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San Clemente Journal

San Clemente's Vibrant Music Scene Hidden Gems and Local Favorites

Feb 25, 2024 12:15PM ● By Katie Arons

The Perfect Blend performs as a trio at HH Cotton’s, which hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night.

by Katie Arons

As a lifelong San Clementean and a music lover, I have always enjoyed a night on the town to check out the latest bands or appreciate a talented guitarist strumming during a meal at one of the many establishments in town offering live music. Western Wednesdays, Aloha Sundays, and the longest-running open mic jam night in Orange County are some of the ongoing music events in San Clemente that I discovered while researching for this article. 

But the question is … who is playing, where, and when? I queried the community group San Clemente Life on Facebook, and it clearly showed that many in town do not know the variety of music venues we have. I delved in and expanded my knowledge, and am sharing with you the current happenings, but I must caution that venues come and go, so by print time, things may be changed. 

Mark Alan Wilson Band gets things moving at BeachFire.


Most everyone knows of BeachFire and Iva Lee’s, two long-standing restaurants in town with a focus on live bands. In addition to its five nights a week showcasing music of all genres, BeachFire is the only venue in town to offer afternoon entertainment on weekends. Size is the only limiting factor at BeachFire, the larger the band is, the smaller the dance floor but that doesn’t stop the crowd from having a good time.  

Family Style on stage at Iva Lee’s.

 Iva Lee’s began with a similar setup, a small corner piano in the restaurant lounge. With origins in New Orleans, it was inevitable that Eric and Lisa Wagoner, the owners of Iva Lee’s, would incorporate live music into their establishment. Quickly the popularity good eats and tunes enabled them to expand the lounge, complete with a large stage and dance floor lined with tables. It’s fun to enjoy a delicious Southern meal while watching the entertainment (both on the stage and off), and then to get up and boogie.

At these and other restaurant venues, the music starts early and usually ends before midnight, generally attracting an older crowd. If you’re looking for a younger and later crowd, head to the Triangle (on El Camino Real south of Del Mar). Goody’s and Daily’s often have live bands or DJs for dancing into the wee hours.

The Cellar is another local staple for live music while you dine every Thursday - Saturday; with a focus on solo artists here you’re more likely to sing along than dance. The ‘Music’ page on the Cellar’s website says it best, “We believe live music feeds the SOUL! While sipping on great wine and enjoying delicious bites… why not listen to some of Orange County’s BEST local performers.” Many other restaurants offer live entertainment while you dine, such as H.H. Cottons, PierSide, Franco’s Famous, Barona Winery, and more.

HH Cotton’s has recently made a commitment to live music on every Friday and Saturday Night. Music is also being offered at the plethora of local breweries, most notably Los Molinos Beer Co. in the ‘Surf Ghetto’ with a band on the patio every Saturday evening and occasional additional gigs, especially during the summer.  Perhaps I asked the wrong audience by using Facebook, which my daughter tells me is for “old people.” I also scoured the websites of nearly every bar and restaurant in town, discovering that only a handful, including BeachFire, Cellar, HH Cotton’s and Iva Lee’s, maintained updated entertainment calendars. So, I made the rounds to do my research (twist my arm), and thanks to a friendly bartender at Lander’s, I learned that Instagram is the place to get the latest updates on who’s playing where. As he informed me of their weekly Western Wednesdays, with live music and spaghetti specials, I asked why their music calendar wasn’t listed on their website. He laughed and said, “No one uses websites anymore, go to Instagram.” He was right! Instagram is a goldmine of information.

Soul Beacons, live at Knuckleheads.


Upon scrolling in the land of Instagram, a story came up from my friend Damian Brawner’s eclectic coffee shop, and music venue, Rhythm and Resin (or R&R). Brawner Boards surf shop in Shorecliffs promotes Aloha Sundays, with live Hawaiian music from 9am to noon. On Brawner’s page I discovered they also have “Start Me Up Saturdays” featuring live jazz music on Saturday mornings. What a great way to start your day.  

Damian is at the core of San Clemente’s music scene with a deep background managing bands and a local recording studio. He shared that occasional gigs also pop up and that they are producing the first annual ‘Orange Curtain Competition,’ a singer, songwriter competition similar to American Idol. Beginning at the end of February, the contestants will compete on a weekly basis and be eliminated until the winner emerges and receives a recording contract with R&R Records. The contest will be judged by Hollywood heavyweights and will be open to the public.  Follow the Rhythm & Resin Instagram page to get more details. 

Another great musical treasure I discovered is Knuckleheads. I could say I re-discovered it as I have seen many of my friend’s bands play at the nearly 30-year-old dive bar at North Beach but wasn’t aware of how deep the music goes. With a slogan of “Sorry, we are open!” Knuckleheads isn’t where you would expect to find popular bands quietly dropping in to prep for an upcoming tour or to enjoy the longest-running open mic jam night in Orange County. Dropping in on a Wednesday you might see local musicians having a good time, just winging it and jamming away. Knuckleheads tends to be a younger crowd where the music doesn’t begin until well after 9pm. You’ll find a variety of music, depending on the night, from eclectic electronic music to punk rock to hard rock. Mostly always original music but occasionally there’s a cover or tribute band with a full dance floor. Their website keeps an updated calendar at, and of course, they can also be found on Instagram.

I also uncovered a thriving underground music scene in town with shows happening in warehouses or private residences. I can’t divulge more and blow their cover so if you’re interested, I recommend hitting some of these venues and getting to know the regulars. We’re a friendly community, and music lovers like to share with like minds so it won’t take long before you’re getting invited in.

I’d also like to thank Shashona Reynolds for commenting on my Facebook post and sharing a great resource for live music, Local Live Music is a very comprehensive website that lists daily local music happenings from San Diego to Santa Monica, including San Clemente.
All in all, San Clemente's music scene is a dynamic kaleidoscope of sounds, from well-known establishments to hidden nooks, each contributing to the symphony of our vibrant community. So, whether you're a seasoned local or a newcomer, dive into the rhythms, explore the venues, and let the music guide you through the soulful heart of San Clemente.

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