Travel

22 San Diego Date Ideas to Prove You're Worthy of Love

Near-perfect weather and an abundance of entertaining and adventurous activities are at the top of the list of reasons to love living in San Diego, but it also makes planning date night especially challenging. How do you pick just one when there are so many choices? How do you put your best foot forward now that you've actually done the hard part (getting someone to agree to a date in the first place)? In short: How do you not mess this one up? To help your nervous heart beat a bit more slowly, we’ve narrowed it down to the very best the city has to offer, whether you’re looking for a casual hang, an impressive first date, or a grand celebration. Here are 22 of our favorite things to do and places to go with your intended.

Try a new cuisine together

Multiple locations
Burgers and pizza will always be there for you, but it’s good to break out of your culinary comfort zone and get busy with some new flavors once in a while. Fortunately, San Diego’s restaurant scene is fully stocked with all sorts of tasty international eats, including Eritrean/Ethiopian fare at Muzita Abyssinian Bistro, upscale vegan with a death metal soundtrack at Kindred, and aromatic Southern Indian cuisine at Surati Farsan Mart (to name a few).

Catch dinner and a movie at a dive in theatre

Point Loma
Every Wednesday evening, the iconic, retro-inspired Pearl Hotel hosts a free Dive-in Theatre event poolside. Drop in early to grab a bite to eat at the newly revamped Charles and Dinorah restaurant, named for the couple who owned the hotel for forty years, back when it was called Sportsman’s Lodge. Après-dinner, grab a cocktail from the bar and a pool chair, or, if you’re the adventurous type, hop into the pool to view the show. No splashing!

False Idol
False Idol | Zack Benson

Kick back together at a tiki bar

Multiple locations
Tiki culture never really left San Diego, so on those rare days when a walk on the beach isn’t in the cards, fake it by sharing a tropical libation in a funny-looking mug. Old school favorites Bali Hai, Kona Kai Resort and Spa, or Moray’s at the Catamaran Resort serve up classic mai tais, Zombies, and Scorpion Bowls, while new wave tiki bars like False Idol, The Grass Skirt and Forbidden Cove bring modern tiki interpretations that range from plush and fruity to refreshing and crisp.

Get cheesy at Venissimo

Various locations
Cheese, it is said, is milk’s leap toward immortality, but for a shorter term relationship, let Venissimo’s cheese mongers guide you through the process of making your own mozzarella, ricotta, and queso fresco. If you’d prefer to just eat cheese together, Venissimo also hosts tasting events with charcuterie, beer, whiskey, sake or wine pairings, or cooking classes including pizza making at Buona Forchetta.

Sip some mezcal at Cantina Mayahuel

University Heights
Introduce yourselves to tequila’s sexier, smokier cousin at Cantina Mayahuel, where over 100 different mezcals, sotols, bacanoras, and racillas line the wall behind the bar. While mezcal margaritas are available (and delicious), aficionados prefer to sip it neat, and the friendly, knowledgeable bartenders will gladly guide you through your tasting experience. If mezcal isn’t your thing, there are also 250+ varieties of tequila, including the house brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva.

Celebrate with a wine pairing dinner

Middletown
Whether it’s your three-year, three-week, or three-hour anniversary, celebrate your milestone at the Wine Vault and Bistro’s wine pairing dinners, one of San Diego’s best, most reasonably priced nights out for wine and food lovers. Held every Thursday through Saturday, you can choose from three- or five-course prix fixe menus that change weekly, with optional wines specially selected to go with your food. Pro tip: reservations are recommended, and must be made by phone.

Explore First Fridays at Liberty Station

Liberty Station
Stroll through the trendy Liberty Station Arts District on the first Friday of every month from 5 to 9pm and you'll get to meet working artists, enjoy dance, theater, and music performances, and visit museums and galleries. Wander through the latest exhibits at the Women’s Museum of California, Visions Art Museum, and the San Diego Comic Art Gallery, then hit up Comickaze Comics for their diverse selection of mainstream and independent comics, graphic novels, manga, statues, and action figures. Cap the evening off with cocktails from The Bar at Moniker General and dinner at one of Liberty Public Market’s dozens of food venues.

Scope out North County's best brews

Carlsbad
Hop on a 12-seater Pinzgauer and make your way to some of San Diego’s top breweries on a North County Brewery Tour. Relax and let your designated driver/tour guide chauffeur you to local hot spots like Latitude 33, Stone Brewery, Lost Abbey, Breakwater Brewing Co., and more. Your tour includes pickup and drop-off, a highly qualified, knowledgeable beer guide, transportation, all tasting fees, and a picnic lunch from Phil’s BBQ. 21+

Share an ice cream flight at Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream

Pacific Beach, North Park, Point Loma
Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream offers over 300 flavors of Tropical Dreams super premium Hawaiian ice cream and sorbet, which is the perfect excuse to skip dinner and go straight for indulgence. Having a hard time deciding between chocolate coconut macadamia nut, lilikoi (passionfruit) sorbet, or peanut butter and guava jelly? Opt for flights of your favorites in adorable mini cake or waffle cones, to share (or not).

Learn about yeast, then drink beer

Mira Mesa
If your date's into beer, or you've ever wondered what makes a Belgian ale taste so different from an American ale, take one of the free daily tours offered by White Labs. What began as a group of homebrewers searching for higher quality yeast has grown into a world-class international company that sells beer, wine, and distilling supplies, and holds classes ranging from how to pair beer with donuts to in-depth, hands-on lab courses for professionals. There's a 20-barrel brewhouse onsite, as well as a 32-tap tasting room, so after the tour you can experience how much yeast impacts the flavor profile of beer firsthand.

