Romance Abounds with the Best Date Ideas in San Francisco

From the jazz club to the bowling alley, these dates are sure to heat things up.

Congratulations! You managed to score a date in San Francisco, a feat that is not as easy as one might think, even though anywhere from 41 to 48 percent of the population have never been married. But now that you’ve convinced someone to actually go out with you—or managed to keep someone around who enjoys your company—it’s time to go on a date that will completely wow them. You know, one that’s decidedly not drinking at a dive bar or getting cold brew at a fancy coffee shop. Instead, try one of the best date ideas in San Francisco, which includes everything from circus watching to circus performing.

Off the Grid
Photo courtesy of Off the Grid

Food and Drink Date Ideas in San Francisco

Fort Mason
One of the most important things to discover about a potential paramour is what kind of eater they are. You can get an excellent taste of just that while feasting your way through Off the Grid’s Friday night food truck party at Fort Mason. There are 25-plus food creators every week serving out of food trucks and pop-up parklets. OTG also has a full bar, a wine garden, and live music and DJs. Going on a group date? Reserve one of the booths in the VIP Village, where you can access exclusive menu items and ask a server to get your drinks. Just be sure to check the weather because it can get chilly if the fog rolls in. And while OTG Fort Mason is seasonal, you can find other OTG spots year-round.

Western Addition
Due to the price tag, it’s definitely a special occasion date spot, but if you need a date night that will leave a lasting impression, look no further than Merchant Roots, where chef Ryan Shelton and his team consistently blow diners’ minds with creative and immersive themed dinners. The themes, like “London 1814, Vanity Fair,” “Merchant Root and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Mad Tea Party,” change with the season, but whatever the theme, you’re sure to experience magic, whimsy, and delicious food you won’t soon forget.

We love San Francisco, but we also love that Wine Country is just an hour away. Impress your date with an afternoon or evening ride on the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, a romantic three-hour excursion in a vintage Pullman rail car with views of the vineyards and plenty of wine. The Wine Train has several options, including coursed lunches, afternoon tea, and even murder mystery dinners. And, if things go well, you can always return for a wedding, guaranteed not to go off the rails.

Photo courtesy of BroadwaySF

Cultural Date Ideas in San Francisco

Broadway SF, A.C.T, Berkely Rep, and more

Various locations
Going to the theater is an excellent date because the entertainment is provided, and it gives you an obvious conversation topic if you decide you want a second date. Plus, there’s something on the stage for everyone this year, including KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil under the Big Top at Oracle Park (through March 17). Honestly, this is not only a spectacular show but also good foreplay. There are also a slew of amazing ongoing and upcoming shows at BroadwaySFA.C.T., and Berkeley Rep, and you’ll find some fantastic theatrical performances at the San Francisco Playhouse, Magic Theater at Fort Mason (known for cultivating bold new plays and playwrights), 42nd Street Moon, and Marin Theater Company in Mill Valley. And don’t forget about Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi. 

SFMOMA, the de Young, Exploratorium, and more

Various locations
The SFMOMA throws one of the year’s best parties. The always-spectacular Art Bash is happening on April 24 this year and is guaranteed to impress your date thanks to incredible art activations, fantastic musical performances, open bars, and fabulous outfits. It’s a little pricey if you want to attend the dinner, but the later at night you go, the more affordable it is. Plus, the money goes to help fund SFMOMA’s education programs and community events.

If you can’t attend that party, SF’s art galleries are a perfect date spot any time of year. Head to the de Young, and then, if things go well, enjoy lunch or drinks in the outdoor Sculpture Garden or explore the Legion of Honor before getting margaritas at Tommy’s or dim sum at Dragon Beaux. The Asian Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), and the Contemporary Jewish Museum (the latter provides an excellent excuse to split a pastrami sandwich at Wise Sons) are also great options. Lastly, if you want something even a non-aesthete will find fun, get handsy with the exhibits at the Exploratorium, or play antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique.

Hands-on classes

Various locations
Continue getting handsy with a few of our favorite classes around the city, including The Story of Ramen, a cooking (and eating) class where you’ll learn how to make noodles and broth from scratch while sipping on (optional) Japanese beer, wine, or sake; Mixology classes at Elixir, where you can take all kinds of classes (including non-alcoholic options) in the second oldest continually operating saloon in SF (it’s been there since at least 1858); or Circus Center, where you can learn how to do a handstand, tumble, perfect your clown techniques, use an aerial hoop, and more. 

Jazz clubs

Various locations
A bar with live jazz is always a great date option, but especially for someone who may have the first date jitters. You’ll be able to talk, but you can also take short hiatuses from the chit-chat without any awkwardness as you appreciate the music—or pretend to appreciate the music while searching for new conversation topics. Check out Black Cat in the Tenderloin, a sexy basement club with craft cocktails and small plates; Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio in Hayes Valley, with excellent cocktails, as well as dumplings and dim sum; Boom Boom Room in the Fillmore, a classic SF spot with good vibes and dancing opportunities, albeit it more blues than jazz. And last but not least, SFJAZZ Center puts on over 300 shows a season and hosts a fun gala in May, which is always a good time.

