Sometimes you just want to go out, be it on a weekend or a school night, and you don't want to trek all over town or spend a huge wad of cash or squander the whole night in bars you always go to. For those who tend to be imagination-challenged when it comes to dates, or for those who don't know the city too well yet, we're here to help. If it's a first date you're on, you might want to consult this list or this list first and not make things too complicated, but otherwise, here are some simple and fun ideas for nights out, by neighborhood, that don't even require you to be on a date.
Though it's known as a daytime hiking destination, the Presidio is also perfect for dinner and drinks on Thursday nights. That's thanks to Off The Grid and their Presidio Twilight series, which started up again this month and brings food trucks to the Main Post Lawn. At the picnic, you can rent lantern-lit dining cabanas with their own adirondack chairs, fire pits, and cocktail service. Plus there's live music and incredible views. Pop over to The Commissary (101 Montgomery Street in the Presidio on the Main Post), a new Spanish-Californian restaurant from Traci Des Jardins in a beautiful old Presidio building, for some red or white sangria afterwards. —Caleb Pershan
Though things are changing slowly, the Tenderloin remains at times sketchy, still potentially dangerous in parts, and is still home to a high concentration of the city's remaining, tried-and-true dive bars. One easy night out would be to skip all the newly turned over, freshly scrubbed spots with their $12 craft cocktails and head straight for the charming dumps where the drinks are stiff, cheap, and recognizable to your grandparents' generation. I'm talking about places like The High Tide Lounge, The Ha-Ra Club, and The Summer Place. Places like this have shuttered by the dozen in the last decade, and these still seedy spots with torn leatherette booths and floors you should never pick a dropped cigarette off of may not be around forever if things continue the way they have been. So do a crawl, grab some shitty pizza in between at one of several shitty pizza venues along the way just so you don't get too hammered, and wind up the night (if it's a Friday or Saturday) with an un-ironic drag show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge one of the very last remaining gay dive bars outside the Castro or SoMa. Just be warned, you're not there to point and laugh, and they do expect you to tip the girls when they come up the aisle. Jay Barmann
The Japan Center's Miyako Mall. Photo: BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons
Start your evening a little early by hitting the Japan Center mall (1610 Geary Boulevard) by 5:30 or so to check out their many great and uniquely Japantown stores before they start to shutter at 6:30 or 7. Stop by the New People entertainment complex (1746 Post Street) if you have time — they close at 7, too. Now it's movie time! At the Sundance Kabuki (1881 Post), buy a ticket for whatever's playing in Theatre One, balcony section, which is one of the best places to see a movie in SF. There, everyone you're sitting with is over 21, and it's adjacent to their Balcony Bar, where you'll be able to stock up on booze and food to keep you going through the show. Once the movie's over, it's time for you to be the star: head to Playground (1705 Buchanan Street), where you can eat, drink, and occupy a private karaoke booth until 2 a.m., living the rock star dream. -- Eve Batey
When there isn't a big Peaches Christ event or a celebrity in town for a screening (or the upcoming SF International Film Fest), the Castro Theatre tends not to be packed. But they continue to have tons of great programming year round, including the 8th annual Disposable Film Fest this week, a screening of The Big Lebowski next week, and plenty more. An easy night out would be to catch a screening on the earlier side, say around 7, and then walk a few doors up to the always pleasant and often elderly Twin Peaks for a Mexican coffee or hot toddy on the cozy mezzanine. This could turn romantic, depending on what movie you just saw, but this is an easy and mature night out in a neighborhood where you're otherwise going to be drowning in 2-for-1 happy hour well drinks by 8 p.m. Jay Barmann
Ocean Beach Bonfires. Photo: The Tahoe Guy
The Outer Sunset
