We get it, San Diego rocks. We were amped for blink-182’s reunion shows at Pechanga Arena in June 2023, and our ears are still ringing from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ shows at Petco Park and Snapdragon Stadium. But every band starts somewhere, and the city has plenty of venues for smaller audiences.
What’s small? The Observatory North Park can hold a maximum of 1,300 people — the starting point for our mid-sized and huge venues — so we’re rounding up 13 spots where your future favorites play to more intimate crowds.
This unpretentious Normal Heights venue hosts up-and-coming artists, dance parties, DJ sets, and more. Despite having soda in its name, this is more of a bar. All shows are 21+ with a capacity of ~230.
House of Blues San Diego
This downtown venue brings a variety of acts to our city — whether you’re looking to watch a familiar face or find a new favorite. Inside, you’ll find multiple stages designed to hold crowds of varying sizes: Audiences up to 1,000 will find themselves at the main stage, while the Voodoo Room attracts crowds under 300.
Belly Up Tavern
Despite its name, this Solana Beach venue has stayed afloat since 1974. It has enough space to hold 600 music enthusiasts, making it perfect for fans to get close to their favorite acts. Artists love performing here too — No Doubt and Childish Gambino played here early in their careers, and The Rolling Stones put on a private show in 2015.
SOMA San Diego
Located near Pechanga Arena in the Midway District, this independently-owned music venue is home to two stages and lots of talent. Mainstage hosts crowds up to 2,300, but often has half-stage shows that hold 1,150 + Sidestage is perfect for audiences up to 500 people.
Brick by Brick
If you’re a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, this East Village bar will have you dancing in your cowboy boots with up to 500 friends. The venue attracts rising country stars for live shows, but you’ll also find line dancing + sports here. There’s also a location in Pacific Beach — Moonshine Beach — that’s just as rowdy and has capacity for 1,500 people.
The Holding Company
This Ocean Beach bar and restaurant also features a performance hall with capacity for ~300 people. Be on the lookout for underground gems, local legends, and tribute acts. Or you could head upstairs for the top rooftop bar in California (according to Yelp).
Since 1989, musicians like Nirvana + Smashing Pumpkins have found their ways to San Diego to rock the Casbah. The small venue in Middletown attributes its size to its success, and its capacity of about 200 allows for a more intimate experience.
Winston’s Beach Club
Since 1986, Winston’s has been bringing live music to the heart of Ocean Beach. The 220-person venue attracts artists from a wide range of genres like rock, rap + reggae, and is a great spot to become a fan of local musicians.
In Spring Valley, this bar is known for its live music + beers on tap. It’s a great place to discover new performers on the weekends and holds about 130 guests. During the week, you can swing by for bingo, karaoke, or theme nights.