Lifestyle

SF Date Ideas You’ll Both Actually Enjoy Right Now

Think beyond "getting drinks."

Conservatory of Flowers
Conservatory of Flowers | Courtesy of Kelly Mason
Conservatory of Flowers | Courtesy of Kelly Mason

If there's one plus side to dating in a pandemic, it's that people have to be a lot more creative than just "getting drinks." Of course you could always find a restaurant with outdoor seating, but if you do that for every date, you're going to slowly go broke and risk less than best social distancing practices. Which is why we are presenting you with all of these options, all of which are COVID-friendly (or, not COVID-friendly, as it were), and an almost guaranteed good time.

Eat and drink your way through the Ferry Building

Embarcadero
A lot of our favorite places aren’t the same because of COVID, but the Ferry Building is actually thriving. There’s new socially distanced outdoor seating (76 tables, so your chances of snagging one are pretty good) with waterfront views, so you can go on a Ferry Building crawl, pick up tasty food and drinks, and then enjoy them while listening to live music. Not all of the restaurants and shops are open, but you can still get oysters on the half shell from Hog Island Oyster Company, snack on cheese and crackers from Cowgirl Creamery, split chili cheese fries and a milkshake at Gott’s, get wood-fired bagels with handbatted organic cream cheese at Daily Driver, drink locally-brewed beer at Fort Point Beer Co., and grab canned cocktails to enjoy while strolling along the waterfront at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

Spend an afternoon at a food truck park and beer garden

Mission Bay
Spark Social SF has pivoted for these times by outlining “social distancing circles” on the lawn, implementing rigorous sanitization practices, and allowing you to order ahead from the food trucks and sip bar, so you and your date don’t have to stress out about staying six feet apart from everyone while waiting in line. There are at least 10 rotating food trucks every day and if you really want to earn your grub, you can always sign up for one of the group fitness classes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Take a hike

Lands End
You know what’s expensive? Dating. You know what’s free? Hiking. And thanks to panoramas around every corner, San Francisco turns exercise into an exercise in romance. SF has a bunch of awesome urban hikes, but you can’t go wrong with Lands End. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the somewhat secret Mile Rock Beach, try to find the abandoned Octagon House, take in vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, walk the labyrinth, look for shipwrecks, and explore Sutro Baths. Basically, it’s like a hike and a treasure hunt all in one.

botanical garden
Courtesy of Saxon Holt

Explore the Botanical Garden

Golden Gate Park
This 55-acre “urban oasis” is home to more than 9,000 kinds of plants from around the world, as well as lots of hidden nooks in case you’re looking to get away with a little PDA without so much of the “P.” It’s also got plenty of places to spread out and enjoy a picnic or a nap in the sun, and if you and your date are SF residents, you can both get in for free.

Go wine tasting on Treasure Island

Treasure Island
Treasure Island is home to nearly 10 wineries and restaurants with outdoor space, all within walking distance and most with Bay views, which makes it a great destination to create some pandemic-era romance. Highlights include Sottomarino Winery, which has a large outdoor courtyard with views of SF; VIE Winery and Sol Rouge, both part of Winemaker Studios, which share a spacious waterfront patio and bocce ball courts that are actually open right now; Mersea, a shipping container kitchen and bar that serves tacos, burgers, and beer; and Aracely Cafe, a charming patio and garden complex that’s the perfect spot for a drink and a bite before you head back over the bridge.

Play miniature golf on a California history-inspired course

Mission Bay
Stagecoach Greens, SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course, is open for golfers with pre-purchased tickets and reserved tee times, and is the perfect opportunity 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 famous fog. The 18-hole “Boom & Bust” course offers surprises at every turn, plus some cute selfie ops, so you never forget that strange time when you dated while wearing a mask.

Oak Farm Vineyards
Courtesy of Oak Farm Vineyards

Spend the day in an under-the-radar wine region

Lodi
When you think of Wine Country, you think of Napa and Sonoma, which are beautiful and luxurious and oftentimes really crowded. Since crowds are a thing we’re trying to avoid these days, head to another Northern California wine region that flies under-the-radar, but also has lots of award-winning wineries and small town charm. Lodi has over 85 boutique wineries, many of which produce hearty Zinfandels, an adorable downtown with cute restaurants, and, if you’re at the spending the night part of dating, lots of quaint Airbnbs and hotels. A few of our favorite spots to visit are Oak Farm Vineyards where you can enjoy a private tasting with under 300-year-old oak trees with views of the vineyards; Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards where you can drink wine and eat cheese in a serene garden; and Michael David Winery, an over 150-year-old family winery with a quirky vibe, expansive grounds, and an outdoor bistro. 

Sea Trek
Courtesy of Sea Trek

Kayak under the Golden Gate Bridge

Sausalito
One of the fastest ways to find out if you’re compatible with someone is an activity that requires cooperation and teamwork and you’ll definitely need both during Sea Trek’s “Paddle the Gate” layak tour, during which you and your date will slide into a two-person kayak and paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge and along the shore of the Marin Headlands. If you want to seriously up the romance factor, opt for the “Full Moon” kayak tour when you and your potential paramour will glide through the waters off of the coast with only the light of the moon to guide you. (Don’t want to wait for the next full moon? There’s also a “Starlight” kayak tour for the impatient.)

