summer, don't miss your opportunity to embrace a little al fresco fun at Chase Palm Park. Starting in late June, the Parks & Recreation department hosts free weekly concerts at this park by the sea. Check online for band lineup. Kids delight in a carousel and playground, and picnic areas pepper the space, along with an entertainment pavilion and restrooms. A pleasant plaza also boasts a stately fountain, and a small, beautifully detailed lake invites folks to be mesmerized for a while. Parking is free, but can be tricky to find when it's busy.


Are you looking for an eclectic place to enjoy a drink (and maybe a nibble) in Santa Barbara? Somewhere fun and exciting that's a little bit off the beaten path? Then pop into Reds Bin 211 in the Funk Zone. This bar and tapas place is just steps away from the more bougie wine-tasting spots that have popped up in the last few year. It serves hard alcohol, in addition to wine and beer. And, also, there's snacks! In the evenings, stop by to hear a live band or sing karaoke. There is limited street parking out front, but this neighborhood can get busy. We recommend you take a cab or park at the train station.

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In a past life, Cold Spring Tavern was a stagecoach stop, a place for travelers to rest beside the stream, warm up at the fireplace and steel themselves for the trip ahead. These days, the character-laden restaurant and entertainment venue welcomes everyone from professionals to motorcycle-riders. It's a long-time favorite for game offerings, live music and weekend breakfasts. Live bands play every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Quail, rabbit and bear go hand-in-hand with steaks, burgers and other American fare. Breakfast fare ranges from venison sausage and omelets with black bean-wild game chili to huevos rancheros. Free parking right out front.

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When the day's over and folks need a place to kick back for an evening or a few hours, they often migrate to this inviting pub. Hanging out and downing brews with friends appeals to many. Others take advantage of dart boards, pool tables and the live bands who play almost every night of the week. No matter what pastime you choose, you're practically guaranteed a few new buddies and an evening well-spent. Located in the heart of Santa Barbara's nightlife distract, there are many other pubs and restaurants nearby. An easy walk to many area hotels, there is also parking in nearby city lots.

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Velvet Jones

The best place to hear live music on State Street, this thumping club promises high-energy entertainment and an enthusiastic clientele. Known for its powerful sound system, Velvet Jones puts its speakers to good use with top DJs and amazing bands, from local acts on the rise to national headliners. A full bar serves up the usual cocktails (in dance-safe plastic cups), and musical styles range from hip-hop to punk. If you're up for a quiet night and relaxation, this probably isn't your best bet. If you're in the mood to power through the night, then head on over! Parking lots nearby, but we recommend you take a cab.

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No matter what night you step into Soho, you'll be regaled by live music and have access to fresh, Californian cuisine. A clean-lined interior welcomes visitors to relax into Thai shrimp, roasted chicken or a petite filet mignon and enjoy the strains of jazz, reggae, blues, folk, rock or world music. All musical tastes are accommodated, and a lovely patio calls to patrons when the weather's nice. Dancing is not unheard of, and a full bar supplies wine, beer and cocktails. An ideal destination for food and fun. Closing time is whenever the band stops playing – could be early, could be late!

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The best live music venue in Santa Barbara! This outdoor amphitheater has an aerial view of the city, multiple concessions stands and wonderful accommodations. Bands big and small (but mainly big) play at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The concert season typically runs from April through September; check the website for the most up-to-date concert lineup. Some parking is available, but we recommend you go early or take a cab. You can even get a little more fresh air and take a pedicab. Because this venue is located in a residential neighborhood, shows wrap up fairly early, around 10 PM, leaving you with plenty of time to visit a local watering hole.

Founded in the 1800s, the Lobero Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theater in California. Originally founded in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924, it is recognized as one of Santa Barbara's architectural jewels. It is also a state and city landmark. Local and visiting acts perform at the Lobero - ranging from State Street Ballet to Mikhail Baryshnikov to Dizzy Gillespie. The Lobero Theatre is Santa Barbara's premiere destination for jazz. Located in the heart of downtown, this venue is close to dozens of shops, restaurants and other attractions. Park in a nearby lot or find a spot on the street for free.


Meet Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it...  More About Geneva