Make like a pinball wizard at Coin-Op Game Room

North Park, Gaslamp Quarter
This arcade ups its old school game cabinets like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Mortal Kombat with the addition of craft cocktails, punch bowls, a dozen or so beer taps, and inventive twists on classic bar bites. Both locations also have vintage pinball, but the Gaslamp venue has Skee-Ball machines and Super Shot Basketball games, both of which are classic "date night" staples. Right?

Drink wine and paint a masterpiece

Liberty Station
Anyone can be an artist at Pinot’s Palette in the beautiful Liberty Station Arts District. Each two- or three-hour session takes you through the creation of your own colorful painting, no experience required. Grab a glass of vino to get your creative juices flowing, then relax and follow the instructor-led, step-by-step directions. Whether you end up with flawless masterpieces or undisplayable accidents, it’ll certainly bring you closer.

Embark on a full moon dinner cruise

Little Italy
What could be more romantic than viewing San Diego’s glittering skyline from the water, beneath a glowing full moon? Board Hornblower Cruises’ signature full moon dinner cruise and enjoy a glass of Champagne, a three-course dinner, and plenty of time to dance under the stars and enjoy the sparkling sights around San Diego Bay.

Salsa dance under the stars 

Various locations
Watch the evening turn to night as you and your love make with the sexy salsa moves all over town. Local musician Manny Cepeda and his orchestra bring their repertoire of classic salsa, merengue, cumbia, bachata, and Cuban music to venues such as The Headquarters, the Embarcadero at Carnitas Snack Shack, and Little Italy’s Piazza della Famiglia. New to salsa? No worries, as there’s no experience necessary for this free event.

Pick up pickleball 

Various locations
Invented in 1965, pickleball is a fast-paced, easy-to-learn mash-up of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, where players (singles or doubles) face off and whack a wiffle ball with a solid paddle across a low net on a small court to score points. Give it a try at one of the open play sessions at dozens of courts across San Diego County, some of which have free clinics for beginners and loaner paddles.

Swim with sharks

La Jolla Shores
As the weather gets warmer, the shallow waters of La Jolla Shores attracts scores of leopard sharks, especially around the front of the tennis club and The Marine Room Restaurant. There, during peak season, the sharks typically hang out in groups of hundreds in about 4-5 feet of water. Although seeing a five-foot-long shark can be intimidating, leopard sharks pose no danger; despite being carnivores, they never attack humans. Besides, these sharks draw snorkelers from all over the world and are used to seeing people gawking at them.

Explore Balboa Park like a tourist 

Balboa Park
Similar to human relationships, it’s easy to start taking even a treasure like Balboa Park for granted. Renew your love for both with a romantic hand-in-hand stroll through the exquisite gardens, museums, and architecture, or snuggle through an afternoon concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion, held every Sunday at 2pm.

Visit a secret bar 

Multiple locations
Everybody loves to be in on a secret, even if it’s not really a secret. There’s just something vaguely clandestine (and a bit naughty) about going into, say, a taco joint, opening a door at the back, and finding yourself in a French-inspired speakeasy -- as you can when you visit ¡Libertad! Tacos a la Brasa in Hillcrest. Kearny Mesa’s Common Theory houses the stunning Realm of the 52 Remedies, while Rare Form’s delicatessen leads to a rooftop speakeasy, Fairweather, overlooking Petco Park.

Unleash your sapiosexual side at trivia night 

Multiple locations
Intelligence is sexy as hell, and trivia nights are a great way to gauge whether your crush will still be as alluring tomorrow morning -- and fortunately, you’ve got options for basically every night of the week. True North in North Park pairs trivia with $4 Bacardi or Jameson shots on Mondays, Park & Rec in University Heights is a popular spot on Tuesday nights, The Regal Beagle in Mission Hills has Wednesdays covered and the East Village’s Knotty Barrel Gastropub combines trivia with half-price bottles of wine every Thursday night.

Watch some close-up magic

Old Town
Join magician Sebastian and his Intimate Miracles show at the Red Spade Theater in Old Town for an unusual and memorable date night. His fascinating mix of sleight-of-hand, close up magic tricks, and incredible storytelling will leave you and your date both mystified and enchanted.

Perfect your double axel at the mall

University City
Lace up your skates and hit the ice at UTC Ice Sports Center, located next to the food court inside the beautifully remodeled Westfield UTC Shopping Centre. Daily public skating sessions here are the longest in San Diego, ranging from 3-12 hours, with in-and-out privileges so you can skate for a while, grab lunch or dinner, and come back for more. Rental skates and helmets are available.

Check out a food hall

Various locations
Food halls, the latest trend in casual dining, are a far cry from the old mall food courts you used to hang at back in middle school, plus you can scope out your new crush’s culinary leanings while indulging your own whims. Little Italy’s Food Hall at the Piazza della Famiglia, the Liberty Public Market in Liberty Station and Windmill Food Hall in Carlsbad host craft cocktail bars and nearly every kind of food shop you can imagine, from pizza to poke, as well as live music, dancing, yoga, cooking demos and classes, trivia nights, and happy hour events.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling around Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.