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San Francisco’s nightlife is varied and colorful, just like its population. There’s no single nightlife district—activity is scattered throughout the city, which gives you an opportunity to experience the distinctive flavor of more areas. Whether you linger downtown or in SoMa, where most of the city’s theater and dance clubs cluster; head to Civic Center for symphony, opera, or ballet; go to the Mission for music, bar-hopping, or cult cinema; or venture to the many attractions tucked into the city’s outer nooks and crannies, there’s always something fun to do. Bonus: Unlike Los Angeles or New York, in San Francisco you won’t have to pay outrageous cover charges to be a part of the scene. It’s also unlike New York in one other way: Bars close at 2am, so get an early start if you want a full night on the town here.

For ideas on what’s up, check out Where (wheresf.com), a free tourist-oriented monthly that 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, 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. For information on local theater, check out theatrebayarea.org. 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 he or she can swing something for you.

Getting Tickets

Goldstar (goldstar.com/san-francisco) offers discounted tickets for everything from Segway tours of Golden Gate Park to lectures and musical and theatrical performances. If you don’t know what to do at any given time while visiting San Francisco, this website may have the perfect thing, at an affordable price to boot. Ditto Eventbrite.com, which sells tickets to all kinds of city fun and adventure. 

Tix Bay Area (also known as TIX; tixbayarea.org; [tel] 415/430-1140) sells half-price tickets on the day of performances (as well as full-price tickets in advance) to select Bay Area cultural and sporting events. Tickets are primarily sold in person, with some half-price tickets available on the website. Call or go on line to find out which shows are available that day. A service charge, ranging from $1.75 to $5, is levied on each ticket, based on its full price. The TIX office, located in Union Square on Powell Street between Geary and Post streets, is open Sunday through Thursday from 8am to 4pm and Saturday from 11am to 5pm. 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 (www.cityboxoffice.com; [tel] 415/392-4400), 180 Redwood St., Suite 100, between Golden Gate and McAllister streets off Van Ness Avenue. It’s open weekdays from 9:30am to 5pm and Saturdays noon to 4pm. 

Tickets.com (tickets.com; [tel] 800/225-2277) sells computer-generated tickets (with a hefty service charge of $3–$20 per ticket!) to concerts, sporting events, plays, and special events. Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.com; [tel] 415/421-TIXS [8497]) also offers advance ticket purchases (also with a service charge).

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 ID at the door, so it’s a good idea to carry it at all times. Once you get through the door, forget about cigarettes—smoking is banned in all California bars—and that includes marijuana, whose possession and use is permitted (in limited amount) if you have a medical marijuana card. (In 2018, recreational marijuana use is set to become legal in California, although that still won’t mean you can smoke it in bars.) The laws are generally enforced, and though San Francisco’s police department has not made bar raids a priority, people caught cigarette 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. 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.