| Last updated: October 18th, 2023
TL;DR: If you’re only looking for a few options, the 4 best things to do in San Francisco at night are exploring the city on a sightseeing tour, grabbing drinks at a themed bar, enjoying a museum after dark, and going to a unique show:
- My favorite sightseeing tours at night are the Alcatraz Night Tour, the Love Night VW Bus Tour, or a ghost tour.
- Some options for grabbing drinks at a themed bar include Bourbon & Branch, Smuggler’s Cove, Tonga Room, and Local Edition.
- For a museum after dark experience, visit the Exploratorium or California Academy of Sciences.
- A few options for unique shows in San Francisco include a drag show at Asia SF, a magic show at the Marrakech Magic Theater, or one of the unique SF Symphony Film Nights.
San Francisco is an interesting city at night. Depending on which neighborhood you’re in once the sun sets, you might think of the city as completely dead or a great place to party.
San Francisco isn’t like New York where you can go anywhere and find nightlife options or events going on in the majority of the city, no matter what day of the week it is.
Sometimes you have to know where to look for fun things to do in San Francisco at night.
That’s one of the great things about the city though, there’s a little something for everyone around San Francisco.
With locals who are as equally into outdoor activities as they are with going out to trendy new bars on the weekends, there’s a good mix of options for things to do around the city.
So, let’s get into it!
I broke up this article by the different types of activities you can do in San Francisco at night, depending on what you’re looking for.
Note: this article contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Tourist Attractions to Experience at Night in San Francisco
If you’re going to San Francisco and looking to get in more sightseeing, there are quite a few tourist activities you can enjoy at night that locals like to partake in too.
Alcatraz Night Tour
Alcatraz Cruises offers an Alcatraz Night Tour that is all kinds of creepy and cool.
If you want to experience the famous prison for a couple of hours when it’s completely pitch black outside, grab one of the Alcatraz Night tour tickets from Alcatraz Cruises.
The night tours run Tuesday through Saturday and leave from Pier 33 at 3:50 pm during fall/winter and 5:55 pm and 6:30 pm during spring/summer.
Make sure to book in advance, especially during the summer because these tickets are limited and sell out quickly.
This is one of those unique night activities in the Bay Area, so don’t miss out if you have a chance to go.
You can purchase tickets for the night tour here.
Ride a Cable Car
Although you can ride a San Francisco cable car during the day as well, it’s actually much better to experience it at night.
The main reason for this is fewer crowds. Especially if you can time it for a weeknight, you’ll be able to ride the cable car without needing to wait in line for an hour.
With the lack of wait times and the fun nature of hopping on an iconic cable car, this is one of the best things to do in San Francisco at night with family.
There’s something magical about zipping up and down SF’s hills at night, just make sure to bring plenty of layers!
The cable cars run from 7 am to 10:30 pm every day of the week.
For more information about how to ride them, read our complete guide to cable cars in San Francisco.
If you’re wondering what to do in San Francisco after dark, head over to Chinatown.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is another tourist attraction that can be seen during the day as well, but it’s a whole different vibe at night.
Although many of the shops and cafes are closed come nighttime, there are some that stay open until 8 or 9 pm.
And after dark is the best time to explore the maze of dim sum restaurants and unique bars on offer in the neighborhood. It’s also much less crowded at night if that’s your jam.
After exploring the streets of Chinatown at night and grabbing some delicious Chinese food, I highly recommend a visit to Li Po Lounge. Li Po is a fun dive bar where the first Chinese Mai Tai was created.
Afterward, stop by Bow Bow Cocktails to get your late-night karaoke on.
There are quite a few tour companies in San Francisco that offer night tours.
These are ideal options if you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco at night if you’re under 18 or 21, or simply want more options that don’t necessarily involve bars and drinking (minus the pub crawl below).
San Francisco Love Tours – The Night Tour
You don’t get much more San Francisco than San Francisco Love Tours with their totally sweet VW hippie buses that show guests around San Francisco.
