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San Diego's Best Bars For Live Music

Yes, you still can go to a bar and hear live bands in San Diego


I remember back in the heyday of grunge, San Diego was being touted as the next Seattle. Bands sprouted everywhere and had places to play. Not so much anymore - canned music and DJs are more the norm for bars and clubs here in town. But if you try hard enough, there are still places to hear real, live bands - covers, originals, all genres. We're talking bars, not concert venues like House of Blues. Sure, it might not be Austin, where live music is everywhere, but there are still cool places to pay a minimum cover, hang out, have a drink, and listen to bands and artists living the dream. Here are the best.

The Casbah

OK, so maybe they host national and buzz worthy acts, and they have a reputation as the hippest concert venue in town. But let's face it: for all intents and purposes, the Casbah is just a little bar. And a divey one at that. But the fact that they have live music nearly every day of the week, with mostly unknown or local bands, makes it the best of the best here in town. Sure, it might have a hipster reputation, but its earned every bit of it. Plus, owner Tim Mays is the coolest music supporter in town. Cover charges range from nothing to $$ for national acts.


Lestat's is actually a coffee house - a 24-hour one, at that. And although it isn't a bar like the others on this list, it's here because there's live original entertainment almost every night of the week at its music annex, Lestat's West. Leaning mostly towards the singer-songwriter genre, Lestat's also features comedy nights, bands, spoken word.


Eleven calls it your neighborhood rock and roll joint, and that's exactly what it is. Kinda a hipster dive bar (what isn't nowadays?), Eleven feautres local bands, little or no cover charge, cheap drinks, and rock and roll. So what that its in the netherland stretch of El Cajon Blvd. in City Heights. Rock and roll is better when it's a bit on the seedy side, right?

Soda Bar and Lounge

Just down the Bouelvard from rock and roll joint Eleven is another stellar rock club, the Soda Bar and Lounge. It's another hipster dive bar but it's also pretty chill, with a wide variety of live music, cheap drinks and cheap cover charges.

Patrick's II

Before the Gaslmap beame a nightlife attraction, Patrick's II was the only place downtown with "live" music for years. So, in an area of nightclub "concepts," Patrick's II is the real deal and has become known as the premier blues club in San Diego, bringing in talent from all over the country as well as the thriving local music scene. To the Gaslamp clubbers, this place might be a bit on the Irish dive bar side. But music is usually top notch - and you don't need to get dressed to the nines to enjoy the place.

The Griffin

Formerly O'Connell's, The Griffin could be any pub in any neighborhood - it's located in a totally nondescript block in the nondescript Morena business district. What makes The Griffin  different is the bar has been local band-friendly for years and years. With a new name, it has been refurbished rejuvenated.It might not be a place to go out of your way, but if you want to check out some local bands, this place usually has it going.

Tio Leo's Lounge

OK, now normally you wouldn't think to go to a local Mexican food restaurant to go see live music - or at least interesting live music. But the Tio Leo's location in the Morena area has offered up some eclectic music in its lounge area for years. Local music legend Joey Harris has played there for years. Sometimes it's your standard lounge band, other times it could be hot rod rockabilly. You never know what you can come across at Tio Leo's in Morena.

Ken Club

Let's face it, the upscale neighborhood of Kensington isn't a place you think of for live music. But the Kensington Club has a pedigree as one of San Diego's stellar dive bars with a great jukebox slection. A few years back, they opened up the space next door for live shows, running the gamut of the usual DJ stuff to local voodoo punk legends Deadbolt.

The Ould Sod

Most Irish bars around town are only Irish in name and Guinness on tap. But the Ould Sod is different - it might not have the faux ambiance of other pubs, but it's more authentic in every other way. It's a neighborhood bar, long and narrow, and you can also see some talented musicians performing here - from traditional Irish folk to country to singer-songwriters. The Ould Sod is just a cool bar with live music.

Second Wind

Going to Second Wind (actually two locations: San Carlos and Santee) is like going back into a bar time machine, circa 1980s. And for people who love classic rock, mullets and curly perms, Second Wind is home to classic loud bar bands. And there ain't nothing wrong with that - sometimes you just want to hear Bon Jovi and AC DC. Working class patrons rocking to working class bands - hipsters need not show up.

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