Ask anyone for a recommendation for the best bars in San Francisco and you’ll never get the same answer. With so many options, “favorite” is a very personal choice ranging from a local dive just steps from home to a swank spot with stunning views and a vast liquor collection. Fortunately, the City by the Bay was founded on opportunities to get a good drink with the backdrop of your choosing.
Read on to learn why San Francisco has such an illustrious bar scene and discover the local cocktail spots you should visit next.
San Francisco Cocktails Then and Now
With a little perspective, it’s easy to understand why San Francisco has always been a libations-lover’s town. In the mid-1800s, the city was a modest port village known as Yerba Buena. At that time, it had a meager 450 residents. But it transformed into an international destination practically overnight after gold was discovered in Northern California. Within two years the population exploded to around 25,000 residents, many of whom were unmarried men seeking fortune and welcoming saloons promising stiff drinks, loose company, and general camaraderie.
It was then that the San Francisco Bay Area began establishing itself as a global influencer in the art of the cocktail, starting with none other than the classic martini. Its first iteration, the “Martinez Special,” was created during the Gold Rush in the nearby town of Martinez; after the recipe made its way to San Francisco, it was refined, renamed the “Martini,” and promptly shaken, stirred, and sipped the world over.
Later, in the 1940s, the Mai Tai was invented in the city’s across-the-bay neighbor Oakland by Vic Bergeron, the owner of famed Bay Area tiki bar and restaurant chain Trader Vic’s.
Even the quaint bayside hamlet of Sausalito, located at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, shook up the world’s classic cocktail offerings. Its contribution? The Tequila Sunrise, which was invented at The Trident in the 1970s and was made famous by The Rolling Stones, who swilled it during a private party at the restaurant and bar and took the recipe on the road.
Today, San Francisco’s love affair with cocktail revelry continues to be such a part of the local fabric, no matter what the future holds, the city will find a way to commemorate its occasions with a well-made drink in seductive surroundings.
So, what are the best bars in San Francisco? We share with you a selection as diverse and distinctive as the city itself, all of which promise a generous pour of San Francisco charm.