Sure, reservations for Outerlands (4001 Judah Street) might be hard to come by, but if you're willing to sit outside (they have heat lamps) or at the bar, your wait won't be that bad. While you're waiting for your name to be called, you can down one of the Bay Area's best margaritas at Celia's By The Beach (4019 Judah), which should dull the pain a bit. After dinner, head to Ocean Beach between stairwells 15-20 for a totally legal, fully sanctioned bonfire in one of the fire rings provided. (Or something along those lines. You're an adult.) When you're all burnt out, head back to Pittsburgh’s Pub (4207 Judah), which is one of San Francisco's last — and therefore, one of our best — dive bars. Walk to the back, where they have a real (non-internet) juke box. Play some Bowie. It's a good night. -- Eve Batey
For a newcomer or old-timer, Fisherman's Wharf is home to one consistently fun, interesting thing to do. That's the Musée Mécanique (Pier 45), an antique penny arcade which is among the largest such privately owned collections in the world. The Musée has moved from the Golden Gate recreation area to the basement of the Cliff House, to, at last, Fisherman's Wharf. There, in order to fully appreciate the bells and whistles of various games (crazy fortune tellers, ski-ball galore, and all kinds of jack in the box things) it helps to be thoroughly stoned. Once you come down and/or run out of coins (also note they close at 7 p.m.), head over to a greasy dinner at the Buena Vista Cafe (2765 Hyde Street between North Point Street and Beach Street). Make sure to get an Irish Coffee to top it off: the place lays claim to introducing the drink to the United States thanks to a travel writer for the Chronicle, Stanton Delaplane, and now serves about a million of them every day. —Caleb Pershan
Oysters, anyone? Graze the eateries and shops of the Ferry Building, including Hog Island Oyster Co. for some fruits de mer, Cowgirl Creamery for excellent cheeses, Bouli Bar for a quick sit-down, and of course the Humphrey Slocombe ice cream stand. Aim for a Thursday night, when the Exploratorium (Pier 15, The Embarcadero) hosts late nights for adults. There you'll find plenty of drinks and, if you don't have too many of them, you might even learn something playing around with the exhibits, which are kind of a permanent science fair. —Caleb Pershan
What better thing to do on a weeknight than break out some rollerskates and go for a few spins around an abandoned church to the tune of Salt N Pepa? That's what you can do at The Church of 8 Wheels, the pop-up skating event created by David Miles Jr., a.k.a. The Godfather of Skate, about a year and a half ago at the defunct Sacred Heart Parish at Fillmore and Fell. The party's still going strong Tuesday to Thursday, and again on Saturday, with Tuesdays being LGBT night, and all ages every night except Saturday. (Skate rentals are $5 and admission is $10.) Assuming you don't hurt yourself, and since the party winds down at 10 p.m. on weeknights, you could stroll down Fillmore and grab a drink a some pretty high-end bites for $5 or $10 at The Progress, off their new bar menu though as word gets out about that it may not always be so easy to snag a seat at the bar until the later side. Alternately, Fat Angel around the corner will do just fine. Jay Barmann
We certainly hope Yelp user Debby L. wasn't planning on drinking all of these. Then again, why not?
Your night begins as you stroll past the crowd waiting in front of Burma Superstar (309 Clement Street), smug in the knowledge that you're about to consume that hot-spot's greatest hits at B Star Bar (127 Clement), which is owned by the same folks but takes reservations (call 415-933-9900). When you're done with dinner, you're going to stroll west a couple blocks to Genki (330 Clement) for a dessert crepe. While you wait for it to be served, check out their mini-mart, stocked full of candy, toys, and beauty supplies that you'll never find at Walgreens. Now that you're creped, keep heading west, stopping at Green Apple (506 Clement, open until 10:30) for a smarty-pants browse and buy. If you're feeling athletic, you can buckle down and keep walking, but there's no shame in getting a lift: your next stop is the 4 Star Theatre (2200 Clement), one of SF's best movie theatres and your top pick to catch what they call "alternative world cinema." Once your movie's over, if it's before 11, head to 5929 Geary Boulevard for Tommy's Mexican Restaurant and discuss the film over one of the best margaritas in the Bay Area. If it's after 11, hit Trad'r Sam's (6150 Geary) for what, at that hour, should be an environment that puts whatever Hong Kong shoot 'em up you just saw to shame. -- Eve Batey
P.S. Yes, we skipped The Mission and The Marina. Pretty sure you all know how to have a night out in the Mission or the Marina.