5 Classic San Francisco Cocktails Created in the Bay Area (And Where to Try Them)

Experience 5 classic San Francisco cocktails that were created in the Bay Area. Enjoy each signature drink of San Francisco as you explore the best parts of the city.

Move over NYC! The Washington Post declared San Francisco the #1 food destination in America! With only 7 x 7 miles, we are home to some of the most innovative restaurants in the country. You can enjoy Kung Pao Pastrami at Mission Chinese Food, or you can head over to Mozzeria,where their wonderful staff cook up Peking duck pizzas.

This foggy city might be the center of the food scene now, but it has been at the forefront of the craft cocktail revolution since the late 90s. Gastropub and one of the historic bars in San Francisco, 15 Romolo, became the first in the city to begin offering classic cocktails with a modern twist, and ever since San Francisco cocktails started to take over the world.

No matter if you spend your time at laidback Haight Ashbury bars, or sipping Sausalito cocktails, or enjoying an evening at one of the many upscale bars in San Francisco, make time during your trip to cut loose with a San Francisco cocktail. 

Since San Francisco cocktail history is rich, and their artisan cocktails dominate the culinary world of San Francisco, let’s take a look at five trendy cocktails and the best bars in San Francisco to try them at. This is what we call #DrinkingForHistory.

Do you want to experience these classic cocktails on one tour? Book a customizable private tour with us and drink up!

Book Your Cocktail Tour of San Francisco here


James Bond might have popularized the drink, but this classic cocktail dates back to the Gold Rush.

East of San Francisco is the city of Martinez. It was there that a bartender fell in short supply and had few ingredients on the shelf: vermouth, gin, maraschino liqueur, bitters, and a lemon.

The Martinez Special debuted and made its way to San Francisco. By the 1880s the recipe had been perfected and the name shorted to the Martini, and thus the San Francisco martini was born. 

san francisco guide

Best place to grab a classic gin martini?

The oldest tavern in the Haight, Aub Zam Zam, an Arabian night themed dive bar with a reputation for kicking out folks who request a vodka martini, you’ve been warned!


Long before the Transamerica Pyramid marked the center of the Financial District, the Bank Exchange Saloon sat in its place. This was where famed American novelist Mark Twain met San Francisco firefighter Tom Sawyer, who was the inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 

During the Gold Rush the owner of the Bank Exchange, Duncan Nichols, created a cocktail with Pisco – a white grape brandy popular in Peru and Chile. The catch? He kept the recipe secret and refused to make the drink in front of patrons. This secrecy led many to believe that this addicting drink might have been laced with cocaine, which was still legal at the time.

Where to imbibe this iconic cocktail?

Try one of the oldest saloons in San Francisco with an impressive cocktail menu, Comstock Saloon. This bar was where famed American boxer Jack Dempsey was once the bouncer.


An espresso-less cappuccino?! This San Francisco cocktail recipe, steamed milk, bourbon, brandy, and chocolate cocktail, was created during the Prohibition in the heart of North Beach.

Best place to grab a House Capp?

Where this signature drink of San Francisco was first created, Tosca Cafe. The espresso machines at Tosca were some of the very first to ever appear on the west coast. The espresso machines were brought into Tosca for one sole purpose, to create the steamed milk to mask the bourbon and brandy.

MAI TAI: 1944

This infamous tiki cocktail was created just across the Bay by Oakland native Vic Bergeron. Trader Vic’s never revealed his original Mai Tai recipe, which means there’s a lot of disappointing Mai Tais out there.

Want to try the Mai Tai without the themed bar?

Head over to Chinatown’s oldest dive bar, Li Po Cocktail Lounge for their Chinese Mai Tai – a personal favorite of Anthony Bourdain. Enjoy one of the best drinks in San Francisco that is made with three different rums, a Chinese liqueur, pineapple juice and a bit of rose water.


The Tequila Sunrise cocktail hails from the beautiful waterfront town of Sausalito, a mile north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This Sausalito cocktail is a part of rock’n’roll history.

Relatively unknown until Mick Jagger was introduced to this tequila, orange juice, and grenadine concoction while at The Trident for an event hosted by famed SF music promoter Bill Graham. Jagger was so impressed, as Rolling Stones embarked on a world tour he asked for one thing along the way, more Tequila Sunrises.

Want to enjoy a Tequila Sunrise with some musical accompaniment?

Club Deluxe on Haight is one of the best live music bars San Francisco has. They play live blues music and have an old fashioned juicer, so your OJ is made fresh every time.


San Francisco’s cocktail history is rich and delicious. Experience San Francisco cocktails and explore different historical bars in the Bay Area. 

Next time happy hour rolls around, why not do a little “research” into this liquid history of San Francisco? Share your cocktail adventures with #DrinkingForHistory!

Book your customizable San Francisco cocktail tour here

[Featured Image by Terrance McNally via Flickr]


Check out our other blog posts about San Francisco for more ideas on how to spend your time in the city:

A guide to beer tasting San Francisco

Best North Beach Italian Restaurants in San Francisco

What to do in San Francisco in 3 days

15 Best San Francisco Tours


Discover San Francisco like never before! Join our Explore S.F. group on Facebook, your ultimate guide to the city’s best-kept secrets. From local tips to monthly adventures, this is where your journey begins. Click here to join and start exploring!