5 Best Music Venues in the Bay Area

You don’t (and you shouldn’t!) choose live music based on the beauty of the venue in which it will be played. But there’s no denying that the atmosphere matters.

Watching an artist you love burn down the stage is all the better when that scene is deeply Art Deco or framed by vines. From Berkeley’s historic amphitheater, The Greek, to San Francisco’s Jazz Age music and movie venues, these are the Bay Area’s finest places to catch a show.

The War Field, San Francisco

The Warfield in San Francisco

(Courtesy of @thewarfield)

Theater magnate Marcus Loew dressed his vaudeville and movie palace, the Warfield Theater, in Art Deco elegance for its Market Street debut in 1922. It had a good few decades before falling into disrepair, but even if its exterior has lost its luster, the beauty of the grand dame’s interior has remained. It reopened in 1979, hosting its first act, Bob Dylan, in a run of 14 shows. Since then, the Warfield has become a mythical place to see big names in small intimate performances (the theater can only accommodate 2,300 people). Coming in 2022 are The Mars Volta (October 18-19), King Princess (October 24), and The Flaming Lips (November 18-19), among others.

// 982 Market Street (Net), thewarfieldtheatre.com

Mountain Vineyard, Saratoga

The Mountain Cellar in Saratoga

(Courtesy of @mountainwinery)

Many wineries host musical series during the summer, but only one can attract the likes of the Shins, Elvis Costello and Weird Al. The Mountain Winery in Saratoga began, unsurprisingly, as a winery in 1905. A a year after the 1906 earthquake, they acquired their iconic amphitheater setting: a 12th-century Spanish portal excavated from the rubble of a cathedral in San Jose. Although the vineyards still climb the hills surrounding the Mountain Winery (you can try their home-grown pinot noir and chardonnay in their on-site tasting room), since the construction of their concert bowl in the late 1950s, it is best known as one of the bay’s wineries. The most beautiful settings in the region to attend a show. Van Morrison (October 15-16) and Jordana Bryant (October 30) are yet to come in this year’s concert series.

// 14831 Pierce Rd. (Saratoga), mountainwinery.com

Fox Theater, Oakland

Fox Theater in Oakland

(Courtesy of @foxoakland)

When the Fox Theater opened in downtown Oakland in 1928, it was the largest in the Bay Area with 3,200 seats. Very closely named “The Baghdad” for its Middle Eastern design influences, the Fox began as a movie theater for early talkies; a 20-piece band and an organist played between performances. Fox fell on hard times in the ’60s and remained unloved for decades to come. In 2009, however, the legendary theater finally made a comeback. Its rich color palette, distinctive dome, and terracotta and gold accents have been restored to their former glory, and the theater has been transformed into a 2,800-person venue. Bonobo (Oct. 20), Death Cab for Cutie (Oct. 23-24), Morrissey (Nov. 18), and Modest Mouse (Nov. 30), among others, are yet to come in 2022.

// 1807 Telegraph Avenue (Oakland), thefoxoakland.com

Great American Music Hall, San Francisco

Great American Music Hall in San Francisco

(Courtesy of @greatamericanmusichall)

The Great American Music Hall opened in 1907 as Blanco’s, a nightclub decorated with an elaborate filigree ceiling and ornate balconies. During World War II, it hosted musicians and burlesque performers, before being renamed a clubhouse for the Loyal Order of the Moose in the 1950s. But like many of the Bay Area’s most impressive venues, The Great American fell into decline by mid-century. But in the early 1970s, the theater was saved from demolition and restored to its original appearance. The venue continued to feature some of the most interesting midsize acts around; it even once formed the backdrop for a Robin Williams HBO comedy special. Coming in 2022 are Glassjaw (November 1-3), Isabella Lovestory (November 10), and Los Straitjackets (December 12-13), among others.

// 859 O’Farrell Street (tenderloin), gamh.com

The Greek Theatre, Berkeley

The Berkeley Greek Theater

(Courtesy of @greekberkeley)

Nestled within the tree-lined campus of UC Berkeley, the Greek Theater is the nation’s oldest outdoor amphitheater. Over the years it has been the scene of student productions, political posturing and social unrest, but since the 1960s it has been mainly music that has taken center stage at The Greek. Neil Young, Miles Davis, Bonnie Raitt and The Grateful Dead are among the artists who rocked the 8,500-seat theater, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Carly Rae Jepsen (October 21), The Chainsmokers ( October 28) and Mark Rebillet (November 5).

// 2001 Gayley Road. (Berkeley), thegreekberkeley.com

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