When visiting San Fransisco as part of your road trip, there are some great routes you can take that will bring you to the heart of this beautiful city. When doing so as music fans, you can either listen to a downloaded tracklist of tunes that at least sounds like a Californian treat or a popular radio station that plays your kind of music. If you’re looking for music that came specifically from some of the best bands and musicians who once upon a time called the infamous Bay City its home, there’s Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dead Kennedys, Faith No More, Grateful Dead, Green Day, Jefferson Airplane, Journey, and Sly & the Family Slone. These are just a few of the big names that were based in San Francisco before becoming globally recognized rock gods.
Approaching San Francisco
If you’re approaching one of California’s most popular cities from the north when traveling southbound on State Highway 101, not only do you enjoy a beautiful coastal drive but will encounter the infamous Golden Gate Bridge. If downtown San Francisco is your destination, stay on this highway as it will lead you straight to the city’s inner core. This is also the case when traveling into the Golden Gate City from the south on the same highway. What’s great about Highway 101 is the easy access you have to attractions, hotels, restaurants, and venues that cater to music fans. Travelers seeking to travel along California’s world-famous West Coast will likely find the stretch of State Highway 101 one of the most scenic.
Another good route is State Highway 1. This highway will also take you to San Francisco’s western suburbs. However, if it’s the city’s downtown district you prefer to visit, taking Interstate Highway 280 as soon as Highway 1 meets with it would be your best bet. Also referenced as John F. Foran Freeway, this eventually meets up with 6th Street in the city’s downtown area.
When approaching San Francisco from the east, Interstate Highway 80 bridges across the iconic San Fransico Bay as soon as motorists pass the northwest part of Oakland. This particular route between the two cities takes less than twenty minutes to drive when road and traffic conditions are favorable. Along the way, you will pass Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island, a nice little visual as you continue heading west. Should you take the time to take a tour of Treasure Island, you will have access to some great public art, flea markets, and festivals that take place throughout the year.
Road Trip Recommendations
When planning your road trip, it would be in your best interest to be as thorough as possible. San Francisco is one of the busiest and most popular cities in North America as a tourist destination. Visitors from all over the world come here, as well as aspiring musicians who want to follow in the footsteps of icons such as the Counting Crows, Steve Miller Band, and Train. From the starting point of your road trip to wherever you plan to spend at least one night in San Francisco, make sure you have updated information when it comes to highway travel. Especially during the warmer months, construction crews and road crews are notorious for throwing a few monkey wrenches against travelers who want to jump behind the wheel and go on a lengthy road trip.
Although many motorists have a handy GPS system to help them get from one point to another, it’s still a good idea to stay tuned to good radio stations that do more than play great music. Especially when venturing into cities like San Francisco, the best stations and their DJs will keep motorists informed of any news and traffic issues they should be aware of. Among the best stations in San Francisco to listen to, Star 101.3 FM focuses on mainstream musical favorites dating as far back as the 1990s as well as today’s hits. The infamous Ryan Seacrest hosts his show on this station from 3 PM until 7 PM.
If you’re into classic rock from the 1980s,103.7 FM 80+ would be for you. Among fans having a preference for easy-listening hits and classics, 98.1 The Breeze specializes in adult contemporary sounds to help keep you relaxed, especially if you have to contend with congested traffic. Should you be in the mood for some hip-hop or R&B, 106.1 KMEL is one of Bay City’s most popular radio stations. Listening to any of these stations while in San Francisco is the opportunity to absorb the city’s music culture while staying informed about important events you need to be aware of. Perhaps you’ll even learn about a cool concert or festival taking place upon your arrival that you may want to check out.
San Francisco Accommodations
When visiting San Francisco with the intent to stay at least a night or two, make a point to book a decent hotel room the moment you decide when you’d like to be in the city. This is a popular tourist destination so the best hotels with the best rooms are going to fill up first, especially whenever there is a major event going on. Between concerts, festivals, and major sporting events, it’s not uncommon for even the seedier hotels in San Francisco to become completely booked.
If you’re determined to stay at a hotel in downtown San Francisco, there are so many to choose from. Ideally, you want something that has at least a four-star rating. For as little as $150 USD a night, Hotel G at 386 Geary Street is one great option worth considering. This character hotel first opened its doors for business in 1909 and is a short walk from Market Street, Union Square, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This twelve-story hotel has a wonderful mix of classic and modern ambiance, offering its guests everything they need for a great stay.
Another great hotel worth considering is the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. This upscale hotel with rooms starting at $200 USD offers a short walk to the Ferry Plaza Building and its infamous farmers market. For music fans, you may find some cool items such as old vinyl records, collectibles, and memorabilia to take back home with you. This hotel also offers a great view of the bay and has all the modern-day amenities you need for a fantastic stay. Its street address is 5 Embarcadero Center one of the highlights situated at the L-shaped corner of Market Street and Steuart Street.
