San Francisco is a city that values individuality, and the bar scene is no different. With watermelon beers, pirate-themed rum bars, and pint-glass margaritas that will put you down for the count, you really can’t experience the city in full without going out in it.
Sure, San Francisco has a couple of clubs, but going out means something really different here. Nightlife is sometimes just daylife. All great days start at the park with a picnic and a six pack, and any of the craziest fun things to do in San Francisco (Pride, Bay to Breakers, Santacon, etc.) will have you in bed by 5pm.
Rather than Saturday night ragers, our nightlife usually involves grabbing creative cocktails, drinking local beers on tap, or heading to one of the many fantastic concert venues for a live indie or electronic show.
If you are headed out for the night, almost every bar in San Francisco is 21+ after 9pm and IDs are required for entry even if your hair is already going gray. Dress codes are pretty laid back, really. You’d be hard pressed to find a place with a strict dress code, especially if you’re headed out in the Mission, the Haight, North Beach, or any of the more low key neighborhoods. Beer is the cheapest thing you can drink, and you can score a deal on canned beer ($3-4) or grab something on draught ($5-6). If you’re looking for house wine or basic cocktails, you can expect to pay a bit more ($8) and craft cocktails will really break the bank ($12-14).
It’s pretty rare for bars to charge cover, but some will charge a small cover ($5-10) if they’re playing live music or hosting a themed dance party. If you’re looking to go to a popular music venue for a concert, check Craigslist ahead of time — the City has an awful lot of people and it can be tough to buy concert tickets at the door!
Headed to San Francisco? Pick any neighborhood you like, pop into the places that catch your eye, and walk on to the next one. Here are the 8 top bars and clubs that you should be sure make your list of best bars in San Francisco:
Top Bars in San Francisco
Rickhouse: Rickhouse is consistently rated as one of the top bars in San Francisco, and rightfully so. They have a huge menu of whiskeys and are known for their lovingly prepared artisanal cocktails. While we wouldn’t normally go out downtown (it’s more of a happy hour spot), the space is trendy and located near public transport so you can make your way to another neighborhood after grabbing a drink here.
Toronado: Remember all that great craft beer we talked about? Well, you can try just all of it at Toronado. Toronado boasts a huge list of craft beer – much of it local – so you can try a range of California IPAs and porters here. It’s a simple space and a no B.S. kind of place (aka the bartenders can be rude) but their beers are so awesome that we don’t even care.
Bourbon & Branch: If you’re feeling particularly fancy, Bourbon & Branch is a San Francisco speakeasy. You’ll need a reservation to go and a secret password to enter, but it’s worth all the hype! Bourbon & Branch makes some of San Francisco’s best cocktails. We’d recommend grabbing a Cucumber Gin Gimlet or a Rusty Nail.
Smugglers Cove: Smugglers Cove could make a rum enthusiast out of anyone. With 150 types of rum on offer and a cocktail book that makes the dictionary look short, there’s a drink for every palette here. The decor is insanely kitschy with drinks coming in tiki glasses and miniature pirate ships, but don’t let the silliness fool you. The bartenders at Smugglers Cove really know how to pour a great drink, and you should make it a point to visit.
Biergarten: For a little taste of Bavaria right in the middle of San Francisco, head to Biergarten. The outdoor beer garden serves German-style lagers all day long, and the crowd gets progressively rowdier the closer it gets to closing time. Situated in Hayes Valley, you’ll get to enjoy sitting outside and people watching while you drink a few (very large) beers. This is a great place to spend a low-key evening in San Francisco.
Top Clubs in San Francisco
Bootie at DNA Lounge: While San Francisco doesn’t have the greatest club scene, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Each Saturday, DNA Lounge converts into a themed nightclub — Bootie SF. For a $15 cover, you can listen to old school mashups and pop remixes while you wear yourself down on the dance floor. The place gets awfully crowded, but that makes it all the more fun!
Butter + 1015 Folsom: 1015 Folsom might not be our favorite concert venue, but if you’re looking for inexpensive, last-minute concert tickets, it’s definitely worth a look. 1015 Folsom typically hosts electronic DJ sets, and you can snag tickets to weekend shows for $20-$30. The venue is huge, and the black lights give it the club feel that many San Francisco music venues are lacking. Drinks come in a bit expensive, so head to the neighboring bar, Butter, for corn dogs and koolaid cocktails beforehand.
Latin America Club: Latin America Club in the Mission District is the creator of the aforementioned pint-glass margaritas. The place gets packed on Fridays and Saturdays, but with high ceilings (hung with piñatas) and big booths for the lucky, it has worked its way up as one of our favorite spots in San Francisco. We’ve found Latin America Club to be a bit more social than other bars in the area, and it can be a great place to finish a night if you’re not ready to wind down.
BONUS: Alright, so we didn’t want to break the rules by calling these “bars and clubs” but there are a few other opportunities for “going out” in San Francisco that you can’t miss:
- Head to Dolores or Golden Gate Park on a sunny Saturday for a party better than you’d find at most any bar.
- Come into town for Outside Lands or Treasure Island Music Festival for live music and a great scene
- Go to Cal Academy of Sciences or the Exploratorium on Thursday night for drinks and a fun science lesson.
- Check the lineup for upcoming shows and go out to a concert at The Independent, The Fillmore, or the Chapel.