In most cities, rooftop bars are synonymous with short-sleeve days, sundress nights, and summertime easy living. That is, of course, unless you’re in San Francisco, where the infamous chill dares you to even consider drinking and dining al fresco without a wool scarf. Compared to warmer climes, San Francisco’s rooftop bar scene is a little spare. But fret not, things are finally looking up, literally, and new lofty watering holes keep rolling in like the city’s signature fog. Here are our favorite rooftop bars, where the heat lamps are warm, the signature cocktails flow, and the views ensure you’ll fall for this cool city by the bay any time of year.
1. El Techo de Lolinda
El Techo de Lolinda translates to “Lolinda’s roof,” which aptly describes the Latin American hot spot on top of Lolinda steakhouse in the Mission District. On those rare hot San Francisco weekends, pitchers of margaritas and brunch (a local sport) are wildly popular; the weekday happy hour draws a crowd, too, with $4 cervezas and tasty street-food specialties such as shrimp skewers and chicharrones de carne.
Tropical rum- and tequila-focused cocktails are stellar and pair well with views that stretch from the surrounding rooftops all the way to the downtown skyline and the Bay Bridge. On cold nights, heat lamps are lit, blankets are doled out, and a windscreen keeps everyone toasty warm, all of which lead to hard-to-get tables at this SF favorite. 2516 Mission St., Mission District; eltechosf.com
Something about the wrought-iron gates that open on a stairway to the roof lends Jones a coveted hideaway appeal. When you climb the stairs to the 8,000-square-foot rooftop patio—featuring fairy lights, palms, planter boxes, neighborhood views, and signature cocktails—you’ll know you’ve arrived at a cool spot. Jones is handy for the Financial District crowd who flock here for happy hour. Heed the message of the patio’s neon sign, “Take It Outside,” and nab a first-come-first-served outdoor table. Closed Sunday evening and Monday. 620 Jones St., Tenderloin; 620-jones.com
3. Rooftop 25
Down an alley and just a foul ball’s trajectory away from AT&T Park, this recently opened casual rooftop bar is great on a sunny day, even if the Giants aren’t playing a home game. A menu of shareable plates like oysters, shrimp, or homemade pizza is great for weekend meet-ups with friends, but the drinks are where it’s at, with a superb selection of wine and beer by the glass, signature cocktails, and boozy frozen concoctions such as the spicy passion fruit margarita. For fun, order one of the adult otter pops with booze inside—the watermelon sangria flavor is particularly tasty. When the sun goes down, a canopy of heat lamps keep the chill away. Closed Sunday. 25 Lusk St., South Park; 25lusk.com
4. Dirty Habit
This bar on the fifth floor of the Hotel Zelos can’t boast downtown views of San Francisco, but it makes up for that with a rare and small-batch whiskey list and a sequestered but spacious patio offering cool vibes, hot fire tables, and plenty of seating.
The specialty cocktail program is on point, too, with creative twists on classics and a few surprises. But the sharable punch bowls, such as the refreshing Under the Skin—made with Lillet Blanc, pomegranate, lemon, pineapple, and ginger beer—really turn the night into a party. Swing by Dirty Habit in September and October (San Francisco’s warm months), when it hosts an outdoor movie series. 12 Fourth St., SoMa; dirtyhabitsf.com
5. B Bar & Restaurant
Can you say tableside sangria, craft cocktails, and dollar oysters? Happy hour doesn’t get much happier than the one held on this landscaped rooftop bar and restaurant atop Moscone Center and Gardens. Honestly, though, any time works for a scenic sip with views of Yerba Buena Gardens and downtown, pitchers of beer with friends, or a signature drink (the Feisty Flirt, perhaps) with a date. If you miss the happy-hour oysters, don’t worry—the menu’s banh mi sliders, carnitas tacos, truffle fries, and deviled eggs go down easily. Closed Sunday and Monday. 720 Howard St., SoMa; bsanfrancisco.com
Take the elevator to the top of San Francisco’s Proper Hotel and find all you could ask for in a sophisticated rooftop bar: downtown skyline and Market Street views, stylish decor, and specialty cocktails such as the Kissin’ in the California Sun (made with Elyx vodka, orgeat, crème de pêche, cranberry, and lime). Posh crowds come for the wraparound patio, the impressive selection of rum and tequila drinks, and the menu of tasty bar bites, such as tater tots, tuna tataki, and churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Charmaine’s sets the bar high for the city’s rooftop bars. 1100 Market St., Mid-Market; properhotel.com
7. Rooftop at Via
Just when you thought you couldn’t find a bar closer to AT&T Park without buying a ticket to the ballgame, the Hotel Via opened the doors to its new rooftop space and firmly established itself as the place to throw an alfresco party. With 360-degree views that encompass the baseball stadium, the Bay Bridge, and the surrounding city, the lounge allows you to root for the home team with a signature cocktail in hand from tables or private cabanas or from around the fire pits and heat lamps. There is a rub, though: The Rooftop at Via is exclusively for use by hotel guests and private events. So book a room, book a party, or go with a guest, and enjoy! 138 King St., China Basin; hotelviasf.com/rooftop
8. Virgin Hotels San Francisco
Just opened in late January 2019, San Francisco’s Virgin Hotels San Francisco in SOMA invites you to step in then step out onto its whimsical and cozy rooftop terrace and bar. In addition to well-crafted drinks, culinary creations from chef Adrian Garcia (previously chef de cuisine at three-Michelin star Quince) will comprise an exciting menu, but it’s the setting, just steps from Yerba Buena Gardens and SFMoMA, that will create an unforgettable San Francisco stay. 250 Fourth St., SoMa; virginhotels.com
—Kimberley Lovato is AFAR’s San Francisco local expert and author of 100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die.