One of the most famous sayings about San Francisco allegedly came from Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Although Twain most likely never uttered these words, one thing is for sure — with an average annual high of 63 degrees, the City by the Bay gets pretty cold. Fog, wind and cloudy skies have made it a place where outdoor eateries and rooftop bars are few and far between.
However, in the past year or so, sky-high lounges have started springing up across town, providing plenty of picture-perfect spots for both tourists and locals to savor innovative cocktails and delicious eats. Here are five worth checking out the next time you’re in town — just don’t forget to bring a jacket.
This trendy bar atop Proper Hotel has the most see-and-be-seen scene of San Francisco’s new crop of rooftops. The lounge almost always sports a line and has been known to reach capacity on a weekend afternoon by 4 p.m., so come early to skip the headache.
Charmaine’s is set up like a living room with a variety of indoor low seating areas — couches, armchairs, ottomans and stools surrounded by a patio. With a moody color palette, black-and-white-checkered walls and striped chairs, and modern light fixtures, the atmosphere is incredibly sophisticated and chic.
Talented bartenders mix Pimm’s Cups and Aperol spritzes as well as more potent and thoughtful concoctions like the Songs from the Brill Building, an enticing mixture of bourbon, Bénédictine, sherry, cherry brandy and ginger bitters.
Charmaine’s food menu is minimalist but offers something for everyone, and all the dishes are scrumptious. The housemade hot dog — with a milk and honey bun, Bavarian mustard and relish — is just the thing to soak up one too many Manhattans.
Stop by Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Loews Regency San Francisco Hotel for a sip atop the city’s highest outdoor cocktail lounge. Open Tuesday through Saturday evenings (weather permitting, of course), the Sky Deck, though not technically a rooftop bar, provides stunning panoramic views across the entire bay, from bridge to bridge with the sparkling skyline in between.
Before heading up to the 40th-floor venue, stop by the concierge stand in the lobby to get a key that will allow you access to this exclusive spot. Raise a glass of bubbles and toast to the setting sun over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Rooftop at Via
Opened about a year ago on King Street directly across from AT&T Park (the home of the San Francisco Giants), boutique Hotel Via’s rooftop has quickly become one of the coolest new spaces to host an event — and it’s booked five to six times a week. If you want to enjoy Via’s unique 360-degree views of the ballpark, sparkling bay, downtown skyline and East Bay hills, call in advance to make sure it’s not closed for a private party.
The rooftop is well-insulated from the elements with an indoor bar area and outdoor cabanas. Plenty of heaters and three fire pits ensure that the deck is warm and, in winter, a clear tent covers the entire venue.
If you’re thirsty, the bar whips up an assortment of classic cocktails like Paper Plane (bourbon, amaro nonino, Aperol and lemon juice), Blood and Sand (Scotch, cherry heering, sweet vermouth and orange juice) and Paloma (tequila, agave, grapefruit and lemon juice). The wine list is an exciting compilation of lesser-known California producers with several varietals from Bluxome Street Winery, an urban label with a crush facility just around the corner from the hotel.
Snack on housemade focaccia pizza, Mexican-inspired tater tots with carne asada, and hearty sliders topped with bacon-bourbon onion jam and smoked cheddar while you take in the vista.
25 Lusk is a sleek and sexy multi-story restaurant in SoMa: downstairs houses the bar; the ground floor is the dining room; and upstairs is where you’ll find this new rooftop space. While the restaurant caters to professionals, the rooftop is chill and welcoming to a more casual crowd.
A retractable roof protects against the wind at this counter-service fast-casual eatery. Plush cushions, plastic wicker chairs, chestnut wood and Edison light bulbs give the space an unfussy but clean vibe.
If you’re in the mood for a frozen cocktail, you’ve come to the right place. Rooftop 25 serves several seasonal slushies (recent flavors have included frosé and John Daly) and housemade Otter Pops. And the food is no joke here, either. Chef Matthew Dolan is passionate about the environment and only serves seafood items — like ceviche, shrimp tacos and a fish burger — that are made with sustainable catches.
His pretzel is world-famous — so much so that the United States Department of Homeland Security actually investigated why a place called 25 Lusk was purchasing so much lye. The answer? They need the ingredient to mass-produce the carb-loaded snack, which is turned into a sensational hot dog bun at the rooftop bar.
Virgin Hotels San Francisco
Richard Branson’s first San Francisco-centric project is set to debut later this fall. It seems as though the entire city is anticipating the arrival of the new SoMa property, not only for its 194 rooms and suites but also for its swanky rooftop bar and lounge.
Few details have been released about the space — which debuts on November 15 — but we do know it will have views of Moscone Center, Salesforce Tower, AT&T Park, the soon-to-be-built Warriors Stadium, Sutro Tower and the SF skyline.
In addition to city-wide vistas, expect bites, booze and a host of themed events for Halloween, Fleet Week and the like.