The Best Bars in San Francisco, California

From Cocktails to Fine Wine: The 18 Best Bars in San Francisco

San Francisco is a cultural hub with incredibly diverse nightlife. This city is comprised of so many different regions, each with its own personality. From the ever-eclectic Mission bars to the upscale lounges of the Financial District, you enter a whole new bar scene when you hop aboard the Muni and travel just a few minutes. 

The Golden City is known for its arts and culture scene, as well as its fine dining, so it’s no surprise that San Francisco’s bars boast decadent drinks and bites. You’ll also find many bars dedicated to using only organic and local ingredients, creating the freshest and most delicious cocktails around. 

The mixologists you’ll find in this city take their role seriously. Although you’ll find many bars that will craft beloved favorites, you should never skip over the cocktail menu in a San Francisco bar. You’re bound to find one-of-a-kind drinks on the list that you never imagined trying before. San Francisco is the perfect place to experiment with your palate!

With so many places to drink in San Francisco, you might need help figuring out where to begin. So, we’ve put together a list of some of the best bars in San Francisco – from a speakeasy in a historic bank vault to a lounge inspired by the Chinese Lunar Calendar. With this list helping you navigate the best nightlife in San Francisco, you’re bound to have a fantastic time drinking your way around Fog City!

The 18 Coolest Bars in San Francisco

1. Try an Unusual Cocktail at Trick Dog

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Trick Dog
Images courtesy of Trick Dog

At Trick Dog, a Mission staple, the drinks are the centerpiece, just like you might expect at one of the best bars in San Francisco. This vibrant, hipster bar boasts a long menu, which changes every six months. Past versions of the menu include a children’s book and a record album.

Trick Dog also has a small food menu, including the Quik Dog Burger, which is a burger served on a hot dog bun. But food is more of an afterthought, as the bar boasts quirky and well-trained mixologists behind the counter who serve up some out-of-this-world drinks. The I.27, made with rye, sherry, Bénédictine, honey, bitters, and absinthe, is one of our favorites! 

This bar has unfortunately become one of San Francisco’s worst-kept secrets. But it’s still worth a visit, despite being rather crowded most nights of the week. Still, you’re better off arriving early if you want to find a seat. 


2. Have a Literary-Themed Drink at Novela

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Novela
Images courtesy of Novela

Found in SoMa, Novela is one of the coolest bars in San Francisco for book lovers. This cool and cozy cocktail lounge is all about character, literally. Sit in a comfortable booth while you’re surrounded by a classic novel collection, and order yourself a house cocktail inspired by one of your favorite literary characters. The cocktails change seasonally and are crafted by the bar staff in-house. 

From the mezcal-based Tormund Giantsbane to the whisky-based Jay Gatsby, these cocktails feel like they jumped right off the page. This bar also boasts an impressive wine and spirits collection, as well as a food menu that allows you to share with your literary-loving friends. 

But one of the most unique things about this bar is its punch on tap. Scholars believe that punch was created by English merchant sailors in Indonesia in the early 17th century who aimed to balance sweetness and spiciness with their locally distilled spirits. The punch-on-tap program honors the original formula and blends seasonal produce with sugar, spices, and premium spirits.


3. Take in the View From the Good Good Culture Club

What Bars to Try in San Francisco: Good Good Culture Club
Images courtesy of Patricia Chang

In the Mission sits one of the best rooftop bars in San Francisco and a true celebration of Asian culture. The Good Good Culture Club is a value-driven restaurant striving to make positive change in San Francisco. With their Equitable Compensation Fee, they’re making sure to support their workers by dismantling the US’s gratuity system, which has too long allowed restaurants to create unfair pay scales. 

There’s seating indoors and outdoors, so don’t fret if you don’t get a seat overlooking the Mission. The indoors are just as beautifully bright and vibrant, and you’ll still have the same delicious menu. From the Poppyseed Steam Buns to Housemade Red Curry, you’re going to want to come to this bar hungry because the food is just as much of a highlight as the drinks.

The Good Good Culture Club boasts an impressive spirits menu, with choices ranging from rice whisky to mezcal. Or you could order a mixed drink, like the Oolong Weekend, made with oolong-infused toki, soda, and Szechuan bitters.

