13 small venues where you can watch live music in San Diego

Find big sounds with little crowds

Soda Bar in San Diego

Soda Bar is home to plenty of pop, and other genres.

Photo via @sodabarsd

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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.

Soda Bar

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 sign in San Diego

This is the sign of a rockin’ date.

Photo via Michael Beausoleil + SDtoday

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.

The Magnolia

The El Cajon venue has been bringing entertainment to East County since 1977. The space holds ~1,200 people, and is home to live music, comedy acts, tribute bands, plays, and more.

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 in San Diego

The sign of a fun time.

Photo via @alvrz.al

Brick by Brick

For those down with the darkness, this Bay Park venue hosts independent artists — mostly rock + metal acts. Be prepared to discover something new, because there’s capacity for 400 guests at most.

Music Box

Looking for an upscale music experience when you’re downtown? This three-story venue hosts live shows across many genres, has a full bar + small plates menu, and can hold crowds of over 700 people.

Moonshine Flats

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 in Ocean Beach San Diego

Showtime at Winston’s.

Photo by Kate Mitchell Pharris

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.

The Merrow

Advertised as “Hillcrest’s best kept secret,” this small space holds 181 people. That’s big enough to attract live bands, but small enough that it still has karaoke nights + community events.

The Bancroft

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.

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