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The Saloon, one of the best bars in San Francisco
Photograph: Dan DeLuca/Flickr The Saloon

The best places to see free live music in San Francisco

It's almost always possible to catch free live music in San Francisco, no matter your musical tastes

Time Out in association with Land Rover

Who says you have to thrown down pocketfuls of cash to catch a great live set? Here in the Bay Area, there are lots of casual venues and club nights offering up free live music every night of the week in just about every genre imaginable. While some spots run as full time concert halls with a free show thrown in here and there, others operate primarily as cafes and restaurants, playing host to both up-and-coming and well established acts looking for an easy going audience. From jazz to blues to Latin to classical and more, you can catch just about everything without cracking your wallet—if you know where to look.

SF's best spots for free live music

The Royale, one of the best places to see free live music in San Francisco
Photograph: Courtesy of The Royale

1. The Royale

Things to do Lower Nob Hill

Priding itself on existing at the opposite side of the spectrum from the high brow, "aristocratic" cocktail bar status quo, the Royale is fun, casual and the true definition of a neighborhood gem. With a rotating local beers list and one of the most eclectically booked concert calendars in the city, this venue is primed to become the go-to destination for catching free jams in San Francisco.

The Saloon, one of the best places to watch live music in San Francisco
Photograph: Dan DeLuca

2. The Saloon

Things to do North Beach

Generally reported to be the oldest existing bar in San Francisco after its establishment in 1861, The Saloon has survived earthquakes, Prohibition and just about every type of unruly clientele imaginable. Today, the bar offers free bluegrass and acoustic tunes most nights of the week, and slings hooch just like it did during the waning days of the Gold Rush.

Atlas Cafe, one of the best cafes in San Francisco
Photograph: Martha Heinemann Bixby/Flickr

3. Atlas Café

Things to do Mission

Hiding out on the fringes of the Mission District, Atlas Cafe is certainly a treasure outside the city’s main drags. The space books free shows almost every night, with particular evenings reserved for certain genres. Fridays, for example, bring in jazz groups, and Saturday welcomes blues performers. But, there are plenty of other options here too; patrons can also catch rockabilly, bluegrass, oldies and even ragtime here, all while grubbing on a gourmet sub and sipping on Sonoma wine.

Club Deluxe, one of the best places to see live music in San Francisco
Photograph: Paul Stringer/Flickr

4. Club Deluxe

Bars Lounges Upper Haight

Nestled in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury, Club Deluxe, established in 1949, is a jazz club in the tradition of old school intimate New York music clubs. Specializing in classic house cocktails like the Greyhound and the Spa Collins, it has the refreshments to fit the aesthetic too. Nosh on signature snacks like the sausage pizza to fuel all-night dancing.

The Chapel
Photograph: Alyssa Pereira

5. The Chapel

Nightlife Mission

It might be one of the newer music venues in the city, but the Chapel is already well-respected for its eclectic bookings. The venue’s free shows tend to take place outside the main hall in the Vestry, but the space’s accouterments are just as nice; order up one of their selection of local brews or a cool cocktail, sit back, and catch a respite from the Mission’s bustle.

Melt!, one of the best places to see free music in San Francisco
Photograph: Chris Beckett/Flickr

6. Melt!

Things to do North Beach

A tiny café just north of the bustle of North Beach, Melt not only serves up tasty pots of fondue, it also plays host to jazz quartets most nights of the week. A low-key option for music fans in search of easy weeknight listening, the café’s handful of board games and totally reasonable wine list is an easy seller.

Revolution Cafe, one of the best places to see free live music in San Francisco
Photograph: Greg Z/Flickr

7. The Revolution Cafe

Things to do Mission

One of the few venues in San Francisco offering free live music seven days a week, Revolution Cafe touts itself as being a true community art supporter. Booking an eclectic array of acts—upcoming shows feature jazz, folk, Latin, classical and more—this dual cafe and venue is a laid back option for catching free tunes.

Jupiter, one of the best places to see free live music in the Bay Area
Photograph: Nate Bolt/Flickr

8. Jupiter

Things to do Berkeley

Berkeley’s Jupiter is a favorite among East Bay locals, and not just because they’re slinging some of the best thin-crust pizzas in the 510. The restaurant and local brew pub also bills jazz, funk and world music acts when the weekend hits. Nab a spot on the outdoor patio between sets to enjoy a craft beer in a cozy urban retreat.

Burritt Room
Photograph: Noelle Chun

9. Burritt Room

Bars Cocktail bars Union Square

Burritt Room is a craft cocktail bar first, situated on the second level of the Mystic Hotel just north of Union Square, but the place also books bluegrass bands like nobody’s business. Offering quartets jamming several nights per week and a drinks menu with made-from-scratch ingredients (and negronis on tap!), this downtown venue might be one of the city’s best-kept secret hideaways.

Brick and Mortar Music Hall
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/ Dyspeptic McPlaster

10. Brick and Mortar Music Hall

Things to do Mission

Don’t let the venue’s unassuming location fool you—those responsible for booking the numerous monthly free shows at Brick & Mortar make their average music calendar far from ordinary. Although the space’s frequent one-off shows and event series installments—such Wood Shoppe, a monthly night of bands booked by SF industry insiders— are gratis, most of Brick & Mortar’s other shows cost less than $10.


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