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4. Make Some Magic at the Alchemist Bar & Lounge

Must Visit Bars in San Francisco: Alchemist Bar & Lounge

Over in South Beach, you’ll find a steampunk lounge truly making magic with its cocktails. The Alchemist Bar & Lounge is a steampunk lover’s paradise! 

From the industrial decor to the shadow puppet projections on the brick walls to the dim but colorful twinkling lights, this is easily one of the coolest bars in San Francisco. Take a seat in the outdoor cocktail garden, or grab a table in the lounge. Either way, you’re sure to be enchanted.

This lounge takes simple favorites and elevates them, like the Truffle Honey Grilled Cheese Sandwich, made with truffle, honey, mozzarella, and American cheese. Or the Fried Potato Tacos, made with mashed potato filling, salsa verde, and queso fresco. 

But the real reason you’re coming to this bar is for the cocktails. Many of the drinks contain a range of rum, but you’ll also find tequila, dry gin, vodka, and mezcal on the menu. We love the Thunder Kiss, made with London dry gin, blanc vermouth, passion fruit liqueur, and eucalyptus bitters.


5. Have a Drink with a Downtown View at Rise Over Run

Best Bars in San Francisco: Rise Over Run
Images courtesy of Jean Bai

One of the best bars in San Francisco with a view can be found in the Tenderloin at Rise Over Run. From this rooftop bar, you’ll get a panoramic look at the San Francisco skyline while you sip on cocktails made by local legend Danny Louie. Stay warm by the cozy outdoor fire pits, or take a seat inside the greenhouse.

Rise Over Run is a very natural-looking bar with peaceful vibes. With a tropical drink in hand, you’ll feel like you’ve gone on vacation. The food menu provides multicultural offerings that will truly make you believe you’ve traveled around the world.

Whether you go for the Negroni Coast with Thai basil, coconut, Campari, and sweet vermouth or the Full Moon Over Rise with rum, piment, matcha, cucumber, apple, and orgeat, you really can’t go wrong.


6. Sip to the Sound of a Hurricane at the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Images courtesy of Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

Located in the beautiful Fairmont, the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar takes the idea of the tiki bar to a whole new level. Designed by a Hollywood set designer, the hotel’s former indoor swimming pool has been transformed into a blue lagoon, creating one of the most unique bars in San Francisco.

While you sip on tiki-inspired cocktails, you’ll sit around the lagoon, listening to the sounds of tropical rain and thunder begin over the water throughout your stay. And as the evening sets in, a live band heads to the boat on the water, the remnants of the S.S. Forester, a schooner that once traveled between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands. 

This bar features an extensive menu, both of drinks and food. Share the Tonga Pupu Platter with your friends, and order yourself one of their massive drinks. You could go with a tiki bar classic like a mai tai or zombie. Or try a Tonga original, like the Tonga Kong, made with Jamaican rum, coconut rum, coffee liqueur, cream of coconut, coconut milk, and banana.

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7. Have a Drink at Lost Cat Bar & Bites 

What Bars to Try in San Francisco: Lost Cat Bar & Bites
Images courtesy of Lost Cat Bar & Bites

Are you a cat lover? You have to try Lost Cat Bar & Bites, one of the best new cocktail bars in San Francisco. Found in the heart of Lower Nob Hill, this bar boasts fresh and local ingredients that make every drink delicious.

As the name suggests, this cocktail bar is feline-themed but without being overly kitschy. With brick walls and cozy dim lighting, it’s a quaint and comfortable new addition to the best nightlife spots in San Francisco. 

All the cocktails contain unique ingredients like chili pepper-infused tequila and black walnut bitters, but you should grab yourself the bar’s signature drink, the Lost Cat Daquiri, made with rum, maraschino liqueur, and butterfly pea flower-infused syrup.


8. Go Low-Key at Bourbon & Branch

Unique Bars in San Francisco: Bourbon & Branch
Images courtesy of Bourbon & Branch

Over in the Tenderloin is one of the best speakeasies and one of the most famous bars in San Francisco. You’ll need a reservation if you want to get into this in-demand spot.

At Bourbon & Branch, you’ll step back in time to the 1920s, and you’ll have to abide by some house rules left over from that time period. Rule No. 1? Be quiet and “speak easy.” To maintain the aura of privacy, there’s no cell phone use and no photography. If you can follow these rules, you’ll have a night of incredible drinks and atmosphere. 