The company offers one night tour which starts around 7:30 pm and goes for a couple of hours, showing you some of the most popular neighborhoods around San Francisco at night.
You can learn more about their night tour here.
They also offer a holiday lights tour in December, which you can learn more about here.
Big Bus Tours – Night Tour Ticket
Big Bus Tours doesn’t have quite the same level of personality as the San Francisco Love Tours, but they do offer a night tour ticket that you can use for their double-decker bus.
The bus tour takes you by some of the top attractions in the city as well as lesser-known ones, like Treasure Island, where you can see the San Francisco skyline lit up at night.
It’s one of the least expensive night tour options in San Francisco at $50 for adults and $40 for kids.
Their night tour runs for an hour and a half and departs each night at 6:30 pm.
You can find out more about their night tour here
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San Francisco Ghost Tour
I love a good ghost tour and there are two tour companies in San Francisco that only specialize in running ghost walking tours through the city.
The first option is the San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, which has been spooking guests since 1998 and runs for about 1.5-2 hours in the Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Tours run most nights, starting at 7 pm, 7:30 pm, or 8:00 pm, and only cost $30 per person.
Note: Tours are currently paused for the Ghost Hunt Tour but are set to resume in the summer of 2023.
The second company is called The Haunt SF Ghost Tour. They run their 1.5-hour ghost tour Wednesday through Sunday at 7 pm.
This haunted ghost walking tour takes you mostly around Chinatown, includes an EMF meter, and costs $50.
Fort Point Candlelight Tour
A Fort Point Candlelight Tour is a special experience to enjoy that’s put on by the National Park Service.
During the 90-minute tour, a ranger will take you through all four levels of Fort Point, explaining the historic significance of the structure along the way.
This tour is also a fun way to see the Golden Gate Bridge up close at night since Fort Point is right underneath it.
One thing to note is that this is a seasonal tour, only running from November – February, and it sells out quickly.
You can learn more about the tour and grab tickets here.
Pub Crawl San Francisco
If you’re traveling by yourself or in a small group and want to go out but don’t know anyone else in the city, a pub crawl is a fun way to have a raucous night out on the town.
Pub Crawl San Francisco is a company that offers pub crawls to four bars and San Francisco nightclubs in Nob Hill on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm.
They also have special event pub crawls throughout the year, such as their St. Patricks Day, 4th of July, Labor Day Weekend, and Halloween crawls.
Tickets are around $20. You can find out more about their pub crawls here.
If you’re a theater enthusiast, one of the best ways to spend a night in San Francisco is by going to one of the phenomenal Broadway shows at the Orpheum, Golden Gate Theatre, or Curran Theatre.
I’ve seen Wicked, Hamilton, and Moulin Rouge, all at the Orpheum, and was blown away by how amazing the shows were. I’ve also seen Ain’t Too Proud To Beg at Golden Gate Theatre.
Without a doubt, the shows rivaled the Broadway I’ve seen in New York City.
If you’re staying central and looking for things to do in Union Square, this is a great option since the best theaters are within walking distance.
Learn more about what’s currently playing here.
Bay Bridge Lights
Since 2013, the Bay Bridge has been gifted with a beautiful light installation that is a treat to see at night (and completely free!).
The Bay Lights was created by Leo Villareal, a world-renowned light artist, and is lit up from dusk to dawn every single night in the city.
Note: The Bay Lights installation is also part of a bigger light festival that happens every year from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, called Illuminate SF. Night Bloom that I talk about below is also part of the festival.
If you’re in San Francisco during the holidays, this is one of those things not to miss at night in the city.
During the festival, there are over 39 light installations across 17 neighborhoods from 30+ artists. It’s a sight to see. You can find out more about the festival here.
Giants or Warriors Game
A favorite pastime for locals is to catch a Giants or Warriors game at night. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday night in San Francisco.
The US might not be as crazy as Latin America or Europe when it comes to our sports teams, but we’re pretty obsessed with our Bay Area teams for baseball and basketball.
You can find inexpensive tickets for Giants games, but Warriors games are unfortunately always super expensive. And they will probably be even more so now that they’ve moved to the city instead of Oakland.
