The 5 best outdoor bars in San Francisco (photos)

Despite its reputation for chilly summers, San Francisco has its share of sunny days. When the sun does comes out, locals head to outdoor bars to get their craft beer and Vitamin D fix.

We’ve selected the top five establishments in San Francisco where you can drink outside—and you won’t necessarily need to bring a winter parka!

This selection of watering holes is organized by ambience—so you can enjoy drinks with locals of every type.

#1. Zeitgeist

craft beer at Zeitgeist bar San Francisco

Visitor enjoying a craft beer at Zeitgeist in SF's Mission district.

Mood: Rock and Roll, Heavy Testosterone, Dive Bar
Dress: Casual/Lots of black
Details: 199 Valencia Street, Mission District; (415) 255-7505; zeitgeistsf.com

Zeitgeist claims to be “San Francisco’s #1 beer garden” with 48 different beers, and although this place is a dive, it tops our own list at # 1. A quintessential San Francisco experience is drinking a Bloody Mary here with friends on a Sunday afternoon at one of the many picnic tables in their colorful courtyard. It’s also in close proximity to the SF Armory, which we featured in Downtown Traveler’s Top 5 Sexy San Francisco Attractions.

#2. El Rio

el rio oasis

The patio at El Rio. (halversonmtn/Flickr Creative Commons)

Mood: Adventurous, Anything Goes
Dress: Hipster/Drag/Art School
Details: 3158 Mission St, Mission District/Bernal Heights; (415) 282-3325; elriosf.com

On most days of the week, El Rio’s huge outdoor patio is packed with gregarious young adults slurping down cheap well drinks ($3 at happy hour, M-F 1-8pm). Inside there’s a pool table and table-top shuffleboard. El Rio also hosts bands and Red Hots Burlesque on certain Friday evenings. For a late night meal, we recommend crossing the street and ordering a Mission-style burrito at the famed Taqueria Cancún.

#3. Biergarten

Biergarten SF outdoor bar

To ensure a good spot at Biergarten many patrons arrive before it opens.

Mood: Relaxed, Low-Key
Dress: Casual/European
Details: 424 Octavia Street, Hayes Valley; (415) 252-9289; biergartensf.com

This venue has more of a traditional beer garden feel—it’s where you’ll want to go if you plan to share a bratwurst ($9) with friends. Located near downtown in fashionable Hayes Valley, Biergarten is a great place to unwind after sightseeing (see our Top 5 foodie attractions in Hayes Valley).

#4. 620 Jones

620 Jones

The writer enjoying a drink at the inside bar at 620 Jones

Mood: Upscale, Good for Dates
Dress: Sexy
Details: 620 Jones, Jones Street at Geary, Nob Hill; (415) 496-6858; 620-jones.com

This rooftop venue provides a sophisticated alternative to the traditional beer garden (with prices to match). 620 Jones features a huge patio and serves up “signature” cocktails. One such drink is the rum-and-egg white “Tears of a Gypsy” ($15). While the view isn’t anything to write home about, the décor is trendy and the food is good (the bar is attached to an upscale restaurant). Located in San Francisco’s Nob Hill district, it may get breezy on cooler evenings so we recommend sitting near a heat lamp. There’ also an inside bar.

#5. Lookout

Mood: Gay, Adventurous
Dress: Anything Goes
Details: 3600 16th Street at Market, Castro district; (415) 431-0306; lookoutsf.com

This is THE place to go if you are looking to party at 5pm on a Tuesday. Lookout isn’t an “outdoor” bar per say—it is a multi-room venue with lots of mirrors, loud music and a dance floor. It made our outdoor list because of its balcony, which overlooks Mission Street in the Castro, and its delicious $5 margaritas. Aptly named, Lookout provides one of the best people-watching opportunities in the city, ranging from naked old men (oops, what about that nudity ban?!) to sexy-looking locals in short shorts.

What’s your favorite outdoor bar in San Francisco?

If we’ve missed your preferred hangout, make sure to add it in the comments field below! If you are reading this via email or RSS feed, click on Downtown Traveler to leave your comment.

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About Lauren Koch

Lauren Koch is a native New Yorker who enjoys exploring Oakland’s art scene and sharing her musings on the digital world and alternative culture.