The City by the Bay has arguably the most purely fun nightlife of anywhere in the world. True, you can go to Rio or Vegas and find more salacious and dangerous pursuits. You can take your money and your life to Monte Carlo or Hong Kong, where you’re likely to lose both. You can even take your chances on the streets of New York City, New Delhi, or New Orleans, but you’re unlikely to find the same welcoming atmosphere and heavy partying that San Francisco can give you. It’s the perfect combination of frolicsome and intense, with just enough northern Cali to keep the vibe mellow.
In addition to being a place to dance and drink the night – or your life – away, the views of the sea, the Golden Gate, and the meandering hills of the city itself make this the ideal locale to hit one, or all, of San Francisco’s 12 best rooftop bars.
Location: 620 Jones St
The largest rooftop bar and lounge in the entire land of the 49ers, Jones still packs quickly, so you’ll want to get suited up and show up the second the doors crack at 5pm sharp. Within spitting distance of Union Square you’ll see plenty of young professionals in their 9 to 5 finery, but in true San Francisco fashion, there’s going to be plenty of jeans and T-shirts that are on the tail end of their laundry cycle. Cash is king, and the only thing accepted, with standard and specialty cocktails that come strong and run just $10 a pop.
Location: 2518 Mission St
El Techo was the first real rooftop bar to be found in the bay city, and it defined the genre. Savvy travelers who seek out serious watering holes will know the Techo secret handshake, but among these quiet tourists will be plenty of locals who still see this as home. A skyline view that goes all the way to Mission that you can enjoy thanks to heat lamps and windscreens, we suggest a brunch date with plenty of tequila to make this experience right.
Marengo On Union
Location: 1980 Union St
The place of note for anyone seeking an exhaustive slider menu, 60 wines and more than 100 whiskeys are also on display for those who have a taste for the finer sipping sauces. A glass roof on the patio offers year-round views that aren’t dampened by the schizophrenic coastal weather. Stylish yet simple, organic ingredients decorate the menu at every turn, with local growers and harvesters used as often as possible. Foods that aren’t made, grown, or raised nearby are often from the Lone Star State, giving a Tex-Mex feel that’s damn spicy.
The View Lounge
Location: 780 Mission St
Up on the 39th floor of the Marriott Marquis, the sky manages to be much brighter then at ground level. Arched windows at the sides run floor-to-ceiling so the view is never obscured, but the buffeting of the brutal winds certainly are. Plan to get in early, because reservations are a joke where the punchline is always “first come, first serve.” Small plates are available, as are a wide range of wines for any palette, plus signature cocktails that mean serious business.
Location: The Bay
Grab yourself a Clipper card to cut your Ferry rates in half, and then load up on lovely bottles of Lagunitas beer to enjoy a look at the skyline, the bay, the city, the bridge, Marin, and the choppy waters directly beneath you. Granted, you’re choice of drinks is going to revolve around the beer and whatever you can smuggle in a thermos, and your companions are going to be a lot of tourists, but you’ll find the ability to dazzle visitors, enjoy the scenery, and catch a buzz can make it all worthwhile.
Location: Hotel Zelos, 12 4th St
The 5th floor of the Hotel Zelos is paradise for guest and domesticated San Franciscan alike. You can sit inside, or at the bar, but when you can head out onto the couches that adorn the patio right near blazing fire pits, then you’d be a fool to do anything else. There’s lots of strange cocktails that come in at a pricey $13 per tipple, but after a little trial and error, you’ll find some of the shareable ones, like the “Get Me A Juice Box!” can become an entire evening unto themselves.
Location: 748 Innes Ave
Fret not; while this is assuredly a spa where you can be pampered, massaged, sweated, steamed, pressed, and hung like cotton slacks, it’s also got a few perks when you go up on the roof. A full bar will help you replenish all those toxins you just sweated and salved away, as well as give you great views of the city, the bay, and the opportunity to see some naked sunbathing while getting rid of those tan lines yourself.
Top of the Mark
Location: 999 California St
Swank is the watchword for the Top, so if you don’t have a suit in Washington Black, or maybe a business-casual tuxedo, then you don’t belong here. A martini bar that doesn’t do much else, you’ll get an eyeful of skyline, bay, and bridge, plus see at least one marriage proposal, even if it’s Tuesday. 100 martinis adorn the menu, but don’t get adventurous. Stay close to the front page, and avoid anything “shaken, not stirred” because that just makes it watery…and you’ll look like an ass.
Location: 1 Yerba Buena Ln
Being a scant one story up isn’t going to give you a great view of the city, but the Market Street trees are nice should you look up. The real story is being close enough to the street action to see the patented San Francisco lunacy that unfolds beneath you, or simply watch the characters of the city scamper hither and yon. Beauty, beast, and aberration will all pass just below, providing an endless tapestry that goes hand-in-glove with day drinking.
B Restaurant & Bar
Location: 720 Howard St
A gem that gets overlooked for reasons that have yet to be revealed, the size of the B is the only real detractor. Pitchers of beer that go with oysters and wings can be had relatively cheap, and the view of St. Pat’s, the Yerba Buena Gardens, and Downtown are striking, even if they lack much ocean scenery. When it comes to signature drinks, the Feisty Flirt is a fruity sugar bomb that will cool you down; and the Raise the Bluff is a rye whiskey way to pick you up.
The Starlight Room
Location: 450 Powell St
The crown jewel of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the city surrounds you on all sides for a sight that is largely unmatched. Check the dress code in advance, and make sure you can keep pace with the sometimes frenetic entertainment going on. Forget about beer, the menu is strictly wine, champagne, and whatever you can convince the bartender to whip you up. For better or worse, you haven’t seen all of San Francisco until you’ve undergone the Starlight experience.
California Academy of Sciences Nightlife
Location: 55 Music Concourse Dr
Yes, we are telling you to head to the California Academy of Sciences on Thursday between 6 and 10 in the PM. Dancing, alcohol, and aquarium tours all fit together seamlessly, along with the lovely rooftop picnic grounds that have several rolling hills where you can enjoy your cocktails while looking out over Golden Gate Park and the de Young Museum; for a hint of culture to go with your intoxicated mind.