San Francisco nightlife features an eclectic blend of venues and activities that exemplify the Bay Area’s mixed bag of interests. You can stop by a chill local tavern, wander a museum, or roller skate down the Embarcadero. And don’t be surprised if you see some of the same people at multiple places, since there’s plenty of cool things to do in San Francisco at night.
But before you go out after sundown, a public service announcement about San Francisco weather: wear layers so that when the fog rolls in and the temperature drops like a rock, you’ll be ready to keep going. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Now bundle up and get ready for a night out on the town when you try these seven cool things to do in San Francisco at night from a local.
Hit the best Bars in San Francisco
See the SF Skyline from a Different Perspective
Alcatraz Night Tour
Take a night tour of Alcatraz Federal Prison and wander the same halls as Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun” Kelly. Alcatraz Island is so much more than just a historic correctional facility. Learn how this former military fortress became a prison and, later, the site of a Native American occupation lasting nineteen months.
The short ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf is an adventure of its own, with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, and the lights of the Bay Bridge.
California Sunset Cruise
If you’re a photographer, then you won’t want to miss the California Sunset Cruise. The family-owned Red and White Fleet offers a beautiful and relaxing 1.5-hour cruise around the Bay, including passes under both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.
The bay comes alive when the fog rolls in over the Marin Headlands and through the Golden Gate, but remember to dress warmly when you set out to experience it for yourself. Temperatures can drop quickly and dramatically as the marine layer sets over the city. You can purchase cocktails, beer, wine, and light snacks on the boat, or bring your own food from the many restaurants near the marina.
Explore the Museums without Kiddos
A fun thing to do in San Francisco at night is to hit the museums. Several SF museums offer adult-only nighttime events complete with music and cocktails. Two of our favorites have events every Thursday night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
California Academy of Sciences NightLife
Watch sting rays glide in the water during NightLife, 21-and-over events at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The Academy features one of the largest coral reef displays in the world, as well as a four-story rainforest and shake shack earthquake exhibit.
With exhibits changing frequently, there is always something new to see at the Academy. If you can’t wait to check it out, here is their live penguin webcam to tide you over until you get here.
Exploratorium After Dark
On Thursday nights, they host Exploratorium After Dark, an 18-and-over event that includes guest speakers, music, films, and interactive exhibits that are only available to adults. Grab a drink and relive some childhood fun as push buttons and pull pulleys at the Exploratorium.
Listen to Live Music
The Fillmore has been the heart of the San Francisco music scene for decades. Best known for being one of the hottest venues of the 1960s counterculture movement, Fillmore area concert posters are still world famous. When there’s a show on, going to the Fillmore is one of the coolest things to do in San Francisco at night.
The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors have all performed in the Fillmore. Located on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street, it still draws top rock, pop, and folk bands including Dance Gavin Dance and The Regrettes.
Situated in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, the SFJAZZ Center is a phenomenal venue for jazz, blues, and world music. They are recognized locally and internationally for their contributions to jazz education and presentation. See artists like Tommy Castro and pianist Hiromi in the acoustically fine-tuned 700-seat auditorium. All ages welcome.
See a Show
Catch a Broadway show or musical event at either the historic Orpheum or Golden Gate theatres. Both iconic venues originally opened in the 1920s and have been welcoming audiences into their luxurious auditoriums ever since. BroadwaySF brings hundreds of shows annually, there is always something new to see.
San Francisco Opera at the War Memorial Opera House
Experience the vocal magic of the San Francisco Opera through performances of Madame Butterfly and La Traviata. For 90 years, the War Memorial Opera House has been the hope of the San Francisco Opera and a monument to San Franciscans who served in World War I. The opera presents several performances weekly.
Hunt for Ghosts in San Francisco
Meet the ghost of San Francisco on one of several spooky walking tours. In Pacific heights, check out the San Francisco Ghost Hunt. Chinatown has SF Chinatown Ghost Tours, and the uber-creepy tour San Francisco Ghosts will give you the shivers.
Weirdly San Franciscan
Last, but certainly not least, are some of those quintessential San Francisco gatherings that always surprise newcomers to the City.
- Midnight Rollers and Friday Night Skate: Every Friday night, roller skaters gather at the Ferry Building and skate en masse down the Embarcadero. This phenomenon started in 1989 after the Embarcadero freeway was closed due to damage after the Loma Prieta earthquake.
- Critical Mass SF: Critical Mass inspired bicycle rides have spread around the globe, but the very first was here in San Francisco in 1992. This leaderless cycling event assembles at Justin Herman Plaza on the last Friday of every month and takes over the streets.
Vesna Kraushaar is a science and food writer in the SF Bay Area with years of experience as a scientist in the local wine and dairy industries. Her Croatian and American heritage instilled a deep passion for sharing food traditions. When she isn’t writing, she’s researching recipes or at a local coffee house. Find her online here.