“Best Bars in San Francisco” was written by Mimi McFadden – a travel blogger and freelance writer. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next adventure in a foreign land.
After living abroad for five years in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal she has finally found a home in San Francisco, California. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog, The Atlas Heart.
Looking for a brief respite where you can rest your feet and relax while on your jam-packed San Francisco vacay itinerary? Wondering where you should go to take the edge off after your stressful work week?
Take it from someone who lives in San Francisco and who also likes to indulge in the occasional alcoholic beverage and night out – these bars are some of the coolest, oldest, and most fun places to grab a drink in San Francisco.
Without further ado, these are my picks for the best bars in San Francisco – from the classic pubs to the themed rum bars!
Neighborhood: North Beach
To satisfy the Irish-pub lovers, Maggie McGarry’s (or Maggie’s) is a long-standing pub in San Francisco’s North Beach district with that classic Irish pub feel.
During the day you can pop in for a pint and a sports game on one of the many TV’s in the establishment, at night make sure your two left feet are ready dance it up.
Every weekend night the bar has live cover band performers that take the stage, much to the pleasure of the San Francisco millenials who flock here most Friday and Saturday nights.
You can also plan special events at Maggie’s as they have a section of the bar that can be made private. They’ve seen bachelor & bachelorette parties, birthdays, work functions, you name it. Bring in your own live music or book one of the many cover bands that rock the stage in their glitter and leather on any given weekend night.
Sing and dance your heart out to modern hits and throwbacks alike – you’ll seriously have a blast anytime you go to Maggie’s.
One of the few country bars in the city, Jaxson has a lively saloon-feel mixed with “retro country” vibes for the ultimate night out in the Marina.
Sure, if you ask a local about Jaxson they might groan and say something like “that place is so bad”, but if you read between the lines a bit you’ll realize what they’re really saying is that Jaxson is so bad that it’s good. It’s the bar that people like to hate on but where a lot of locals and travelers alike end up by the end of the night.
If you want to really get the country bar experience, consider yourself lucky that Jaxson hosts line dancing and live music most nights of the week. You can bet that there are Fireball shots aplenty in this establishment.
Black Horse London Pub
A great way to make friends in a new (or old) city is to get cozy with the other patrons, which is all too easy to do at Black Horse London Pub, the smallest bar in San Francisco at 19ft x 7ft. Forget about San Francisco – this is one of the best bars in all of California! You seriously need to see for yourself exactly how tiny the British-inspired bar is.
Black Horse is a local treasure in the Marina District that is beer AND cash only. With beers on ice in the cooler (*literal bathtub behind the bar) and a bathroom accessible only via careful weaving techniques and a lot of “excuse me”s to your new best friends, James “Big Dawg” King (bar owner and tender) will be sure you have a fun time when you stop in here.
Buena Vista Cafe
Neighborhood: Fisherman’s Wharf
The Buena Vista Cafe is one of the oldest bars in San Francisco (est. 1916) and has established itself as the staple Irish Coffee savant in the city. It is essentially a landmark on its corner spot in Fisherman’s Wharf and claim to fame is introducing the Irish Coffee to our San Francisco shores (and hearts).
To this day, they use the exact same recipe for their Irish Coffee as when the cafe first started in 1952. Both tourists and locals will wait in line just to try the famous concoction and sit down for a bite to eat along the Bay.
It is rumored that the cafe has served roughly 30 million Irish Coffees. You could say that they’ve probably mastered the recipe by now. Pop in and warm your belly with one of these signature SF classics.
Neighborhood: North Beach
Keeping on our “old” theme, Northstar Cafe is another one of the oldest bars in San Francisco.
It’s a small dive and sports bar in the heart of North Beach. Not only is it one of the oldest bars in the city, but it also one of the only bars in San Francisco that shows every Buffalo, NY sports game. Go Bills and go Sabres!
With free popcorn freshly popped and waiting for you during your break from a game of pool in the back, enjoy any of the beers on tap or freshly mixed cocktail. The bars newest edition is an electronic jukebox so you can make sure your favorite tunes are bumpin’ all night.
Red’s Java House
Interested in an ultra-casual afternoon? Red’s Java House is right along the Bay in SOMA. It doesn’t look like much from the outside (or inside) but it will certainly satisfy your hops and hot dog cravings!
With seating both inside and outdoors, you can grab a pitcher while enjoying views of the Bay and suck down a few dogs or a tasty burger.
Neighborhood: Fillmore District/Western Addition
Aye matey, no one can resist a good tiki bar! Smuggler’s Cove is right by San Francisco City Hall but will transport you out of the city and into island paradise.
Smuggler’s Cove is a kitschy bar that features an almost overwhelming amount of pirate-themed decor.
They have over 200 different kinds of rum and plenty of exotic cocktails to mix with. Disclaimer if you like boring drinks, some beverages may be served in a tiki post, skull, or whiskey barrel glass.
This place is basically the equivalent of if they were to make the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland into a bar. Even if you’re not that into over-the-top themed bars, the cocktails here are delicious.
Top of the Mark
Neighborhood: Nob Hill
Looking for something a little more high class? Top of the Mark is a swanky cocktail bar located on the top floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in Nob Hill, a very bougie area for those living life luxuriously.
Top of the Mark has 360 degree views of the city and is famous for its signature cocktail, “The Foggy Martini”, which legend says is made with fog straight out of the San Francisco sky.
Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge
Hard to pick out of a crowd, Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge (or just Bow Bow’s) is a fun and funky combo dive and karaoke bar in Chinatown.
They serve fresh and free peanuts on the regular and keep the cheap domestic beers coming all day and night long to keep your singing voice in tip top shape.
It’s a bonus if you’re served by the local bartending legend (and owner), Mama Candy, who pours a mean whiskey for any patron daring enough.
There you have it! An excellent guide if you’re planning on drinking your way through San Francisco or looking to spice up an otherwise dull afternoon in the city.
If you’re looking for more places to drink in San Francisco, or in California as a whole, don’t forget to check out my post about the best California Beers to try.
Santé, proust, l’chaim, salud, and cheers!
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