Nightlife in San Francisco: Best Bars, Clubs, & More

San Francisco at night

Max Whittaker / Visit California

Unlike Manhattan, San Francisco is a city that does sleep, but this doesn't mean you won't find plenty of nightlife goings-on, both during the week and on the weekends—they're just a bit more "morning alarm-clock" friendly overall. From iconic live music venues to cool cocktail lounges, SF offers a plethora of options for spending an evening out. What it doesn't have in late-night dining haunts and after-hours bars, it more than makes up for in comedy clubs, storytelling events, and museum nights. Just a word of warning: The BART, which provides public transit to the East Bay and spots like Colma and SFO, stops running at 12 a.m., and while MUNI runs its citywide buses all night, its metro switches to bus service in the early morning hours.  

Bars, Pubs, and Dives

San Francisco is home to every type of bar imaginable, from European-inspired wine bars to a Tenderloin gay bar known for its cheap drinks and drag shows. Good neighborhoods to go bar-hopping (and each with its own distinct vibe) include the Mission, the Marina, North Beach, and Hayes Valley.

  • Toronado: Choose between more than 40 beers on tap at this Lower Haight spot.
  • The Beer Hall: Situated between Hayes Valley and Mid-Market, The Beer Hall offers a rotating selection of brews, wine, and cider on tap, plus more than 200 bottles you can drink on-site or purchase to-go.
  • Dubliner: With 25 beers on tap and a full bar, this long-running sports bar in Noe Valley boasts large-screen TVs and cozy wood décor.
  • The Plough & Stars: Located on Clement Street, this Irish bar hosts live music Tuesday through Sunday at 9 p.m., with genres spanning bluegrass, country, rock, traditional Irish music, and more. On Mondays, The Plough & Stars offers an all-day happy hour. Note that you'll have to pay a cover charge on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Zeitgeist: At this popular bar in the Mission, the bloody marys and the outdoor picnic tables reign supreme. You can often enjoy live music here; check the calendar to see who's playing during your visit.
  • Twin Peaks Tavern: An iconic gay bar and the first such place to have huge glass windows—beckoning the whole world to see inside.
  • Blush!: Inspired by European wine bars, Blush! features around 40 wines by the glass, Belgian beers, artisan French cheeses, and Italian and Spanish charcuterie. Events throughout the month include Tarot readings, queer comedy nights, and live music.
  • The Detour: Named after a Market Street gay bar that closed in the early aughts, the arcade bar formerly known as Brewcade serves up local beers, creative cocktails, a menu of Pan Pacific-inspired street food, and, of course, a selection of arcade games, pinball machines, and board games.

Cocktail Lounges

Whether it's a speakeasy-style space or a classy hotel lounge, cocktail bars and lounges abound throughout the city.

  • Smuggler's Cove: A cocktail-forward tiki bar that's ushered in a whole new city- (and country-) wide Polynesian-themed era.
  • Bourbon & Branch: Tucked away in a nondescript corner spot just east of Union Square, Bourbon & Branch is considered SF's first modern-day speakeasy.
  • Trick Dog: For the ultimate in creative imbibing, don't miss Trick Dog. One of the city's most innovative libation spaces, each cocktail here is paired with a classic poem.
  • Charmaine's: Located at the four-star San Francisco Proper Hotel, this rooftop bar is the place to on a clear night.
  • Gibson: Hotel Bijou's on-site restaurant crafts innovative cocktails in a stylish, Art Deco space. If you're feeling indulgent, try the $90 chef's choice tasting menu.
  • Moongate Lounge: Nestled above the Michelin-starred Mister Jiu's, Moongate Lounge dishes out six signature cocktails and six seasonal cocktails "inspired by the Chinese Lunar Calendar and the fruits, flowers, spices, and spirits of the seasons."
  • Top of the Mark: A legendary top-floor venue in Nob Hill, this former penthouse suite has been serving signature cocktails—with a side of 360-degree SF views—for more than 80 years.
  • The Alembic: The menu at this craft cocktail bar and restaurant in the Haight features signature drinks made with unique ingredients such as green tea dust, pandan jelly, and red wine gastrique.
  • Comstock Saloon: Open since 2009, this North Beach locale is housed in a 115-year-old space and features antiquities from owners' past, including an 18-foot mahogany bar top from the 1890s. Come for handcrafted cocktails and live jazz every night of the week.