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Bourbon & Branch

If you’d like to have the full menu, make a reservation at the main bar. But if you’d like to just experience the cocktails in an even more exclusive location, you’ll want to go to the Library, which is available seven days a week from 6 pm to 2 am without a reservation. 

Still, you’ll want to get there early because it’ll fill up fast. Just ring the buzzer, and be sure to check the website for the password. From there, you’ll be escorted to a secret location with floor-to-ceiling books. 


9. Play While You Drink at the Emporium

Unique Bars in San Francisco: Emporium
Images courtesy of Emporium

If you’re a gamer, you’ll love the Emporium, one of the best barcades in San Francisco and easily the biggest with the most to do. Located in Nopa, Emporium is one of the coolest bars in San Francisco, thanks to its classic games, massive space, and eclectic bar menu. From pinball to PAC-MAN, you’ll have an evening of fun at this arcade bar.

And the fun keeps going in the bar menu, with boozy slushies being a specialty. Try the Frozen Irish Coffee Slushie, made with Irish whiskey, Bailey’s, coffee liqueur, and cold brew coffee, or stick with the video game theme with a Kirby Slushie, made with vodka, coconut rum, blackberry, lemon, and coconut berry Red Bull. 

If you’re not feeling a slushie, go for a cocktail, like the Winter Mule, with vodka, spiced pear, ginger beer, lime, and allspice. There are also tons of locally made ciders, IPAs, sours, and more on tap.

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10. Taste Exquisite Wines at the Press Club

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Press Club

If you’re a wine lover, you should stop by the Press Club near Yerba Buena Gardens. This swanky and sophisticated wine bar is super chic and filled with a selection of organically-sourced California wines, rare varietals, and bubbly champagnes. And, just in case you’re visiting with someone who’s not a wine fan, there’s even beer on the menu.

The best way to enjoy this lounge is by ordering yourself a wine flight, of which you have several choices, like the classic Usual Suspects with favorites like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or the more eclectic Hannibal’s Elephants with Bordeaux and Chianti. 

Or you can put the flight in your winetender’s hands with the Dealers Choice flight. The seasonal food menu is also perfectly paired with your drink choices.


11. Grab a Rope Swing at Del Mar

What Bars to Try in San Francisco: Del Mar

A Marina favorite, Del Mar, is perfect for a night out with your friends. This bar, easily one of the best cocktail bars in San Francisco, is a neon jungle filled with pink flowers, green leaves, and golden flamingos. Grab a cocktail and a rope swing, and settle in for a fun night with your girls!

When you come to Del Mar, you’re not coming for wine or beer. You’re here for the rather cutely named cocktails like the rum-based Lava’s in the Air and the tequila-filled Pretty in Pink. If you’re partying with a big group, you can share one of their massive punch bowls. 

Their biggest option, The Kong, boasts five types of rum and is the equivalent of 25 cocktails! Or you can grab a vodka or tequila-filled slushie on a hot summer’s night. If you’re feeling daring, ask the bartender for a Mystery Shot, which changes nightly.


12. Bring Your Furry Friend to Kona’s Street Market

Best Bars in San Francisco: Kona's Street Market

Named for a friendly pup who you just might spot when you drink here, Kona’s Street Market is a SoMa favorite and one of the best cocktail bars in San Francisco if you’d like to bring your dog along. 

Slip into a cozy booth and watch the neon signs flash the daily cocktail specials. You can’t go wrong with this globally-inspired menu, filled with unique treats like ube coconut cream and horchata. The menu is divided up by different regions around the world, highlighting the area’s ingredients and spirits. 

In the winter, this bar turns into the Sippin’ Santa, a holiday pop-up bar that’s oh-so-adorable. It’s a festive tiki bar featuring favorites like the Christmas on Ice, made with dark roast cold brew, condensed milk, ancho chile liqueur, and cinnamon syrup. These sweet treats make the holidays even brighter!

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13. Take a Seat in the Lit-Up Moongate Lounge

One of the best lounges in San Francisco is the Moongate Lounge, a colorful cocktail bar inspired by the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In addition to an organic wine list, here you’ll find a menu comprised of six house cocktails and six seasonal cocktails, all filled with fruits, flowers, and spices of the seasons. 

