Welcome to San Diego Blog | February 23, 2017

Top 5 Best Places to Go for Live Music in Downtown San Diego

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” -Elton John

Ever since I was a young boy, music has always played a big roll in my life. Growing up to the sounds of my father strumming a few chords on his 6 string guitar, I was completely blown away that something so captivating could be made from a simple, metal string. This was the spark that started my love affair with everything music. When I was in elementary school, I decide to take up the clarinet, instead of the ever so popular Violin. I figured that if I could learn the clarinet, then I would be able to graduate to the Saxophone and jam out like Johnny Coltrane… besides, my grandmother had a really cool wooden clarinet and wanted to see me go that direction. However, throughout elementary school, my clarinet experience became a bit “anti-climatic”, as my expectations were more than the experience I had, but I still had a place in my heart for music. 

As I started to get older (and started to notice females more) I realized that it was much easier to “get the girl” when you could bring a guitar to the campfire and strum a few chords. It was just around the same time that I was getting tried of being a jock, so I made the decision to trade in my cleats for a guitar. This was it. This was the instrument I have been looking for and I had more time to practice than ever before. Every note, every chord, every possibility was right there in my hands. From that moment on I have always played some sort of instrument, mostly guitar, while dabbling with others like the keyboard or the Korg Oscillator. These days I typically stick to my 12 string acoustic or my 6 string electric, but I know, without a doubt, music will always be in my life.

Before I moved to San Diego, I remember coming down from Orange County to see bands and shows. I specifically remember seeing Thrice and Finch at the Soma when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old.  When I decided to make San Diego my home, I knew I had to find some great spots close to me (Downtown San Diego) where I could catch some live music. With that being said…

Here are my top 5 favorite places to catch live music:

1. Music Box – I love this place. Seriously, I love this place for so many reasons its hard to figure out what to write first. This is probably one of the cleanest and most comfortable venues I have ever been to, not only in San Diego but quite possibly ever. The floor-plan of this place is unique in such a way that it flows extremely well. There are three-stories, providing ample room for everyone. On the first floor there are lounge seats bordering the walls, standing room/ dance floor, a bar that serves top shelf craft cocktails and a variety of small bites. The second floor is VIP seating. It borders the whole right side with booth seating, offering some of the best views in the venue. The third floor consists of VIP seating as well, offering a VIP room right behind the stage, equipped with private elevators and exclusive bar. This venue is also fully air conditioned, has an amazing sound system & lighting effects. As a bonus, servers are walking  around taking orders for food and drink.

2. Cat Eye Club – One of the very first places that introduced me to live music in Downtown San Diego. This place is not a “music venue” persay, however, the bands that I have seen here make for a super intimate and laid-back setting. It is on the smaller side, so you are going to want to get here an hour early if you plan to watch the band. For what it lacks in space, this place makes up for in charm. The decor is a 50’s mid-century / Mad Men meets Hawaii 5-0 vibe. The drinks are amazing (if you are with some friends, check out the Dealer’s Choice Pau Hana (you can thank me later) and the food is pretty tasty as well. I also recommend trying to get in there when Jason Hanna & The Bullfighters play. They play a jazzy style of music but it ranges depending on the location and the night you see them. Nothing like hearing some real trumpets, thumping bass, xylophone or the drummer & guitarist absolutely shredding. Plus, no cover! Score!


3. Prohibition – True essence of a speakeasy. Everything from the classic, dim & romantic lighting to the appropriately named drinks, just visiting this place is an event in itself. Literally some of the most exotic and “push the envelope” type of drinks in the area. For instance, the “Death by Stereo” includes Ilegal Resposado Mezcal, El Silencio Espadin Mezcal, Cinnamon-Almond Orgeat, R&D Aromatic #7 Bitters & Burnt Cinnamon. You can also go up to the bartender, let them know what kind of drinks you like and get the “Dealer’s Choice”. Prohibition offers up live music every night so you can pick and choose your time to visit, however, the weekends get busier and may require a wait. Also, there are RULES!! Yes, RULES. No cell phones at the bar & dress code for Friday / Saturday nights among others help keep the 1920’s vibe. Keeping with the vibe, you literally have to find the “Secret Bar Door”. I won’t ruin the fun for you… but it is not your typical bar admission. Have fun finding it 🙂


4. The Shout! House – This is the place you have to go to when you are ready to sing your heart out! Known for its “Dueling Piano”, this place is A LOT of Fun. There is plenty of liquor and bar food choices to keep you happy, whether its the fried macaroni or a cocktail with names falling in line with the motif like “Sex on the Piano” or ” The Rick James”. Also, if you want to be part of the action, there are chances for audience participation, so get ready for your close up! Just be sure to tip the musicians a few bucks when you make your song request. Always a great time losing your voice over a classic Bon Jovi song …. you know, that one where you only know the chorus.


5. House of Blues – This list would not be complete without including the HoB on it. Definitely a favorite growing up and with the big ticket names that play here, it’s worth checking out. There is a restaurant and bar next door and I recommend making reservations for dining in advance. Why? Because those who dine there on the day of the show and spend at least $20 are allowed to bypass the line for the concert! Otherwise, the venue is pretty small and intimate. Lots of standing room, but if you want to be on the upper deck, you’ll have to get the early. There are also some VIP options and Gospel Brunch (local talent perform gospel songs while you treat your self to all-you-can-eat buffet) on Sundays. Definitely worth checking out.


Just missed the list:

  • PETCO Park – Since this is not a designated music venue, I did not include it on the list. However, some of the most noteworthy acts have played here such as Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Rolling Stones and just announced for August 6th, 2017 …. Metallica. Definitely an awesome place to see a big name musician.
  • Moonshine Flats / The Deck – This place is probably really #6 on my list. I love this place, even if it didn’t offer up some live music. In full disclosure, I am not the biggest country music fan but it has grown on me in the last few years. I came here on Halloween with a few friends and we got in with a relatively small cover charge… ON HALLOWEEN. Saw some live music, played some cornhole, a little water-bucket-beer-pong and had a good ol’ boys type of night.
  • Omnia – This is a nightclub catering to the DJ scene more than anything. Because it isn’t actual “live instruments being played by a musician”, I did not include it. However, it is a great place to get your “party on” when you are looking for some heart pumping techno / electro music.
  • Parq –  Same reasons as Omnia.
  • The Casbah – I have heard great things about this place. Personally haven’t made it here yet but I know Jason Hanna & The Bullfighters frequent this place, so its got to be good. Also, it is located in Little Italy so it makes a perfect date night. 
  • ALTITUDE – Similar reasons to Parq & Omnia, however, this place is completely different then both of those. More of an outside lounge that will have DJ spin some records. Breathtaking views and great drinks, just not a place for some live music.
  • Tin Roof – This place and the Casbah have to be the next two new places I check out for music. I have heard great things and not so great things about this place… so tough to make a decision until I actually get in there. I have not seen anything on the event calendar that looks interesting so until then…

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on music, concerts or talent. This list is primarily composed of places I have personally gone to, enjoyed along with my experiences as a result. I am always open to suggestions and hope to bump into you at the next show! 

Written by: Dannecker & Associates

Categories: Entertainment, Experience, Family Fun, Featured Posts, San Diego Attractions, San Diego Events, wtsd

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