San Francisco after dark: Your guide to an evening out in the city by the Bay

In a place as legendary - and tourist-laden - as SF, you need local, tried and tested, tips to swerve the over-subscribed and obvious, and track down the true heart and soul of the city, especially at night.

San Francisco after dark
San Francisco after dark © Photoquest -

We covered spending your day in the city by the Bay in our insider's guide to holidaying in San Francisco, and here we tell you where to turn when you want to dig deeper, and experience the decadent side of San Francisco after dark. If our collection of restaurants, bars and clubs whets your appetite for a trip to San Francisco, check out the latest sale offers from Virgin Atlantic*, which flies daily from London Heathrow.

San Francisco after dark: noteworthy restaurants

The first thing you'll want to do when the sun goes down over Frisco Bay is source a great dinner to start your night off right, especially in a food-loving metropolis where standards are high and options are plentiful: every type of cuisine you've ever heard of - and some that you haven't - are on offer in this city of almost a million people. The following restaurants have the stamp of approval from SF locals (remember, don't call if San Fran if you want to blend in!) and have been tried and tested many a time.

Chez Panisse, Berkeley

You're in California so why not try some California cuisine at the birthplace of the US coastal culinary movement. At Chez Panisse it's all about fresh, lean healthy food, which has been getting rave reviews for its hyper local sourcing for decades. Just remember that Berkeley is a little way out of the city, and you shouldn't make the trip without booking ahead - this is a perennially popular spot.

Memphis Minnie's BBQ, Lower Haight

Then again if you're new to the USA, you may want to indulge in some real southern BBQ food; if so make your way to Memphis Minnies, another long-time fave of the local crowd for its authentic smokehouse flavours, served up on Lower Haight for 16 years and counting.

Gary Danko, Fisherman's Wharf

In a bustling city like San Francisco there are plenty of fine dining options to choose from but for those looking to spend an evening enjoying haute cuisine, the ideal high class night out is dinner at Gary Danko's eponymous restaurant, which has won plenty of accolades from Michelin and the James Beard Awards.

Fine dining at Restaurant Gary Danko, Fisherman's Wharf
Fine dining at Restaurant Gary Danko, Fisherman's Wharf ©

Cancun Taqueria, various locations

In terms of Taquerias, every San Franciscan has their favourite but Cancun (which has several locations of which we hear 17th & Mission is the best) is consistently popular with those in search of tacos in San Francisco.

San Francisco after dark: best bars

If you fancy a wander on foot to pick out a bar by sight rather than by site, Polk Street is a perfect place to start, but if you're looking for something special here is our pick of bars where it's not just the drinks themselves that come with a twist.

Jazz bar: Comstock Saloon, North Beach

The bespoke cocktails here are served in authentic vintage glasses - you simply tell the bartender the flavour combinations you desire and they'll make something up in front of your very eyes - all to the accompaniment of live jazz.

Tiki bar: Pagan Idol, Financial District

Themed bars are big in San Francisco; the locals are always looking for the latest thing, and right now this ultimate tiki bar is it. The owners (who already run a series of bars, so this is not their first hula) apparently visited every tiki bar in the US to make sure the San Francisco version was the most totally tropical tiki bar around, so if Mai Tais are your tipple this is the place to go.

Piano bar: Martuni's, Castro

A classier way to tackle karaoke while in San Francisco is to pop into this piano bar, probably the last surviving example in the city. Here you can belt out some numbers with the enthusiastic crowd - the bar itself has plenty of devoted fans. Unsurprisingly famous for Martinis as well as tunes, you can come here seven nights a week to hear the tickle of the ivories and work out your vocal chords.

Beer bar: The Toronado, Lower Haight

This legendary craft beer bar has an amazing array of around 45 beers at very affordable prices, and the selection is as well documented as the surly staff - so much so that a guide has been written to dealing with the bartenders here. But people seem to agree it is well worth persevering to try the best IPA in the world for just $6.

Golf bar: Urban Putt, Mission

As long as you're not teetotal you might want to tee off in this quirky San Francisco bar, which combines putting with partying. In typical Frisco fashion the course is assembled to look like a teeny version of the city, complete with streetcars, and there are art installations to make the whole experience that little bit more cutting edge.

Gin bar: Whitechapel, Tenderloin

The largest selection of gin in North America and a steampunk decor combine to create this Victorian-era themed bar, which stocks 400 types of the spirit and is reminiscent of an abandoned tube station. There's also an intriguing menu of Anglo-Dutch-Bangladeshi food to go with the cocktails - well this is a hipster town after all.

Bottles on display, bar in San Francisco
Bottles on display, bar in San Francisco © Patrick O'Doherty - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

San Francisco after dark: cool clubs

A tipple at the bar is just the beginning in San Francisco however, as the city really comes alive late on into the evening. From big name DJs to memorable experiences, you can party on through night in San Francisco.

1015 Folsom, Mission

A 2000-capacity club that's been packing partygoers into its 20,000 square foot space in the Mission district since the mid-eighties, this club is a real stalwart with five separate rooms for music fans, and a full calendar to keep you and your fellow revellers busy with different DJs and events.

DNA Lounge, SoMa

If you want your San Francisco after dark session to continue until it's light again then the DNA lounge might be the place for you - specialising in all-night raves and a laid-back and inclusive atmosphere, the 11th street location has been drawing crowds for three decades.

The Endup, SoMa

The legendary club, named as the place you'll 'end up' after a big night out, epitomises the San Francisco nightlife scene with a guaranteed assortment of intriguing characters. This dive bar with a small dance floor and open-air patio has been going since 1973.

San Francisco after dark: night at the museum

There are plenty of adult-only attractions after dark in the city - this is San Francisco after all, and well known the world over for open-mindedness and tolerance. Ever since the Gold Rush, when prospectors found themselves returning to town from the Sierra Nevada foothills with an unexpected windfall, businesses have sprung up to separate newcomers to town from their money.

Clubs in North Beach San Francisco
Clubs in North Beach San Francisco © Julie Pimentel - Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

One of the more innocent ways to see San Francisco's after dark side is to dip into the museum scene at the Exploratorium, which offers a unique schedule of nighttime activities labelled After Dark each Thursday from 6pm.

Visit the Pier 15 location to explore science and art ideas, sip cocktails and learn a little something along the way - including the option to feel your way around in the darkness in the Tactile Dome, designed by August Coppola. Francis Ford Coppola's brother and Nicholas Cage's dad dreamt up this interactive sensory experience of chambers and mazes, which literally leaves you flailing around and having fun in San Francisco after dark, in the dark.

There's plenty to keep everyone entertained in San Francisco after dark, and if you've spied a certain bar or restaurant with your name on it, don't miss the latest deals from Virgin Atlantic, with direct flights from London Heathrow. You can also check out our San Francisco weather guide and see when we think is the best time to go to.

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Jaillan Yehia

Jaillan Yehia

Posted on Wednesday 5th October 2016 in: City Nightlife North America Virgin Atlantic

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