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San Francisco’s nightlife is as varied and colorful as the clientele, and each neighborhood offers a different vibe, which means there’s something for everyone, but there isn’t one place that offers a quintessential experience. Whether you linger downtown or head to the various corners of the city, there’s always something going on. The best part? Unlike Los Angeles or New York, you won’t pay outrageous cover charges to be a part of the scene. For up-to-the-minute nightlife information, turn to the “San Francisco Weekly” (www.sfweekly.com) and the “San Francisco Bay Guardian” (www.sfbg.com), both of which run comprehensive listings. They are available for free at bars and restaurants and from street-corner boxes all around the city. “Where” (www.wheresf.com), a free tourist-oriented monthly, also lists programs and performance times; it’s available in most of the city’s finer hotels. The Sunday edition of the “San Francisco Chronicle” features a “Datebook” section, printed on pink paper, with information on and listings of the week’s events. If you have Internet access, it’s a good idea to check out www.citysearch.com, www.sfstation.com, or www.7x7.com for the latest in bars, clubs, and events. And if you want to secure seats at a hot-ticket event, either buy well in advance or contact the concierge of your hotel and see if they can swing something for you.

Tix Bay Area (also known as TIX; tel. 415/430-1140; www.tixbayarea.org) sells half-price tickets on the day of performances and full-price tickets in advance to select Bay Area cultural and sporting events. TIX is also a Ticketmaster outlet and sells Gray Line tours and transportation passes. Tickets are primarily sold in person with some half-price tickets available on their website. To find out which shows have half-price tickets, call the TIX info line or check out their website. A service charge, ranging from $1.75 to $6, is levied on each ticket, based on its full price. You can pay with cash, traveler’s checks, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover with photo ID. TIX, located on Powell Street between Geary and Post streets, is open Tuesday through Friday from 11am to 6pm, Saturday from 10am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 3pm. Note: Half-price tickets go on sale at 11am the day of the performance.

You can also get tickets to most theater and dance events through City Box Office, 180 Redwood St., Ste. 100, between Golden Gate and McAllister streets off Van Ness Avenue weekdays from 9:30am to 5pm and Saturdays noon to 4pm. (tel. 415/392-4400; www.cityboxoffice.com). MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

Tickets.com (tel. 800/225-2277; www.tickets.com) sells computer-generated tickets (with a hefty service charge of $3–$19 per ticket!) to concerts, sporting events, plays, and special events. Ticketmaster (tel.415/421-TIXS [8497]; www.ticketmaster.com) also offers advance ticket purchases (also with a service charge).

For information on local theater, check out www.theatrebayarea.org.

And don’t forget that this isn’t New York: Bars close at 2am, so get an early start if you want a full night on the town here.

Drinking & Smoking Laws

The drinking age is 21 in California, and bartenders can ask for a valid photo ID, no matter how old you look. Some clubs demand identification at the door, so it’s a good idea to carry it at all times. Once you get through the door, however, forget about cigarettes—smoking is banned in all California bars. The law is generally enforced and though San Francisco’s police department has not made bar raids a priority, people caught smoking in bars can be—and occasionally are—ticketed and fined. Music clubs strictly enforce the law and will ask you to leave if you light up. Also, last call for alcohol usually rings out at around 1:30am, since state laws prohibit the sale of alcohol from 2 to 6am every morning. A very important word of warning: Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious crime in California, with jail time for the first offense. You are likely to be legally intoxicated (.08% blood alcohol) if you have had as little as one alcoholic drink an hour. When in doubt, take a taxi.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.