Does San Diego have more outdoor concert venues than anywhere else in California? Or, for that matter, in the nation?
It certainly seems so, although no official tally appears to exist.
It’s also likely that, thanks to our enviably temperate climate, San Diego’s outdoor concert season is longer than anywhere else. Witness Humphreys Concerts by the Bay and the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU, whose respective 2022 seasons each opened in March and run through mid-November.
Then there’s The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the San Diego Symphony’s year-old $85 million bayside venue, which will host concerts into December for the second consecutive year.
These extended seasons reflect more than just the climate here.
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In the wake of the COVID-fueled shutdown that began in March 2020 and extended into the summer of 2021, many venues extended their seasons to make up for lost time. With two new outdoor venues scheduled to open here this fall, the forecast is for more concerts than ever.
Our guide to outdoor San Diego concert venues includes those that exclusively host concerts and those built for other purposes that are also notable for hosting live-music events. It does not include area venues that only periodically host concerts — such as Junior Seau Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre and Market Creek Plaza Amphitheater — or casino amphitheaters, which were featured in a previous Union-Tribune guide.
Who has played there: Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Diana Krall, Lauryn Hill
Next concert: Michael Franti & Spearhead, 7:30 p.m. Sunday
No other concert venue here as small as Humphreys has hosted as many legendary artists, a good number of whom have also headlined the 18,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl during the same season. Nestled alongside a scenic marina — where ticketless fans often watch from yachts and canoes — Humphreys has become a quintessential San Diego attraction that draws concertgoers from as far away as Europe and Australia. How intimate is this palm tree-lined venue? The distance from the back row to the stage is 100 feet.
Did you know? Whitney Houston, then 22, began the first concert tour of her career at Humphreys on Aug. 28, 1985.
Who has played there: Virgil Fox, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, New York Symphony Orchestra, Los Tucanes De Tijuana, The Village People, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, Drive Like Jehu
Next concert: San Diego Civic Organist Emeritus Robert Plimpton, 2 p.m. today
Located in the heart of Balboa Park, where it opened 108 years ago, Spreckels Organ Pavilion is the oldest permanent outdoor concert venue in San Diego. It is also one of the most picturesque, thanks to the pavilion’s circular Italian Renaissance-styled design. The home of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, it was built and donated to the city by philanthropists John and Adolph Spreckels for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Nearly all performances at the pavilion are free, including the weekly, year-round Sunday organ concerts by San Diego Civic Organist Raúl Prieto Ramírez and this summer’s 34th annual San Diego International Organ Festival (continuing each Monday through Sept 5).
Did you know? Former U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft gave separate speeches, two months apart, at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in 1915. Another former president, Herbert Hoover, spoke there in 1935.
Who has played there: Bob Marley & The Wailers, Adele, Sting, Anita Baker, Frank Zappa, Allman Brothers Band, Eurythmics, John Legend, Billy Strings
Next concert: David Gray, 7 p.m. Sunday
The OAT, as many still fondly call this tree-lined bowl, has hosted scores of graduation ceremonies, as well as speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Baba Ram Das and American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell. It took off as a concert venue in the late 1960s and has since grown exponentially as a major mid-sized venue. In 2014, the historic OAT was renamed Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU.
Did you know? Madonna, then 26, began the first concert tour of her career at the OAT on April 19, 1985. The opening act was the (then) little-known Beastie Boys.
Capacity: 4,718 for most performances (accommodate ups to 10,000 for seat-free, general admission shows)
Who has played there: San Diego Symphony, Smokey Robinson, Yo-Yo Ma, Olivia Rodrigo, Pat Metheny, Gladys Knight, Brian Wilson, Common
Next concert: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, In Concert,” featuring the San Diego Symphony and conductor John Jesensky, 7:30 p.m. today
No new concert venue in San Diego has made as big a splash as quickly as $85 million Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, which opened last summer and is often referred to as The Shell. Its state-of-the-art design, superior audio quality and panoramic bayside location across from Coronado has drawn international media coverage. An eye-popping outdoor home for the San Diego Symphony, it operates as a free public park for the majority of the year.
Did you know? The Shell played a key visual role in last September’s launch of Apple’s iPhone 13.
Who has played there: Linda Ronstadt, Merle Haggard, Van Halen, Sarah Vaughan, Little Richard, Switchfoot, Wayne Newton
Next concert: None scheduled until next summer
For three to four weeks each summer, the Grandstand Stage hosts an array of music and comedy artists most nights during the annual San Diego County Fair. The stage is located on the edge of the infield of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club racetrack and faces the grandstand. Seats in the elevated sections provide views of the ocean to the west and hot air balloons to the east and north. Carnival rides, games and cinnamon buns are all in close proximity.
