California might not be the country music mecca that Nashville or Austin are, but the sweet strains of twang can be heard up and down the Golden State in a wide variety of venues from big city music halls to clubs in the middle of nowhere.
From a crystal palace to a horse bar, here are the best California country music venues.
1. Pappy and Harriet’s, Pioneertown
Pappy and Harriet’s is the definition of a destination club – for both bands and fans. It is located in a basically deserted town outside of Joshua Tree where Westerns once were filmed. However, it is such a Sothern California legend that bands make special trips to play there. Part biker bar, part cowboy clubhouse, part BBQ joint – Pappy and Harriet’s is a one-of-a-kind spot to hear music.
2. Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
It’s hard to pick the best place to hear country music in San Francisco. Is it the little honky-tonky Riptide? The Boz Scaggs-owned club Slim’s or the more rock than roots venue The Independent? All are good but there’s something grand about seeing a show at the Great American Music Hall, which was built in 1907. While it too books a good number of rock acts, Robert Earl Keen and JD McPherson have been among recent GAHM performers.
3. The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz
You don’t typically associate country music with crepes, but Santa Cruz isn’t your typical town. This city is well known for its eccentric (as in “hippie”) nature and The Crepe Place certainly has its funky charms. Situated in a century-old building, it offers a relaxed vibe for the eclectic array of acts (not strictly country) that play either on its indoor and outdoor garden stages.
4. Grand Ole Echo, Los Angeles
Country music crops in clubs all over Los Angeles – like the legendary Troubadour on the Sunset Strip, the cozy mid-city club The Mint, Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe and Burbank’s quirky Mexican restaurant Viva Cantina. However, the best place to get a regular twang fix is at the Grand Ole Echo, a free country music concert series that happens most Sunday afternoons at The Echo on L.A.’s hip east side.
5. Maverick Saloon, Santa Ynez
Located just up the road from Santa Barbara, the Maverick Saloon & Hayloft Grill looks like it’s part of a TV Western set – in fact it’s named after an old James Garner TV show – but the place is alive with music and dancing. One great thing about the Maverick is its Tales From The Tavern series, an acoustic showcase for musicians such as Ryan Bingham, Carlene Carter and Butch Hancock.
6. McCabe’s, Santa Monica
If you’re ranking Southern California’s best listening rooms, McCabe’s Guitar Shop would to be near (if not at) the top. There’s nothing fancy with this backroom space – a simple stage, folding chairs and no alcohol – but the audience is there to hear music, not to talk or drink, so musicians reward them with casual, intimate performances.
7. Renegade Country Bar, El Cajon
This no-frills joint, located outside of San Diego in the town of El Cajon, lives up to its claim as “San Diego’s only real honky tonk.” Live country music mostly happens on the weekend nights, with dancing on other nights – and no cover every night.
8. The Big Room In The Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico
It’s one thing to grab a beer in a bar and listen to music. It’s a whole nother thing to get that beer in an actual brewery. The fine folks behind Sierra Nevada Beer have created a music venue in their brewery. The Big Room, which presents a variety of country and Americana acts, is actually a classy little 350-seat room that creates a wonderfully unique spot to catch a concert
9. City Winery, Napa
If you prefer a pinot noir to a Pabst’s, then the City Winery Napa is the place for you. Housed in the former Napa Opera House, this elegant 300-seat concert hall, with wine (naturally) on tap, has played host to shows by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and Asleep At The Wheel since opening in 2014.
10. Water Wheel Saloon, Norco
The Water Wheel is the type of place where you can ride to on your horse, which makes sense that this bar is located in Norco, the Inland Empire city known as “Horsetown USA.” The bar presents country music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and has a lively dance floor throughout the week.
11. Freight & Salvage, Berkeley
Since starting in 1968, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse has been a home for wide range of acoustic and traditional music, with Ricky Skaggs, Rita Coolidge and Kim Richey being among the country acts on its 2015 concert schedule. Besides being a cool place to see a show, Freight & Salvage is a non-profit organization that does a lot of community programs too.
12. Crystal Palace, Bakersfield
If you could only visit one country music venue in California, the Crystal Palace would probably be it. Created by country music legend Buck Owens, the Crystal Palace is more than just a music hall. It’s a restaurant, a museum and a living sanctuary to the Bakersfield Sound. Although this Palace might not attract the biggest Nashville stars, Chris Cagle, Phil Vassar, Maddie & Tae and Sturgill Simpson have all graced its stage recently.