Even still, it’s a rite of passage to watch either a Giants or Warriors game (or both) while you’re in the city, and just another way to get to know Bay Area culture at night.
It’s one of most fun local Bay Area attractions to experience in San Francisco, especially if you enjoy watching sports.
You can find at least a few bars in most neighborhoods around San Francisco, at least those closest to the city center, but five neighborhoods, in particular, come to mind when thinking about San Francisco nightlife.
Those are the Marina, the Mission, the Castro, Polk Street, and North Beach.
Let’s go through each of these, the type of bars they have, and the vibe you tend to find in each one.
Best Neighborhoods for Nightlife in San Francisco
I’m just going to come out and say it. The Marina is bro-central. If you’re looking to mingle with white guys in baseball caps and sorority girls, this is the place for you.
The Marina is known as a fun place to go out in San Francisco if you can handle the brotopia scene.
There’s usually dancing at most of the bars, people are slightly better dressed than in other neighborhoods, but there are also a lot of sloppy drunks.
This is a great neighborhood for young 20-somethings and college students (who are over 21, obviously), although you’ll still find plenty of 30-somethings here too.
Best bars in the Marina include: Palm House, Reed & Greenough, White Rabbit, and Jaxson (if you’re looking for a country bar – by San Francisco standards, at least)
The Mission is a complete 180 from the Marina. In this neighborhood, you’ll find a lot of hipsters, live music, and busy but casual bars to drink in (and sometimes dance in).
If you’re into dive bars, trendy spots to drink, or live music, this is a great neighborhood to go out in. You’ll find people of all ages around the Mission at night, although some bars cater to certain ages more than others.
If you focus on the dive bars especially, you’ll find some of the cheapest drinks in the city around the Mission.
And the great thing is that there are a ton of really good late-night taquerias that are around this neighborhood, which are perfect for a tipsy bite to eat at the end of the night.
Best bars in the Mission include Bender’s (dive bar), Make-out Room (for dancing), and The Chapel (for live music).
The Castro is the LGBTQ neighborhood in San Francisco and one of the most fun places to go out if you’re a fan of gay bars and dancing. I mean, who isn’t?
The Castro has a whole lot of personality and is extremely proud of its history as being one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US.
The neighborhood offers a lot of smaller bars with topless men dancing on things, some more divey bars, and a few good pubs too. It’s a slightly more affordable place to go out compared to the Marina.
You’ll find a lot of 30-somethings in the Castro, with some mid-20-year-olds and 40+ gay men as well.
Best bars in the Castro include Twin Peaks, Lookout, The Cafe, Last Call, the Mix, and Q Bar.
Polk Street is kind of like the Marina’s older brother.
There is still a bit of a bro vibe on Polk, but it’s an older crowd usually consisting of tech bros or young professionals who are in their 30s.
The bars on Polk are more for drinking than dancing and are on the smaller side (minus Playland and Vertigo which are both places to dance in the neighborhood).
This is a great place to go out if you’re a bit older, not as interested in dancing, but want to drink with friends while watching a Warriors Game.
Or, if you’re into trivia, there are some great trivia bars during the week (i.e. Tuesday night trivia at Soda Popinski’s).
This is also the street where most of the city pub crawls happen on special occasions, such as Halloween, SantaCon, and St. Paddy’s Day.
Best bars around Polk Street include: Soda Popinski’s, Harper & Rye, Hi-Lo Club, and Kozy Kar.
North Beach, also known as Little Italy, is an interesting mix of fancy restaurants, history, clubbing, and San Francisco’s red-light district full of strip clubs.
If you’re looking for variety in your nightlife, North Beach is a good place to start.
Besides historically being the home to Italian immigrants living in the city, North Beach was also the center of the Beatnik movement (go check out City Lights Bookstore to see some of that Beatnik history).
Its history is in large part why it’s still such a versatile neighborhood today.
The vibe in North Beach is a mix of young professionals and tourists.