Ride horses along the beach

Half Moon Bay
Sea Horse Ranch is a fun option for those getting back in the dating saddle. Right now, it’s open for scenic trail rides along the Coastal Equestrian Trail in Half Moon Bay (all the views of the beach and ocean without any of the sand), as well as trail rides that go along that bluff trail and then down to Poplar Beach. All of the rides are appropriate for beginners; you just have to make sure your date is willing to hoof it down to Half Moon Bay. After, stop at Sam’s Chowder House for lobster rolls and cold beers on the cliffside patio overlooking the Pacific.

Go retro at a drive-in movie

Various locations throughout the Bay Area
Watch a movie, or, er, don’t, as it were, at one of the Bay Area’s recent pop-up drive-in movie theaters where you can catch classic movies without the stress of sitting in a crowded theater, plus a huge side of privacy in case you and your date want to fog up the windows. Here are a few spots showing outdoor movies right now (just be sure to get your tickets early ‘cause in times like these, most of them are selling out): 
Under the Stars Drive-In Movies / Alameda Fairgrounds, Pleasanton 
Lark Drive-In Movies Under the Stars / The Village at Corte Madera, Marin
Cameo Cinema / Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena (bonus: you can get burgers and beer!)
Fort Mason Flix / Fort Mason, San Francisco 
Drive In & Dine Out Movie Nights / Par 3 at Poplar Creek, San Mateo

Eat “Mexican” food on a deck overlooking the ocean 

Pacifica
We wouldn’t normally suggest taking your date to a Taco Bell, but when that Taco Bell is the world’s most beautiful Taco Bell and serves beer, wine, and boozy frozen drinks, the rules change. This Taco Bell looks nothing like other Taco Bells, and we say that in a good way. Granted, you won’t be able to appreciate the tiled ceiling or exposed wood beams inside of the 1960s rustic wood structure, but you can appreciate the walk-up window and the wooden deck with tables and chairs that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. (There’s even “surfboard parking” if you and your date decide to paddle out first.)

Stroll through an art gallery

Various locations in SF
Museums in San Francisco are slowly, but surely opening with limited capacity. This means it might be harder to snag a ticket, but once you do, you’ll be able to enjoy the galleries without the usual crowds. See some art at the de Young and then grab lunch to enjoy in the outdoor Sculpture Garden; roam around the SFMOMA and look at world-class art; and keep a lookout for more museums reopening, which the Legion of Honor, Asian Art Museum, and Contemporary Jewish Museum all plan to do soon.

See rare flowers and then have a picnic on a lawn full of blooms

Golden Gate Park
The Conservatory of Flowers is not just the oldest building in Golden Gate Park, it’s also one of the best date spots right now. Start your date by strolling through the greenhouse and looking at the tropical and aquatic plants and then head outside to the perfectly manicured lawn, where you can put down a blanket, settle in and take off your masks, and spend the afternoon drinking wine, nibbling on cheese and crackers, and getting to know each other in a beautiful surrounding.

"Wood Line," Andy Goldsworthy | Ian Abbott / Flickr

Take a stroll down Lovers’ Lane

Presidio
The Presidio is full of urban hikes, most of which don’t get that crowded. Start with one of those and then, If things are going, 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 the Main Post Parade Ground where you can put a blanket down on the grass and enjoy a picnic with Bay views.

Find your Zen at the Japanese Tea Gardens

Golden Gate Park
The oldest public Japanese tea garden in the U.S. is open to 100 visitors at a time with one-way paths of travel over stepping stone paths and past pagodas, Japanese plants, and koi ponds. Want to have the conversation about your relationship status? This is the perfect place as it’s pretty much impossible not to be centered and calm. (It’s also a good break-up spot since no one would dare raise their voice in such a serene spot, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.)

Take a ferry ride to Angel Island

Ferry departs from Fisherman’s Wharf
This island that was once home to Native Americans, a quarantine station during the Bubonic plague, and an immigration station where Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian immigrants were detained, is now a huge state park with tons of amazing hiking trails, including one that takes you to the peak of Mt. Livermore and has views of the entire island and much of the Bay Area. Unfortunately, all of the historic buildings are currently closed and camping isn’t allowed, but the cafe is open for takeout food and drinks.

Grab a burrito and beer to enjoy at Dolores Park

Mission
It doesn’t get more quintessentially San Francisco than eating a burrito, drinking a beer, and people watching while enjoying the almost-always-there sunshine at Dolores Park. Right now there are socially distanced circles on the lawn, so you and your date can don’t have to stress about crowds, and if either of you have dogs, you can bring them and sit in the off-leash area since how a person gets along with your dog is really the most important factor there is when it comes to looking for a person you’ll maybe one day be sheltering-in-place with.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who has given up on dating during COVID (and maybe even not during COVID), but still likes to do everything on this list. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.