_Nightlife in San Francisco was once dominated by large boxy dance clubs holding hundreds of people each, but today bar-hopping is more popular than clubbing, and the city is now home to smaller lounges and bars serving world-class cocktails.
The city is geographically small, so there is no need to drive from place to place, and the easiest way to explore the local nightlife is to pick a neighbourhood with a good concentration of venues and stick with it. Each area has a distinct personality in the theme and quality of its barsand in the sort of people who frequent them. Four of the best and busiest nightlife neighbourhoods are listed below with a few highlights mentioned for each to get you started on a night of exploration_
The Marina District
Located about ten blocks from the waterfront, the Marina is filled with the hard-working aspirational population of the city, who put in long hours at downtown corporations and spend their money and spare time on nice cars and clothing. At night these young singles swing through the bars and restaurants of the neighbourhood, on the hunt for love or a more temporary romance. Many great upscale-casual restaurants line Chestnut street, but Tipsy Pig may be the most stylish (and popular), decorated like a modern pub to match the 'gastrotavern' food. Equally attractive and locally notorious MatrixFillmore nearby is a cocktail bar that acts like a nightclub, with DJs nightly and bottle service for those with reserved seats on its plush furniture.
San Francisco's South of Market (street) district is a large area of the city formerly filled with warehouses but currently undergoing the typical nightclub district-to-luxury loft transformation. Most of the upscale development is happening near AT&T Park, where dozens of restaurants and bars cater to both residents and pre-game baseball fans. One of the best spots in this area is Twenty Five Lusk, a handsome two-floor restaurant with several different areas for dining or sipping cocktails.
At the other end of SoMa, a large cluster of nightlife venues around the intersection of 11th and Folsom streets hosts all comers on weekend evenings. The crowds, who are both locals and out-of-towners in their later twenties to mid-thirties, pack into the large live music venues, smaller bars and lounges, or hit one of several dance clubs in the area. The DNA Lounge is your best bet for a large nightclub without restrictive dress codes, filled with a wide range of people there to dance rather than pose. Saturday nights are particularly fun.
The same area that lures thousands of shoppers and cable car-riding tourists during the day plays host to a surprisingly large number of nightlife venues in the evening, and here the crowds tend to be a bit more mature than in other parts of town. Some of the best cocktails in San Francisco are to be found in this areastart at Rickhouse or Bourbon & Branch and ask the bartenders where to go from there. Rickhouse is a heavily-themed high-volume bar favoured by besuited financial district types, while speakeasy-themed Bourbon & Branch by the same owners is the premiere cocktail bar in the city. It offers a huge menu of cocktails and seating is by reservations-only. (Skip their standing-only room as it is not nearly as pleasant.) If you'd like some food with your cocktails, head to Hakkasan, a new Asian-themed restaurant-lounge that seems transported from Las Vegas, with a glowing red-topped bar, dramatic food and cocktail preparation, and a very posh, international crowd to match.
For downtown dancing, most people end up at Ruby Skye, a large former meeting hall that books the top international DJs. For a VIP experience, order bottle service at Vessel, a smaller, subterranean nightclub with a bit more bling.
The strip of Valencia street in the Mission District between 16th and 24th streets has become the best bar-hopping street in San Francisco, as it is packed with brand-new bars and restaurants with a few live music venues as well. Go early for a fine dining/drinking experience, as after 11pm the crowds become younger and less polished.
You might start at Beretta at 23rd street, a restaurant that invented the pizza-and-cocktails genre copied by many bars in San Francisco and beyond. Near 19th street pop in to Mosto, a tiny tequila and mezcal bar offering one of the best selections of agave spirits in the city. Beer lovers can cross the street to visit Abbot's Cellar, the fine dining version of a gastropub, or visit the more casual (but crowded) Monk's Kettle on 16th street by the same owners.