Clubs and Dance Clubs

Depending on what you're up for, you can spend a night grooving to the tunes of a seven-piece jazz band or working your salsa moves. Here are the best places to go dancing in San Francisco.

  • Club Deluxe: Ths always-fun club in the Haight hosts live bands—mostly jazz, blues, and brass—seven nights a week.
  • Milk Bar: Down the street from Club Deluxe, Milk Bar is a fun place to dance to live music and DJ spins. Check the calendar for comedy nights.
  • El Rio in the Mission: Located in the Mission, this LGBTQ+ bar is known for disco nights, 2000s dance parties, and Salsa Sundays every fourth Sunday of the month.
  • Cat Club: With two dance floors, two full bars, and VIP booths, SOMA'a long-running 1984 dance party at the Cat Club has been drawing in crowds for decades.
  • The EndUp: An aptly named nightclub that entertains all the way through to sunrise.
  • Black Cat: This popular multi-level club features live jazz every night of the week.
  • Madrone Art Bar: Come to NOPA's Madrone Art Bar for Mowtown Mondays and Prince & Michael Jackson tribute nights.
  • Oasis: A popular club for drag shows, cabaret performances, and full-out dance-a-thons.
  • The Cafe: This Castro nightclub caters to all walks with a newly remodeled nightclub interior and a decidedly younger crowd. 

Late-Night Restaurants

San Francisco may not have New Jersey's array of 24-hour diners, but for a city that goes to sleep relatively early (this is for you, New Yorkers!), there are still a good number of spots where you can get a meal well into the night, and even a few places that stay open around the clock.

  • Pinecrest Diner: If it's a greasy spoon you're after, swing by Pinecrest Diner for classic diner fare.
  • Orphan Andy's: Open since the 70s, this 24-hour diner in the Castro serves up burgers, pancakes, and milkshakes.
  • Nopa: along Divisadero Corridor
  • The Monk's Kettle: This New American restaurant dishes out upscale versions of all your favorite comfort foods, including Mission-spiced fried chicken thighs and burgers topped with onion jam, gruyere, and aioli. It's open until midnight every day of the week.
  • ABV: An excellent stop for after-hour gourmet meals, ABV offers an eclectic menu featuring everything from nopales tacos to asparagus toast paired with a cured duck egg.
  • Grubstake Diner: Nestled in a converted train car, Grubstake Diner has been serving hungry customers burgers, patty melts, and other diner fare since 1937.
  • Golden Boy Pizza: A North Beach pizzeria that sells square pizza by the slice until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Taqueria Cancun: If you're craving a burrito after a night of drinking, Taqueria Cancun is open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and until 11 p.m. every other night of the week.
  • El Farolito: With several locations in SF, El Farolito is the perfect place to grab chile relleno, tacos, and Mission-style burritos well into the wee hours of the morning.
  • Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop: If you've been partying at the bars on Polk Street, there's no better place than a 24-hour institution where sticky buns, chocolate bars, and raised glazed donuts are all the rage. 

Live Music

San Francisco is a hotbed of live music venues, from Nopa's no-frills The Independent—which has long been hallowed grounds for emerging musicians like Green Day and Beck—to North Beach's historic The Saloon for a straight-shot of blues. Some of the city's most iconic performance spaces include The Warfield, The Fillmore, and the Great American Music Hall. Meanwhile, Bottom of the Hill is known for its cutting-edge shows, including a 1996 surprise Beastie Boys appearance—one that almost caused a riot.

Big names like Phish and Tenacious D fill up larger halls such as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, just a few blocks walk from Hayes Valley, and Nob Hill's The Masonic—right across the street from the impressive Grace Cathedral. For cabaret-style show tunes, don't miss Feinstein's at the Nikko in Union Square.

