The Best Streets for Bar Hopping in San Francisco
San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own character--and its own nightlife. That gives visitors some incredibly diverse options for bar hopping down different streets. Come on out and explore San Francisco’s various neighborhoods and be prepared to meet some new friends.
A bastion of bohemian San Francisco, Valencia Street is the dynamic Mission District's official party zone and quite possibly the largest in the city. For live local acts, try The Chapel (777 Valencia St.) or The Elbo Room (647 Valencia St.), which sports a cozy bar downstairs and live music above. Packed lounges perfect for meeting people like Blondies (540 Valencia St.) and Skylark (3089 16th St.) also abound in the area. Valencia Street is easy to get to by taking BART to 16th and Mission Streets and walking one block to the heart of the action.
Polk Street is a full city sampler just made for bar hopping the entire night away. Start with great happy hour specials at Blur (1121 Polk St.) and Vertigo (1160 Polk St.) before heading up to the Kozy Kar (1548 Polk St.) to meet the creative set. On the other side of Broadway, classy lounge Royal Oak (2201 Polk St.) and dance friendly Rouge (1500 Broadway) hold it down. If you get hungry, pop over to Nick's Crispy Tacos for a Taco Nick's Way (inside Rouge). The 19 Polk Muni bus runs the length of this nightlife district while the California Street cable car line will drop you right in the middle of it.
This Marina District stretch has a distinctly casual collegiate vibe with its many sports bars and local watering holes. To chat up the friendly locals, drop into the historic dive bar Bus Stop (1901 Union St.) or Bar None (1980 Union St.), where a variety of bar games await. Get your craft beer craving fixed at The Brick Yard (1787 Union St.) and sample Northern California vino at West Coast Wine and Cheese (2165 Union St.), all easily accessible from downtown on the 41 or 45 Muni Bus.
This area is home to San Francisco institutions like Vesuvio (255 Columbus Ave.), where the Beat poets used to gather for drinks, as well as Tosca Café (242 Columbus Ave.), where opera music plays while you enjoy spiked cappuccinos enjoyed in lush leather booths. Over at Doc's Lab (124 Columbus Ave.), local musical and comedic talent perform nightly, while festive locals rage at the Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Ave.). To completely ditch the crowds, tuck into 15 Romolo (15 Romolo Pl.) for a cocktail. Take the 30 Stockton Muni bus from downtown and step off on Broadway.
San Francisco’s alternative scene is on full display on Haight Street. Check out the artsy design of NOC NOC (557 Haight St.) or the die-hard regular crowd at Molotov's (582 Haight St.) before heading over to Nickies (466 Haight St.) or the Peacock Lounge (552 Haight St.) for some dancing. The 7 Haight Muni bus gets you here from Market Street in a snap.
This strip on the edge of SoMa is home to a number of incredible clubs. Feel the music—literally—at Audio Discotech (316 11th St.), with its powerful, one-of-a-kind sound system. See everything from a battle of the bands to burlesque at DNA Lounge (375 11th St.). Halcyon SF (314 11th St.) has hosted some of the biggest names in house and electronica, and LGBT-favorite Oasis (298 11th St.) always has some outrageous entertainment. At cross streets along the way, you can find the trendy VERSO (1525 Mission St.) and the definitely not country Holy Cow Nightclub (1535 Folsom St.).
Centered on Market Street where the Castro, Lower Haight and Mission Districts all come together, Duboce Triangle is a bustling nightlife area. Experience the vintage cool of dive bar Lucky 13 (2140 Market St.) or catch a live band at classic music venue Café Du Nord (2174 Market St.) before storming the mic yourself at the Mint Karaoke Lounge (1942 Market St.). Churchill (198 Church St.) and Blackbird (2124 Market St.) are friendly local bars worth checking out as well. Get here on the elegant F Market streetcar from downtown.
Most people need a stiff drink after shopping till they drop. Luckily, the Union Square area transforms into a popping nightlife district after the sun goes down. Home to stylish lounges like Hawthorn (46 Geary St.), drinking dens like John Foley's Irish House (243 O’Farrell St.), which has live music nightly and hosts a dueling piano bar downstairs, plus nightclubs perched on top of historic hotels like the Starlight Room (450 Powell St.) and Cityscape Lounge (333 O'Farrell St.), Union Square will have you set for the night. Micro-brew fans should check out the selection at the Golden Gate Tap Room (449 Powell St.) and swing by the in-house brewery in Bartlett Hall (242 O’Farrell St.)
Stretching from the Castro to the Marina, Divisadero is packed with hip bars and cocktail lounges that make for some top notch bar hopping. DJs and local live music are usually spicing things up at the Madrone Art Bar (500 Divisadero St.), while over at Bar 821 (821 Divisadero St.) you can sample the city’s biggest selection of Fernet, a San Francisco favorite. Mini Bar SF (837 Divisadero St.) is cozy and showcases local artists while The Page (298 Divisadero St.) offers pool tables and foosball. The 24 Divisadero Muni bus runs the entire street.
While the entire City by the Bay is LGBTQ-friendly, the Castro is the official home of the community and the nightlife here is like nowhere else. Go people-watching, cocktail in hand, on the balcony at Lookout (3600 16th St.), get your body in motion on the dance floor at The Café (2369 Market St.) or just meet and greet at Moby Dick (4049 18th St.), a Castro landmark. Sports fans should also swing by Hi Tops (2247 Market St.) to catch the game. Take the F Market streetcar to the end and you are here.
This Inner Richmond strip is a bit of East meets West, with some of the city’s best Asian restaurants as well as a great line-up of Irish pubs that fill up every night of the week. Sway to authentic Celtic music over a proper Guinness pint at The Plough and the Stars (116 Clement St.), join the boisterous after-work crowd at The Bitter End (441 Clement St.) or Ireland's 32 (3920 Geary Blvd.), and check out the local bands at The Scarlett Lounge (408 Clement St.). Take the 38 Geary Muni bus to Arguello Boulevard.
San Francisco’s original jazz and blues district still keeps things bumping in standout joints like John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room (1601 Fillmore St.). Head north on Fillmore towards Pacific Heights from here for the Wine Jar (1870 Fillmore St.), offering tastings of vinos from around the world, and Harry's Bar (2020 Fillmore St.), where an excellent whiskey selection awaits. Take the 38 Geary Muni bus to Fillmore Street and you are in the bull’s eye.
Photo by Louis Raphael