Living in downtown San Diego in my 20s, I became entranced by our live music scene. From watching The Stillettos march out of Henry’s Pub and onto Fifth Avenue followed by swing dancers to overhearing sold-out shows from Petco Park at the nearby East Village restaurants, San Diego is synonymous with live music and great food. Horizons have expanded from downtown and there are more options than ever to listen to top talent while enjoying delicious food across San Diego County.

While San Diego is home to incredible music venues from Snapdragon Stadium to North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, exceptional musicians aren’t just taking center stage at arenas. Local restaurants are also patronizing the arts by booking a roster of talented musicians to showcase their sounds and draw in a crowd. Keep reading for a few of my favorite picks.


Lou Lou's Jungle Room

The newest music-centric restaurant to open in San Diego, Lou Lou's Jungle Room at the Lafayette Hotel and Club has set a new standard for dinner and a show. Tables fan out from a center clam shell stage while the dinner service is positioned as a prix-fixe supper club to space out a four-course meal during the performance. Catch resident jazz musician Gilbert Costellanos or other local acts like The Danny Green Trio or Julien Cantelm Quartet, a lineup facilitated by The Casbah’s Tim Mays. The decor of the former ballroom is audacious, as is typical in CH Projects concepts, with a Little Mermaid goes to Vegas aesthetic. End the meal with an equally whimsical dessert, Ambrosia Salad, a nod to the hotel’s heyday in the mid-1940s.

Image: Kimberly Motos courtesy of Lafayette Hotel and Club.

Books & Records

Another relative newcomer to the San Diego dining scene is Bankers Hill’s Books & Records, helmed by Chef Sam Deckman. While the restaurant has live jazz most evenings from Thursday through Sunday, their weekend jazz brunch is the perfect way to spend the day in the neighborhood, where you can walk off the Yuzu Ricotta Pancakes in nearby Balboa Park. The small, dedicated stage hosts the likes of Mercedes Moore in the evenings and Nightshade Navarro during brunch. Pair the jazz with flavorful duck chilaquiles piled high with cilantro on top of house-fried tortillas from Logan Heights’ La Princesa Tortilleria.

Image: courtesy of Books & Records.

The Rady Shell

While The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is more music venue than restaurant, its exceptional food program earns it a spot on the list. While the celebrity chef concept Blais by the Bay is the center of much attention at The Rady Shell, smaller homegrown purveyors also shine brightly at The Shell’s Prebys Pavilion. The landmark outdoor concert hall at Embarcadero Marina Park South has tapped Michelin Bib Gourmand winner Lola 55, plus Urban Kitchen Market by Urban Kitchen Group (Cucina Urbana and Cucina Enoteca). In the “cart” section, Kitchens for Good has outstanding soups (the coconut chicken curry soup is especially good), while providing culinary job training for adults overcoming incarceration, homelessness, and foster care. This summer, catch Ziggy Marley, Jason Mraz and the Superband, and John Legend performing with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.


Nate's Garden Grill

City Farmers Nusery's slogan is “a little bit of country in the heart of the city” and the onsite restaurant, Nate’s Garden Grill, takes that a step further with its live music offerings. From bluegrass to folk and country, bands perform daily Wednesday through Sunday at the City Heights restaurant. Order at the counter and then choose between the rustic dining room or outdoor patio, where the stage is located. The longstanding diamond-in-the-rough restaurant sources as much food as possible from local farms, with a focus on organic. Kids are very welcome and frequent Nate’s Garden Grill. Take little ones for a walk in the nursery if they get antsy in high chairs—or let them dance alongside the band.


Panama 66

Panama 66 hosts live music most nights of the week and is also the best grab-and-go option for shows within Balboa Park, like at the nearby Organ Pavilion (which has free concerts on Sundays at 2pm). Panama’s impressive lineup features San Diego swing favorites like Whitney Shay and the Mad Hat Hucksters and dancers frequently fill the bar area near the stage. In addition to an impressive selection of local beers, their food menu offers well-crafted sandwiches and salads.


5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar

The live music schedule at 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar doesn’t just host Buffet cover bands, the musicians range from rock to funk with well-known local names like Ryan Hiller. The poolside bar and restaurant brings the island vacation elements that you would expect from a Maragaritaville concept, with Booze in the Blender 22-ounce cocktails and Key Lime Pie.