As I mentioned above, you’ll find pretty much any style of nightlife you want in the neighborhood–pubs, strip clubs, cocktail bars, dance clubs, comedy shows, and more.
It’s a good place to start if you’re not sure where to go and you’ve never been out in San Francisco before.
Best bars in North Beach: 15 Romolo, Comstock Saloon, Vesuvio Cafe, and Monroe.
Best Places for Live Music
There are SO many great places to for live music in San Francisco, it’s one of my favorite aspects about living in the city.
If you’re looking for a more casual place that showcases smaller acts and which you can just purchase tickets at the door, I’d recommend Rickshaw Stop, The Chapel, Black Cat, The Hotel Utah Saloon, Biscuits & Blues, and Boom Boom Room.
If you’re looking for a larger concert venue that hosts bigger acts, I’d recommend The Fillmore, The Independent, Great American Music Hall, The Regency Ballroom, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and the Warfield.
Best Places to go Clubbing
If you’re looking for more of a pure night of dancing in a club setting that’s not overly douchey, my picks would be the following for the best nightclubs in San Francisco: The Battery, Cat Club, and F8.
Best Places to Grab a Pint
There is so much great craft beer in San Francisco, but my favorites would have to include Mikkeller Bar, 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant, Cellarmaker Brewing Co., and Harmonic Brewing.
In general, SOMA/Dogpatch is the best place to check out the local beer and brewery scene in San Francisco, although you’ll find local craft beer on tap at most bars around the city.
Best Places to Grab a Glass of Wine
If you’re more of a wine person, there are also plenty of quality wine bars around the city.
I guess that’s not surprising with one of the best wine regions in the world right next door to the city.
A few of the best wine bars in San Francisco include The Hidden Vine, The Barrel Room, Press Club, ENO Wine Bar, Terroir, and Blush!.
Best Places for Cocktails
There are quite a few talented mixologists in San Francisco and various places where you can find quality (and strong) cocktails.
A few favorite spots include Martunis, Novela, Rickhouse, Local Edition, China Live, and Comstock Saloon.
Bar Bars with a View
With how many hills there are around San Francisco, there are a ton of free views to enjoy around the city at night (which I’ll get into below).
But, if you’re looking for a cozy spot to drink while looking out at the view, these are the places I’d recommend: Top of the Mark, The View Lounge, Cityscape Bar & Lounge, El Techo, and Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge.
Best Unique Themed Bars in San Francisco
San Francisco is all about those themed bars, especially speakeasies and tiki bars.
A few of the best themed bars around the city include Bourbon & Branch, Pagan Idol, Topsy’s Bar, Smuggler’s Cove, Butter, Tonga Room, Brewcade, Local Edition, Novela, and Emporium SF.
Other Activities to do at Night in San Francisco (Besides Drinking)
Enjoy the San Francisco Skyline at Night
If you’re looking for the best cheap things to do in San Francisco in the evening, taking in the San Francisco skyline at night is a beautiful experience and one that you can find all over the city with its many hills.
Just make sure to bring layers because San Francisco gets cold at night, especially high up.
Also, try to not be too disappointed if the view is foggy by the time you get to these spots. Karl the Fog is known to roll in at inopportune times but he’s all a part of the San Francisco experience.
If you’re looking for the best nighttime views in San Francisco, these would be my picks:
Golden Gate Bridge at Night
If you want to see a cool bridge at night, I would recommend the Bay Bridge over the Golden Gate Bridge since the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t super lit up at night.
However, it can still be a magical experience to see the Golden Gate Bridge at night, with all the cars driving back and forth and the city shining in the background.
My favorite viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge at night is from Battery Spencer on the Marin side of the bridge looking towards the city, because the lights of the city really light up the view and bring the bridge to life.
One of the best cheap things to do in SF at night? Heading up to Twin Peaks and taking in the city of San Francisco lit up and laid out in front of you. This is by far one of the best spots to take in a nighttime view of San Francisco.
The Ferry to Sausalito or Alcatraz
What better way to take in San Francisco than from the water? Both of the ferries to Sausalito and Alcatraz give stunning views of the San Francisco skyline.
