Best Nightlife in San Francisco

Top off your San Francisco Day with a Fabulous San Francisco Night

San Francisco's nightlife is creeping back slowly but eagerly. 

Don't let the small confines of San Francisco fool you - there are plenty of activities to choose from at night. Roam the hills of North Beach and listen to Italian love songs piped out onto cozy, curbside tables for two. Chinatown becomes that much more mysterious and intriguing when the sun goes down. The Mission neighborhood offers some of the city's best live music venues the city has to offer.

If music isn't your thing, jump on the bandwagon of the latest "craze" to hit San Francisco: the craft cocktail movement. All the best drinks are making a comeback in San Francisco, from the stylish sips of the roaring twenties to the simple classics of the "Mad Men" era. And the best bars serve these classic drinks with that very San Francisco twist: locally made spirits and locally harvested fruits and garnishes.

If drinks and music don't ring your bell, San Francisco has some of the best comedy clubs in the country.

Whatever your mood, there's a club or bar or hotspot waiting in the San Francisco night just for you.


The Tenderloin
The Royale
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Nestled between the seedy Tenderloin and ritzy Nob Hill neighborhoods, The Royale has a fantastic selection of local brews, such as "Inception" by Triple Voodoo, very hard to find on tap anywhere else in town. The walls are covered with the work of local photographers and painters, and jazz on Sundays always draws an eclectic and friendly crowd. The crowd is young and friendly, and the bartenders are knowledgable. If you want good beer, versatile bartenders and a look at an up-and-coming San Francisco hotspot, head to The Royale. (Happy Hours, 4-7.)

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The Royale is relatively unknown but a real bright spot in this revitalized area.

Tom's expert tip: New ownership is putting this beautiful space to good use.

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Hemlock is big enough to have something for everyone. Just need a drink? Join them for their daily Happy Hour from 4-7. Want to dance? They have great live shows as well as popular local DJ's spinning at all hours. Need a snack? Grab a bag of hot roasted peanuts for just a buck. Need a smoke? That's even taken care of by the popular smoking lounge, a rarity in smoke-free San Francisco. If you want a big night out - but don't know exactly where to start - kick your evening off with a visit to the Hemlock Tavern.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Hemlock Tavern is a great choice for those who want their drink with a side of live music.

Tom's expert tip: What's great about this big space is that you can join the loud crowd or find your own small, more peaceful corner.

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Hôtel Biron Wine Bar & Art Gallery
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Intimate and atmospheric, this European-styled establishment captivates visitors with its unmistakable charm. Metallic furnishings, ambient lighting and a secluded area in the back help the cause, as does intriguing original art, which changes monthly. French and Californian wines are prominent, but vintages hail from around the world, and selections are available by the glass or bottle. Accompany your favorite with a savory snack of cheese, caviar or olives, and relax in contented pleasure. If your San Francisco vacation needs a shot of European sensibility, head to the Hotel Biron for a keen reminder of life's simpler pleasures. You'll be glad you did.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Hotel Biron is the perfect choice for those who want a quiet, intimate night out.

Tom's expert tip: If you can't make it to the Wine Country, you can at least make it to Hotel Biron's outstanding wine selection.

Read more about Hôtel Biron Wine Bar & Art Gallery →

Bernal Heights

Nominally a lesbian bar, Wild Side West actually welcomes folks of all inclinations. The quirky, eclectic interior has a saloon feel, complete with lots of funky touches, and you'll also find TVs, a fireplace and a pool table. The bar's most attractive feature, however, is its garden, accessible via the back patio. Filled with vegetation, seating and decorative accents, the place is perfect for intimate conversation or meetings. Founded by out and proud and locally beloved lesbians Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White, the bar originally opened in Oakland as the Wild Side after the Barbara Stanwyck film "Walk on the Wild Side."

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Wild Side West is an iconic lesbian bar that welcomes people of all colors and stripes.

Tom's expert tip: Neighborly lesbian bar offers fireplace, outdoor garden, warm welcomes.

