San Francisco Nightlife Is Hopping

Bars, Clubs, Pubs Offer Fun for All

San Francisco's nightlife scene is immense and changes dramatically depending on the area, making it easy for visitors to end up at a cheesy tourist trap instead of at one of the many bohemian hangouts, classy cocktail lounges, or locally fueled neighborhood bars that San Franciscans actually go to. Check out this list of places to really penetrate San Francisco's multifaceted party scene. The city's two most popular drinking areas are Union Square and North Beach, and they are a good place to start your night on the town.

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North Beach

Fisherman Wharf neighborhood at San Francisco.
Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images
North Beach, San Francisco, CA, USA

North Beach is a party zone every night of the week, with the streets often filled with revelers overflowing out of the bars, cafes, and restaurants that line the area. While Broadway is known for its adult-oriented clubs and general boardwalk-like atmosphere, Columbus Avenue is packed with Italian restaurants and authentic European cafes. Grant Avenue is home to numerous bohemian hangouts, most of which host live music, and the stretch of Green Street between Grant and Columbus is a continuous line-up of local watering holes. Check out Tony's Pizza Napoletana, Cafe Jacqueline for romantic vibes, Park Tavern for straight-up American food, Original Joe's for a true SF Italian dining experience, and the Comstock Saloon for drinks and a great bar menu. These are just a few of the many cool places that North Beach has to offer.

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Downtown/Union Square

Union Square, San Francisco, California, USA
Neil Emmerson / robertharding/Getty Images
Union Square, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

The Union Square area is the beating heart of live music and dance clubs in San Francisco. It's a must if that's your scene. At the Burritt Room + Tavern, you'll sit in a curtained-off booth and hear live jazz Monday through Saturday nights. Feinstein's at the Nicco gives you a full-on cabaret experience, and at Biscuits & Blues, you'll get, yes, Southern food to die for and blues that will touch your soul. It's been named the No. 1 blues club in America by the Blues Foundation, and that is some sweet recommendation. Ruby Sky is the place to go if you want to dance with your sweetie, and the Starlight Room is not to be missed: It's a club that is 21 stories above the street, with stellar city views to match its cocktails and live music.

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Dive Bars

Inside Rye Bar on Geary Street.
Rachael Nusbaum/Getty Images
806 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110-1911, USA
+1 415-824-1800

Once you wander away from the downtown area into the real neighborhoods of San Francisco you will likely notice that bars dot almost every block. San Francisco's dive bars are the local drinking establishments that cater to the eclectic residents of the country's most creative city. Which dive bar you like best is a highly personal choice, but here are a few legendary ones to check out: Bender's Bar & Grill in the Mission District, Kilowatt in the Lower Haight, Lone Palm in the Mission, Shotwell's in the Mission, and The Page in the Haight. An evening or two in places like this show you what the real San Francisco is like: no tourists, just locals. 

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Irish Pubs

A sign hanging in front of a San Francisco Irish pub advertises Guinness beer.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
807 Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA 94122-2305, USA
+1 415-661-0060

San Francisco might not immediately bring the Irish to mind as a dominant ethnic group, but they figured heavily in the massive immigration that hit San Francisco after the Gold Rush boom, and they set up their famous pubs all over the city. San Francisco's Irish pubs are neighborhood institutions and usually double as casual eateries. Some Irish pubs feature live Celtic or bluegrass music, and all of them draw a strong local following. Here are a few where you'll find a hearty welcome and a ready pint: The Little Shamrock in Inner Sunset, Durty Nelly's in Outer Sunset, The Napper Tandy in the Mission, and The Dubliner in Noe Valley.

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Bars in Historic Hotels

View from the Top of the Mark Restaurant at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel located on Nob Hill
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
1231 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
+1 415-626-8000

If you are going to pay top dollar for a cocktail in San Francisco, do it in one of the awe-inspiring and elegant historic hotels that grace the Nob Hill and Union Square areas. Most of these hotels have luxurious charm and period details, and they often have the city's best views and are perfect for really enjoying drinks while immersed in pure San Francisco architectural splendor, history, and scenic beauty. You can have a drink at any one of these bars even if you are not a guest at the hotel. Have a memorable night at the Tavern at the Hotel Whitcomb, which was built in 1906 as a temporary City Hall after the earthquake devastated the city and became a hotel in 1915. The Westin St. Francis predates the Earthquake of 1906, and it rose from the destruction completely renewed in 1907 and has been known as one of the most elegant hotels in San Francisco ever since. Have a drink in its Clock Bar for a luxe and legendary experience. For a world-class view of San Francisco Bay and the skyline, go to the Top-of-the-Mark sky lounge at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, where you'll be treated to great cocktails and live music nightly.

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San Francisco Nightlife Is Hopping