Make it a full night and have a cozy dinner in Sausalito while taking in the beautiful San Francisco skyline at night.
One of my favorite nighttime events to enjoy in San Francisco is museum nights!
A bunch of museums around the city offer an after-dark nightlife experience every month where you’re able to walk around the museum exhibits after hours with drinks and sometimes even a DJ.
And the best part? It’s adults only.
That means that at kid-friendly museums, such as the Exploratorium, where there are usually a hundred kids running around during the day, adults get to act like kids (with libations) and not have to worry about the young ones.
The majority of the most popular museums in San Francisco offer nightlife events. Including the following:
California Academy of Sciences – every Thursday from 6-10 pm. Every week the California Academy of Sciences nightlife is a different theme (the Pride Night-themed one I went to included a drag queen show, disco competition, and dance floor). There’s usually a DJ and bar at this event. You can purchase tickets here.
Exploratorium After Dark – first Thursday of every month, includes a DJ and bar, and full access to all of the interactive science-related exhibits. You can purchase tickets here.
DeYoung Museum – Friday nights, but their Friday night in San Francisco events are currently on hold since they just started running free Saturdays at the museum. You can find out more about it here.
The after-dark events at the DeYoung are usually more cultural depending on what the theme is, with dance performances, author readings, or craft-making experiences.
Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers – One of my favorite Bay Area activities, this night event only happens for five weeks during the winter, but it’s a fun experience if you happen to be in San Francisco when it’s running.
If you’re looking for things to do in Golden Gate park and want to walk through a psychedelic rainforest at night, this is the event to do it. You can find out more about it here.
Laugh Out Loud at a Comedy Show
What better way to spend a night in San Francisco than to laugh your butt off?
There are tons of hilarious comedy clubs around San Francisco that have shows running most nights of the week. A few favorites in the city include Cheaper Than Therapy, Punch Line, and The Set-Up.
If improv is more your thing, a few good spots are EndGames Improv, Secret Improv Society, BATS Improv.
Watch a Dance Performance
No matter what type of dance you prefer to watch, chances are San Francisco has a quality production happening right now for you to go see.
San Francisco is known as an artsy city. We have some of the best theater that rivals New York City, a fantastic music scene, and a talented art scene as well – including all kinds of dance performances.
You could choose to go to a more casual dance performance, such as grabbing a bite to eat at Pachamama while watching their Latin dance show, or head to one of the dance theaters in the city, such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, ODC Dance, or Smuin Ballet.
Enjoy the Opera
If you’re looking for another cultural artsy thing to do in the city at night, the San Francisco Opera is a great choice.
There are always multiple productions going on each season and shows are performed in the ornate and historic War Memorial Opera House that was built in 1932.
You can grab tickets for the opera here.
Experience a Unique Show
San Francisco isn’t just about the traditional art performances, there are a few quirky theater productions around the city that are worth a visit as well.
Unfortunately, my favorite unique theater show in San Francisco is closing down after a 45-year run, Beach Blanket Babylon, but there are plenty of other options in the city to still enjoy.
Running since 1998, AsiaSF is a cabaret dinner show that offers choreographed routines by transgender women and a fixed menu of California-Asian fusion cuisine.
One of the premier gay nightspots in San Francisco for cabaret drag shows, located in a former bathhouse. They also host DJs and dance parties in addition to their drag shows.
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Marrakech Magic Theater
If you’re looking for an intimate magic show, this is the top-rated option in the city.
Right next to Union Square, Marrakech Magic Theater stars the talented magician Jay Alexander and offers shows Thursday through Sunday.
You can grab tickets here.
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
Feinstein’s is a classy establishment that offers cabaret shows and American songbook performances in a swanky interior.
Grab a Bite to Eat at Off the Grid
One of the best family-friendly things to do in San Francisco is grabbing a bite to eat at Off the Grid. Off the Grid is the ultimate food truck experience in San Francisco that happens all over the city.
