The Most Legendary Music Venues In San Francisco

The Warfield
The Warfield | © Phil Denton/Flickr
Rayanne Piana

From the greatest jazz clubs in California to stages that hosted the debut of today’s rock icons, San Francisco is home to countless live music venues filled with memorable performances and artist legacies. Catch a show at one of San Francisco’s legendary music venues, gems with a rich history and a lineup boasting fresh local artists and music’s biggest names.

1. The Fillmore

Music Venue

BRMC @ The Fillmore
© swimfinfan/Flickr
Long before it hosted sold-out shows headlined by the likes of James Brown, The Cure, and Prince, The Fillmore was once a dance hall at the beginning of the 20th century. The space was then converted to a roller rink in the 1940s and finally became a music venue in the 50s, booking some of the biggest acts in black music at the time, like James Brown and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. The Fillmore went on to host performances by the most memorable acts and counterculture icons of the century, even launching some of their careers – the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, and The Who, just to name a few – leaving a legacy and energy harnessed by the venue’s performers of today.

2. The Chapel

Nightclub, Pub Grub

The historical Valencia Street chapel was originally constructed in 1914.Prior to becoming The Chapel in 2012, the space was a mortuary, and then was home to the New College until 2008. The 40-foot-high arches of the building’s original church-like construction left the space with acoustics that begged for music. The venue’s music lineup is a well-rounded mix of both local and nationally touring musical acts. The Chapel also functions as a bar and a restaurant with an outdoor dining patio.

3. Slim’s

Music Venue

Symphony X at Slim’s
© Rick/Flickr
In 1988, American rocker turned R&B artist Boz Scaggs took over a vacant SoMa restaurant, formerly called the Warehouse, and reopened it as Slim’s, a bar and performance space with a warm, brick décor and the aesthetic of a New Orleans manor. The live music nightclub was originally intended as a strictly R&B club, but eventually evolved to include blues, jazz, hip hop, alternative rock acts and more. A stage for history in the making, Slim’s hosted the first San Francisco appearances of legendary bands and artists early in their careers – including Sheryl Crow, Radiohead, and John Legend.

5. Great American Music Hall

Concert Hall

San Francisco’s oldest nightclub was opened in 1907, when political mover and shaker Chris Buckley conceptualized the venue as a symbol of San Francisco’s rebirth after the 1906 earthquake. Before becoming a popular venue for artists ranging from jazz singer Sarah Vaughan to indie rock’s Arcade Fire, the club was once Blanco’s – a restaurant, casino and brothel. Today, the Great American Music Hall’s marble columns, elaborate ceilings and ornate wraparound balconies surround performers and audiences in nostalgic elegance. Historical performances include Journey’s debut of their new lineup in 1974 and Robin Williams’ HBO Special, ‘An Evening with Robin Williams.’

6. Mezzanine

Music Venue

© Ishmael Riles/Flickr
Located in the heart of Downtown San Francisco, Mezzanine has quickly become a Bay Area venue of choice for many of music’s best DJs and live performers, including M83, Tiesto, A$AP Ferg, Erykah Badu, Mos Def and more. Since its opening, Mezzanine operates on the philosophy of combining excellent customer service and hospitality with industry-acclaimed lighting and state-of-the-art sound systems for overall high-quality performance experiences – enjoyable from anywhere on the venue’s 12,000-square-foot dance floor or its three cozy upper level lounges.

7. The Saloon

Bar, Pub Grub, American

The Saloon
© Fen Labalme/Flickr
The Saloon on North Beach is San Francisco’s oldest bar, operating since 1861. Unconfirmed stories maintained by locals claim that the venue got its nondescript name because, at the time of its opening, it was the only tavern in San Francisco. Today, The Saloon still operates as a bar, but it is also known as the Bay Area’s best venue for live jazz and blues. With a space that only allows for small crowds and a jukebox that plays between performers, the cash-only dive hosts intimate listening experiences with a distinct charm that attracts mixed-personality audiences of jazz enthusiasts, bikers, and whisky-drinking hipsters.

8. The Bottom of the Hill

Music Venue

United Ghosts at The Bottom of the Hill
© Allan Wan/Flickr
At an impressively consistent seven nights a week, The Bottom of the Hill stages performances by a diverse rotation of both local acts and national touring artists, with genres ranging from folk, punk, and alternative rock to even country and hip hop. The venue is famed for hosting today’s legends during their lesser-known days, including Green Day, The White Stripes, Oasis, Alanis Morissette, Arcade Fire, fun., The Strokes and more. The history of the Bottom of the Hill’s greatest performances is visually commemorated within the venue, memorabilia from past concerts plastered all along the venue’s walls.

9. The Warfield

Concert Hall, Market, Music Venue

In 1922, showman and theatre chain owner Marcus Loewe opened The Warfield as a movie palace and vaudeville. The venue was named after David Warfield, one of the greatest silent film actors of the time, native San Franciscan, and Loewe’s friend. The theatre became a concert hall in 1979 when Bill Graham Presents booked the venue for a two-week run with Bob Dylan. Eighty-six years since its opening, The Warfield has hosted performances by the greats of the 20th century, like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin, and today’s biggest names in entertainment, including Adele and Green Day (who played their American Idiot album from front to back at The Warfield in 2005).

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