San Francisco

After hours, the city’s business folk and workers give way to costume-clad partygoers, hippies and hipsters, downtown divas, frat boys, and those who prefer something a little more clothing-optional. Downtown and the Financial District remain pretty serious even after dark, and Nob Hill is staid, though you can't beat views from penthouse lounges, the most famous being the Top of the Mark (Hopkins). Nearby North Beach is an even better starting point for an evening out.

Always lively, North Beach's options include family-friendly dining spots, historic bars from the city's bohemian past (among them Jack Kerouac's old haunts), and even comedy clubs where stars such as Robin Williams and Jay Leno cut their teeth. In SoMa there are plenty of places to catch a drink before a Giants game and brewpubs to celebrate in afterward. SoMa also hosts some of the hottest dance clubs, along with some saucy gay bars. While Union Square can be a bit trendy, even the swanky establishments have loosened things up in recent years.

Heading west to Hayes Valley, a more sophisticated crowd dabbles in the burgeoning "culinary cocktail movement." Up-and-coming singles gravitate north of here to Cow Hollow and the Marina. Polk Street was the gay mecca before the Castro and still hosts some wild bars, but things get downright outlandish in the Castro district. Indie hipsters of all persuasions populate the Mission and Haight districts by night. Keep in mind, though, that some of the best times San Francisco has to offer are off the beaten path. And a good party can still be found in even the sleepiest of neighborhoods, such as Bernal Heights and Dogpatch.

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  • 1. Big 4 Bar

    Nob Hill | Bars/Pubs

    Dark-wood paneling and green leather banquettes lend a masculine feel to the bar at the Huntington Hotel, where the over-30 crowd orders single...Read More

  • 2. Bourbon & Branch

    Tenderloin | Bars/Pubs

    Although this spot reeks of Prohibition-era speakeasy cool, it's not exclusive: everyone is granted a password, though it's highly recommended...Read More

  • 3. Buena Vista Cafe

    Fisherman's Wharf | Bars/Pubs

    At the end of the Hyde Street cable-car line, the Buena Vista packs 'em in for its famous Irish coffee—which, according to owners, was the first...Read More

  • 4. City Beer Store

    SoMa | Bars/Pubs

    Called CBS by locals, this friendly tasting room meets liquor mart has a wine bar's sensibility. Perfect for both connoisseurs and the merely...Read More

  • 5. Cliff House

    Richmond | Bars/Pubs

    Sure, it's the site of many high-school prom dates, and you could argue that the food and drinks are overpriced, but this is our pick if you...Read More

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  • 6. El Rio

    Mission District | Bars/Pubs

    A dive bar in the best sense, El Rio has a calendar chock-full of events, from free bands and films to Salsa Sunday (seasonal), all of which...Read More

  • 7. Elixir

    Mission District | Bars/Pubs

    The cocktails are well crafted and affordable at the city's second-oldest saloon location—various watering holes have operated on this site...Read More

  • 8. Rickhouse

    Financial District | Bars/Pubs

    An after-work FiDi crowd fills this brick-walled and dimly lit, speakeasy-ish drinking spot, revered for its extensive whiskey menu and curated...Read More

  • 9. Smuggler's Cove

    Hayes Valley | Bars/Pubs

    With the decor of a pirate ship and a slew of rum-based cocktails, you half expect Captain Jack Sparrow to sidle up next to you at this offbeat...Read More

  • 10. The Pied Piper

    SoMa | Bars/Pubs

    The Palace Hotel's clubby, wood-paneled watering hole takes its name from the 1909 Maxfield Parrish mural The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which...Read More

  • 11. Toronado Pub

    Haight | Bars/Pubs

    You come to one of the city's most popular dive bars for one thing and one thing only: the reasonably priced beers, about four dozen of them...Read More

  • 12. Trick Dog

    Mission District | Bars/Pubs

    San Francisco's most talked about craft cocktail bar for several years running is still arguably the city's most innovative one: every drink...Read More

  • 13. Vesuvio

    North Beach | Bars/Pubs

    If you're hitting only one bar in North Beach, it should be this one. The low-ceilinged second floor of this raucous boho saloon hangout, little...Read More

  • 14. Yield

    Dogpatch | Wine Bars

    A stone's throw from the bay, the city's greenest wine bar serves up sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines from around the world. Small...Read More

  • 15. Zeitgeist

    Mission District | Bars/Pubs

    It's a dive but one of the city's best beer bars—there are almost 50 on tap—and a great place to relax with a cold one or an ever-popular Bloody...Read More

  • 16. 111 Minna Gallery

    SoMa | Cafés

    It doesn't get more trendy, modern-day San Francisco than this gallery and coffee shop by day, bar and dance club by night in a warehouse space...Read More

  • 17. 15 Romolo

    North Beach | Bars/Pubs

    Easy to miss on an alley and overshadowed by neighboring adult-entertainment venues that are parallel along the Columbus strip, this craft cocktail...Read More

  • 18. 21st Amendment Brewery

    SoMa | Brewpubs/Beer Gardens

    Known for its range of beer types, this popular brewery has multiple taps going at all times. In the summer, the Hell or High Watermelon—a wheat...Read More

  • 19. Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

    Hayes Valley | Bars/Pubs

    The popular restaurant's nearly two dozen specialty cocktails—or even a plain old Manhattan—make a trip just to the bar worthwhile. The classic...Read More

  • 20. ABV

    Mission District | Bars/Pubs

    One of the city's top cocktail bars offers elevated small plates (the burger has a devoted following) late into the night to pair with the excellent...Read More

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