I love San Francisco during the day, but there’s something extra special about it at night. As the sun goes down and all the famous sights light-up, the city looks like a postcard. Watching the Bay Lights twinkle across the bridge, seeing the Golden Gate bridge illuminated against a black sky, and staring up at the TransAmerica building glowing white are some of my favorite memories of this city.
During our last few visits we’ve made an effort to do more exploration of the city after dark. We’ve found the crowds lessen when the sun sets and new opportunities unfold. So here’s some of the things to do in San Francisco at night that we recommend.
Cruise The Bay After Dark
Departing next to Fisherman’s Wharf the Red and White Fleet Twilight Cruises are not only a great way to see the city lights, but it’s also quite romantic. The ninety minute cruise slowly glides between the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way we saw Alcatraz Island, the Ferry Building, and the Embarcadero. It gets chilly at night, so be sure to bundle up, especially if you want to spend time outside.
At one time this cruise included light appetizers and drinks, but that’s no longer the case (the food wasn’t very good, so I don’t think anyone will miss this). I’d recommend starting the evening with the cruise and then having dinner at one of the nearby restaurants along the wharf.
A Spooky San Francisco Ghost Tour
My sister, Beth, and I love ghost tours. We’ve found them to be a fun way to explore a city and learn about it’s dark past and ugly secrets. Recently I took Jason on his first ghost tour in San Francisco.
The Haunt Ghost Tours meet at the TransAmerica building just after dark. Our guide, Jade, equipped us with EMF meters to help identify when ghosts or spirits are present. Then we wove our way through the streets and alleys learning about earthquakes, fires, murders, and hauntings. We even took a break to use dowsing rods and communicate with a young male ghost. Along the way we learned about the Gold Rush, San Francisco’s largest mass murder, and how the city’s largest store of rum was saved from fire.
While I’m skeptical of ghosts, and Jason is a firm unbeliever, we still loved this tour and definitely recommend it. In fact Jade was the best ghost tour guide I’ve ever met–her passion for the subject matter was infectious. This is definitely one of the best things to do at night in San Francisco.
Devour A Golden Boy Pizza
After our ghost tour we grabbed dinner at The Red Window, a seriously good Spanish restaurant in North Beach. Then we went in search of dessert–I was craving gelato. As we roamed the streets we saw a long line of people waiting in front of a restaurant called Golden Boy Pizza. There’s no inside seating, just a window for placing orders. We peaked in the case and saw large rectangle pizzas with thick crusts. Dessert was ditched and we joined the line for pizza. Thirty minutes later we bit into our first slice of Golden Boy Pizza–mine had clams with white sauce and Jason’s had sausage. It was delicious.
This pizza does not fall into the typical categories of New York, Chicago, thin crust, thick crust, etc. The crust is thick, but it’s light and airy. On their Instagram page they describe the pizza as Sicilian. Whatever it is, we will be having this pizza during all future trips to San Francisco. It’s a great late night snack or dessert substitute. If you want to grab a beer, the bar next store is used to people bringing in a slice or the whole pie.
Eat Your Way Through North Beach
North Beach is the section of San Francisco known for its Italian shops and eateries. And while you can eat here anytime of the day, it really is more fun at night as the restaurants, bars, and cafes fill up and become lively. I also enjoy seeing the Saints Peter and Paul Church illuminated after dark as it towers over Washington Square.
I was disappointed to learn that two of our favorite restaurants in North Beach closed during the pandemic, so my recommendations are a bit limited at this time. We definitely suggest Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe and as mentioned above, Red Window. For more North Beach restaurant recommendations head to San Francisco Eater.
While you’re in North Beach be sure to pop into City Lights, a historic bookstore known for it’s political activism including their recent addition of an anti-racist reading section. I've always loved independent bookstores, but since the pandemic I've made a point of shopping regularly at them--I hope you will to.
Eat Your Way Through Chinatown
Chinatown is another one of our many favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. And unlike North Beach, this part of town is bustling at all times of the day. But I really enjoy seeing all the large neon signs after dark advertising the restaurants, shops and theaters. Stroll the main streets and then take a detour down some of the smaller avenues and alleys. And in our experience, Chinatown is a bit less crowded at night making it easier to navigate.
During a recent visit we discovered the Imperial Palace Restaurant and enjoyed an authentic Chinese meal. In fact we were the only non-Chinese in the place. When we don’t feel like a large meal we often pop into one of the Chinese bakeries and purchase a mix of sweet and savory buns.
Relax At A Jazz Club
During our ghost tour we learned of a jazz supper club called Bix. I was unable to get reservations during our stay, so I decided to research jazz clubs in the city and discovered Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio. Fortunately, reservations were easy to make and the place was so much fun.
Mr. Tipple’s is exactly what I picture a jazz club being; a dimly lit interior with dark wood decor featuring a large stage in the corner surrounded by small cocktail tables. On the night we visited the Cosmo Alleycats played jazz standards. Their hour-long set went by quickly and we were sad to leave. While we enjoyed the cocktails, the food wasn’t memorable, so next time we’ll just order drinks.
There are many other jazz clubs in the city and we hope to explore more during our next visit. Here’s the top clubs according to the San Francisco Times.
Check Out Alcatraz At Night
Alcatraz is one of the city’s top attractions and for good reason. Home to a fort, military prison, and finally a maximum security federal penitentiary, there are loads of great stories to be told during a tour of Alcatraz. In 1962 three men successfully escaped from the island after plotting their break for several months. It’s not known if they survived though one of their mother’s claimed to receive Christmas cards from her son for years after the escape.
Even daytime tours of the island can be creepy, so for something extra spooky, why not try Alcatraz at night. The number of visitors allowed at night is limited, so it's less crowded than the daytime. However, that also makes it a bit creepier. I’d only recommend this for those that don’t frighten easily!
If you’re brave enough to tour Alcatraz at night, be sure to book your tour in advance–it sells out quickly.
Stroll the Embarcadero
While the Embarcadero is three miles long, the portion we most enjoy stretches from The Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf. I enjoy this walk either early morning or evening–in between it can get very crowded and chaotic. In case you're not familiar with it, it's the road that runs along a stretch of waterfront and passes many iconic sights.
In the evening I recommend starting at Fisherman’s Wharf and heading south. If you like seafood try the shrimp or crab cocktail from one of the vendors. Be sure to visit Musée Mécanique and play a few old fashioned arcade games. Continue on to Pier 39 where you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants. Along the way look for pedestrian piers that provide a great view of the city as well as the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge. End at the Ferry Building and grab something to eat. Our favorite spot is the Hog Island Oyster Company. If you’re tired of walking, return via Uber or hop on a Bird scooter.
Why You Must To Explore San Francisco At Night
I’ve provided a list of eight things to do at night in San Francisco, and while it's not exhaustive, it does cover some of the best parts of the city. And no matter what your budget, there’s something here for everyone. So when you’re next in the city, be sure to plan out your evenings and make the most of them.