With one of the best annual Pride parades in the world and home to a number of gay rights movements, San Francisco has long been a hotspot for LGBTQ nightlife. From the buzzy clubs in the Castro, the historically gay neighborhood, to old-school haunts in the Mission, these are the best laid-back happy hours, over-the-top drag shows, and thumping dance clubs San Francisco’s gay scene has to offer.
For a little bit of everything (and a whole lot of dancing), head to Toad Hall in the heart of the Castro. Here you’ll find dance competitions, karaoke, drag shows, and an almost always populated dance floor for a night of letting loose. If you’re looking for a more low-key night yet don’t want to sequester yourself from the action, sip a cocktail on the spacious outdoor patio.
Thursday nights are prime at Hi Tops, the Castro’s premier gay sports bar, where “Gym Class” – a whiskey shot and go-go boys combo – begins at 10pm. Classic sports bar dishes such as burgers, corn dogs, and “Huge Killer Nachos” are well above par. The interior features over a dozen TVs along with shuffleboard, and their cocktails are clever – The Haterade comes in a plastic water bottle that’s yours to keep.
Located in SoMa, Oasis is a former bathhouse converted into a spacious nightclub that is known as the spot for drag. “Mother,” the club’s popular Saturday night show, offers dazzling themed drag shows such as a Lady Gaga tribute and Sia vs Lana Del Rey. Cabaret, DJ’ed dance parties, and comedy shows are also hosted throughout the week.
Perhaps the most popular gay bar in the city, Beaux, frequently dubbed the “hot” bar, is known for its attractive patrons, clubby vibe, and go-go dancers. A daily 2-for-1 happy hour lures you in, and the transition from craft cocktails to a thumping club keeps you there. Make sure to arrive early on weekends, as Beaux draws a crowd.
Founded in 1962, Wild Side West has been a Bernal Heights hangout for decades. The lesbian bar features pool tables, TVs for sports fans, and a weekly Wednesday night part-trivia, part-comedy show. Don’t come expecting frills – Wild Side West is a dive bar in every sense, but the laid-back, authentic San Francisco ambiance is part of its charm.
LGBTQ Bar, Bar, Nightclub, Market, Pub Grub, Cocktails, American, $$$
Lookout is a bar, restaurant, and nightclub whose main draw is its open-air, wraparound balcony that overlooks the Castro. The central location makes it a great spot for pre-drinks on a mild Bay Area night before hitting other Castro gems on this list like Beaux or Hi Tops. The extensive food menu features pizzas, tacos, sandwiches, and deep-fried bourbon and tequila shots.
El Rio has been a mainstay in the Mission since 1978 and proudly draws a diverse crowd. This is the spot to go to no matter how you’re looking to unwind – a weekend bloody mary bar opens at 1pm, a massive back patio is perfect for sipping cocktails during a sunny happy hour, and Sunday afternoon drag shows called “Daytime Realness” occur every third Sunday of the month.