My list of San Francisco bars offers you the chance to step back in time to soak in SF's history. You can also grab a glass of wine, sip a unique cocktail, and enjoy the best happy hour.
This list was a tough one to make since there are so many great choices in SF. My favorites change frequently as new options open and others close, so check back often for updates!
The Vesuvio Cafe is a San Francisco institution. This North Beach cafe and bar was a popular hangout spot for the writers, poets, and other artists of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. Some of its most famous customers included Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
They often spent hours here talking, writing, and of course, drinking. Today, you can order a cocktail and walk around as you relive the history of the Beat Generation, whose relics are plastered all over the walls of this cafe. The drinks are expensive, but it's a fun stop for those who love history and culture.
Address: 255 Columbus Avenue
District: North Beach
Best For: History lovers
21st Amendment is a great spot for pub food and craft beer. I've been going here for years and it's one of my favorite San Francisco bars. You can either grab a drink at the bar or sit at a table for lunch or dinner.
I love their summer "Hell or High Watermelon" wheat and their "Brew Free! Or Die" IPA. It's also one of my favorite places to stop by either before or after a Giants game.
Address: 563 2nd Street
District: South of Market (SOMA)
Best For: Casual night out on the town with friends, or drinks before an SF Giants game
The Lush Lounge is famous for their VERY stiff drinks. They have an amazing happy hour and cocktails "with limits". That's right: at this bar, they will only let you order up to two margaritas, or other cocktails, because the drinks are so strong.
The atmosphere is fun, although it gets a little crowded later in the evening. My favorite time to come here is at the start of happy hour or on a sunny afternoon on the weekends.
Address: 1221 Polk Street
Best For: Happy hour, cocktails
If you love to sample new beers, then head over to Toronado in the Lower Haight District. This beer mecca offers more than 40 beers on tap from all around the world. They range from local brews, such as those from Magnolia Brewery, as well as international options from Germany, Belgium, and Iceland. It's one of the top San Francisco bars.
One last note is you can head next door to order a gourmet sausage from Rosamunde and eat it at your table in Toronado.
Address: 547 Haight Street
District: Lower Haight
Best For: Beer lovers
The Park Chalet is the little sister of the well-known Beach Chalet restaurant along SF's Pacific Coast. I love the laid-back atmosphere of this restaurant and beer garden. They also offer great happy hour specials.
This is one of my favorite places to sit outside on a warm day. You get eye-level views of the green grasses of Golden Gate Park and a relaxing spot to hang out with friends and family.
Address: 1000 Great Highway
District: Outer Richmond
Best For: Happy hour, outdoor seating on sunny days
The Redwood Room is one of the places I always take my out-of-town guests. This classic bar has an old world feel with modern touches. The wooden bar is gorgeous and serves up yummy cocktails.
This is another spot I like to visit earlier in the evening before it gets too crowded. However, if you love mingling with people from all over the world, head over for the late-night fun that usually starts around 10 pm.
Address: 495 Geary Street (on the first floor of the Clift Hotel)
District: Union Square/Tenderloin
Best For: Early evening cocktails, late night partying
Smuggler's Cove is a funky, pirate-themed tiki bar with more than 400 rare rums, which they turn into a variety of colorful, tasty cocktails.
It does take a little longer to get your drinks here, as their expert bartenders individually craft each one. This three-story bar offers intimate seating areas and a lot of fun decor. All of this is what puts it on my list of the best San Francisco bars.
Address: 650 Gough Street
District: Hayes Valley
Best For: A night out on the town for rum lovers
This is one of the San Francisco bars that is a local favorite. The funky bar typically serves the late-night crowd, so it's the perfect place to relax with a cold beer during happy hour. They have a variety of beers on tap and in the bottle.
They focus on craft beers, so you will not find any of the usual brands like Coors, Bud Light, or PBR. Their beer selection is also constantly changing, so you always have the chance to discover something new. Noc Noc's happy hour offers great deals on local pints.
Address: 557 Haight Street
District: Lower Haight
Best For: Craft beers
This recently renovated gem offers views of Union Square and surrounding areas. Set high up on the 21st floor of the Beacon Grand Hotel (formerly Sir Francis Drake), Lizzie's Starlight Ballroom is a classy cocktail lounge that reflects the story of the alleged affair between Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I.
The space is light and cheery, and you'll love their tasty cocktails. They also have a decent selection of beer and wines by the glass including red, white, and sparkling.
If you are hungry, check out their menu. You will find small bites with items such as truffle fries and avocado toast. You will also find a burger and a couple of other larger dishes.
Address: 450 Powell Street (atop the Beacon Grand Hotel)
District: Union Square
Best For: Early evening cocktails, late night ballroom dancing (with reservations)
One of the great local San Francisco bars is Zeitgeist in the Mission. It's small inside but has a huge outdoor area with almost a dozen picnic tables. They also have more than 40 beers on tap.
On a warm, sunny afternoon, this is the perfect place to stop and unwind. It's also fun at night, when it gets busy. They offer a limited number of food items such as burgers, bratwurst, and grilled cheese.
Address: 199 Valencia Street
Best For: Casual afternoon beer, or a fun night on the town
Just a block away from Oracle Park where the SF Giants play, you'll find The Alchemist bar and lounge in a somewhat-hidden second-floor space that provides both indoor and outdoor seating.
The fantastical decor complements their magical concoctions, as their unique cocktails—with names like "El Shaman" and "Valley of the Voodoo Dolls"—include house-made infusions and handcrafted syrups and tinctures. A visit here makes for a memorable experience with great service.
Address: 679 3rd Street
District: South Beach (near Oracle Park)
Best For: Craft cocktails, pre- or post-ballgame, larger groups
El Techo de Lolinda is one of the few San Francisco bars with a rooftop that offers excellent view of the local area. It also includes a restaurant where they serve Latin American street food as tasty as their wonderful cocktails.
This place attracts a friendly crowd who love to mix and mingle. I recommend making a reservation, so you can get a table along the edge for the best views. If you want a heartier meal, head downstairs to their full restaurant called Lolinda, an Argentinean steakhouse.
Address: 2516 Mission Street
Best For: Great views, fun atmosphere, Latin street food
This bar and restaurant on the top floor of the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel is one of the more upscale and pricey San Francisco bars in the city, but worth a visit for the stunning views. The atmosphere is dressy, so you'll want to be prepared.
A visit to the Top of the Mark is a nice occasion to get dolled up and enjoy a drink or two before hitting the town. The restaurant here is usually reserved far in advance, but feel free to ask for a table if you have time to wait.
Address: 999 California Street
District: Nob Hill
Best For: Amazing views of the city
Bartlett Hall is a new bar on the scene close to SF's Union Square. It has a gorgeous dark wood interior and you can see the brewing kettles for their beers in the back. This brewery and pub offers some great happy hour drink specials as well as deals on their tasting menu.
They have their own beers on tap, as well as other local selections. During happy hour, they offer great prices on a couple of their top beers, one white wine, and one red wine. Their food specials also include just a few items from their larger menu such as a pizza, wings (which are AMAZING), and a salad.
Address: 242 O'Farrell Street
District: Union Square
Best For: Homemade brews, happy hour
If you're looking for a nice change from the usual beer and cocktails, I definitely recommend checking out this classy wine bar. It features a nice selection of wines from only a small group of wineries. Best of all, it's close to Union Square and several downtown attractions, and is a great place to have a drink after catching a movie at the Metreon.
Address: 20 Yerba Buena Lane
District: Financial District/SOMA/Union Square
Best For: Dates and small parties