Deciding where to drink in San Francisco isn’t easy. With everything from high-class gin palaces full of sophisticated cocktails to rough little dive bars brimming with character, SF has it all. Here’s our quick guide to 5 different venues guaranteed to give you a full range of imbibing experiences while you’re in the City by the Bay.
San Francisco has so many bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs, it makes it hard for visitors to decide where to go for refreshments. It’s one of those cities where you’re spoilt for choice with pretty much everything.
Thankfully, every time we’ve visited San Francisco, we’ve had local guides. Our awesome friends Melissa and Peter, who live in the City, love going out almost as much as we enjoy them showing us around.
Every time we’re in town, they take us to a new bar or little restaurant they’ve found. They even take us up to their favourite spots in Sonoma wine country.
Perhaps it’s why we’re friends but every place they’ve fallen in love with so have we. Or perhaps it’s just because so many venues in the Golden City are just that cool and likeable.
Either way, we’ve put together this quick list of 5 drinking spots to make it easier for you to find refreshments in the bewildering hospitality space that is San Francisco.
5 places to drink in San Francisco
1. For a local vibe
Campus, Marina District
Getting to know a place by its locals is the most, real, honest and fun way to explore a destination. Campus is about as local as you can get to the point where the patrons will actually treat you like a novelty because you’re not from San Francisco.
This is a drinker’s bar with excellent cocktail options, terrifyingly fast service and awesome happy hours and specials. My favourite is the pint and a shot deal – I lived on pints of Lagunitas and Jamesons chasers – for $10.
Don’t come here hungry though – they don’t do food, but in this neighbourhood, there are lots of eating options. If you want, you can bring whatever you’re eating into Campus if you’re worried about FOMO.
2. For people-watching
Marketbar, the Ferry Building
Right outside the Ferry Building’s impressive marketplace, this large bar is prime for watching folk walk by.
If you’re lucky with the weather, the outdoor seating will take you right to the edge of the street where you can get an even better view of the fascinating array of the city’s pedestrians.
Marketbar is the perfect spot for a well-needed rest after perusing the goods on offer inside the Ferry Building, which is a San Francisco must in itself.
And from here, it’s only a short walk up to the start of the California Line streetcar, which is our top tip for riding San Francisco trams without having to wait in line forever. Here’s the full story.
3. For tourism central and excellent Irish coffees
Buena Vista Café, Fisherman’s Wharf
Always packed, this icon of the City boasts to be the origins (or at least the inspiration) of the Irish coffee. As such, the iteration of this classic cocktail here is on point.
Strong black coffee with a healthy nip of Jameson’s and thick collar of cream on top – especially on a cold day – is very welcome. As I said though, it is always busy here, but try to catch the wait staff’s eye and grab seats at a table. Be polite though; the lady who sat us was awesome, but would cut you.
It’s a lot of fun coming to the Buena Vista and definitely a thing anyone visiting SF should do.
4. For slick, sophisticated cocktails
The Devil’s Acre, Chinatown
If you like your bars to have that vintage feel, you have to come here. Somewhere between an apothecary and a speakeasy, The Devil’s Acre pays tribute to the last half of the 19th Century and the turn of the 20th, when alcohol and medicine were kissing cousins.
Expect wonderful cocktails, genial, professional service and décor that’ll take you back in time.
5. For the true SF experience
Momo’s, South Park
Right across the road from AT&T Park – the home of the San Francisco Giants – is Momo’s. Come game day, which is virtually every other day in the busy American Major League Baseball schedule, this place is packed with excited fans.
The times we’ve been here, we’ve been blessed with hot weather. The front terrace that looks out towards the baseball ground is swarming with Giants supporters and a 99% local crowd.
Get to Momo’s an hour or two before the game and soak up the atmosphere. Just don’t come wearing any LA Dodgers merch!
Bonus – for fun, fab or just plain weird
The Castro District is home to Fan Francisco’s gay scene. From the rainbows painted on the pedestrian crossings to the range of drag queen bars in the suburb, the Castro is a fun place to explore.
I mean within a minute of getting out of our Uber, a man had crossed the road to compliment Christina on her fabulous hair!
There are hundreds of drinking and eating spots in the Castro, all offering different experiences.
For example, Mix is an easy-going little neighbourhood bar on 18th Street, while directly opposite is Midnight Sun – a Castro institution that’s been here since the ‘70s.
Come to Midnight Sun for epic drag queens that expect tips for their performances. Proffer a dollar and you’ll get a wink, but prize her with a fiver and you get a whole lot more! It’s a lot of fun here.
Also on 18th is Poesia, a beautiful little traditional Italian restaurant serving elegant yet homely food in the rooms of one of the street’s quaint houses that line the now party strip of town.
For more of our tips on San Francisco, check out our library of stories here.
Do you have any tips for where to go for drinks in San Francisco? Where’s your favourite watering hole? Tell us in the comments below!