Lower Pac Heights
A trip to Audium is an activity you must experience to understand. Still, the gist is that you and your date will “bathe” in sound piped in from 176 speakers during a one-hour performance/experience that occurs in complete darkness. Impress them by letting them know this is one of those “only in SF” things that has been happening for over 50 years. Afterward, head to Tommy’s Joynt, just a few blocks away, for more SF history in the form of giant meat-filled sandwiches and cheap drinks.

Golden Gate Park
Visiting the California Academy of Sciences is always fun, but the NightLife event, which brings in booze and DJs every Thursday evening from 6 to 10 pm, makes exploring the butterfly-filled, four-story rainforest, sitting in the dark and watching bioluminescent sea creatures, getting all shaken up in the earthquake simulator, wandering through the African Hall, watching the penguins play, marveling at the 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton, and checking in with Claude, the albino alligator, a one-of-a-kind experience.

Mission Bowling Club
Photo courtesy of Mission Bowling Club

Sports and Gaming Date Ideas in San Francisco

Presidio and Mission
Is bowling the most obvious date idea ever? Sure. But that’s because bowling is really fun and an excellent way to get a little insight into your potential paramour. Are they competitive? A good sport? Do they eat nachos with their hands right after putting their fingers in the bowling ball? How do they feel about bumpers (read: cheating)? SF has three bowling alleys: Presidio Bowl, which has a classic bowling alley vibe plus over 45 beers; Yerba Buena Ice Skating & Bowling Center, which is the most affordable of the bunch and also the one where you’ll see the most kids; and Mission Bowling Club, which is more of a boutique bowling alley with only six lanes, fancy cocktails, and a 21+ rule after 6 pm.

Mission Bay
Stagecoach Greens, SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course, is the perfect place to see how your date handles a little friendly competition while also picking up some new knowledge about everything from the Gold Rush to our iconic skyline. The 18-hole “Boom & Bust” course offers surprises at every turn, and when you’re finished, you can celebrate your win or lament your loss with food truck grub and beer and wine from Parklab Gardens, which is just a few feet away. Plus, you can impress your date with your philanthropic side by letting them know that most of Stagecoach Greens’ profits go to Braid Mission, a charity the owners co-founded that supports local foster kids and families.

The Conservator Of Flowers Is A Botanical Greenhouse In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Outdoor Date Ideas in San Francisco

Mission Murals

Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley
There are murals all over San Francisco, but if you want to see a bunch of them all in one place, Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley in the Mission are the places to go. The murals are ever-evolving and changing, but if you look closely, you’ll see colorful and powerful pieces that address topics like human rights, local gentrification, community spirit, calls for justice, and more. The alleys are a little over a mile away from each other, so may we recommend stopping at Señor Sisig to enjoy some loaded nacho fries and a beer or Smitten Ice Cream for a freshly churned scoop salted caramel in a waffle cone to eat as you walk?

Golden Gate Park
Sometimes, the best date is a good old-fashioned walk in the park, yes, even in the winter when the rains kick everything into growing season overdrive. Or, if you prefer to wait until the weather is a little less chilly, The Rose Garden yields an impressive display of award-winning roses beginning in early May. Other gardens to check out include The Shakespeare Garden and the Rhododendron Dell (best in spring). If you want to add a picnic to the date, do that at the Conservatory of Flowers—the flower beds last all through the spring, and the building is a stunning backdrop for a romantic, al fresco meal. And don't forget about the San Francisco Botanical Garden. The55-acre “urban oasis” is home to more than 9,000 kinds of plants from around the world, and, for obvious reasons, it goes off in the spring. 

Lovers’ Lane

The Presidio is full of urban hikes, which means most of them aren’t super crowded, even on the weekend. Start with one of those, and then, if things are going well, head over to Lovers’ Lane and work up the nerve to hold your date’s hand. Be sure to take a detour to see Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line installation and then finish at either the Main Post Parade Ground, where you can put a blanket down on the grass and enjoy a picnic with Bay views, or if you’re all picnicked out, grab a meatball sandwich and a beer on the patio at the Presidio Social Club, or tacos and margaritas at Colibri Mexican Bistro.

Outer Sunset
The Stern Grove Festival is the longest nonprofit music festival in the country and one of the best free things to do in SF in the summer. The line-up is announced in the spring, and recent performers have included everyone from Too $hort to the San Francisco Symphony to Phil Lesh & Friends to the Indigo Girls. For maximum concert enjoyment, pack a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine (alcohol is allowed), as well as layers because the weather in that part of town can be pretty fickle.

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Daisy Barringer is a San Francisco-based freelance writer with over 15 years of professional experience as a copywriter and editorial journalist. Her areas of expertise include hamburgers, road trips, the 49ers, and anything and everything NorCal. She grew up in San Francisco and has a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, the latter of which she commonly refers to as “the time she spent three years at creative writing summer camp.” Follow her on Instagram @daisysf, where you’re guaranteed cute pics of her 160-pound Saint Bernard named Monkey.