San Diego can be a paradise for connoisseurs of spirituous libations - you know, alcoholic drinks. The craft beer scene in San Diego has exploded to become one of the largest in the world, with 120+ breweries in town. Likewise, the craft cocktail movement has turned bar-hopping in town to an even classier and more palate-pleasing weekend activity. Naturally, this spills over into live music as well, for which there is no shortage of bars, lounges or clubs in town where revelers of legal drinking age can not only see their favorite bands perform but likewise have a couple rounds of cocktails or perhaps a pint on nitro.
For those aged 20 and under, however, that's not terribly helpful. Given most venues that serve alcohol don't allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter, that means it can be a little complicated for music lovers to find a good place to see a show before hitting the legal drinking age. But that doesn't mean they don't exist. In fact, there are quite a few excellent spots in San Diego to catch a show without rigid age restrictions getting in the way. Just remember that all ages means just that: You can get in if you're in high school or a freshman in college, but even if you're a veteran of the scene and just want to see a show without the need for a drink you can drop in as well. Here are four of San Diego's best spots to see all-ages shows in San Diego.
Technically speaking, the House of Blues isn't an all-ages venue 100 percent of the time. Since it does have bars in all of its rooms, it's required to maintain a barrier between the 21-and-up areas and those where alcohol isn't allowed. And sometimes those barriers come down, which means the age limit is upheld for the show. That being said, most of the time the venue welcomes younger audiences in, and most of its high-profile shows are indeed all ages (or at least 18 and up).
The benefit of having different rooms, however, means that the House of Blues can accommodate a variety of different touring bands. The bigger headlining acts perform on its mainstage, while some of the up-and-coming acts - frequently booked by Soda Bar or The Casbah - end up playing the Voodoo Room, adjacent to the main room. And most of those shows are, indeed, all ages. Just make sure to double check before buying tickets.
Where: 1055 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about the House of Blues
The Irenic isn't solely a venue for live music. From the outside, it sure looks a lot like a church, and when you head inside, a church is what it turns out to be: Mission Gathering, to be specific, which holds services on Sundays. During the week, however, it's a non-denominational center of activity for both local and touring acts. It's held shows by the likes of Nada Surf and goth-rock icon Peter Murphy, and the catering license it holds as an operational church means that it can still serve beer and wine if you're of age.
Where: 3090 Polk Ave, San Diego, CA 92104
A historic co-op opened in 1980 on the campus of UC San Diego, the Che Cafe has been hosting live shows for decades. It's hosted countless bands that have since become far too big to fit a crowd within its cozy confines, including Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Jimmy Eat World and At the Drive-In, and still has a regular rotation of local and touring bands playing its stage to this day. It's much more than a music venue, however, also being a source of student activism, which only stands to reason, given that it's named for Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara. For those feeling a little puckish at one of its live events, the Che Cafe has a functional kitchen where volunteers cook up vegan vittles.
Shows at the Che are usually inexpensive, and the atmosphere is welcoming on several levels. The volunteers of the co-op encourage tolerance and discourage violence, and though it's been the source of some friction with UCSD faculty over funding for upgrades, the university recently came to an agreement with the Che to fund necessary inspections of the facility and allow it to continue to operate without having to interrupt its programming schedule or relocate.
Where: 9500 Gilman Drive, UCSD Campus, La Jolla, CA 92037
The 1,100 capacity Observatory North Park shares some commonalities with the House of Blues, namely in that it's not exclusively an all ages concert hall. Most of the time, though, it accommodates audiences of all stripes, and with an easy shortcut for those of age who still would enjoy grabbing a refreshing cocktail: The West Coast Tavern is connected to the venue, so all you have to do is go next door.
The biggest plus about The Observatory, however, is the sheer caliber of talent that it brings in. Most of the biggest bands that swing through our city that aren't quite at the level of playing bigger arena shows will almost certainly be at the Observatory, and on weeks like the one between both Coachella weekends, a long list of festival favorites - Chvrches, Beach House and Deerhunter, to name a few - end up filling the room.
Where: 2891 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104
Photo credit: Alex Matthews