15 Unique Ways to Enjoy San Francisco at Night
San Francisco is a beautiful city at any time of the day, but the evening can be the best time to experience the most unique activities and events the city has to offer.
Whether you’re learning about the history of a spine-chilling federal prison at night or exploring the underground comedy scene of San Francisco before heading to dinner at a drag restaurant, there are endless options for unique things to do in San Francisco at night.
Anyone can dance at a club, drinking the night away in any city, but there’s so much more to San Francisco at night than its standard nightclub and bar scene.
This post will give you a good overview of the most unique things to do at night in San Francisco, so you can enjoy new aspects of the city once the sun goes down.
15 Ways to Experience San Francisco at Night
- Alcatraz Night Tour
- Comedy Bus Night Tour
- Visit Chinatown at Night for Dim Sum
- Cocktails at Themed Bar
- Evening Boat Cruise Around the Bay
- Visit a Museum After Hours
- See a Show at the Orpheum Theater
- Date Night at Foreign Cinema
- Ride a Cable Car at Night
- Attend a Concert at an Independent Music Venue
- Visit San Francisco Viewpoints at Night
- Film Night with the San Francisco Symphony
- Dinner at Off The Grid– Food Trucks at Fort Mason & Presidio
- Cabaret or Drag Show
- Retro Roller Skate Night
Get the Spooks on the Alcatraz Night Tour
As one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, Alcatraz Island shouldn’t be missed as a fun nighttime activity in the city.
The historic island is a short ferry ride from San Francisco and gives visitors a glimpse into San Francisco’s history and the most notorious criminals who were once imprisoned there. To give you an idea, some of Alcatraz’s most famous criminals included Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, among many others.
Alcatraz is most well known for its history as a federal prison in the 1930s to 1960s, but the island also used to be a military fortification and military prison. It was also the location of a Native American occupation in the 1960s. Today, it’s part of the National Park Service and one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco.
Although most people go for the Alcatraz day tour, those who are looking for a hair-raising experience should grab tickets for the Alcatraz night tour. As a bonus, the night tour has the added benefit of giving you access to areas of the prison that are closed off to the day tour visitors. The night tour comes highly recommended for those who like a little scare!
Laugh Out Loud on a Comedy Tour
San Francisco has one of the best comedy scenes in the US. The variety of venues, types of comedy, and the quality jokes are comparable to Chicago and New York.
There are a lot of comedy clubs around San Francisco, but most of them are spread out across different neighborhoods. Because of this, one of the best ways to experience comedy in the city is to hop on the original San Francisco comedy tour.
On this San Francisco night tour, you’ll be taken around to the most beautiful parts of the city at night.
And instead of going to crowded comedy clubs, you’ll have a local comedian on board to tell you jokes all night without ever having to leave the comfort of your seat.
This is a hilarious way to enjoy San Francisco at night and a good introduction to the underground comedy culture in the city.
Eat Dim Sum and BYOB in Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is a vibrant mini-metropolis during the day with its bustling markets, crowded streets, and souvenir shops.
During the night, Chinatown becomes another paradise completely. You’ll find a more relaxed atmosphere on the streets and energetic restaurants to spend hours in with a good group of friends.
A favorite way to experience Chinatown at night is to go to one of the many delicious dim sum spots in the neighborhood. And with most restaurants allowing BYOB, it’s also a relatively inexpensive way to eat out in San Francisco at night.
A few dim sum restaurants that are a must-try in Chinatown include:
- Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House
- Great Eastern Restaurant
- Ma’s Dimsum and Cafe
Have a Delicious Cocktail at a Themed Bar
Themed cocktail bars have become a staple in the San Francisco nightlife scene.
From speakeasies that take you back to the 1920s to tiki bars that make you feel like you just stepped onto the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, there’s a themed bar for everyone in this city. You can find a list of 5 classic San Francisco cocktails created in the Bay Area and where to try them on our blog.