Moonshine Flats

Both Moonshine Flats and Pacific Beach sister concept Moonshine Beach attract national touring country artists like Kylie Morgan and Aaron Watson. Moonshine Beach offers three food concepts, their own menu, Coal Town Pizza, and Lucky’s by the Beach. Your best bet is the The Deck at Moonshine Flats with Southern-style options like a Pulled Pork Sandwhich with apple cranberry coleslaw and Tri-Tip Sliders on pretzel buns.


Cafe Sevilla

Between Sevilla’s three Southern California locations, they book more than 2000 local acts each year. At San Diego’s Fifth Ave. location, the Spanish tapas-style menu is accompanied by Latin music seven nights a week and flamenco shows on Saturdays with a three-course dinner.


Nationwide, trendy “listening rooms” have been opening in every major city, San Diego included. Geared for audiophiles and those who love them, hi-fi sound systems are maximized by DJs spinning live sets. Not to be confused with a typical nightclub, listening rooms work to elevate the music experience and craft the other bar elements—cocktails, food, and atmosphere—around the sound. Popularized in Tokyo, listening bars in San Diego now include:

Part Time Lover

Vinyl aficionados flock to North Park’s Part Time Lover for its dual concept with listening bar and record store. Partnering with Folk Arts Rare Records, a San Diego institution since 1967 for vinyl and music, they have created a collaborative space. The bar program nods to the Tokyo roots with a cocktail focus on Japanese American highballs, featuring drinks like the In Kaiju, a cooling, refreshing neon-green melon and mint-inspired beverage made with Japanese Vermouth, aquavit, lemon, and highly carbonated sparkling water from the bar’s in-house system. 

Image: Brian Eastman courtesy of Part Time Lover.

La Bamba Room

¡SALUD! Tacos owner Ernie Becerra created La Bamba Room next to their popular Barrio Logan restaurant to combine his own Chicano culture with the Japanese listening bar concept he loves. Serving up small plates in addition to tacos, La Bamba is the only listening room in town that serves food. The DJ booth was created from his grandmother’s home bar and cocktails pay homage to family members.

Convoy Music Bar

While speakeasy-style Convoy Music Bar positions itself as a listening room, they currently play digital music over speakers like a typical bar, instead of spinning vinyl, due to lacking the proper license. 

More Live Music to Catch 

White Rice Morena

On the first Wednesday of the month, Chef Phillip Esteban’s White Rice Morena teams up with Future is Color Studio Sessions to bring the OG Sound Club to White Rice Morena with the sounds of local saxophone player RIVA 7:30–10pm. The full White Rice Morena menu is available for purchase during OG Sound Club including Silog bowls available in Pork Adobo and Longanisa Lechon Kawal.

Image: courtesy of White Rice.

Giaola Italian Kitchen

Giaola Italian Kitchen offers live music in Carlsbad each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening, including talent like Nathan Welden alongside modern Italian food.

The Shout! House

While The Shout! House isn’t renowned for gourmet cuisine, their dueling pianos create one of the most fun live music outings in town. Dueling pianos entertain Tuesday through Sunday.

Madison on Park

Madison on Park jazzes up dinner every Tuesday with jazz ensembles led by trumpeter John Reynolds. 

Image: Haley Hill courtesy of Madison on Park.

Alejandra’s Fine Mexican Food and Cantina

Carlsbad’s Alejandra's Fine Mexican Food and Cantina has live music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with local artists like Kristi Krause (who competed on Season 11 of American Idol) alongside a menuu from Executive Chef Amy DiBiase.


Cannonball's Acoustic Sunset evenings brings live music to Belmont Park every Tuesday and Thursday at 5pm, adding to their appealing views of Mission Beach and sushi menu. 

Image: courtesy of Belmont Park.

Black Rail Kitchen + Bar

Black Rail Kitchen + Bar in Carlsbad features live jazz throughout the week with a house band (E.S.P. Collective) led by the owners' son Ben Gottesman.

Barrio Star

Barrio Star in Banker’s Hill offers live music every Friday and every other Saturday/Sunday along with Mexican soul food with handmade tortillas pressed to order.

The Loma Club

The Loma Club in Liberty Station has live music on Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm-9pm and Sundays 1pm–4pm.

No items found.
About the Contributor
Michelle Stansbury
Michelle Stansbury is a food enthusiast and the founder of Eat, Drink, Be SD, sharing the best restaurants, bars, and happenings in San Diego. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.