Even if you don’t live in the Mission, you’re going to go out there a lot while you live in SF. This neighborhood is huge, and you could buy a map and some push pins and start working your way from bar to bar trying to find your favorites. But that energy is probably better spent elsewhere, like learning how to play the clarinet or figuring out how to convince people the clarinet is cool after you spent all that money on lessons. Use this guide instead. It has all the best bars in the Mission, from breweries to start the night with a group of friends, to places you can dance when you’ve been out a while, to cocktail bars where you can actually hear the person you met on the dancefloor talk.
Wildhawk is on 19th Street between Mission and Valencia, so it’s a good hideout if you’re not ready to deal with the foot traffic on either of the Mission’s main arteries. And since the crowd here skews late-20s to early 30s, there will be solid people watching if you’re standing around waiting for a seat. The cocktail list is long and we especially like the Robo Geisha, though if you want a more standard drink, their house martinis are the size of about two and a half full drinks. They’re also served in a frozen sake bottle so the next pour doesn’t get watered down while you work on the first.
The best reason to come to Amnesia is the live music happening every night, except Tuesdays when there’s stand-up comedy. And because great music or questionable comedy are both better with drinks, Amnesia has a solid selection of craft beers to choose from. It’s a little divey, and sometimes there’s a cover at the door, but it’s worth it.
Blondie’s is a bar that changes drastically depending on when you’re there. If you go during the day, it’s a good place to sit at the bar and order a few martinis while you hide from the sun. And if it’s a weekend night, it’s loud and packed with the Marina crowd that migrated to the Mission for the night. You can still order martinis, but it’s harder to dance while holding a drink and a sidecar.
You’ve spent the whole night in the Mission and by some miracle, you can still tell what month it is. It’s time for one last quiet drink to wind down and wrap things up. True Laurel is a good final stop, partially because it’s away from a lot of other bars that might try to pull you in, and partially because their creative cocktails are a good bookend to the night. The menu changes pretty often, but you can always count on whatever you get to be worth talking about with whoever else made it to 2am.
You’re here for strong margaritas, like Popeye-after-a-green-juice strong. Aside from that, this place has just about every kind of person you could imagine coming across inside a bar, from lifers to recent grads still breaking in their first puffy vests. It gets loud and packed and, odds are, you’re going to end up having conversations with complete strangers while in line at the bar, waiting for the bathroom, or on the dancefloor. Whether you remember the conversation comes down to how many of those margaritas you’ve had.
Beehive is the place you go when you don’t know what else to do, but you don’t want to end up in a random dive drinking wells. The best thing about this ’60s-themed spot is the back room that feels like a private lounge where you can drink cocktails with vaguely retro names like the Thunderbird and the namesake Beehive with gin and honey. And if that’s not enough theme for you, order some food - they have things like swedish meatballs and fondue because that’s apparently what people ate back then.
Teeth is dark and divey, but between the brightly painted walls and the mannequins decorated with Studio 54-style sequins, it looks like you could be in Patti Labelle’s haunted attic. If you can grab some seats in here, it’s a good place to hang out for a while with a few well drinks or you can head out back where there’s a multi-level back patio that’s great on a nice day. If you’re here on a weekend morning, they do a pretty decent brunch too.
Trick Dog is one of our favorite bars for starting or ending a night in the Mission. It’s nice enough that you could go there with visiting friends to show them why they need to drop everything and move to SF, but casual enough that you could grab a drink while you wait for a table at a restaurant close by. The menu changes regularly, but the cocktails always run along a central theme, like SF restaurant cookbooks, neighborhoods around the city, or horoscopes (like a Libra with dill, egg white, and matcha). The choices can be a lot to take in, but the bartenders are always willing to help you find the right drink.
Bon Voyage is Trick Dog’s sibling bar, but instead of hot dog/hamburger crossovers and tricknuggets, you’ll find dumplings and other Asian small plates. Like Trick Dog, the drinks here are creative, like the “Phil” collins and the Ooty Club with gin and Pimm’s. This is a good place to start the night before heading somewhere with drinks that you’re not going to taste as much anyway.
Southern Pacific Brewing
Southern Pacific might be the largest bar in the Mission, and it’s also the most likely to reel you in for a full day. There’s a patio outside that’s shady on those random hot afternoons, and the inside looks like the largest casual birthday party in the city - there are always tons of groups inside celebrating things like work anniversaries, dodgeball championships, and getting tickets to the latest software trade show. They have a solid list of beers brewed in-house that are as cheap as they are good, and if you’re hungry, the food is solid too.
Standard Deviant is sort of like a smaller, more laid-back Southern Pacific. They’re both warehouse breweries, they both have a good amount of open space, and they both have beer that is good and cheap. The big difference (aside from the fact that Standard Deviant doesn’t have a full kitchen) is that your entire high school class wouldn’t fit in here. Come here with a few friends, grab a picnic table inside and some beers, and choose a board game from the stack to play while you try pours of every beer they have to offer.
Even if Zeitgeist isn’t your favorite outdoor patio bar, something about it makes it feel like the outdoor patio bar in SF. It’s big and covered in gravel, random signs, and picnic tables, and has pretty much every type of person under the sun (that would hang out in a dive). This cash-only place has a long craft beer list, and sitting outside with a pitcher is the way to go, but they also have cocktails if beer isn’t your thing.
ABV is a great get-to-know-you bar. This place is the right size where it’s not crammed-full tiny, but isn’t so big that you’ll be fighting a crowd for drinks. The cocktails are about two-steps above most other spots, and they have snacks like cheese and charcuterie boards that are closer to what you’d find in a wine bar. But if you’re really hungry, the burger is one of the best in the city.
Nihon Whisky Lounge
Nihon is dark, lounge-y, and has a ton of fancy Japanese whiskey. The bartenders are super knowledgeable and all the cocktails are great. The upstairs area is also a fun place for a bigger group to hang out and discuss the pros and cons of finally moving to the Mission like you always say you want to.
One of the better beer bars in the city, Monk’s Kettle is always one of the first places we recommend in the Mission. This spot has lots of outdoor tables for day drinking, and a good inside area for when the weather inevitably turns and you forgot your jacket. Most importantly, the beer list would make Pliny the Younger jump for joy. If you get that joke, you will be obsessed with this place.
El Techo de Lolinda
If San Francisco has one classic rooftop, this would probably be it. The patio gives you an insane view of the entire city from the Mission, the margaritas are solid, and if you get hungry, they have great carnitas. On days when you want to reaffirm that moving to SF was the right call, coming here will do that as soon as you step outside.
A chill neighborhood bar that allows for hangouts over craft brews with friends. It’s less crowded than it should be, which is saying something.
Kilowatt gets crowded, but it’s a great, casual dive to meet up with some friends. You’ll be happy to find there are a few pool tables in here, and after you try to hustle someone and end up getting wiped clean off the table, you can go back to drinking cheap beers and yelling at your friends about how you totally haven’t picked up a pool cue in years.
photo credit: Amy Thompson/@amythompsonphotography
Mission Bowling Club
If you’re into bowling, you should definitely reserve lanes before you come here. But if you’re not, Mission Bowling Club is still a pretty great cocktail bar. Drink your way through the cocktail list while you make up your own sport of watching the people who planned ahead bowl poorly.