Did you know? The original grandstand was demolished in 1991. The new one, which cost $80 million, was completed in 1993.
Capacity: 15,000 for ticketed concerts and festivals
Who has played there: Giorgio Moroder, Flume, Flaming Lips, Blake Shelton, TV On The Radio, Slightly Stoopid, Bad Religion, Kaytranada, Sofi Tukker
Next concert: Day.MVS.XL festival, Aug. 6 and 7
Built at a cost of $50 million, Waterfront Park adjoins the San Diego County administration building and overlooks the adjacent harbor. The 12-acre site, which boasts interactive fountains and a playground, has become the home to several festivals, including CRSSD, Boots on the Ground, BeerX and — as of last August — Day.MVS.XL, an outgrowth of the twice-yearly CRSSD electronic music marathon.
Did you know? Billie Eilish was just 15 when she performed at Waterfront Park as part of the March 2016 edition of CRSSD Festival.
Who has played there: Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, blink-182, Shania Twain, Santana, Metallica, Spice Girls
Next concert: Grey Day Tour 2022, with $uicide Boy$, Ski Mask The Slump God, Snot, Knocked Loose, Moxo Krem, DJ Scheme, Aug. 12
The largest concerts-only venue in San Diego County, this extremely well-designed Chula Vista amphitheater is located just a mile north of Tijuana. Its size has helped draw major acts whose tours bypassed San Diego in the past. The general admission lawn area at the rear of the venue offers a laid-back vibe for those on a budget. The venue also has VIP box seating, a VIP lounge, season box seat packages, a party deck and a new elevated seating section — the Rock Box — that seats up to 12 people.
Did you know? Before it became North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in 2018, the venue was known as Mattress Firm Amphitheatre, Sleep Train Amphitheatre, Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre and Coors Amphitheatre.
Capacity: Around 40,000 for most concerts, although Garth Brooks’ sold-out, in-the-round performance in March drew a record 53,000.
Who has played there: Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Eagles, Madonna, Def Leppard, Billy Joel, Green Day, Metallica
Next concert: Grupo Firme, Aug. 27
The home of the San Diego Padres, this downtown ballpark has hosted more than a dozen concerts by some of the biggest acts in pop music. It has hosted many more shows at Gallagher Square (formerly the Park at the Park), which has a 6,000-plus capacity. Petco Park is now the largest venue for concerts here, following the 2021 completion of the demolition of Mission Valley’s SDCCU Stadium (formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium and San Diego Stadium). Petco Park’s seven full-stadium 2022 concerts are the most ever held in one year at the venue.
Did you know? A number of top acts have performed at private events at Petco Park, including Aerosmith, Gwen Stefani and blink-182.
This fall will see the opening of two new outdoor venues here.
Opening weekend: Oct. 21 with an opening celebration concert by the San Diego Symphony, conducted by Elena Schwarz and Steven Schick; the Oct. 22 concert by Death Cab For Cutie is sold out.
Underwritten by La Jolla philanthropists Daniel and Phyllis Epstein, this $64 million new venue is adjacent to the new Blue Line trolley station in the Pepper Canyon area of UCSD. The university plans to host more than 300 music, dance, theater, film and other events per year at the Epstein. When not hosting performances, the venue will be used as a public, open space. The Oct. 21/22 opening weekend concerts will be preceded by an Oct. 7 performance by the three-woman Argentinian folk-rap trio Fémina, which is being presented by UCSD’s ArtPower.
Opening: The first concert will be an Oct. 22 performance by Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band, with Jason Mraz opening
Capacity: About 26,000 for concerts; 35,000 for football games
Mission Valley has a new stadium, the SDSU Aztecs football team has a new home, and area music fans have a new option for an “intimate stadium experience.” Thanks to its $310 million budget, Snapdragon boasts technology that the venue’s operators tout as “the best at any college stadium in the nation.” It remains to be seen how, or if, it can fill the void left by the now-demolished SDCCU Stadium, which accommodated concert audiences of more than 50,000. But the promise of the new beckons. And with almost 7,000 more seats than North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, Snapdragon may be able to draw music acts that are too big to play at North Island.
Did you know? Up to 8,500 seats field seats will be available for the Jimmy Buffett concert.
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