A Music Lover's Guide To San Francisco

Live Music © Pexels
Live Music © Pexels
Photo of Courtney Holcomb
2 July 2019

San Francisco has a rich musical history, most notably from the ’60s onward. Because of these roots, the city is filled with numerous venues and events that make the locals proud. Here are some of the best tips for any music lover in San Francisco to get the most out of the thriving music scene.

Visit homes of the greats

Some of the most famous musicians in history evolved on the streets of San Francisco and some of their homes still stand around the city today. Take a trip out to the Haight district to discover many of these landmarks, like the Victorian house that was once home to the members of The Grateful Dead. The house is now a residence that is closed off to the public, but if you take a peek around you can find a small portrait of Jerry Garcia on the sidewalk outside. Nearby you may see a pink Victorian house that was once home to Janis Joplin, as well as an apartment building where Jimi Hendrix once lived where the walls are adorned with a mural of him. Not far from there, you can also find the once-home of Jefferson Airplane and if you pop over to Polk Street you can see the Phoenix Hotel, a hot spot for rock and roll icons from the ‘60s.

Grateful Dead House | © Alex Adkins / Flickr

Get to know the venues

Many of San Francisco’s most popular music venues have quite a story to tell. Once upon a time, the Fillmore was a dance hall and a roller rink before it transformed into a venue to host the likes of Santana and The Who. The Chapel was originally (nope, not a chapel) a mortuary and even a college campus before it became the bar-slash-restaurant-slash-concert venue that it is today. The Great American Music Hall was originally a casino and brothel before evolving into an elegant venue to host acts like Journey. The Warfield was a center for film and vaudeville before it began hosting the likes of Bob Dylan.

Other great venues to visit include the bigger ones that host some of the most popular acts of today such as the Independent and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, check out some of the city’s smaller venues, like Slim’s, Rickshaw Stop and Bottom of the Hill. You can even have a more spontaneous night out at one of the city’s best bars with live music, like PianoFight, The Saloon, Amnesia and Sheba’s Piano Lounge.

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium | © Travis Wise / Flickr

Frequent the festivals

San Francisco hosts music festivals all year long and some of them are even free. People come from all over the world to attend Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival for three days each August, featuring six stages with a variety of other booths and activities throughout Golden Gate Park. Treasure Island Music Festival draws visitors to Treasure Island on the east side of San Francisco for two days of live music and comedy each October. Noise Pop Festival spans over a few weeks each year, usually around February, hosting a multitude of concerts at small venues around the city. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is especially popular since it is admission-free, hosting some of the country’s most influential folk artists and the like at Golden Gate Park for three days each October. Similarly, Stern Grove Festival hosts free concerts every Sunday from June through August at the Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove.

Treasure Island Music Festival | © Tyler Love / WikiCommons

Listen to the radio

If you’d prefer to enjoy the San Francisco music scene while doing other activities, get to know the city’s best radio stations. Live 105, or KITS 105.3, is a favorite for alternative hits, playing a variety of rock and talk shows as well as hosting its BFD music festival each summer. If you prefer hip hop and R&B, check out 106.1 and 102.9, or listen to top 40 on Wild 94.9 and 99.7. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key and family-friendly, check out Star 101.3 or 96.5 KOIT. If you’d prefer to listen to something less mainstream, check out BFF.fm, San Francisco’s favorite community radio station. There you’ll find a variety of shows hosted by volunteer DJs, broadcasting from the heart of the Mission District.

Sign on the studio door | © Scott Schiller / Flickr

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