Where to Go on a Date in San Francisco This Winter
Impress that special someone with cooking classes, dinner parties, museum dates, and more.
Last call for cuffing season! But just because you’ve got someone to keep you warm doesn’t mean you should let the cold weather keep you indoors. And if you’re just getting to know someone new, well, all the more reason to impress them by showing off all the best, under-the-radar things to do in San Francisco (that aren’t just getting drinks at a cool bar). Whether it’s fun, outdoor activities, budget-conscious dates, a cultural experience, or something else, we’ve compiled a list of fun date ideas you’ll enjoy whether you’re coupled, throupled, single, or looking.
Enjoy an evening at the theater
$ to $$$
Various theaters in SF
Going to the theater is a great date because the entertainment is provided and it gives you an obvious conversation topic. Plus, there’s something on the stage for everyone this winter. If you or your date are a fan of musicals, you don’t want to miss the hilarious musical version of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (through Saturday, December 31), the totally fetch Mean Girls musical (Tuesday, January 31-Sunday, February 26), or, if you don’t mind possibly shedding a few tears in front of your date, the Tony Award-winning, melodramatic musical Dear Evan Hansen (Tuesday, January 24-Sunday, February 19), all put on by BroadwaySF.
If you prefer something a little more serious, get tickets for The Headlands, an A.C.T. production about a true crime fan and his father’s unexplained death that is described as “a complicated love story” to San Francisco (Thursday, February 9-Sunday, March 5).
Other date-worthy performances include Berkeley Rep’s stage adaptation of Wuthering Heights, because what better way to assess a date than to see how they react to one of the most torrential love stories ever told (through Sunday, January 1)? Also at Berkeley Rep is Clyde’s, a Tony Award-nominated comedy-drama about formerly incarcerated kitchen staff who attempt to rebuild their lives at a truck-stop sandwich shop (Friday, January 20-Sunday, February 26). At the New Conservatory Theatre Center, you can find affordable performances that will still blow you away. Next up on their stage is Getting There, a story about two friends who travel to Paris and have a falling out, and how their encounters over the next 24 hours change everyone involved (Friday, January 20-Sunday,February 26).
Ongoing through Monday, January 16
The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square is open through mid-January, and nothing says “adorable first date” quite like slipping around a block of ice like two newly-birthed fawns. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to hold hands because you quite literally might need to in order to avoid falling.
$$ to $$$
18 Reasons is a nonprofit community cooking school, and the paid classes at 18th Street Kitchen help support their free programming for low-income families, so you’ll not only have fun and learn some impressive new kitchen skills, you’ll also be helping others There are all kinds of classes, so you can learn to cook a million different dishes, including gnocchi, Spanish comfort food, quesabirrias, seafood, or even just work on your knife skills. Best of all—even if it doesn’t work out with that particular date, you’ll be able to impress the next one with your newfound knowledge!
If you’re newly dating someone (or even if you’ve been dating them for a while), you may not be ready to take them to a dinner party where all of your friends will be, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on the fun and conversation that naturally comes with a swanky group dinner. Even better: Gilda’s Salon Dinners are held in an oh-so-stylish Kelly Wearstler-designed dining room, and the 11-course menu features ingredients and techniques that shine under the helm of executive chef Jason Fox. The multi-sensory culinary experience is served in a communal setting across a 12-seat dining table, and promises to be inventive, delicious, and unforgettable.
If you like to dance, then you need a person who can hang. Find out if your date is that person at one of Madrone’s many dance parties. Go on Mondays to hear Motown or every third Thursday for “Emo vs. Pop Punk” night. Want to also know if they’re game to embarrass themselves on stage? Check out “Glitter Tears Karaoke” every other Wednesday, a karaoke tribute party to icons who have passed. Madrone also has indie dance rock parties, “I Hear the ‘90s” parties, and basically something for every person’s taste.
$ to $$$$
Monday, February 20–Saturday, February 26
If you’re splurging on Super Fan Badges ($399, access to all events) with a date to Noise Pop Festival, a week of music performances, art shows, film screenings, happy hours, after-hours parties, and more, you’re probably already super-fan official. But if you’re still figuring things out, find out if your musical tastes are compatible bit by bit by getting tickets to individual shows.
Play a SF version of Chutes and Ladders
All over SF
No one likes when people play games when they’re dating unless those games are not really games at all, but instead a grown-up version of a children’s classic where everyone wins! Here are the rules: in any order you want to, race down SF’s adult-friendly slides—Seward Mini Park (look for the cardboard piece previous sliders have left behind) and the Winfield Street Slides (these are metal so you should be good to go) and run up and down as many of SF’s amazing colorful and hidden staircases as your legs can take. (Our faves are the Lincoln Park Steps tiled in bright greens, yellows, and oranges; the 16th Avenue Tiled Staircase with seascape-themed mosaics, and the hidden Vulcan Stairs in Corona Heights.) Afterwards, take yourselves out for ice cream to celebrate being such good sports.
