We’re discerning when it comes to post-work drinks—a bucket of PBR does not a happy hour make. So we’ve compiled 10 of the best deals in the city for every persuasion: delicious meals at a steep discount, specialty cocktails that aren’t swill and an assortment of beers that will satisfy any hophead. Nothing tops $10. Looking for even more affordable ideas? Check out these cheap date suggestions and free attractions.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in San Francisco
Best happy hour deals in San Francisco
What: $4 well cocktails, $5 sours, $5 glasses of wine, $2 PBR, Bud and Bud Light and $2 off draft beers
When: Mon–Fri 5–8pm
Why we love it: A three-hour happy hour is a generous happy hour, and the Blackbird bartenders are equally liberal with the booze. Though you can guzzle cheap beer, if that’s your pleasure, regulars belly up for $5 whiskey sours and $4 greyhounds, both made with fresh-squeezed juice. Because of its crossroads location, the scene is just right: less tech-flooded than SoMa, less crowded than Hayes Valley and less scene-y than neighboring Castro bars.
What: $7 special cocktails, $7 beer and shot pairings
When: Daily, 4-7pm
Why we love it: Situated at the cusp of Chinatown and North Beach, this dimly lit, old-timey saloon offers three hours of boozy revelry all week long—a dependable preface to your dinner plans. The specialty here is the Derby, a potent, well-crafted blend of rye, Italian vermouth, Curacao, lemon and fresh mint. If cocktails aren’t your thing, try the beer and booze pairings, like the Boot to the Head (Four Roses bourbon and an Anchor Steam), Cabezazo (Pueblo Viejo tequila and a can of Tecate) or the Kopstoje (Bols Genever and a Trumer pilsner).
What: $2–$3 Tecates, $4 margaritas and $2 street tacos
When: Mon, Wed–Thu, 4:30–6pm; Tue, 5pm–midnight; Fri 4:30–6:30pmWhy we love it: Everyone knows that the happiest of happy hours arrives when Friday finally rolls around, and this spirited sports bar kicks off your weekend right. In addition to its solid $2 taco/$2 Tecate deal, Underdogs tacks on an extra half hour of $1 margaritas (you read that right: a buck!) from 6 to 6:30pm on Friday. On Taco Tuesday, $3 Tecates flow from 5pm to close and the $2 street taco—a sizeable heap of carne asada, carnitas, chicken or veggies piled into a corn tortilla and topped with cilantro and onions—puts the usual battered-and-deep-fried bar food to shame.
What: $5 cocktails, $5 wine and $3 draught beers
When: Tue–Fri 4–6pm, Sat–Sun 1–4pmWhy we love it: Just because you appreciate a cheap drink doesn’t mean you should have to elbow aside PBR-chugging bros to get it. Between the stacks of hardcover books lining the window seat, the vintage toile wallpaper and the charming, capable presence of Michael Cecconi behind the bar, this is one of the classiest happy hours around. The $5 old fashioneds here are enough to kick nearby Brass Tacks to the curb.
What: $4 beer specials, $6 wine specials, $1 oysters, $1 herb and jalapeno-marinated mussels, $6 pan-seared shishito peppers, $6 Manila clams, $6 seafood chowder and 2 for $10 rock cod tacos
When: Daily 5–6:30pm
Why we love it: Fine dining at a third of the usual price. The buttery, flaky rock cod tacos come piled with salsa, guac, pickled onions and cotija cheese, and the seafood chowder is wonderfully decadent. (You’ll be full for just $6. Trust us.) While you can find $1 oyster deals throughout the city, this raw bar caters to those with discerning tastes. It’s also a go-to happy hour (and-a-half) for beer snobs, serving rotating saisons, strong ales, tripels, pilsners, kolshes and hefeweizens on tap.
What: $3 bottled beer, $4 well drinks; Mon: $10 burger and beer, $5 Fernet shots; Tue: $1 tacos and 2-for-1 margaritas; Wed: 25 cent wings; Sat–Sun: bottomless brunch
When: Mon–Fri 4–7pmWhy we love it: The light-strung back patio is one of the best warm-weather happy hour scenes around. You’ll find long, communal picnic tables; a little lawn for sprawling out after a few Fernets; and a smattering of friendly dogs. Though there are deals every weeknight, it’s understood that the real draw is the 25 cent wings on Wednesdays. Mix and match four flavors (you’ll want to go easy on those ghost pepper-spiced “Death” wings, though) alongside cold $3 beers. Trust us: The Dr.’s famous “totchos”—tater tots doused in cheese, jalapenos, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream—only sound like a bad idea until you’re a couple drinks in.
What: $6 wine, $3.50 beers
When: Mon–Sat 4–6pm, Sun 3–6pm
Why we love it: This Inner Sunset gem pours great wines by the glass without succumbing to the usual swirling, quaffing Wine Bar pretension. It’s ideal for catch-up drinks or casual dates, but you won’t feel uncomfortable just unwinding with a book or your laptop. Rather than some nondescript “house” blend, the Fog offers a happy hour selection of around a dozen wines from California, France, Argentina and beyond, all helpfully listed from softest to most powerful. (The bartenders are eager to make recommendations, if you’re waffling.) Likewise, beers like Full Sail Brewing’s Session lager and the Deschutes Inversion IPA from Oregon are just $3.50 apiece.
What: $6.50 wines, $3.50 Peroni, $5 cheese, $2 bruschetta, $3 olives and $6.50 pizzas
When: Mon–Fri 4–6pm, Sat 3–6pmWhy we love it: For years, nearby Uva Enoteca was our go-to wine bar in this hood. Then InoVino arrived nearby and, after a flight of Old World Reds, our loyalties shifted. Both spots offer an assortment of wines by the glass for well under $10, but Inovino’s delightfully inexpensive, meal-worthy aperitivos give it the edge. The unassuming staff here will pour you samples of anything you’d like to try before you settle on an order. This is the kind of cozy neighborhood spot that you’ll pop into for happy hour and totter out of, cheerful and flushed, three hours later.
What: $4 draft pints, $4 well drinks
When: Mon–Thu 2–7pm, Fri noon–7pmWhy we love it: The gleaming, mixed-wood bar, flickering votives and chandeliers overhead at this SoMa hub may seem swanky, but the vibe is young, unpretentious and celebratory. Tired of choking down “deals” on skunky Bud and PBR? Here, there are eight beers on tap from breweries like Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley and Bear Republic—all for only $4 a pint.
What: $8 cocktails
When: Mon 2pm–2am, Tue–Fri 2–7pmWhy we love it: At the outset, a circus-themed FiDi bar sounds gimmicky, to say the least. But here’s the thing: Sooner or later you come to realize that the lone “special” cocktail at most happy hours is some sort of sloshed-together hangover-in-a-glass. Not so at Topsy’s, where you’ll find eight cocktails crafted from respectable booze and fresh, house-made ingredients. The offerings include a George Dickel old fashioned, a cucumber gimlet and a Moscow mule made with house-infused lemongrass ginger Svedka vodka. Don’t let the pair of giant Nutcrackers out front deter you. You’ll soon find the only people rolling their eyes at the whimsical décor are the newcomers who have never spent a long, gleeful Monday here.