San Francisco Nightlife by Neighborhood
There’s no doubt that there’s so much to see and do in San Francisco that visitors and residents alike could spend weeks exploring and still not see or do it all. But what about activities when the sun goes down? San Francisco has the nightlife to match its variety of daytime attractions. If you’re looking to explore the City by the Bay after hours, head to one or all of these San Francisco neighborhoods.
The Best Neighborhood for Cocktails: Union Square
Union Square is the neighborhood for those amazing, delicious cocktails made by "experts" and look no further than Hawthorn, which offers a full craft cocktail menu as well as signature favorites, lovingly prepared by some of the cities finest mixologists to kick off your night. Your first glance at the Pacific Cocktail Haven drink menu will tell you that you’re in for something extraordinary here. For example, the Oh Snap! features gin, absinthe, sherry, citrus, tonic, and sugar snap peas—not your usual combination. Benjamin Cooper touts its “hand-crafted cocktails and fresh oysters,” and typically serves up eight difference choices of the first and three different choices of the latter. Burritt Room + Tavern melds fun and authenticity with a list of 16 cocktails you’ll need to peruse more than once.
The Best Neighborhood for Dive Bars: Mission
You’re bound to rub elbows with locals at these unpretentious dive bars in the Mission neighborhood. The 500 beckons with a vintage neon sign, keeps you with cheap drinks and a jukebox, and comes by dive bar status naturally with graffiti-laden bathroom walls. Likely the home of one of the few phone booths left in the city, this dive bar boasts cheap beer—both bottled and on tap—and a well-worn pool table. Bender’s Bar and Grill slings bar food as well as drinks, and has two pool tables and a photo booth. Its outside patio is nothing to write home about, allowing it to keep its dive bar cred.
The Best Neighborhood to Dance the Night Away: SoMa
SoMa has so many dance clubs, you’ll want to hit them all. Start at DNA Lounge, where the music’s a mix of DJ beats and live bands, ranging from punk to rockabilly to pop and more. Cat Club’s got two dance floors and a go-go cage, and a versatile menu of '80s music including goth, new wave, pop and electro. Cabaret nightclub, Oasis offers guest appearances by cabaret and performing artists, live music acts, amazing DJs, while Mezzanine opens weeknights for high-intensity hot yoga with music. Its weekend nights continue the intensity with epic dance parties featuring pop, punk, rap and more. Audio DiscoTech was designed to give you an otherworldly sound experience, and its spring-loaded dance floor will keep you moving all night.
The Best Neighborhood for a Performance and a Nightcap – Civic Center/Hayes Valley
A majority of San Francisco’s performance halls are located in this neighborhood. Go to Davies Symphony Hall to hear the San Francisco Symphony, as well as guest orchestras and a classic film series accompanied by music. If you like arias with your instruments, try the San Francisco Opera, located in the historic War Memorial Opera House, and entertaining visitors since 1923. Jazz lovers will delight in the new SFJAZZ Center, where an ever-changing calendar of jazz performances runs the gamut of the genre. The San Francisco Ballet season runs January through May, with performances of "The Nutcracker" in December. Theatre fans can take in a show at either BroadwaySF's Orpheum or Golden Gate theaters, or, for a unique, mind-bending sound-space experience, try out Audium.
End a night of arts and culture with a nightcap at a classy place like Noir Lounge or White Chapel. Noir will make you feel like you stepped into a 1920s lounge, complete with piano playing or black-and-white noir films being shown. Gin, and only gin, is on the drink menu at White Chapel, which offers the largest gin selection in North America. Step inside and be transported to an underground Tube station somewhere in East London.
The Best Neighborhood to Grab a Microbrew – Richmond/Presidio
San Francisco has its fair share of bars serving microbrews, and the Richmond/Presidio neighborhood—home of the Fort Point Brewing Company—features two of the best. Sessions at the Presidio is a great place for some early nightlife, since its latest closing is 10 p.m. from Thursday through Saturday. It’s worth the visit for a daily menu of around 25 microbrews that change daily, as well as its daily beer flight of three five-ounce pours. Sessions also has a standing menu of nearly 90 craft beers and ciders available by the bottle. The Richmond Republic Draught House is a neighborhood sports bar with more than 20 craft beers on tap, and each pour priced at $5-8. If you’ll be visiting often, become a member of the Mug Club and get $1 off beer, with free beer on Tuesdays.
The Best Neighborhood to Savor a Glass of Wine – Embarcadero/Financial District
If you prefer to sip your nightlife slowly, this neighborhood has some distinctive places to enjoy regional wines. The Barrel Room offers more than 50 wines by the glass and flight, with a speakeasy lounge open late. The wines at The Hidden Vine span the globe and encompass a 22-page menu—enjoy them in a comfortable, exposed-brick setting or consider booking the outside bocce court if you prefer some activity with your vino. The Barbarossa Lounge pays homage to the former Bubble Lounge that it replaced with a generous champagne menu, so if you prefer your wine effervescent, pull your chair up here. Enjoy the architecture, as well as the bathroom wallpaper. Serious wine drinkers, or wine drinkers on serious business or a date, should head to Press Club. This retro modern wine bar is one of the only bars in the U.S. to offer rare magnums by the glass, using the patented Coravin system. You have to see, and taste, it for yourself.
Photo by Louis Raphael