Five live music venues in San Diego

If you’re new to San Diego, or if you’re just trying to find a hip new place to see some music, these selections of the best venues in the city will give you a great place to start. Rather than dealing with trial and error alone, this list aims to help you narrow down some spots before you book your tickets.

1. Observatory North Park

Located on University Avenue, the Observatory North Park is in the heart of the music and art scene in San Diego. A medium-sized venue, the Observatory has hosted many high-profile acts from a wide range of genres. The Observatory sets itself apart from other venues due to its sloping floor so that everyone in the audience has a reasonable view, even in the standing area. They also feature air conditioning vents placed in the floor for optimal cooling. The sound quality is superb, and every concert I’ve attended has been masterfully mixed by the audio technician. There is also adequate parking, both in structures and on the street nearby.

2. House of Blues

One of the most popular venues in San Diego is the House of Blues. The House of Blues attracts some of the most famous bands from all corners of the world, including The Kooks, Arctic Monkeys, and Ghostface Killah. The ambiance at the House of Blues is fantastic, and its location in central downtown makes it a perfect place to see a show on a Friday night. The stage is in close proximity to the audience, and the crowds are almost always incredibly enthusiastic. The House of Blues is definitely one of the best venues in San Diego for the whole concert experience, from the music to the crowd to the atmosphere.

3. Casbah (21+)

A legendary venue in San Diego, The Casbah opened in 1989. The venue made its name by hosting alternative rock bands such as Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Blink-182, Modest Mouse, MGMT, and many others. In 1994, The Casbah moved its location to where it sits currently, near Little Italy on Kettner Boulevard. The venue also features pool tables, pinball, and some classic arcade games, in addition to showing fantastic bands and artists every week. The Casbah is one of the few venues in San Diego that truly captures the “dive bar” feel. The stage is very close to the audience. If you ever have the chance to see one of your favorite bands at The Casbah, be prepared to be so close you can reach out and touch them if you’re at the front of the crowd.

4. Soma San Diego

Soma is about a 10-minute drive from USD, located on Sports Arena Boulevard next to Chuck E. Cheese’s and In-N-Out. Soma occasionally houses some very popular acts, as well as bands who are on the rise as well. The venue often features bands just before becoming household names in the industry, and, with its proximity to campus, there’s really no excuse not to check it out at least once. The only downside to Soma is that it is all-ages, not 18+, and the local high-schoolers can be pretty rowdy at some shows. Soma often hosts many punk-rock and metal shows, but it also features indie-rock bands frequently.

5. Belly Up (21+)

A bar with a relaxed vibe, the Belly Up has been in Solana Beach since 1974. In addition to being a great place to grab a drink and bite to eat with friends, the Belly Up has featured bands in all kinds of genres, from Miike Snow to Matisyahu to Foreigner. The Belly Up typically hosts bands that at least somewhat fit into the North County San Diego coastal vibe. The venue also enjoys spotlighting local bands, and, typically, the quality of music is excellent, despite that smaller acts can often be hit or miss. The Belly Up’s sound quality is up with the best in San Diego, and the venue takes pride in helping artists put on a great show.

These are a selection of the best venues in San Diego, and they are worth a visit if any of your favorite bands or artists are playing. All five are excellent places to see live music and are sure to provide excellent atmosphere on a Friday night. Prices will vary depending on the day and quality of talent for each event.

Written by Walker Chuppe, Arts & Culture Editor