How to Do San Francisco Nightlife on the Cheap

So you’ve come to visit San Francisco and you’d like to hit the town, but you’re also traveling on a budget. The good news is when you stay at HI San Francisco hostels, there are plenty of ways to experience the City by the Bay on the cheap, including during our activities like the weekly pub crawl where you get to visit excellent local bars and make friends with fellow travelers. Then once you’ve made friends, you can go out and explore San Francisco’s nightlife on the cheap at some of our favorite spots. 

El Rio 

If you’re not sure what kind of vibe you’re looking for, El Rio in the Mission might be a good place to start while you figure it out. They’ve got drinks ranging from $5 - $7, an outdoor patio, a pool table and shuffle board, live music and DJ’s on weekends (there’s a $5 cover charge on those nights), and even free oysters every Friday! There’s also a happy hour with different specials and every day, plus you can bring in your own food. Bring cash! P.s. if you want to get a feel of the Mission by day, don’t miss the Saturday walking tour offered at all three hostels. 

The Knockout 

Get your groove on at the Knockout, where they spin old school rock ‘n’ roll, funk, and hip-hop on vinyl and the drinks are affordable. The Mission Street haunt is known for its lively calendar of events, from dance parties to karaoke nights, and they have a daily happy hour from open until 8:00 p.m. where beers and well drinks are $1 off. If you get hungry, there’s a sweet taco spot next door to replenish your jamming energy.    

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The Tenderloin neighborhood is a bit of an underrated gem when it comes do dive bars and cool nightlife, but if you do a little exploring you’ll stumble upon places like Vertigo on Polk Street. During the daily happy hour, this is a great place near HI SF City Center to just hang out, and later on in the evening it’s a hot and happening dance spot with DJs on deck. Either way, the drinks are reasonably priced and the crowd is a great mix of San Franciscans of all stripes. 

The California Academy of Sciences 

A museum might not exactly be on your lists for top spots on a night out, but Thursdays nights at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park are not the average experience. The aquarium/planetarium/natural history museum stays open after hours for the lively Nightlife series on Thursdays, and it’s a great way to visit the Academy at a discounted price. Each week has a different theme with special exhibits, food and cocktails, and music by live bands and DJs so you can start the night just right. 

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The Black Horse London Pub 

You can’t go wrong at The Black Horse London Pub, San Francisco’s smallest bar (at 19ft x 7ft) and where you’ll get up close with the locals who’ve squeezed in at the bar. The pub, which is on Union Street in near HI SF Fisherman’s Wharf, only serves bottled beer kept in an ice-filled porcelain tub, and you can’t not make a new friend at the bar because there’s only a few of you in there. It’s a uniquely San Francisco experience, and might quickly become your favorite spot in town. Just remember to bring cash. 

Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Café 

Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Café is a North Beach institution that’s been around since 1968, and it’s got the long-time bartender and extremely loyal locals to prove its status as a perpetual favorite. Nothing here costs more than $10, and you can spend hours losing yourself on the “museum” of knickknacks and oddities on the walls or chatting to a San Franciscan about the good old days. This is a cash-only spot. 


HI USA Tip: Balance out the partying with some stretching at these outdoor yoga classes in San Francisco and keep things budget-friendly at these cheap lunch spots