San Francisco’s Musical Hotspots
San Francisco is loaded with several bars, clubs, and hotspots that cater to every musical taste there is for locals and tourists to take advantage of. If you’re into dancing, this thriving city has it. If you’d rather kick back and just enjoy the music with some good food and drink, this vibrant city has it. Some of the most popular nightclubs in the city have been entertaining music fans for at least thirty years as they keep up with today’s trends. Some of them also carry on with traditional classics that keep people coming back for more.
1015 Folsom is a three-level nightclub that offers music fans a wealth of choices between floors about what kind of vibe they want to get into. This has been a San Francisco favorite in the SoMa District since the 1990s. It was one of the first venues outside of Chicago and New York City to play electronic music. Named after the street address it sits on, 1015 Folsom is one of the city’s most popular nightclubs. It would be highly advised to book ahead so you can secure a table should you choose to visit. This isn’t far from the infamous Market Street and is about fifteen minutes southwest of the Hyatt Regency.
Situated at 1016th Street, Monarch has established itself as one of San Francisco’s favorite nightclubs and is constantly buzzing with awesome live performances and shows presented by the DJs. What’s great about this place is the vintage decor with its brick walls, chandeliers, stained glass, and a spacious dance floor downstairs. Entry to the bar is free but if you want to dance downstairs there is a cover charge.
When choosing to party like a rockstar in San Francisco, the DJs at Raven Bar’s Club Raven go out of their way to make sure the crowd makes good use of this venue’s two dance floors on Friday and Saturday nights. Resident DJs Mark Andrus and Scotty Fox love to keep music fans entertained by showcasing music videos when they choose to party on the dance floor located on the upper level. If you’re looking to join an awesome dance party, take a drive to 1151 Folsom Street. When this fun venue opened up in the 1990s, it started off as a venue specializing in jazz and acid rock. Nowadays, the noir ambiance embraces the best of Raven Bar’s musical roots that date between the 1990s and today. For music fans wanting a great experience of 1990s-style nostalgia, this is where you go.
Temple Night Club
In the Financial District, Temple Night Club is a large venue known for its over-the-top, Vegas-style experience. If you’re into hip-hop and dancing, go downstairs to LVL 55 and enjoy its underground club scene. If you’d rather have bottle service, there are great box suites, mezzanine tables, and VIP booths that will make your experience at this popular venue a memorable one. Because this is somewhat upscale, you’ll need to dress up for the occasion. Situated at 540 Howard Street, this is within walking distance of the Hyatt Regency should you be staying there. This is an extremely popular club and one of the city’s top-rated. There’s also a service charge, which you can find out more about when you book ahead to secure a table.
Live in San Francisco
When visiting San Francisco as a music fan, it’s not hard to find decent venues known for its live music scene. Some of them are rich with history as many of the biggest names in the music industry today began their march to fame as upstarts who had yet to score contract deals with major record labels. Among the stars and superstars who book their concert tours, San Francisco is often included as an important stop for them to entertain before a live audience. It’s not uncommon for travelers to book a road trip at the same time they’ve scored tickets to watch such a concert take place in this beautiful West Coast city.
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
When it comes to enjoying the biggest concerts in San Francisco, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is the one that hosts the hottest musical acts in the industry. In 1965, The Rolling Stones performed here. Other icons such as U2, Oasis, Madonna, and Bob Dylan have also held concerts before a live audience. In some cases, more than once. As recently as 2023, K-pop sensation (G) I-DLE and Germany’s hottest pop star, Kim Petras, have also performed before a crowd that was more than happy to dance the night away with them. This venue is located near the Civic Center at 99 Grove Street, sandwiched between State Highway 101 and San Francisco’s famed Market Street.
Bottom of the Hill
If you’re looking for a great venue known for hosting the best live music San Francisco has to offer, the corner of 17th Street and Missouri Street in the Potrero Hill District would make the perfect choice. Since 2003, Bottom of the Hill has been awarded ten years in a row as the best rock venue in the city. Indie rock is what pulses within the walls of what remains one of the most active live music venues in the city. It also has a love for retro, which is made obvious by the club’s decor and its antique bar. This was first opened by Dave Benetti in 1991 as a venue for then-unknown musicians such as Bad Religion, Beastie Boys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Blink 182, Green Day, Kid Rock, Marilyn Manson, Alanis Morissette, and Oasis.
Today, Bottom of the Hill continues to rock on at 1233 17th Street. It’s also just as busy as ever so calling ahead to make reservations would be highly recommended. If you come hungry that’s okay. The restaurant has a menu that caters to everyone between meat lovers and diners following a strict vegan diet.
One of the premier venues in San Francisco known for hosting the best concerts is Chase Center at 1 Warriors Way. Located in the Mission Bay neighborhood, this home base of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors has been a popular choice for big stars such as Blink 182, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and Phish to entertain before a live audience of thousands. As you plan your road trip, perhaps Chase Center will have a concert lined up at the same time that has one of your favorite bands scheduled to perform there.
