No list of San Francisco's best beer gardens would be complete without the inclusion of Zeitgeist. Rumor has it this place sells more beer than any business in San Francisco aside from the ballpark, and one step onto their patio confirms it. Beers. Beers everywhere. The impressive, largely-local draft list of 40+ beers quickly forgives their famously surly service, and the expansive outdoor seating is second-to-none. Cheap burgers off their open grill are worth the price of admission, and the mix of tough biker-types and sensitive hipsters leads to always-entertaining people watching.
Southern Pacific Brewing
Housed in an outrageously beautiful warehouse in San Francisco's Mission District, Southern Pacific Brewing is the newest addition to SF's thriving craft brewing scene. Their 21 drafts represent a mix of guest beers and ones brewed in house, and there is always great stuff to choose from. I chose their house pale ale, which held 42 IBUs of pungent hops in a light, 4.4% ABV body. It tasted pretty darn good on their patio, but I was tempted to grab a seat inside; the airy space has living trees, high ceilings, and countless skylights to make you feel like you're outside even when the patio is full. Check it out behind the scenes here »
I've always liked baseball, but couldn't exactly get excited about the beer selection at baseball stadiums. That changed when Public House moved in to the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park. With 24 drafts, 3 casks, and a killer patio, there's plenty to root for here, even in the off-season.
Cerveceria de MateVeza/Dolores Park
Despite rampant shirking by the public, drinking beer in locals'-favorite Dolores Park is technically illegal, so I can't recommend doing so. That said, if one were to engage in such despicable activities, I'd recommend they grab some beers to go from the park's brand new neighbor: Cerveceria de MateVeza. With a wide variety of empanadas and a small but well-curated set of craft beers, there's plenty of options for a picnic with your inner rebel.
A quick trip under the bay to the Downtown Berkeley BART station will put you right next to the East Bay's coolest patio at Jupiter. Christmas lights and a fire pit illuminate the backyard, which is filled with live music on the weekend. House beers made at sister companies Triple Rock and Drake's accompany a score of guest beers, and there's always something good on draft.
Drake's Barrel House
Speaking of Drake's, the little brewery has a pretty cool barrel house behind the Walmart/McDonald's Capitalist Shrine in San Leandro. Their roll-up garage door leads to a line of picnic tables, and food trucks offer edibles on the weekends. There's always a few barrel-aged experiments on draft, and their lineup of year-round and seasonal beers is rock-solid. It's worth the adventure to find this hidden gem.
With damn near 50 taps and a wall of bottled beer fridges, Oakland's Beer Revolution might be the geekiest (and, miraculously, least pretentious) beer bar in the Bay area. The beer is cheap, the draft lines are clean, and they're just a few short months from opening a restaurant next door. And did I mention the staff is consistently friendly and helpful? The huge patio with communal seating and barrel tables is just part of the massive appeal of this East Bay craft beer mecca.