Your Ultimate Guide to Bar Hopping in San Francisco

Your Ultimate Guide to Bar Hopping in San Francisco

There’s no shortage of newly-founded and legacy bars in The City. In fact, choosing the best places to visit can be quite a challenge as the options seem never-ending.

From the jump, you’ll find San Francisco’s rich history and tradition partially reflected in the bar scene. Whether you’re exploring the Bay Area or going beyond the city proper, you can find places that have been serving customers for decades, if not a century.

From cocktail havens to joints serving premium craft beer, here’s our selection of the best bars in San Francisco.

1. The Plough and the Stars

Those looking for the lively atmosphere of an Irish bar will be at home in this music venue. 

Excellent whiskey and beer flow freely here at The Plough and the Stars, the bar patrons are friendly and ready to engage in conversation, and there are live music performances almost every weekday. 

The bar seldom gets crowded, providing an excellent opportunity for dancing. And if you know your way around an instrument, you can even join the band on the scene for a jam session on some evenings.

2. Balboa Cafe

If you visit this place at night, you’ll find a staggering number of suits inside. But during the day, Balboa cafe becomes one of the best bars in San Francisco for day drinking.

There’s delicious food to enjoy and cocktails to follow, but the best way to enjoy them is at one of the tables on the sidewalk.

3. Aunt Charlie’s

One of the rare San Francisco gay bars still in existence in the Tenderloin neighborhood, Aunt Charlie’s has been attracting new customers and loyal patrons alike for almost 35 years. The historical bar houses dance parties, DJs, and drag shows on select evenings.

While the place boasts a vibrant atmosphere, cheap drinks, and even free Thanksgiving dinners, bear in mind that the Tenderloin is notorious for its high rate of violent street crime. Therefore, take your fun time out here with a healthy dose of caution.

4. ABV

Straightforward in its design, frequently visited, yet never overcrowded, ABV is a great place for conversations over drinks. The pleasant background chatter is always present in ABV but never too loud to make you yell.

There are plenty of perfect cocktails and local tap beers on offer, as well as various bar snacks. But if you’re after a more serious bite to eat, don’t hesitate to order what could well be one of the best burgers in this part of the world.

5. O’Keeffe’s

Tucked away from the Inner Richmond’s hotspot for bars, this Irish-themed bar is the ideal place for a beer. The owner, Annie O’Keeffe, is still there every other day of the week, serving drinks and greeting local customers by name.

Although there are no draft beverages in O’Keeffe’s, you can order everything from Guinness to IPA by the bottle at a very reasonable price. And by the time you finish your drink, you’ll forget the bar isn’t somewhere on the Emerald Isle, as the Irish affectionately call Ireland.

Madrone Art Bar in San Francisco Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez.

6. Madrone Art Bar

Everywhere you look, you’ll find something to catch your eye in this funky bar. The walls abound with decorations, from the handwritten menu on one side to an impressive, colorful bottle wall on the other, as well as the ever-changing series of photos.

Those who pay attention to the patrons will be delighted at the fact that the crowd that doesn’t stay the same two nights in a row. Come here often enough and it will be like you went on a tour of San Francisco. 

The titular art of the Madrone Art Bar isn’t just on the walls – it’s in the very people.

7. Lone Palm

Inheriting a historic space that has housed a bar for more than 100 years, Lone Palm started its operations 30 years ago. 

Its interior, with tables adorned in white cloths lighted by candles, breathes Art Deco. The atmospheric lounge is equally well-fitted for a romantic first date and a night of drinking and forgetfulness. 

8. Hi Tops

If you’re looking for a relaxed, upbeat sports environment, this bar is ideal for grabbing a drink while you watch a game of your choice on one of the TVs. 

Besides the good vibes and the drink to be had in Hi Tops, you can enjoy tasty meals and snacks readily available from the menu.

9. Wild Side West

Counted among the dwindling number of lesbian bars in San Francisco, Wild Side West has been in business for well over 50 years.

The brand started in Oakland and its name takes inspiration from the movie ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. However, the final word in the bar’s name alludes to the fact that the establishment moved to the west of the city. Ever since then, it’s been attracting a loyal, long-time clientele.

The eclectic design of the place is what makes it truly stand out, although the strong and affordable drinks certainly contribute to the overall appeal.

10. Biergarten

A place with a distinctly German twist, Biergarten has picnic tables tightly packed near a number of shipping containers. It’s an ideal place to flock to and enjoy the warm Californian weather. 

Naturally, the main staple of this bar is beer, mostly the German varieties. There are snacks in the form of pretzels and sausages that go perfectly with the large drinks. All of this and some good company make for an afternoon you’ll enjoy to the maximum.

The Ultimate Bar Crawl

The old sales phrase ‘something for everyone’ is apt to describe San Francisco’s many bars. Whatever your tastes, interests, and sensibilities may be, you can find the ideal place in The City to answer your needs. 

While no list of San Francisco bars can begin to exhaust the available options, the places listed here certainly make for a good start. Explore the scene and immerse yourself in everything this city has to offer.

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Your Ultimate Guide to Bar Hopping in San Francisco