These are our favorite themed cocktail bars to grab a drink at in San Francisco:
Best Tiki Bars in San Francisco
- Smugglers Cove
- Pagan Idol
- Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Best Speakeasy Bars in San Francisco
- Bourbon & Branch
- The Pawn Shop
Best Writer-Themed Bars in San Francisco
- Local Edition
Other Themed Cocktail Bars in San Francisco
- Kozy Kar (70’s themed)
- Topsy’s Bar (Circus themed)
- The Devil’s Acre (Apothecary themed)
Cruise Around the Bay
Being surrounded by water and scenic views, San Francisco is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world. One of the best ways to see just how pretty the city can be is to hop on a cruise around the bay once the city is all lit up at night.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge at night from the water. Plus, it’s a very San Francisco experience to have at least once.
A good option for a nighttime cruise is the original San Francisco cruise company – the Red and White Fleet.
The Red and White Fleet is a family-owned business that started in 1892 and they’re big on environmental sustainability.
Their California Twilight Cruise runs during the winter months (Nov-Mar) and offers guests the chance to see San Francisco at twilight, paired with live guitar, snacks, and drinks.
Just make sure to bundle up because it can be very chilly in the Bay Area at night, especially on the water.
Another tour option that runs year-round is Adventure Cat’s sunset sail. Their 1.5-hour sunset cruise includes drinks and snacks while you take in the city at golden hour.
Visit a Museum After Hours
If you’re looking for a unique way to see the museums in San Francisco, several museums host nighttime events in the city.
One of the most popular events is the Exploratorium at Night. At this monthly event, the Exploratorium turns into an adults-only science experiment. There’s a bar, DJ, and you have access to all of the permanent science exhibits.
It’s a fun way to feel like a kid again, but without any actual kids running around. Their events happen on the first Thursday of every month and tickets go fast, so make sure to book ahead.
Another popular museum for nighttime events is the California Academy of Sciences. Located in Golden Gate Park, this museum hosts weekly nighttime events every Thursday.
Their after-hours nights are usually themed and involve a DJ, full dance floor, as well as access to their main exhibits.
Lastly, Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers is one of the most unique nighttime events in San Francisco.
It only happens for five weeks every winter, but if you happen to be in the city at the right time, it’s your chance to pretend like you just stepped into Avatar. The main features include sensory-focused rainforest rooms and psychedelic plants.
See a Show at the Orpheum Theater
San Francisco’s theater district is the best place to be at night for one-of-a-kind productions and quality Broadway shows. Numerous theaters offer a variety of shows each season, but a local favorite is the historic Orpheum Theater.
The Orpheum is where you’ll find some of the biggest Broadway blockbusters in San Francisco. It’s also a venue that is as beautiful as it is ornate.
Once called the Pantages Theatre, it has been around since 1926 and has been a fixture in the San Francisco theater scene since it first opened. Its interior is an impressive example of French Gothic architecture and an ideal place to watch theater in the city.
Most recently, the Orpheum has been showing Hamilton – one of the best shows to see in San Francisco.
Enjoy a Date Night at Foreign Cinema
One of the trendiest date night activities in San Francisco is spending the evening at Foreign Cinema. This restaurant theater serves California-Mediterranean cuisine in a romantic setting while a film plays in the background.
They’ve had a strong 20-year run as one of the top date night places to eat in the city and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. If anything, they only get more popular each year and with every new mention, they get in a Thrillist article.
Because it’s such a popular place, make sure to book reservations well in advance, especially if you plan to go on the weekend.
Ride a Cable Car
Riding a cable car is already an iconic thing to do in San Francisco, but riding a cable car through the streets at night is magical.
Besides the benefit of seeing the city lit up from a zooming cable car, if you hop on a cable car at night it’s usually much less crowded.
Whereas you usually have to wait in long lines during the day (especially if you’re boarding at Powell), at night there are fewer crowds and less being squished like a sardine.
The cable cars in San Francisco run until midnight, so this can be a fun late-night activity to enjoy after dinner or drinks in the city.
