Entertainment

21 Great San Diego Dates To Go On Right Now

It’s tough out there, so let's make things a bit easier.

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? And how do you plan a safe, but romantic, night out (or indoors) in the era of COVID-19? 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. So put on your mask, sanitize your hands, and relax -- here are our favorite things to do and places to go with someone special.

Unleash your inner lumberjack

North Park, Oceanside
Yoga and meditation are great stress relievers, but so is throwing a tomahawk across the room, albeit it’s a little more...aggressive. Try your hand at AxeVentures in North Park, one of several axe-throwing venues that have popped up across the city. Book a lane online or walk in anytime, learn the ropes from one of the coaches, and spend the next hour or so perfecting your technique. Afterwards, head across the street to The Friendly for a Dirty Flat Top and a slice or Fall Brewing Company for a round or two of craft beer. Safety note: Closed toe shoes, social distancing, and masks are required.

Sip and chomp an over-the-top Bloody Mary

La Mesa, Little Italy, Bay Park
In the ever-escalating competition to stuff as many embellishments into your glass as humanly possible, The Farmers Table reigns supreme with its outrageous Barn Yard Bloody Mary. It’s made for four or more and contains a full pitcher of spicy, boozy goodness plus skewers of bacon-wrapped shrimp, Mexican-style street corn, mozzarella stuffed mushroom, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, short rib, andouille sausage, various grilled and pickled vegetables, blue cheese stuffed olives, BBQ-sauced bacon and -- just for good measure -- a whole roasted chicken. For the less ravenous, there are normal sized Bloodies, too, including the popular Tijuana Maria with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, Mexican-style street corn and pickled veggies.

Climb the walls

Grantville
Show off your climbing skills on 7,000 square feet of wall space at Grotto Climbing and Yoga.  Featuring state-of-the-art indoor bouldering terrain, including more than 13,000 handmade holds, a campus board, a peg board, an illuminated moon board, fingerboards, and a 60-degree training board, climbers of all skill levels are ensured an exhilarating experience. In addition, there’s a yoga studio teaching all-level Vinyasa, Acroyoga, Yin, Restorative and Budokon-inspired flow classes and a fitness area with a Rogue fitness rack, weights, and rings. The Intro to Bouldering class is a great choice for first timers and includes shoe rental, 30 minutes of instruction, and a day pass, so afterwards you can hit the weights or stretch out any sore muscles in a yoga class. Masks, a temp check upon entering, and social distancing are required.

Bike along the Silver Strand

Coronado Ferry Landing
The Silver Strand Bikeway begins at Coronado Ferry Landing and takes you along the  nine-mile flat, sandy tombolo all the way to Imperial Beach. Perfect for riders of all levels, the route features views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the other. Don’t miss a stop at Silver Strand Beach for a quick swim or a walk along the sand. Bike rentals are available at the ferry landing if you haven’t brought your own.

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 against a death metal soundtrack at Kindred, and aromatic Southern Indian cuisine at Surati Farsan Mart (to name a few). Check out each website for indoor or patio dining, pickup or delivery options. 

Catch dinner and a movie at a dive-in theater 

Point Loma
Charles + Dinorah’s chic retro vibe and cool, oyster-shaped pool are perfect for date night or any special occasion, but join them on Wednesdays, for Dinner and a Movie, a themed evening that includes a curated, three-course menu and a classic feature film. Seating starts at 7:15pm, with plenty of time to sip a cocktails especially created for the evening. Menus change weekly but you can expect signature dishes like red curry shrimp bowls, seared scallops and an exclusive dessert created by Chef Peter Ziegler, plus popcorn for every table. The bar has been turned into an exclusive VIP section, where you’ll have a private screen. Reservations are mandatory, so call 619-226-6100 or email cody@thepearlsd.com to save your spot.

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 (temporarily take-out only) serve up classic mai tais, Zombies, and Scorpion Bowls, while new wave tiki bars like False Idol, The Grass Skirt, and Miss B’s Coconut Club bring modern tiki interpretations that range from plush and fruity to refreshing and crisp. With capacity limited, reservations are required at most venues, so check their websites for details.

