San Francisco nightclubs have long held an important spot on the international dance floor as places where global trends in house, techno, drum & bass and experimental electronics start, or ignite into an even hotter flame. Some clubs, like the End Up, have been rocking into the wee hours since the ’70s, while an influx of modern boogie palaces keep the overall mix as varied as the multitude of DJs who call the city home—global ambassadors like Mark Farina, J Boogie and Justin Martin. Largely focused on SoMa and the Mission, SF’s nightlife scene is the place to learn about emergent styles of electronic dance music from Balearic to trap (not just “EDM”), catch the latest cadence in local rap flows, or discover something unclassifiable. And with a multicultural and multigenerational crowd of clubbers always ready to party, these creative gathering spots provide some of the most consistently entertaining people-watching to be found in the city. For LGBT nightlife, check out our roundup of gay bars.
Nightclubs in San Francisco
Though it's not particularly conveniently located (especially for out-of-towners who don't know their way around), Mighty is ground zero for eclectic after-dark action, whether you're into hip-hop, house or eschewing categories altogether. A massive main room and a smaller back area usually mean you'll hear different styles in a single night. This is also one of the only clubs in town that takes the party outside into the street (not a well-manicured backyard, mind you) for special events like the annual Breakfast of Champions, a 12-hour-long New Year's Day block party that always sells out. Cash only.
Local, national and international DJs and live acts hold court on the main stage of this 900-capacity club, which has two long bars bordering the ample dancefloor and a lofty space upstairs. Though it's become an increasingly hip-hop friendly place over the years, this is still the definition of a multipurpose club and you never know what might be happening on any given night. You could catch a throwback act like Boyz II Men in the same week as the latest electronic sensation from abroad or a Southern rap act. Its size and multilevel layout make it a prime pickup and people-watching spot too. Cash only.
Start here to feel the pulse of the local and international underground. What's now a staple of SF nightlife opened in 2010 with a mission to “give the people what they want,” bringing in bouncy, foot-friendly dance floors, a top-of-the-line sound system by Funktion-One, an occasional pop-up art gallery of rotating art, great drinks with or without alcohol and an upstairs loft for a party within a party. Top DJs are often invited to spin marathon sets here, giving them room to stretch out and show you what they've really got. The venue has also become the annual home for the Noisepop Festival's Culture Club events. Cash only.
Little sister to nearby Mighty, this intimate, casual space seeks to draw an attitude-free crowd. And since Mercer inherited a prized sound system from defunct techno club 222, the sound quality is top notch. Tuesday through Friday, it welcomes the after-work happy-hour crowd, filling a huge void in the surrounding Design District, and is open for select after-dark events when DJs spin disco, house, hip-hop and sometimes, as in the name of a popular recurring party, All of the Above.
Goth kids have flocked to SoMa for all manner of musical fetishes and countercultural indulgences for years. And no night is complete without a stop at longtime fixture DNA Lounge, the home of leading goth/industrial synthpop night Death Guild. But this isn't a place where darkness reigns—it's also home to the playful, long-running mashup Bootie, where the partygoers' outfits are as creative (and incongruous) as the sounds. The wonderful stage set-up, which can be viewed from both the dance floor and the recessed mezzanine, has turned even hip-hop acts on to this gem of a nightspot. And the upstairs lounge has its own dark, sexy and intimate area for dancing. Cash only.
Headquarters of the weekly party Housepitality and a venue of choice for international house and techno DJs, Monarch is a beacon of friendly dance vibes in a still-tense stretch of Sixth Street in SoMa. The club opened in 2011 and has since been reimagined to incorporate a newer upstairs craft cocktail bar area called Emperor's Drawing Room, a hideaway within the larger space that has a sliding wall for privacy and is open to the public and for private events. A custom Void Acoustics sound system is considered one of the best in San Francisco—and it's appropriately plated in gold.
Converted from an elegant 1890s theater, Ruby Skye has retained a good many ornate Victorian touches, while gaining up-to-date sound and lighting systems in the transition. But with its huge dance floor and parade of surgically enhanced women, the scene feels like it's been imported from LA. Not surprisingly, it's a second home for famous EDM DJs from America and Europe. This is the closest you'll get to the classic big-room nightclub experience in San Francisco, complete with VIP room and bottle service. Though the area around the club has declined and can sometimes feel a bit sketchy, you'll feel transported once inside.
1015 has ceded its spot as San Francisco's tried-and-true meat-and-potatoes dance club and lost some of the glittery luster of years past, but it's always worth seeing what's on the calendar at the massive, multiroom club. It might be a house music legend, a new trap star or Latin ingenue, but it will always draw people who want to party and enjoy some big beats. With operating hours until 4am, it's one of the few true late-night spots left in the city, open long after most other venues have packed up. Cash only.
A fixture since 1973, The End Up boasts all-night house and techno madness on the weekends, plus a Saturday morning party from 6am and the legendary T-Dance from 6am on Sundays, which sees drag queens and straight ravers reveling together. Honey, it's called the End Up for a reason; you end up there when you want—nay, need—to keep the party going. Keep in mind this opens up the club's clientele quite a bit to those who have used any means necessary to stay up all night. Don't forget those shades for a boogie in the backyard.
A recent redesign has transformed this formerly Eastern-inflected superclub into a more futuristic dance destination. Spread across 15,000 square feet, the tri-level nightspot offers different EDM sounds on each floor, courtesy of big-name national artists like DJ Vice and 3LAU, and a crystal-clear Void Air Motion sound system. After hitting one of several dance floors, chill out in a "sky box" booth on the mezzanine while 50,000 LEDs pulse hypnotically to the beat below. The soon-to-open VIP space, Infinity Lounge, features lighting powered by the dancers on a motion-sensing, energy-generating dance floor.