When Karl the Fog keeps his tendrils at bay, San Francisco often produces some of the best sunsets you'll find anywhere. But where to catch them for the most extraordinary views? From parks to restaurants to evening cruises, here are the best spots for seeing night fall on the legendary City by the Bay.
Perched on a hilltop along the northern end of the city's expansive Ocean Beach, San Francisco's landmark Cliff House has been treating patrons to exceptional sunset views for more than 155 years. Although the beloved bar and restaurant has gone through multiple incarnations during its lifetime, its prime Pacific Ocean roost is one thing that never changes. The Cliff House bistro's Balcony Lounge offers a particular stellar spot to catch the sun sinking below the horizon, perhaps while sipping a martini and pondering the seemingly endless sea.
Part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco's beloved Presidio Park, Marshall's Beach is one of the city's hidden gems: a long and narrow stretch of clothing-optional shoreline sandwiched between the popular Baker Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge, and sheltered above by cliffs. It's a particularly romantic spot to watch the sunset and see its changing colors reflected on the iconic orange span. The beach is accessible from a long staircase located midway along the Presidio's Batteries to Bluffs Trail.
Located on the 46th floor of Union Square's aptly named Hilton Union Square, the recently renovated Cityscape Lounge is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows providing spectacular 360-degree views. Order a plate of local cheese and charcuterie and a barrel-aged Manhattan cocktail, then settle in to watch the sun slowly disappear beyond the city. It's especially welcoming on cooler days, when you can take in Cityscape's killer sunset views without worrying about the outside elements.
Day or night, it's one of San Francisco's most scenic points: Twin Peaks overlook, which sits atop the northernmost one of the city's two adjacent 922-foot-tall peaks and offers sweeping views of the city's skyline, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific. Time it right, and you can watch the sunset below the ocean while the city itself illuminates. A couple of nature trails lead to more secluded perches and private sunset-watching spots.
It's been a venerable part of the San Francisco skyline since its completion in 1933, but it turns out Coit Tower and its surrounding Pioneer Park are also a great place to catch the sunset, especially if you're interested in seeing how the changing light transforms the city. Although this 210-foot-tall white concrete edifice — named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a patroness of San Francisco's firefighters — closes relatively early, there's time to watch the sun's descent from atop its 360-degree observation deck in winter before the tower shuts its doors. Otherwise, 4.89-acre Pioneer Park provides an ample perch with incredible sunset views. The park is reachable from both the MUNI 39 Coit bus and both the Filbert Steps and Greenwich Stairs.
Bernal Heights Park
Bernal Heights may be one of the city's more quiet, residential neighborhoods, but it also boasts one of the best spots in San Francisco for basking in twilight views. Sloping Bernal Heights Park offers a remarkable 360-degree vista from atop its grassy peak, taking in everything from a seemingly endless stretch of city to the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a peaceful and dog-friendly perch where you can take in the magic of evening's ever-changing skies unencumbered. If you're lucky, you may even spot a red-tailed hawk or two flying overhead.
Since first opening in 1939, San Francisco's legendary Top of the Mark cocktail bar has attracted legions of fans, including many WWII servicemen who would stop here for a final drink and a view before shipping out across the Pacific. Visiting this nostalgic penthouse-level perch on the 19th floor of Nob Hill's Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel is a quintessential San Francisco experience, especially at sunset, when you can nosh on small bites, sip a juice-infused Tequila Sunset, and savor incredible 360-degree scenery as the sky turns shades of pink, purple, and orange.
Just look for the colorful set of mosaic-covered stairs to find your way to this hidden gem, a perfectly-named hilltop park tucked away in the city's Mid-Sunset district. It's brimming with cypress trees and coastal shrub, not to mention magnificent views around every turn. Locals have nicknamed this one-acre, windswept space “Turtle Hill” since it rises like the shell of a turtle — but it's the elevated panoramic views and striking sunsets that really set this place apart.
Imagine, sailing around San Francisco Bay with a glass of wine in hand as the sun slowly slips beyond the horizon. The Golden Gate Bridge stretches out before you to the easy strum of guitar strings, your boat cruising past the shores of Angel Island and Alcatraz. Welcome to the Red and White Fleet's California Sunset Cruise, a relaxing, two-hour excursion along SF's waters that pairs some of the Bay Area's top scenery with one of the best ways to see the sunset. Remember to pile on the layers: it can get chilly quickly on the bay.
What's better than noshing on small plates of fried plantains and empanadas de carne, and sipping margaritas, while watching the sun set over San Francisco? Not much, at least according to the die-hard fans of El Techo, the Mission District's Latin American rooftop spot serving up gourmet street food with fantastic views. Although the neighborhood is typically a good 10 degrees warmer than most SF 'hoods, heat lamps and wind screens keep El Techo's al fresco temperatures welcoming even on cooler and sometimes rainy nights.