See a Concert at an Independent Music Venue
Being relatively close to LA and having a unique underground music scene in its own right, San Francisco is a haven for quality live music and concerts that span all genres of music.
Although it’s not always easy to be a successful independent venue in a city as expensive as San Francisco, there are a ton of great independent and historic music venues around the city to see a show at.
And the good thing about supporting independent music venues is that the shows are usually cheaper and more intimate than what you’d find at the larger music halls.
A few favorite local music venues include the following:
- The Fillmore
- The Independent
- Boom Boom Room
- Rickshaw Stop
- Club Deluxe
Take in the Best Views of San Francisco at Night
With the number of hills in San Francisco, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of good views around the city. Although these viewpoints are stunning at any time of the day, going at night can be an even better experience.
In addition to seeing the city lit up at night, San Francisco’s most popular viewpoints are much less crowded at night.
As a bonus, going on a scavenger hunt for the best viewpoints in the city is a completely free thing to do a night in San Francisco. So if you’re looking for an affordable way to explore the city at night, this is a good option.
If you choose to venture to any of the popular viewpoints, just make sure to layer up because they can be breezy and on the colder side at night.
A few of our favorite nighttime viewpoints in San Francisco include:
- Coit Tower
- Twin Peaks
- Battery Spencer
- Tank Hill
- Bay Bridge Lights
Enjoy a Film Night with the San Francisco Symphony
One of the more under-the-radar ways to enjoy San Francisco at night is to go to a film night with the San Francisco Symphony.
Once or twice a month, the symphony hosts film nights where Hollywood blockbusters (that are known to have good musical scores) are played alongside the live symphony.
If you’ve never experienced watching one of your favorite films with a live score, this is something to not miss at night in San Francisco. A few past film nights have included Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond.
Eat Your Heart Out at Off The Grid
San Francisco isn’t as well known as Portland or Los Angeles for its food truck scene, but the city is home to a top-notch weekly food truck event called Off the Grid. And even the most die-hard foodies would appreciate it.
Although their most popular event is their Sunday afternoon Presidio Picnic, during the warmer months they host an evening food truck event every Friday night at Fort Mason from 5 pm to 10 pm. They also host one in the Presidio every Thursday night from 5 pm to 9 pm.
Whether you’re going with a few friends or bringing the whole family, going to Off the Grid is one of the best free things to do in San Francisco on a Thursday or Friday night. Plus, an affordable dinner option where you can try a variety of cuisines all in one place.
Go to a Cabaret or Drag Show
With its quirky and open-minded nature, one of the many things San Francisco knows how to do well is cabaret and drag.
San Francisco is a theatrical city to its core, and this is one type of theater that the city really excels at – from popular drag brunches that sell out every weekend to drag and cabaret dinner shows.
A good place to experience the drag scene in San Francisco is Oasis, a SOMA venue that used to be a former bathhouse.
It now features drag and cabaret shows every weekend and is one of the best places to see drag in San Francisco. The venue is known for its strong drinks and lively performances that are as hilarious as they are engaging.
Another popular venue for drag and cabaret performances is AsiaSF, which allows you to see drag while enjoying a delicious Asian-fusion meal and craft cocktails.
Besides these two popular spots, a few other favorite venues to experience drag and cabaret in the city include:
- The Stud
- Aunt Charlie’s Lounge
- Hamburger Mary’s
Roller Skate at the Church of 8 Wheels
Another hidden find in the San Francisco nightlife scene, the Church of 8 Wheels is a retro roller rink housed in what used to be a church.
Their adults-only skate sessions are a fun way to spend a weekend night in the city. In addition to the groovy ambiance, there are usually live DJs that play old school funk and disco as you roll around the rink.
Grab a few friends or head to the rink by yourself for a fun night of dancing on roller skates and stepping back in time to the 1970s.
This is a very local experience to have at night in San Francisco and not to be missed if you’re looking for an unconventional and funky way to enjoy the city at night.