Great American Music Hall
Situated at 859 O’Farrell Street, the Grand American Music Hall is one of San Francisco’s golden gems. This concert hall sits in the Tenderloin neighborhood and is a short drive from downtown San Francisco’s Union Square and the Ferry Building. This beautiful venue features a beautiful layout of balconies, columns, and frescoes. Together, they sing a history of its unique brand of entertainment that included burlesque dancing, and concerts from a variety of genres such as folk, jazz, and rock. Icons such as Billy Joel and Boz Skaggs have performed here. Today, the Grand American Music Hall continues its legacy with new bookings of some great performances in what somewhat feels like an intimate setting of just under five hundred concertgoers.
Aside from serving as the home base for the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park at 24 Willie Mays Plaza has also been a popular choice for iconic stars such as Lady Gaga to perform before a live audience. In 2017, then again in 2022, she entertained thousands of fans who loved every minute of it. Between enjoying the music at the stadium, you can also enjoy the view of Mission Bay and the China Basin. If you’re staying at a downtown hotel, reaching Oracle Park by car or by foot can be done in a matter of minutes.
For music fans who also relish a bit of history, The Fillmore in San Francisco may be just the place for you. When the doors first opened up as a venue in 1912, it was called the Majestic Hall. The name was changed to Fillmore Auditorium in 1954. During the 1960s, The Fillmore was the “it” place for musicians to make an impression on the audience and potential talent scouts to get noticed. Icons such as the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Byrds, and Santana were among the many who filled The Fillmore with psychedelic music, as well as a counterculture movement that would soon sweep the nation. British legends such as Cream, Pink Floyd, and the Who also performed here.
The Fillmore was also popular for musical acts such as Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. It’s still immensely popular today. Located at 1805 Geary Boulevard, this landmark loaded with culture and history sits in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown. Whatever genre of music you’re into, The Fillmore has it. Now managed by Live Nation, a booking agency responsible for booking the nation’s top talent at the hottest venues, check to see if The Fillmore has a concert falling on the same day you intend to be in San Francisco.
Lori’s Diner: A San Francisco Treat
As a music fan driving around San Francisco, sooner or later you’re going to build up an appetite. Some of the best dining experiences the city has to offer that also know how to entertain with great tunes. One of San Francisco’s favorites has been Lori’s Diner. Located at 500 Sutter Street at Union Square, this is where rockers go to take a step back into the 1950s. Between the checkered floors and vintage decor, what a great way to enjoy a good meal in such a fun environment. There’s also the music, all played from the retro jukebox that adds even more charm to what has been one of San Francisco’s favorite hangouts ever since opening its doors in 1993. If you’re looking for a great dose of Americana with a juicy burger, some fries, and maybe some Tony Bennett and one of his most popular hits, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Bringing San Francisco Music Home
Music fans who love building a collection of vinyl records, or at least some memorabilia of their favorite artists, will go out of their way to visit the best stores that may have something they’d like to take home with them. Usually, when there’s a road trip there is the intent to invest in some souvenirs they’re likely to cherish as much as their experience felt in San Francisco. The people living in Bay City are so fortunate to live in a community where music lovers have access to some of the best record stores in the world. If you’re looking to soak up some great culture that includes vinyl records, San Francisco’s record store scene is just as vibrant as the nightclubs that rock well into the wee hours of the night.
1-2-3-4 Go! Records
Drive over to 1038 Valencia Street and you will find 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. The store’s small storefront resembles a popular neighborhood in Oakland known as Temescal. However, this is in San Francisco’s Delores Heights District. By car, it takes about twenty minutes to drive southwest from the city’s downtown core. If you love your music, no matter what genre it is, odds are you’ll find something here. One of the greatest customer services features this shop is known for is cleaning the used records before selling them to their customers. This is rare as most record stores don’t do this.
Noise at 3427 Balboa Street is a record store that doubles as a small jazz and gallery venue. Since 2015, this store has become a favorite for music enthusiasts among San Francisco’s locals and out-of-towners. What’s great about this store is you get more than just a great experience as a shopper going through a music collection. You also have the opportunity to take in live jazz shows that usually take place during Sunday afternoons. This particular record store takes about an hour to reach by car from downtown San Francisco.
When visiting Rooky Ricardo’s at 419 Haight Street, music fans may feel like they’ve stepped back in time to the 1960s. This charming record store has more than just a great collection of vinyls. This is like wandering into a museum loaded with vintage goodies such as posters, rotary phones, and toys. As retro as the ambiance looks and feels, the store also keeps up with an impressive collection of CDs, magazines, and other merchandise. It even offers a printing service if you’re interested in customized products such as t-shirts.
The Heart of San Francisco
San Francisco’s history as a city included a rich musical culture that’s still prominent today. This beautiful coastal city still has as much to offer as a tourist destination as ever. When enjoying your road trip in and around the city, be sure to keep the music playing as you cruise up and down, and perhaps wind around, some of its most popular streets. Before leaving the city, check to see if you left your heart in San Francisco, just like Bennett did.
San Francisco Road Trip Guide for Music Fans article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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