With its notoriously cold summers and a sea of microclimates that can change at the drop of a hat, San Francisco has not always been known for its al fresco offerings. This has been been changing over the last decade or so, however, especially in the case of the city's rooftop bars and lounges. Creative minds have found their way around Karl the Fog's far reaches, warming their patrons with heat lamps, fire pits, and soothing snacks and cocktails that throw scorn on the misnomer that SF's weather is too fickle for outdoor reveling and introduce a whole new way of enjoying San Francisco days and night. Here are 9 rooftop bars that worth a visit...or four.
Situated above its sister restaurant Lolinda in the heart of the Mission District, El Techo is a rooftop al fresco bar serving up Latin American street-food-style eats and fun cocktails, like the pisco-based Hummingbird, and plenty of sangria. Locals love the space for its superb views and weekday happy hour (4-6 p.m.), not to mention tapas-sized helpings of carne empanadas, fish tacos, and yuca fries. While El Techo is typically first-come, first-served, reservations are accepted for weekend brunch, where mimosas, bloody marys, huevos rancheros and chorizo scrambles are the norm. The roof is equipped with a retractable cover for rainy nights, though heat lamps and windscreens usually work to keep out the chill on San Francisco's notoriously cool evenings.
Since opening in 2010, crowds have been flocking to Jones' 8,000-square-foot flora-filled terrace craft cocktails and delicious food. The views are an afterthought at this relaxing indoor/outdoor space. It occupies the upper-floor of the Tenderloin's historic 1929 Gaylord Hotel and is an easy walk from Union Square, making it a great place to come post-shopping or if you've booked a room in the area. Dishes range from NY-style thin-crust pizzas to shared plates of baked, local oysters, and the bar even offers late-night eats like meatball and garlic confit baguettes and chocolate brownies topped with locally made Humphry Slocombe ice cream. Sunday brunch is a weekly highlight.
Tucked behind the facade of the Hotel Zelos on downtown's corner of Market and 4th streets, at the cusp of the city's Union Square and SOMA neighborhoods, the heated rooftop lounge of SF's Dirty Habit restaurant has become a beloved space for both locals and visitors alike. This “rooftop” patio actually occupies space on one of the hotel's lower levels, but what it doesn't offer in views it more than makes up for in seasonal sharable eats and creative cocktails like the intriguing Afraid of the Dark, a mix of vodka, sake, and jackfruit with splashes of banana cream and lemon. Gas fire pits keep spirits warm, as do delicious eats such as roasted cauliflower and steak tartare.
The stunningly designed Proper Hotel opened within a historic flatiron building in San Francisco's Mid-Market neighborhood in September 2017, and its rooftop bar and lounge — Charmaine's — soon followed. Guests take the elevator to reach this swanky space, which sports fire pits, city views and plenty of greenery. BVHospitality (the guys who started SF's incredibly creative cocktail bar, Trick Dog) are the minds behind Charmaine's original drink menu, making imbibing here especially fun — especially alongside elevated bar bites like cheeseburger sliders with onion jam and octopus tostadas. Inventive libations include the Unsinkable Sam, a mix of Jack Daniel's rye, Campari, house lager, and ginger beer, all blended with grapefruit and lemon and served in a tall glass; and the tequila-based Fifi the Flea, with grapefruit, honey, vanilla, and lime all served over crushed ice.
Rooftop 25 is the aptly named open-air companion to Twenty Five Lusk, a cool and sophisticated SOMA restaurant that attracts a fair number of celebrities, including former US President Barack Obama. Its upper-floor counterpart is decidedly more casual, however: an often sunny and unpretentious space with string lights and wooden-top tables (both private and communal), where sharable dishes like wood-fired pizzas, shrimp tacos, and ceviche are the norm, along with frozen cocktails such as piña coladas and an exquisitely spicy passionfruit margarita. Food service is fast-casual (meaning you order at the counter and the staff then bring your order to you when it's ready), and there's a retractable canopy that's perfect for rainy days. Rooftop's modern industrial and wood siding design features are on par with those of its downstairs dining compatriot.
Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Hotel has finally come to San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and with it comes Everdene, the 4,000-square-foot rooftop bar that opened in early April 2019. Renowned SF bar director Tommy Quimby (who's showcased his killer cocktails at previous stints with both Trick Dog and Rich Table) oversees the drink menu, while bites will likely be associated with the hotel's already-in-business Commons Club restaurant, serving up swanky fare like raw oysters on the half-shell and Dungeness crab chowder. Everdene sports Virgin's signature red color in its décor, and features both indoor space and an outdoor patio, as well as its own VIP section, the Secret Garden Lounge.
Smack in the center of San Francisco's SOMA museum hub, B Restaurant and Bar is a perfect rooftop terrace to linger over brunch or enjoy their daily happy hour (which includes tableside sangria specials and coveted dollar oysters) before or after taking in the surrounding sights. The space sits atop the Moscone Convention Center/Yerba Buena Gardens — somewhat of a city nucleus for out-of-town visitors — and overlooks the center's prominent Martin Luther King, Jr. waterfall, and provides panoramic skyline views of downtown SF. Seasonal cocktails like the scotch-centric penicillin, with soothing lemon and honey, and California cuisine including jalapeño carnitas tacos and fried chicken banh mi sliders, make for repeat customers.
Opened in June 2017, the Rooftop at VIA has brought a bit of added exclusivity to San Francisco's South Beach neighborhood, which is home to baseball's neighboring Oracle Park and situated right alongside San Francisco Bay. This 3,000-square-foot posh bar and lounge — located on the 12th floor of the boutique Hotel VIA — provides spectacular views that include the East Bay, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline. Enjoy the chic décor complete with heat lamps, fire pits, and private cabanas for six (which don't come cheap!). Drinks range from classic cocktails like the Paloma — a blend of tequila, agave, grapefruit and lemon juice — to wine varietals from San Francisco's own Bluxome Street urban winery; while foods run the gamut from house made focaccia pizza to smoked cheddar-topped sliders. Hotel guests get complimentary rooftop access. Otherwise you'll have to rent out a cabana or attend a hosted event to take advantage of this prime South Beach space.
Located in San Francisco's lesser-known Dogpatch neighborhood — a former shipbuilding community with an entertaining history — The Pearl is an artsy and industrial multi-level event space that boasts a main floor and mezzanine, along with a spacious 4,655-square-foot rooftop garden that offers stellar views of the bay and the East Bay's Oakland Hills. The garden's string lights, heat lamps, and a floor lined with Italian porcelain tile create an atmosphere that's as cultured as it is relaxing, but you have to attend a hosted event at The Pearl to appreciate it, since it's sadly not open for public use.