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If you've had it with your average night out, take a trip back to 1920's Prohibition at this sleek and elegant bar. They take their cocktails and their "house rules" seriously, though - this isn't the place to scream and twirl your glowsticks. They follow the "speakeasy" custom of the 20's, when alcohol was banned so patrons were quiet and did not try to call attention to themselves. No problem - Bourbon and Branch's outstanding drinks should be more than enough to occupy your mouth. If you want to kick off your night in swanky style, make time for a stop at this uber-hip bar.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Bourbon and Branch is a great example of the recent surge of specialty cocktail-themed bars in San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: Be sure to check their website to get the password to the ultra-cool library area.

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This elegant lounge, once a penthouse suite, affords amazing, panoramic views from a lofty, 19th-floor perch. Its well-to-do clientele appreciate the place's romantic ambience, along with live entertainment and creative cocktails, especially as they watch San Francisco glow golden in the evening sun. Although Top of the Mark has been around since 1939, its allure never seems to diminish. And with great service and a reputation as a must-visit, the lounge remains ready to deliver many more years of satisfaction. The choices for cocktails in San Francisco can be overwhelming. But if you're certain you want a great view to go with that drink, head to the Top of the Mark.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Top of the Mark mixes classic San Francisco with some of the cutting edge trends that the latest tech boom is drawing in.

Tom's expert tip: Bring your camera for stunning nighttime shots of the city.

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A nightlife hotspot in the revamped and recharged Hayes Valley neighborhood, the Absinthe is very popular for lunch and dinner. But if you stick around until night, the city's best and brightest always step into the Absinthe, definitely one of San Francisco's favorite places "to see and be seen." And their signature "Sacred Heart" cocktail alone is worth a visit. If your idea of a fun San Francisco nightlife is cheap drinks and rowdy crowds, Absinthe Brasserie is not your place. But if you want to see how San Francisco's upper-crust lets their hair down, Absinthe Brasserie is the perfect choice.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Absinthe Brasserie and Bar is very popular the pre-symphony and pre-opera crowd.

Tom's expert tip: Over the years, Absinthe has put together a spectacular, highly curated wine list with hundreds of the best wines from all over the world.

Read more about Absinthe Brasserie & Bar →

Bird and Beckett Books and Records
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Named after two icons, Irish writer Samuel Beckett and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, Bird and Beckett Books and Records delivers on both fronts. The bookstore, nestled in lovely Glen Park right off of BART, is cozy and packed with books, music and a generous and knowledgable staff. But at night - and oftentimes during the day - Bird and Beckett thumps with enough live entertainment to knock those books right off the shelves. Whether you're looking for books, music or great entertainment, Bird and Beckett Books and Records has you covered.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Beach Blanket Babylon is born and raised in San Francisco, a truly signature nightlife event.

Tom's expert tip: Make a full night of it by enjoying a cool jazz show at Bird and Beckett followed by dinner at one of the many chic restaurants in Glen Park, including lovely Le P'tit Laurent.

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A great destination for groups, Great American Music Hall offers guaranteed good times, complete with live entertainment and drinks. Comedy acts grace the stage many nights, and live musical groups are a constant as well. The decor hearkens back to the days of the California Gold Rush, and the two-level venue offers dancing on the first floor and a bar with a small dining menu on the second floor. Although its perched precariously close to the seedy Tenderloin area, Great American Music Hall is also a quick walk away from the Civic Center. This revitalized area is a hub of public transportation.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Great American Music Hall is a San Francisco institution.

Tom's expert tip: Come early for dinner and drinks to set the mood.

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Redwood Room
Photo courtesy of Redwood Room

Over 100 years old, the famous Redwood Room is named after its paneling carved from a single redwood tree. World renowned architecture firm Gensler has added a 21st century elegance to that gorgeous base, as well as an expansive new redwood bar. Entertainment at the The Redwood Room includes live jazz with the Patrick Wolff Quartet, piano bar performances with Josh Gelfand and a rotating list of popular DJs throughout the month. The Redwood Room plans to host an R&B party on the first Saturday of each month with Mind Motion and a list of rotating beverage partners such as Remy Cointreau.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Redwood Room was recently remodeled and is a fine choice for those who want to have their in plush luxury.

Tom's expert tip: Redwood Room has reopened with live entertainment and classic cocktails by Michelin-starred Executive Chef Daniel Corey.

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Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom