14 Great San Francisco Bars With Activities
photo credit: Amy Thompson/@amythompsonphotography
In an ideal world, every bar would have activities. That way, life would never be boring, and every bad date could be saved by a round of Skee-ball. But our world isn’t quite there yet, so we put together a list of our favorite places to drink and play games. Get some friends together, then head to one of these spots and try to make it through an hour of shuffleboard or Scrabble without getting weirdly competitive.
Ever wanted to play Mario Kart in front of random strangers? This Duboce Triangle bar hosts Super Smash Bros. tournaments on Mondays. If you’re not in the mood to chuck banana peels at people (virtually, of course), watch the action play out on the big projector screen. On non-tournament nights The Detour still offers plenty to do—every arcade game invented is lined up against the wall. Come with a date or friends to reveal your cutthroat competitive side while trying to score high on Pac-Man or Skee-ball.
The Wreck Room in Nob Hill looks like a dive bar you’d stumble into on the last stop of a tequila-fueled night. But the dark, easy-to-miss spot is actually one of the most fun places in the area to spend a few hours. It has endless ways to stay entertained, from a pool table and Skee-ball to a punching bag and shuffleboard. This space with TVs on the walls is also big enough for all your friends to spread out without getting elbowed by a stranger throwing darts.
The big open floor surrounded by balconies makes Emporium feel less like an arcade bar and more like a gaming arena. This converted theater on Divisadero in NoPa has a bunch of massive tables to rent, so your group can have a central meeting place between rounds of Skee-ball and Galaga, or, at least, a spot to cut the cake if you’re here for a birthday party.
Barebottle is always buzzing, probably because this Bernal Heights brewery will make you feel like a kid again—and that’s not just because it’s one of the few kid-friendly spots on this guide. You’ll see shuffleboard, pinball, and, famously, one of four Killer Queen consoles in the whole city within this warehouse-like space. Grab a pint of a charmingly named beer, like Rainbow Road Shortcut or Tiramisu Ti Amo, and admire all the miniature dogs that pack the place from a big table or couch.
There’s always something going down at this Bernal Heights dive bar, so even your average boring Monday can become not-boring with a simple trip here. Mondays are also when karaoke happens and everyone in the place unleashes their inner Mariah Carey. If you’re not already convinced to make this your new go-to spot, this place also hosts DJs and live musicians, has a pretty sizable dance floor, and does Thursday night bingo.
Thriller Social Club in SoMa is what would happen if a carnival and a vintage arcade had a baby and bought the most expensive golf simulator in the world. So expect to feel overstimulated (in the best way) as soon as you walk in. Above the bar, you’ll see a disco ball and a giant clown head. Upstairs, an inflatable unicorn and taxidermied deer. The two-story bar is built for group hangs after a long week, Happy Hours, and dates where you can get unnecessarily competitive playing Skee-ball, Whac-A-Mole, and air hockey. They also have a food menu of things like wood-fired pizzas and burgers, since you’ll no doubt get hungry after breaking records on the punching machine.
There isn’t a lot of standing room at this Mission spot because most of the space is taken up by a 14-hole putt-putt course that’s a miniature model of San Francisco, complete with its own Sutro Tower and Transamerica Pyramid. Each hole is designed with as much detail as a Disneyland ride, and scenes include everything from the Gold Rush to the Painted Ladies stuck in an earthquake—it’s just as much fun to find the little details everywhere as it is to play golf while drinking a margarita.
We wish more old warehouses in the city were like Mission Bowling. This place has six lanes where you can show off some incredible flare, and a full bar with their own proprietary blend of Woodford Reserve bourbon. And if you get hungry, their kitchen cranks out one of our favorite burgers in the city.
This multi-floor Union Square sports bar has more TVs than Best Buy, so no matter what game you want to watch, you’ll be able to find it here. There’s also Skee-ball, pool, foosball, and every other bar game you can turn to when your team is losing. For food, they have everything from quesabirria tacos to housemade popcorn shrimp.
Private karaoke rooms are great, but if you don’t have an entire squad with you, belting out Journey isn’t as much fun. That’s why you go to Silver Cloud. This huge Marina spot is always packed with people who will bow down to your musical talents. The singing usually turns to enthusiastic shouting, but that’s part of the fun.
If you love board games enough to carry around your own 12-sided die, The Game Parlour is the spot to be. This place in the Inner Sunset is actually a cafe that serves beer, wine, and surprisingly good milkshakes and waffles (we like the Chicken Coup, with soy-glazed fried chicken and slaw). It costs $7 to play any board game for an unlimited amount of time, which means people are slow to give up their tables. When you’re playing Stratego at long last, though, the wait will be worth it.
One reason to come to this Western-themed Marina bar: the mechanical bull. While you wait for your turn, square dance (alone, probably) on one of the biggest dance floors in the Marina. When your turn arrives, remember that the official rules state you hang on with one hand—but the unofficial rules say who cares about that because getting bucked off this machine is way scarier than it looks from the ground.
If you want to get smarter while you drink, go to The Interval in Fort Mason. This bar/cafe/museum is home to stacks and stacks of books on science and engineering and is the rare spot in the city where you can learn about biomimicry while also drinking a gimlet.
This waterfront patio spot in Mission Bay hosts Salsa Saturdays on the weekends, and even if you’re not trained like Eddie Torres or Karen Forcano (yeah, we salsa), you’ll likely find someone in the crowd who’s willing to teach you. Aside from dancing, this is one of the best outdoor bars in the city—thanks to the bay views alone.