December 6, 2023

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

Watching an artist you love burn the stage to the ground is all the better when that stage is intricately Art Deco or framed by vineyards. From Berkeley’s historic amphitheater, The Greek, to San Francisco’s Jazz Age music and movie halls, these are the Bay Area’s most beautiful venues for seeing a show.

The Warfield, San Francisco

The Warfield in San Francisco

(Courtesy of @thewarfield)

Theater mogul Marcus Loew dressed his vaudeville and movie palace, The Warfield Theater, in Art Deco elegance for its debut on Market Street in 1922. It had a few good decades before falling into disuse, but even while her exterior lost its luster, the beauty of the grand dame’s interior remained. It was reopened in 1979, welcoming its first act, Bob Dylan, in a series of 14 shows. Since then, the Warfield has become a legendary venue to see huge names in small, intimate performances (the theater only has room for 2,300 people). Still to come in 2022 are The Mars Volta (Oct 18-19), King Princess (Oct 24), and The Flaming Lips (Nov 18-19), among others.

// 982 Market St. (Tenderloin),

Mountain Winery, Saratoga

The Mountain Winery in Saratoga

(Courtesy of @mountainwinery)

Plenty of wineries host music 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, not surprisingly, as a winery in 1905. A year after the 1906 earthquake, they acquired their iconic amphitheater backdrop: A 12th century Spanish portal pulled from the rubble of a San Jose cathedral. Although vineyards still climb the hills surrounding the Mountain Winery (you can try their estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay in their on-site tasting room), since building their concert bowl in the late 1950s it has been best known as one of the Bay Area’s most beautiful settings to catch a show. Still to come in this year’s concert series is Van Morrison (Oct 15-16) and Jordana Bryant (Oct 30).

// 14831 Pierce Rd. (Saratoga),

Fox Theater, Oakland

Fox Theatre in Oakland

(Courtesy of @foxoakland)

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

// 1807 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland),

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 elaborately filigreed ceiling and ornate balconies. Through World War II it hosted musicians and burlesque performers, before being rebranded as a clubhouse for the Loyal Order of the Moose in the 50s. But like most of the Bay Area’s most impressive venues, The Great American fell into decline mid-century. But in the early 1970s, the theater was rescued from demolition and its original allure was restored. The venue has gone on to present some of the most interesting, medium-sized acts around; it even once formed the backdrop for a Robin Williams HBO comedy special. Still to come in 2022 are Glassjaw (Nov 1-3), Isabella Lovestory (Nov 10), and Los Straitjackets (Dec 12-13), among others.

// 859 O’Farrell St. (Tenderloin),

The Greek Theatre, Berkeley

The Greek Theatre in Berkeley

(Courtesy of @greekberkeley)

Nestled into the tree-filled UC Berkeley campus, the Greek Theatre is the country’s longest-running outdoor amphitheater. Over the years it has been the site of student productions, political posturing, and social unrest but since the ‘’60s it’s primarily music that has taken the stage at the Greek. Neil Young, Miles Davis, Bonnie Raitt, and The Grateful Dead are among the artists who’ve rocked the 8,500-seat theater, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Still to come in 2022 are Carly Rae Jepsen (Oct 21), The Chainsmokers (Oct 28), and Mark Rebillet (Nov 5).

// 2001 Gayley Rd. (Berkeley),


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