Best rooftop bars in San Francisco
This atmospheric Mexican spot is ideal for kicking back with a paloma while admiring the skyline. The open-air rooftop is casually romantic, dotted with small tables and illuminated by string lights overhead. A glass wall circling the perimeter shields revelers from wind, but doesn't block the FiDi skyline. Big blue umbrellas get unfurled on hot days, and heat lamps are fired up at night. Opt for one of the spicy-sweet mezcal cocktails like El Joven Picante, a combination of mezcal, honey, lime and chipotle bitters, or a pitcher of the strong house margaritas, which includes Ocho Plata tequila, Fidencio mescal and Combier triple sec.
This swanky SoMa rooftop feels downright cozy—especially when nursing a tumbler of bourbon beside the fire pit. Bar manager Brian Means, formerly of Fifth Floor and Zero Zero, is a brown spirits enthusiast, serving more than 300 rare varieties from around the world. Creative seasonal drinks are served in vintage cocktail glasses and incorporate tea, spices and fresh herbs. And though the Habit’s patrons are largely a suit-and-stiletto set—some sipping “communal” cocktails designed for sharing—the bar doesn’t take itself too seriously. The beer selection ranges from PBR to La Chouffe and beer-and-shot pairings come in tongue-in-cheek combinations like the Red-Headed Stepchild: an Heretic Red IPA and a Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac ($10).
Hidden behind a pair of blue steel gates in the heart of the Tenderloin, this spacious indoor-outdoor bar has earned a loyal following for its landscaped, heated terrace and happy hour deals: $3 beer specials and $5 wine and cocktail specials (cash only). Though “roof deck” is a bit of a stretch—taller buildings surround you on three sides—the buzzy perch affords a birds-eye view of the Tenderloin below. The crowd is young and stylish, converging from Polk Street, FiDi, Mid-Market and SoMA, and the cocktails are carefully crafted (which sometimes leads to a wait at the bar). Try the Trendy Loin: coriander-infused gin, house-made lemongrass syrup, lime and sparkling wine garnished with fresh lemongrass.
Comparatively low but undeniably lovely, this open-air terrace is better suited to gazing over Market Street than epic skyline views. A popular post-work spot, Bluestem is beloved for its thoughtful cocktails and classy but casual ambiance. The Toasted Sage Gimlet is a warm weather favorite, while the dessert-like Karl the Fog—brandy, Benedictine, Frangelico, coffee liqueur, brewed coffee and toasted marshmallow meringue—is a warming sipper when our city mascot rolls in. (Thankfully, Bluestem doesn't skimp on the booze or the heat lamps.) The extensive wine list is available by the glass, half-liter or liter, and you’ll find an impressive assortment of local wines on tap. Swing by for happy hour (4–6:30pm), when a percentage of the bar’s proceeds benefits philanthropic causes.
Science museums and booze traditionally don’t mix, but California Academy of Sciences throws a raucous party for imbibing and nerding out every Thursday night ($10–$12 cover). Grab a drink (nothing fancy: beer, wine or liquor) and head up to the Renzo Piano-designed roof garden, where you’ll be rewarded with views of the de Young Museum, Sutro Tower and Golden Gate Park. The rolling rooftop terrain, which symbolizes the seven hills of San Francisco, is covered with millions of bird- and butterfly-luring native plants. After sunset, it’s a prime spot for stargazing through the museum’s high-powered telescopes. Layer up: This is one of the prettiest, but chilliest roof decks in the city.
Perched atop the Moscone Center, B bar has panoramic views of Yerba Buena Garden, St. Patrick’s Church, the Jewish Museum Plaza and the downtown skyline. The landscaped, fountain-decked terrace is a go-to spot for the SoMa after-work crowd, which congregates amid pitchers of sangria and trays of oysters ($1 each from 4:30–6:30pm). Bar manager Marjian Simovics’s intriguing cocktails deftly incorporate ingredients like lavender and cinnamon bitters and wine reductions. (We recommend the So Tough, a cocktail made with rye, malbec reduction, angostura bitters and orange zest.) You’ll also find a respectable selection of rye, bourbon, scotch and whisky and beer by the pint or pitcher.
Originally opened in 1939, the Top of the Mark is a stately, storied bar. It was once a tradition for U.S. Navy officers to belly up for a send-off drink before shipping out during World War II. (The northwest corner, dubbed the “Weepers’ Corner,” is where their girlfriends would watch the ships depart the bay.) The vibe has changed significantly since then—Solange Knowles dropped in to DJ the bar’s 75th anniversary party—but the sweeping view remains, encompassing the Financial District, Bay Bridge, Chinatown, North Beach and Golden Gate Bridge. Though the menu offers more than 100 variations on the martini, you’re best sticking with classics. Bands play live music several nights a week; check the online calendar for details.
This 39th story bar atop the Marriott Marquis artfully frames the city in its arched, floor-to-ceiling window. Though the décor is admittedly dated and the crowd can be touristy, even locals agree that this is one of the best barside views in the city. Seating is first come, first serve, so arrive early to stake out one of the coveted tables along the window. (Better yet if you catch the sunset.) The cocktails, served in low, round tumblers, are simple, strong and pricey. The namesake Marquis cocktail blends 209 gin, fresh citrus juice and Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire (for a whopping $18), while the Golden Gate is a sugary mix of Jameson, St. Germaine, cranberry and ginger ale.