Each cocktail is a beautiful celebration of the Lunar Calendar, so we’d recommend drinking your way around the year with these delightfully-spiced mixed drinks. 

The house cocktails include the Sao, made with rum, coconut, plum wine, fino, curacao, and hawthorn, or the Io, comprised of mezcal, Montenegro, black garlic, cherry, and flamed nine spice. Around here, you won’t find simple favorites, but you will discover new cocktails to fall in love with.


14. Drink Up in a Bank Vault in the Barrel Room

What Bars to Try in San Francisco: Barrel Room’s Speakeasy
Images courtesy of The Barrel Room

You could enjoy the perfect wine pairings in the Barrel Room’s dining room, located in the Financial District. But what makes this place one of the most unique bars in San Francisco is that you can sip specialty drinks in a literal bank vault! 

The Barrel Room’s speakeasy is built inside the basement of the Yokohama Specie Bank, a historic building that survived the great earthquake of 1906. And the walls have the fissures to prove it! 

Inside the four rooms of this basement are Victorian-era furniture, an old-growth redwood bar, a working antique piano, and a repurposed bank vault. The cocktails to be found here fit the Prohibition theme, with plays on the Bee’s Knees and the Manhattan.


15. Go People-Watching at the House of Shields

Best Bars in San Francisco: House of Shields

The House of Shields is one of the best San Francisco bars to go to for a first date. Break the ice with a little people-watching by taking a seat on the quiet second-floor balcony. 

This bar is a true landmark and one of the oldest bars in San Francisco, having originally opened back in 1908. The House of Shields honors its history by keeping its traditional decor. It doesn’t even have a clock or TV on the premises to keep with the old-fashioned theme. 

The trained bartending staff will mix up whatever you’d like, but the menu features classic cocktails, like the scotch-based Penicillin, and a few creations unique to the House of Shields, like the bourbon, vermouth, and prosecco-filled Stephen’s Boothby Cocktail. 

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16. Be Transported in Time at the Blind Pig Speakeasy Lounge

Located on the second floor of the historic Cathay House in Chinatown, the Blind Pig Speakeasy Lounge is one of the best cocktail bars in San Francisco. This lounge is all about style and class, with a 1930s Shanghai vibe. 

With circular booths, intricately etched goblets, and blue-lit lamps, the Blind Pig Speakeasy Lounge takes the word “swanky” to a whole new level.

The menu here is Asian-inspired, with authentic ingredients that are hard to find on other bar menus, like red bean five spice and kikori rice whiskey. Grab yourself a cocktail, treat yourself to some siu mai (dumplings), and take in the atmosphere.


17. Cozy Up at Gambit Lounge

Taking the place of former Hayes Valley find Noir Lounge, Gambit Lounge is one of the best new lounges in San Francisco. Co-owner Cezar Kusik, formerly of Rubicon and the Loews Regency Hotel, created an eclectic menu inside a cozy bar that’s perfect for snuggling up with your sweetheart. This delicious menu is inspired by Central and Eastern Europe, with a little bit of the South mixed in. 

Alongside the scrumptious bites is a wine list that would please even the most fervent wine lover. But the cocktail menu is really the star here. From the gin and Earl Grey-filled Notting Hill to the vodka and orange liqueur-based Velvet Hammer, you’re going to want to drink your way around this cocktail list.


18. Say “Benvenuto” to Bar Sprezzatura

Cool Bars in San Francisco: Bar Sprezzatura
Images courtesy of Galdones Photography

Inspired by coastal Italy, Bar Sprezzatura can be found in the Financial District serving up aperitivos and cicchetti, or pre-dinner drinks and small plates, respectively. Each drink and meal is a creative twist on Italian classics. 

The cocktail menu even has a section just dedicated to their many takes on the negroni, like the Norcal Negroni, with gin, vermouth, and blood orange. For another specialty cocktail, try the Ciao, Bella!, with grapefruit and pink peppercorn sorbet, prosecco, and amaro, or the Under the Walnut Tree, with rum, rye, amaretto, nocino, and chocolate walnut bitters!

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There you have it! The 18 best bars in San Francisco. What’s your favorite place for a tipple in San Francisco?


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