Their Presidio Picnics on the weekends are probably the most famous food truck event that they offer, but they have a couple of evening food truck extravaganzas on offer as well.
There’s one on Friday nights at Fort Mason from 5 pm – 10 pm, and another one on Thursday nights in the Presidio from 5 pm – 9 pm.
You can find out more about the food truck events here.
Note: Off the Grid doesn’t run in the winter months.
Romantic Things to do in San Francisco at Night
Obviously, these activities can all be done with friends or even solo, but if you’re specifically looking for a few romantic things to do in SF for a fun date night, these options are a good place to start.
Foreign Cinema is actually more of a restaurant than it is a traditional movie theater, but their schtick is showing a film in the background while you enjoy a sensual atmosphere and delicious Californian-Mediterranean cuisine.
This popular San Francisco restaurant has been open for 20 years and has made the list of ‘Top 100 restaurants in San Francisco’ in the San Francisco Chronicle for 18 consecutive years.
You could say they’ve had a pretty impressive run so far.
This is one of the most popular date night activities to do in San Francisco so make sure to book well in advance. You can book a spot here.
Film Night with the SF Symphony
Another movie-related activity (with much more emphasis on the movie) is going to a film night with the San Francisco Symphony.
During these events, some of Hollywood’s most popular movies are shown at the Davies Symphony Hall with the movie score performed live by the SF Symphony.
It’s a magical experience to hear the live score of Star Wars or Harry Potter as the film is running. You can grab tickets for their film night here.
Go Dancing (Not at a Club)
I’m not saying that a traditional club isn’t romantic – you do you – but, if you’re looking for something a bit more sensual as opposed to bump and grind, I’d recommend checking out one of the fantastic Latin or swing clubs around the city.
A few good options include Latin American Club, SalsaCrazy Saturday Salsa Club, El Toro Night Club, Cigar Bar, Cat’s Corner, and The 9:20 Special.
Roller Skating at Church of 8 Wheels
One of those hidden gems in San Francisco, if you’re looking for a more unique date idea (friend dates are welcome too!), roller skating at Church of 8 Wheels is a good option.
You could say that the Church of 8 Wheels is the best roller rink in San Francisco. It’s located in an old church and encourages funky vibes (aka bell bottoms are encouraged).
And the great thing about this roller rink is they have adult-only skate sessions, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally being cut off by a kiddo while you twirl around the rink.
Late-Night Movie Showing
You can probably tell I’m a big fan of movies. It also helps that there are so many options for movie-related activities in San Francisco at night.
If you’ve already tried out Foreign Cinema and Film Night with the SF Symphony, or you’re simply looking for something a bit more low-key, a late-night movie showing is always a good bet.
Clay Theatre offers regular midnight showings of classic or cult films every month, and it is a great choice for those who are looking for more of a late-night activity in San Francisco.
Another option if you’re looking for a unique movie experience but don’t want to stay up until midnight, is going to one of the sing-a-long shows at the Castro Theatre.
You can belt out your favorite songs with everyone else in the crowd while Grease or The Little Mermaid plays on the screen.
And finally, a super fun (albeit chilly) nighttime experience in San Francisco is going on a Hornblower Dinner Cruise.
If you’re looking for a classy evening out on the Bay, Hornblower is the most popular option for a dinner cruise in San Francisco.
Their nightly cruises include a four-course dinner, a dance floor and DJ, and plenty of beautiful nighttime views of famous San Francisco landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can learn more about Hornblower’s Dinner Cruise here.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for what to do in San Francisco at night.
Whether you’re more interested in nightlife, looking for a family-friendly outing, or a solo adventure, there’s a little something for everyone in this Bay Area city.
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When it comes to gift giving, Mimi has it down to a science. With a degree in psychology, she knows that the key to a meaningful and memorable gift is a personalized approach–always paying attention to someone’s unique interests and passions. Since she was little, Mimi has wholeheartedly embraced the tradition of gift giving. Now, she loves crafting fun gift guides to inspire others to level-up their gifting game and to find that perfect gift.
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