Defocused musical artist on stage at small live music venue

Some might say that there’s nothing comparable to hearing your favorite songs live. The contagious energy, the roar of the crowd—there’s definitely something special about live music. Santa Cruz has a number of bars, clubs, and assorted live music venues for residents and visitors to experience. And while none may have the capacity of the SoFi Stadium, this city is still a great place to find both local and international artists. 

Whether you’re down to just see whoever is playing at the bar tonight, or if you’re planning to get tickets for something special, here are some of the venues you can find around the city—and some of the upcoming events and festivals, too!

Downtown Venues

The Catalyst Club, colloquially known as simply “The Catalyst”, is Santa Cruz’s most popular live music venue. Officially classified as a nightclub, this venue hosts events, such as Kpop Night and Taylor Swift parties, and musical artists that span a wide range of genres.

Guests particularly like the intimacy of the venue, which has been a part of Santa Cruz since 1966, and the friendliness of the staff. Most events are ages 16 and up, and The Catalyst also has karaoke nights on the weekends. The Catalyst is located at 1101 Pacific Avenue, and their website is found here.

As an alternative, Moe’s Alley, located at 1535 Commercial Way, is a 21+ only bar and live music venue. Spanning everything from folk to hip hop, this venue is smaller, although often said to have the superior acoustics.

Although not exactly in the downtown area, this is still a popular venue, especially for the older crowd—and they offer some excellent tacos, too. Their website, with all upcoming events, can be found here.

Other Santa Cruz County Venues

There are also a couple of other live music venues of note around Santa Cruz County. The Rio Theatre, a Santa Cruz staple for over 70 years, showcases a variety of entertainment: music, films, and various performances. 

Located at 1205 Soquel Avenue, this seated venue has an eccentric lineup with nostalgic decor. Its upcoming event schedule includes comedians, folk artists, tribute acts, and movie screenings. Plus, the Rio Theatre also hosts festivals and events periodically. Their website can be found here.

Outside of Santa Cruz city is Felton Music Hall. Located in, as the name suggests, Felton, this 21+ music venue is recognized not only for its acts and its characteristic wooden floor, but also for its delicious eats. Typically featuring local artists, this venue is where Don Quixote’s used to be, at 6275 Highway 9. Their website can be found here.

Upcoming Events

There’s always something happening in and around Santa Cruz—and live music happening daily.

The Rio Theatre in particular is hosting two notable, upcoming events. The first, the Ocean Film Festival, is showcasing films created by independent filmmakers from across the globe, each advocating for marine conservation and various ideas around environmental activism. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, a portion of the proceeds are donated to the nonprofit Save Our Shores. Find more information about this September 9th event here.

At the same venue, the Santa Cruz Comedy Festival is happening this October 6th. This festival features three main acts (Moshe Kasher, Louis Katz, Marcella Arguello), who have notably appeared on Comedy Central, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and networks such as HBO MAX and NBC. Advanced tickets are available here.

For kids who want a night out too, World Ballet Series: Cinderella is coming to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, November 17th. The downtown venue is located at 307 Church Street. With 40 professional dancers and gorgeous costumes, this event is suitable for the whole family, and tickets are still available. More information can be found here.



Experience live music on a whim. To find your dream Santa Cruz home, contact Lauren Spencer today. 

Posted by Lauren Spencer on
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