Comedy Clubs

The crowds to catch local girl Ali Wong and Emmy-winning John Oliver are so large that these big-name comedians regularly sell out shows at The Masonic, but there are plenty of more intimate SF clubs and rooms dedicated to comedy where the laughs come just as easily. Cobb's Comedy Club in North Beach and the Financial District's Punchline are two of the best known, but there's also Cheaper than Therapy at Union Square's Shelton Theater, which also hosts The Secret Improv Society on weekends. Meanwhile, Marrakech Magic Theater combines comedy, magic, and mentalism.

Events and Activities

Let's face it: Evenings offer a lot more activities than we give them credit for, and there are plenty of cool ways to experience SF once the sun goes down, beyond the typical drinking and imbibing.  

In San Francisco alone, you can embark on a night tour of Alcatraz; go weekend roller skating at Church of 8 Wheels; and catch sketch comedy, film screenings, and drag shows at PianoFight. Alternatively, you can tee off at Urban Putt and Stagecoach Greens, hit up Gamescape on game nights, and play old-school arcade games at Emporium Arcade Bar. Karaoke bars run the gamut from The Mint on mid-Market Street to Pandora Karaoke & Bar in the Tenderloin, but if standing on stage isn't your thing, Japantown has plenty of karaoke spots where they pass the mic around.

Many of the city's museums host after-hour events once a week, like the California Academy of Sciences' Nightlife, with a new theme every Thursday night, but if it's a conversation between illuminating figures you're after, the Sydney Goldstein Theater's City Arts & Lectures has hosted everyone from Gloria Steinem to Bruce Springsteen casually sharing their thoughts onstage.

San Francisco City Hall lit up in rainbow colors at night - stock photo

 nstanev/Getty Images 

Festivals

With an array of music, comedy, film, and community festivals year-round, it's inevitable that some of these festivities will keep going (or are just getting started) well past twilight.

  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: The city's beloved (and free!) concert in Golden Gate Park, held each October, features associated nighttime performances throughout the Bay Area that help raise money for a notable cause.
  • Litquake: Book lovers won't want to miss the annual Litquake, which closes with a "Litcrawl" of reading events that place in the Mission's cafés, bars, laundromats, and art galleries on the festival’s final Saturday night.
  • Sketchfest: Comedians take over spots like the Castro Theatre, Cafe du Nord, and The Mission's Brava Theater for SF's annual Sketchfest each January.
  • June's Pride and autumn's Folsom Street Fair make sure that there's plenty going on well past the official daytime festivities. 

Tips for Going Out in San Francisco

San Francisco is a casual city, so dress code is almost never a concern. Except in a few rare cases, you won't be turned away for wearing sneakers, though some places do have fancier-dressed clientele than others. Do your research, then dress however you feel most comfortable.

Some other things to remember when going out in S.F.:

  • Bars (and all-night) supermarkets must stop serving alcohol by law by 2 a.m., but many close much earlier on the weekdays.
  • Uber, Lyft, and taxis are readily available throughout SF, though remember that prices surge when there's high demand, like at 2 a.m. when the bars close.
  • Last call is typically around 20 minutes before closing, and many bars do set their clocks slightly ahead.
  • Glass containers and hard alcohol are strictly prohibited in public, though there are some places where you can drink beer and wine legally, such as John McLaren Park and the Mountain Lake Park Picnic Area. While the law is not always readily enforced in other parks—as long as you're being discreet—there is always a chance that you can be fined. Use common sense (and plastic cups!).
  • San Francisco is a relatively safe city, but even safer when you keep your wits about you. Always keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings, especially in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and Mid-Market at night.
  • Covers at bars and clubs range from a few dollars to $20, depending on the entertainment and crowds expected that night, though there are plenty of places that don't charge a cover at all—especially if it's a weeknight or you slip in early.
  • Standard tipping is usually a dollar per beer or glass of wine, and two bucks for cocktails. Show your appreciation for the work involved!
  • Cannabis (weed, pot, grass, dope, refer, straight-up marijuana...) is legal in California for those 21 and over, but again, be discreet. It's technically illegal to smoke or consume weed anywhere that cigarette smoking is illegal. You're also not allowed to possess weed on federal lands, such as Ocean Beach, and Alcatraz Island.