If you’re meeting your date for lunch, La Cocina Municipal Marketplace is a fun dining experience that’s a little out-of-the-box. Inside the food hall, you’ll find amazing vendors selling delicious and affordable food, all owned by immigrant women and women of color. If you’re in more of a happy hour mood, head there between 4 and 6 pm (weekdays only) and grab a seat at the bar at La Paloma, a cocktail bar inside of the food hall with fun craft cocktails, a good selection of beer and wine, and some tasty snacks as well.
Golden Gate Park
Sometimes the best date is a good old-fashioned walk in the park, even in the winter when you can’t literally smell the roses because they aren’t in bloom. But roses are so cliche anyway; better to impress your date by showing them the pink-hued magnolias that have started to bloom by the hidden Lily Pond. Obviously, a picnic with wine (alcohol is allowed in the park, but no glass bottles) is the perfect way to take your date to the next level. Do this at the Conservatory of Flowers—the flower beds start to bloom in January and last all through the spring, and the building is a stunning backdrop for a romantic, al fresco meal. Plus, if you’re both SF residents, you can go inside to see the blooms there for free. Add on a spin on the SkyStar Wheel to take in the views and maybe sneak a kiss at the top.
Stroll through an art gallery
Various locations in SF
Take advantage of SF’s amazing art galleries not just because they have some fantastic art but because you’ll learn a lot about your date in the process. 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. SFMOMA and its world-class art is always a classic go-to, while the Asian Art Museum flies a little more under the radar but always has something interesting on display. Same goes for the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) and the Contemporary Jewish Museum (the latter also provides an excellent excuse to split a pastrami sandwich at Wise Sons). 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.
Presidio and Mission
Is bowling the most obvious date idea ever? Sure. But that’s because bowling is really, really fun. And a good 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 (aka 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 (the most affordable of the bunch), and Mission Bowling Club, which is more of a boutique bowling alley with only six lanes and fancy cocktails. Or, if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, you can always head to Sea Bowl in Pacifica and then follow it up with tacos and frozen boozy concoctions at the world’s most beautiful Taco Bell.
Ongoing Wednesdays through Sundays through Saturday, December 31, 2022, and resuming on February 10, 2023
Start your love story with a love story to the City. “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” is produced by 7 Fingers, a world-renowned circus and arts collective, which means you can expect to see all kinds of daring and impossible feats up-close and personal (it’s an intimate theater), all told in tableaus that pay homage to this crazy, wonderful town and the beauty and characters that embody it. It’s the perfect chance to see how your date feels about SF and if they plan on sticking around or if this is just a short stop before they return to the East Coast or wherever they came from. Come hungry and thirsty because there are small bites, wine, and beer to enjoy.
Okay, so the point of this whole list is so that you don’t have to settle for the typical “Let’s go for drinks” date idea, but you really can’t go wrong with dinner and drinks in SF, especially if you take it up a notch by showing your date you know about the most exciting restaurants, newest bars to open, and only-in-SF dining experiences. Drink negronis and snack on cicchetti (Italian for small shared plates) at Bar Sprezzatura, a stylish and romantic new bar and restaurant in the Financial District where you and your date can get cozy on comfy banquettes. Go old school at Defina, an SF classic that’s finally reopened after a year-long hiatus with a new look, a full bar, and the same amazing Italian classics that have made it one of the city’s most beloved restaurants (just be sure to make reservations in advance). If food isn’t a priority, listen to vintage vinyl and sip classic cocktails at the very cozy and laid-back Harlan Records. If you’re trying to keep things more casual, Hazie’s is a friendly bar in the heart of Hayes Valley with lots of communal seating and tasty snacks to share, plus there are plenty of eating and drinking destinations within a block or two if you want to keep the night going. Lastly, Merchant Roots, which consistently blows our minds with its creative and delicious dinners, is launching a new theme/menu, The Great Trees, “an edible meditation on the ways trees embody life, death, and rebirth” in mid-January. That’s all we’ll say about that, as anyone who has been lucky enough to partake in one of chef Ryan Shelton’s experience-based meals knows that half the fun is the whimsical surprises. This is definitely a splurge or special-occasion date spot, and be sure to book your seats now because reservations go fast.
Listen to some smooth (and not-so-smooth) jazz
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 of the awkwardness to 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 the always-under-the-radar and always-a-good-time Club Deluxe in the Upper Haight where, thanks to a last-minute deal made with the building’s landlord that kept it from shutting down in August, you can still find live music and libations seven days a week.
Golden Gate Park
Visiting the California Academy of Sciences is always fun, but their NightLife event, which brings in booze and DJs every Thursday evening from 6-10 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.
Audium/Lower Pac Heights
Audium is one of those activities you have to experience in order to understand, but the gist of it is that you and your date will “bathe” in sound piped in from 176 speakers during a one-hour performance/experience that takes place in complete darkness. This is definitely one of those “only in SF” things that has actually been taking place here for over 50 years. Go in February or March when Audium will be premiering new works by its artists-in-residence. Afterwards, head to Tommy’s Joynt, which is just a few blocks away, for more SF history in the form of giant meat-filled sandwiches and cheap drinks.
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.
Take a stroll down 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.
Check out the murals in the Mission
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 at stop 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?