Music & Nightlife

Discover San Francisco’s best dance clubs and hottest music venues

Where to see live music and concerts

The Warfield

Opened in 1922 as a vaudeville theater, the Warfield has operated in its current incarnation since the 1980s. The ornate room, which has a 1,800-seat balcony and an overall capacity for 2,300, retains its original splendor, though the venue now showcases a variety of musical genres. From titans of rock revisiting classic releases to the new wave of rap artists touching the stage for the first time, bookings are diverse but tend to stick to popular movements. Even the back balcony seats have good views of the stage in the well-designed space. Those lucky enough to get backstage may also get a glimpse of a portion of the underground speakeasy once operated by Al Capone, who had an office in the building.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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War Memorial Opera House

The SF Opera, inaugurated in 1923, is based in the War Memorial Opera House, a grand Beaux Arts building designed by City Hall architect Arthur Brown Jr. and built in 1932 as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in World War I. The 3,176-seat auditorium and cultural landmark is modeled on European opera houses, with a vaulted ceiling, a huge art deco metal chandelier and a marble foyer. An $84-million revamp in 1997 not only restored the elegant building (workers found clouds painted on the ceiling when they scraped away the grime), but installed up-to-date electronics and stage gear. The fall season runs early September to December; the summer season from May to July. In addition to opera, the venue provides a stage for the San Francisco Ballet, various concerts, lectures and special presentations.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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The Independent

There are no frills at this venerable black box apart from a stellar sound and light system—it's all about the music here. The Independent has always showcased a wide variety of sounds from self-made artists; the calendar is filled with a mix of touring rock, pop, metal, rap, jazz, Americana, jam and otherwise undefinable acts such as Madlib, Sunn 0))), the Boredoms, Fiery Furnaces, High on Fire and Lyrics Born. The lineups and genres are unpredictable and change from night to night, but you'll always have a prime view of the stage at this intimate 500-person venue.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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SFJAZZ Center

San Francisco finally got the jazz hub it deserves with the 2013 opening of this $64 million center, the first standalone venue in America built with the musical genre in mind. The SFJAZZ Center comes complete with state-of-the-art sound designed by Meyer Sound Laboratories and a rustic Mexican restaurant from acclaimed chef/restaurateur Charles Phan. Now SFJAZZ has an appropriately majestic headquarters for the annual music festival it has produced since 1983 as well as a home for world-class performances not only in the jazz realm, but also for global music in its many forms.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

The best cocktail bars in San Francisco

A mover and shaker on the mixology scene, San Francisco brims with excellent cocktail bars

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LGBT

The best gay bars in San Francisco

Get the lowdown on the city’s legendary LGBT nightlife with our roundup of the best gay bars in the Castro and beyond

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The best bars in San Francisco

Trou Normand

Located in SoMa's majestic Pacific Bell building, Trou Normand brings a certain je ne se quoi to the after-work happy-hour scene. With tall windows, an elegant, curved marble bar and handsome leather booths, the place is as beautiful as it is unassuming. A courtyard in back whisks you away from the urban surroundings to a tree-lined patio outfitted with long tables, heat lamps and a glass canopy, so that you can sit outside rain or shine. Modeled on a contemporary French café, the bar and restaurant is known for its cocktails, house-made cordials and bitters. Many of the drinks incorporate cognacs and armagnacs the bar team has selected by the barrel from France. Enjoy these drinks with a simple but thoughtful daily menu comprised of a wide selection of house-cured meats, simply prepared seasonal vegetables and other dishes. Open from 8am to midnight during the week, Trou Normand aspires to be an all-day pit stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks, and snacks in between.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

Smuggler's Cove

With an extensive menu of complex cocktails and an interior worthy of a movie set, it's not hard to understand why Smuggler's Cove is one of the most lauded tiki bars in the world. Patrons plunge straight into a pirate fantasy as they gaze at the three-story interior bedecked with a ship's bow, large anchors, mermaid carvings and even a waterfall. But the fanciful decor belies a sophisticated cocktail program. The hefty drinks list, contained in a thick binder, showcases traditional Caribbean libations and specialty creations from other famous tiki bars. Bartenders expertly mix, shake and blend the satisfyingly sweet and fruity concoctions using a stunning array of fresh ingredients—as many as a dozen in a single drink—and spirits that include seriously boozy overproof rum. Alongside the classics are lesser-known delights like the Batida (coconut cream, fresh passion fruit puree and condensed milk blended with the Brazilian sugarcane spirit cachaça) and the Tradewinds (a deceptively sweet drink made with two types of rum, apricot liqueur and coconut cream). Parties of ten or more can opt for punch bowls (some theatrically set alight), which come with two-foot-long straws to sip from your seat. The Cove also offers a serious selection of more than 200 rums. Regulars may choose to sign up for the Rumbustion Society, a punch card program that will help you chart your exploration of the spirit. Members who try at least 100 rums become Guardians of the Cove, earning a plaque, a me

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Tosca Café

Open since 1919, this legendary North Beach bar and restaurant has drawn a shifting cast of celebrities from Hunter S. Thompson and Francis Ford Coppola to Johnny Depp and Sean Penn. In 2013, renowned Anglo-American restaurant duo April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman took the spot over and started serving modern Italian fare that reflects chef Bloomfield's trademark passion for offal. Yet Tosca has maintained much of its original charm with an impressive front bar and a jukebox blaring eclectic tunes. Rising mixology star Isaac Shumway, previously of Bourbon and Branch and Heaven's Dog, is behind the perfectly executed classic cocktails (and riffs thereon). Of special note is the bright and refreshing Polo Cup (served with a choice of gin or vodka and a wide ribbon of cucumber), the rich and boozy Scotch-based Old Grampian, and the deep and complex Trouble in Paradise (a jammy, frothy drink with spicy notes made from bourbon, Campari, basil, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and black pepper tincture). Order a House Cappuccino, and you'll get a hot, Armagnac-and-bourbon-spiked after-dinner drink frothed in the antique espresso machine. For the indecisive or adventurous, ask for the “Dealer's Choice”: The bartender will quiz you on your tastes and mix you a custom quaff.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

ABV

Cocktail luminaries Ryan Fitzgerald and Todd Smith, who helped kick off the drinks program at Bourbon and Branch in the aughts, bring a subtle and well-balanced approach to simple but elegant, three- or four-ingredient drinks at this narrow bar. The design of the sophisticated spot incorporates recycled materials, including charming gin-bottles-turned-candle-holders and corroded mirrors fashioned into shimmering chandeliers—even the top of the 15-seat bar is made from wood reclaimed from a tree that was scheduled for removal outside a nearby school. Standout tipples include the smooth and smoky Whisky in Church (scotch, oloroso sherry, maple-smoked pear bitters), the clean and savory Casino Perfecto (blanco tequila, cappelletti aperitif wine and amontillado sherry), and the refreshing, slightly bubbly Tarragon Collins (gin, lemon, tarragon and soda). The back bar is deep with spirits for sipping, and particularly well-stocked with tequilas (mescals, specifically). To go with the cocktails are rich bites, such as the mapo “sloppy joes” made of tangy pork stuffed into fluffy white Chinese bread, cheese boards, kimchi fritters, and trays of pickled seasonal vegetables.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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