By: Morgan Tinsley
As a lover of live music, I frequent many Bay Area concert venues to see my favorite musicians and determine which venue is my all time favorite. From San Jose to Berkeley, I have traveled to great venues only to be too short to see my favorite bands on stage. Here are some of my favorite, or maybe just the most memorable, venues.
Some of my best concert memories stem from the UC Theatre in Berkeley; I usually go to this theater in October for the band SWMRS’s annual Halloween show. This theater is bigger than your typical small venue, but tiny in comparison to any sports stadium. There are multiple levels where general admission guests may stand: the upper level appeals to those who prefer a calm atmosphere, while the lower level is great for those who want to jump, dance, and sing along to the music. There’s also a long hallway just outside the theater in which concert-goers can use the bathrooms with relatively short lines, catch a break from the action, or buy merchandise. An easily accessible bag-check here is a plus, since I don’t have to wander too far off from the show to check my backpack or coat when I need to.
The Cornerstone Berkeley, a combined live music venue and kitchen, is an awesome experience for those who like small venues. The stage room is very open, and no matter where you are inside you can see the stage clearly. There’s a bar and merch stations inside, and all visitors need to do to take a break is make their way to the back of the room.
To this day, the loudest concert I have ever seen was Dune Rats at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. Whether the music was cranked up by the high-energy band or that’s just the venue’s natural volume, it was loud enough for me to use my friend’s AirPods as earplugs. This is also the smallest concert I’ve ever been to. The stage looked smaller than a dorm room, and there were maybe 50 people, but probably fewer, in the crowd. There was still a moshpit despite the venue’s small size, however.
Though I’ve only been to The Fillmore in San Francisco once, I remember that concert (Wallows) as one of the best I’ve seen. This medium-sized venue with killer production and just-right volume had plenty of room for all types of concert-goers. Refreshments can be found just to the left of the band, and a large, elevated stage is visible to everyone.
San Jose’s SAP Center, which Sharks fans are likely familiar with, goes all out for concerts. What the stadium lacks in reliable parking and the ability to easily call an Uber, it makes up for in plenty of food options (albeit rather expensive), thousands of available seats, and a huge general admission area for those who wish to stand. Tickets at the SAP Center are more expensive than you’d expect at other venues listed, but usually bigger, more popular acts play at this venue.
After years of searching, I’ve determined that The Catalyst in Santa Cruz is my all-time favorite concert venue. Ticket prices are cheap, the venue is pretty small, but large enough to be comfortable. The stage is big for the venue’s size, there’s never a wait for the restroom, the staff is nice and helpful, the merch tables are conveniently placed, they sell drinks and water, the volume isn’t too loud or too quiet, and it’s a lot closer to LG than any of my other favorite small venues. The next time you see a concert listing for an artist you like at The Catalyst, make sure to go. This venue can (and will) make a great show even better.
If you’re looking for a great concert venue to see your next show, consider attending one of these great options.