Get cheesy with Venissimo 

Online
Cheese, it is said, is milk’s leap toward immortality, but for a shorter term relationship, let Venissimo’s cheese mongers  guide you through virtual tasting events. Choose from kits with charcuterie, beer, whiskey, sake, tequila and mezcal, or wine pairings, plus an array of cooking classes, including making your own mozzarella and ricotta at home. Kits for tastings are available online for pickup or delivery (extra charge), then check the pairing notes and tune into the experts’ YouTube channel for live demos.

Sip some mezcal at Cantina Mayahuel 

University Heights
Introduce yourselves to tequila’s sexier cousin at Cantina Mayahuel, where more than 100 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 house brand Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva. The bar recently expanded its patio to accommodate in-house drinking and dining on a first-come basis. You can also order to-go from the menu, including margaritas by the glass or kit. 

Celebrate with a wine pairing dinner 

Middletown
Whether it’s your three-year, three-week, or three-hour anniversary, celebrate your milestone with 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. Although its cozy, intimate dining room is closed, the restaurant is still offering an exceptional menu on to-go, including up to five dishes, with optional wine pairings, bottled wines, cocktails, and pour-over desserts featuring gelato from downstairs neighbor Gelato Vera. Available Fridays and Saturdays, the weekend’s menu goes live every Sunday.  

Explore First Fridays at Liberty Station

Liberty Station, Online
Strolling through the beautiful architecture, gardens and art installations at Liberty Station’s First Friday is always a romantic experience, not to mention an abundance of venues for imbibing excellent local beer, dynamic craft cocktails, and everything from pizza and wings to award-winning Italian fare. They’ve also taken the Arts District online, so you can safely wander the galleries, enjoy live performances and exhibitions and take a look behind the scenes at Installations at the Station

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

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). The Pacific Beach location is temporarily closed. 

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 90-minute to two-hour session takes you through the creation of your own colorful painting, no experience required. Classes are held outdoors and in-studio, with Pinot’s Palette bar service and a special menu from the neighboring Solare Ristorante available. 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 dinner cruise under a glowing moon

Little Italy
What could be more romantic than viewing San Diego’s glittering skyline from the water, beneath a luminous moon? Board Hornblower Cruises’ signature dinner cruises and enjoy a variety of different date night options, from cocktails at sunset to a three-course lobster dinner. There’s even a dinner and movie cruise featuring old and new classics. If you and your crush are more into daytime adventures, there’s sea life and whale watching cruises, where you might get a glimpse of blue whales, the largest animal on earth!

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 outdoor courts across San Diego County for safely distanced play, where some have free clinics for beginners.

Swim with sharks 

La Jolla Shores
The shallow waters of La Jolla Shores attract 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, climb the California tower or snuggle through free afternoon concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion, held every Sunday at 2 pm. 

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 casual brewpub, opening a door at the back, and finding yourself in a futuristic Chinese apothecary -- as you can when you visit Common Theory’s stunning Realm of the 52 Remedies.  Go behind the walk-in refrigerator in Craft & Commerce for tropical libations at False Idol, while Rare Form’s delicatessen leads to a rooftop speakeasy, Fairweather, overlooking Petco Park. With limited seating, reservations are usually required, so check their website before heading out. 

Watch some close-up magic from afar 

Online
Join magicians Sebastian or Derek Ostovani every Friday and Saturday, live streaming from the Red Spade Theater in Old Town for an unusual and memorable date night. Their 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 Westfield UTC. Daily public skating sessions are available in one-hour sessions and include four hours of parking validation, so you and your love can glide to your heart’s content, then grab lunch or dinner at one of UTC’s 55 cafes, coffee shops or fine dining restaurants. Rental skates are included, and helmets are available for a few bucks more.

Check out a food hall

Various locations
Food halls 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, Windmill Food Hall in Carlsbad and the newly opened Park Commons in Sorrento Valley host craft cocktail bars and nearly every kind of food shop you can imagine, from pizza to poke.

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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 stuff, reading cookbooks, and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.