LIKE MOST places in the States, drinking culture dominates in San Francisco. But there’s a growing movement of alcohol alternatives taking place in the Bay Area — an assortment of spots serving artisanal herbal blends, teas, or other ways to relax in atmospheres that aren’t necessarily limited to “family friendly.” Here are the best spots to spend a kickass evening without alcohol.
1. The Center SF — Lower Haight, San Francisco
A great spot for those in the healing arts and/or transformational festival scene, the Center serves premium organic teas such as Genmaicha in a welcoming lounge. In addition, they serve herbal elixirs (concoctions with herbs that nourish, restore, AND give you a little buzz) from local producer Brilliant Elixirs. You’ll feel right at home in the space filled with colorful pillows, antique lights, plants and stacks of interesting metaphysical books.
Since the Center hosts regular yoga classes and events from diverse healing and spiritual traditions, you’ll be mingling with a crowd that’s knowledgeable about spiritual practices, astrology, and yoga poses. The tea bartenders (called TJs) are warm and welcoming, as the Center is entirely focused on developing conscious community.
If you can, come for a workshop (past events include a candle ritual with Ayurveda, Mayan healing, and cacao; full moon sound healing; and tribal belly dance immersion) or just spend a relaxing evening in the tea lounge.
Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 2 PM – 10 PM
Address: 548 Fillmore St.
2. Ecstatic Dance — Uptown, Oakland
Every Wednesday night in Oakland, the beautiful Historic Sweet’s Ballroom hosts local DJs (music varies from sacred Bass to House), yoga teachers, and sound healers for an evening of self-expression and healing through dance. An alcohol-free event, Brilliant Elixir’s booth provides the beverages, and local chefs sell delicious healthy treats.
Without the influence of alcohol, Ecstatic Dance — a worldwide phenomenon — is one of the best places for women to enjoy dancing freely and openly, without the threat of being harassed by a drunken stranger. It’s also not a place where you’ll be judged for embodying your emotions or personality — dance however you want, and feel no pressure to partner up. When you need a break, stretch on the yoga mats or pay for a massage at the tables set up around the dance floor.
Not only will you get a great workout, you’ll see professional dancers, acrobats, hoopers, and poi spinners honing their skills. For a full night of healing movement, come early for the yoga class and stay late for the sound healing.
Hours of operation: Wed 7 PM – 11 PM
Address: 1933 Broadway
3. Beloved — Mission, San Francisco
This little cafe serves elixirs, artisanal drinks, juices, and other treats. Their motto: “Creating culture through tea, herbs, and community” pretty much sums up the vibe of the place. While small, the bright lights, shelves stocked with jars of herbs, and tendrils of hanging plants create an open, cheerful atmosphere. There’s seating inside and out, but most consists of stools at the bar — which is a locally sourced fallen tree carved with elaborate designs.
The friendly staff is happy to answer questions about the menu’s herbal ingredients, which is packed full of nourishing libations that give a natural buzz — from the Lover’s Potion (an aphrodisiac and stress reliever with cacao, damiana, cardamom and rose water), to the Soothed Elixir (with several calming herbs), to the Heavenly Hot Cacao (a chocolate drink with cacao, cashews, and cayenne pepper).
Beloved also hosts workshops led by tea experts and herbalists in their intimate upstairs space. Check their website for particulars and dates.
Hours of operation: Mon-Wed 7 AM – 9 PM; Thur 7AM – 10 PM; Fri 7AM – 12 AM; Sat 8 AM – 12 AM; Sun 8 AM – 10 PM
Address: 3338 24th St.
4. Kava Lounge — Alamo Square, San Francisco
For those who haven’t tried Kava, it’s a root from the South Pacific islands, frequently enjoyed as a drink served in a coconut shell. As a powerful yet safe sedative herb*, it’s known as a miracle cure when used to treat anxiety, panic, or insomnia. But used recreationally, the earthy-tasting brew lowers inhibitions and relaxes you while still keeping you alert.
Kava Lounge itself is known as a “high-vibe” bar. Its visionary artwork, ambient lighting, crystals, and open-air patio are a refreshing break from dark, moody bars. It’s uplifting and whimsical, with just the right amount of San Francisco new-age culture. Whether you sink into a velvet couch or sit at the bar, little oddities are everywhere. Flip through a book on Goddesses around the world, give your friend an Angel oracle card reading, or get into an artistic flow with mandala coloring books. Enjoy the ritual of sharing drinks with friends without the hangover the next day.
The lounge menu is pretty much limited to kava in various sizes and strengths. Add a herbal elixir shot for an extra energy boost.
*While safe, herbalists caution that Kava can be hard on the body if taken with alcohol — don’t combine the two.
Hours of operation: Mon-Thu 3 PM – 12 AM; Fri 3 PM – 1 AM; Sat 1 PM – 1 AM; Sun 1 PM – 11 PM
Address: 901 Divisadero St.
5. Archimedes Banya — Hunter’s Point, San Francisco
Check out this Russian bathhouse for an evening of steaming, soaking, and socializing. It’s co-ed and optionally nude, so you’ll need to be comfortable with this arrangement. Banya is a social place. You’ll see groups of friends catching up under the bright lights and high ceilings. It’s great if you bring a friend or two to chat with, and you’ll come out ready for a good night’s sleep.
40 dollars gets you at least 3 hours of access to multiple floor levels and ways to relax. Try the Eucalyptus steam room, saunas (they have both Finnish and Russian), roof-top patio with views of the San Francisco skyline, restaurant and spa.
If you’re unsure about the mixed gender scenario, go early in the evening when it’s less crowded or head to their monthly women’s or men’s night. You’ll also want to be sure you get a Lyft there and back, as it’s located in a distant and pretty sketchy neighborhood (though Banya itself is safe). Have the car pick you up outside and you’ll be just fine.
Hours of operation: Mon, Weds, Thur, Fri 12PM – 12 AM; Sat-Sun 10:00 AM – 12:00 AM
Address: 748 Innes Ave.
6. Melo Melo — Downtown, Berkeley
If you’re looking for a mellow night out in Berkeley, come here — it’s the first Kava bar to open in the Bay. Like San Francisco’s Kava Lounge, their focus is primarily kava, although they have many more variations (like Kava Chai and Kava cocktails). They strive for a relaxing and friendly atmosphere, and with purple ambient lighting, a shelf of board games to play, and plush couches it’s easy to spend much more time here than you originally planned.
What sets Melo Melo apart is its reputation for super sweet staff who are happy to answer your questions, make suggestions for any of the varieties they have, and generally make you feel welcome. If you’re not in the mood for kava, try a Kombucha flight.
Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 12PM – 12 AM
Address: 1701 University Ave