SF Date Ideas You’ll Both Actually Enjoy Right Now

Spice things up a bit.

California’s Great America
Photo courtesy of California’s Great America

California is open for business! And by “business,” we mean that you can once again impress a date IRL with a mask-free smile and maybe even a hug upon meeting? (We’ll let you decide what you’re comfortable with.) And for those who’ve been cuddling on the couch with their sweethearts for the past year, we mean that you can finally wine and dine each other not in front of your TV (it’ll feel so much more special when you share the leftovers later!).

And while dining out (but not outside if you don’t wanna) and grabbing drinks are and always will be perfectly acceptable date ideas, this summer—more than any other—is the time to take things up a notch. Which you can easily do now that you have this list, which we guarantee is full of ideas for outings that will be an actual fun time:

Photo courtesy of Stern Grove Festival

Go to a free concert at Stern Grove

Outer Sunset
The Stern Grove Festival is back this summer with free concerts every Sunday from June 20 to August 29. As always, there is truly a show for everyone with performances by Thievery Corporation, the SF Symphony, X, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Fits & the Tantrums, Too $hort, and more. There are a few new policies this year (for now, anyway—things will probably loosen up later in the summer), including limited capacity and the requirement of advance reservations. Kind of a bummer for the spontaneous folks, but good news for those who like to plan ahead, as well as those who know how hard it can be to find a good spot if you get there late. The free reservations will open up 12 days before the show at 2 pm. Everything else is pretty much the same, including the fact that you can pack a picnic with alcohol and that you should bring cash so you can donate in order to keep the festival alive.

Photo by Daniel Shirey, courtesy of MLB Photos

Take your date out to the ballgame

Oracle Park/SoMa
The Giants are having a great season so far (please don’t let that be a jinx). See for yourself and root root root for the home team at a game at Oracle Park. The stadium is fully reopening at the end of June, including all of the concession stands (oh, how we’ve missed the Crazy Crab’z Dungeness crab sandwich on buttery grilled sourdough). Go to a day game if you want sunshine and to avoid hypothermia, or a night game if you both enjoy snuggling under a blanket to stay warm.

Get your adrenaline racing on a rollercoaster

California’s Great America/Santa Clara
Hopefully, your date is making your heart race, but if you want to take it up a notch, head to Great America for a day of rollercoaster rides and carnival food. Do a double corkscrew on The Demon, travel 50 mph around vertical loops in a floorless coach on Flight Deck, and get some alone time on the single-track RailBlazer. If things are getting a little too hot and heavy, cool off on Rip Roaring Rapids, a white water rafting ride for which you definitely don’t want to be wearing a white t-shirt. (Great America also just opened a brand new waterpark with all kinds of crazy waterslides if you and your date are at the “totally comfortable hanging out in bathing suits” part of your relationship.)

See with your ears in a one-of-a-kind sound sculpture

Audium/Lower Pac Heights
Audium is one of those “you just have to experience it to understand it” activities, 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. Tommy’s Joynt is just a few blocks away, so head there after for some more SF history in the form of giant meat-filled sandwiches and cheap drinks.

Photo by Joan Marcus

See “Hamilton” before it leaves San Francisco

Orpheum Theatre/Civic Center
This beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda musical about America’s Founding Father is playing for four weeks (August 10 through September 5) before leaving town for good (or at least for a couple of years). It’s also one of the first stage productions you’ll be able to see after the longest intermission theater in SF has ever taken.

Go down the rabbit hole at a boozy Mad Hatter’s tea party

Secret location
“Begin at the beginning...and go on till you come to the end: then stop” at this topsy-turvy Alice in Wonderland-inspired cocktail adventure where you’ll create your own liquid libations, play croquet with flamingos, solve riddles, and more. The maddest cocktail/tea party you’ll ever go to runs from August 1 to October 22.

Photo courtesy of Immersive Van Gogh

Immerse yourselves in the world of Van Gogh

SVN West/Civic Center
Take a journey with your date inside of Van Gogh’s art at this exhibition that uses light, music, and movement to show the post-Impressionist artist’s iconic work in a way that feels like maybe you ate a gummy an hour ago. Watch as his works of art move, grow, and transform, all accompanied by a powerful soundtrack. Even if you don’t love museums, you’ll love this museum. Want to look at the trippy art while doing downward dog? Convince your date to go with you to one of the morning yoga classes.

Eat garlic bread, garlic fries, and even garlic ice cream

Gilroy Garlic Festival/Gilroy
The thing about garlic is you can totally kiss after eating it as long as you both partake. And that’s exactly what you’ll be doing (well, partaking anyway) at this beloved festival that celebrates … yup, you guessed it. The festival is taking place from July 23 to July 25 and July 30 to August 1.

Spend an afternoon at a food truck park and beer garden

Mission Bay
Someone can be smart, funny, and super hot, but if they’re a super picky eater, there’s a good chance all bets are off. Take your date on a culinary food truck journey at Spark Social SF, where there are always vendors slinging everything from authentic Mexican to fancy seafood to Asian fusion, to find out if you’re dining compatible. And, hey, even if they just want pizza and beer, you’ll still have a good time because, well: pizza and beer.

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. If it’s a sunny day, head over to Park Chalet afterward to enjoy beer and fish tacos on the lawn.

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.

Play miniature golf on a California history-inspired course

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 famous fog. 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 cocktails from Parklab Gardens’ Watering Hole Bar.

Sea Trek
Courtesy of Sea Trek

Kayak under the Golden Gate Bridge

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” kayak 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 partner 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. Go on a guided scenic trail ride along the Coastal Equestrian Trail in Half Moon Bay (all the views of the beach and ocean without any of the sand), or, if you want your horse to feel the sand between their hooves, on the ride that goes 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.

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

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 French onion burger and a margarita on the patio at the Presidio Social Club Exchange.

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 where you’ll find views of the entire island and much of the Bay Area. If you’re not up for a lot of walking, you can also rent bikes or take a tram tour. Go on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon during the summer and you can listen to live music on the deck overlooking the water while drinking beer and sharing nachos.

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?  

Shop and eat at the Marin Country Mart

Going to the mall hasn’t been a good date idea since eighth grade, or really ever, but desperate times… Plus, the Marin Country Mart is hardly a mall. It’s more of an open-air shopping and dining destination... okay, fine, it’s basically a mall. Still, it’s a “mall” with all kinds of shops to peruse, a farmers market on Saturdays, and lots of snacking opportunities, including Johnny Doughnuts, Miette, Shake Shack, and Marin Brewing Company. Who knows, maybe one of you will even be brave enough to reach for the other person’s hand!

Muir Woods National Monument
Courtesy of Muir Woods National Monument by kirainet

Look for Ewoks in Muir Woods

Mill Valley
Okay, so the Ewok scenes in “Return of the Jedi” weren’t actually filmed in Muir Woods, but they sure could’ve been, and since Ewoks live in all kinds of redwood forests, there’s no reason you might not spot one at this national park famous for its towering old growth redwood trees. And, hey, even if you don’t come across Wicket or one of his family members, at least you’ll still get to enjoy miles of hiking trails in a completely magical setting. (Just don’t forget that reservations for Muir Woods are now required, so you and your date will need to decide on a time and arrive within 30 minutes of your window. A perfect opportunity to find out if the person you’re seeing is punctual!)

Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-writer who doesn’t remember what dating is like and isn’t sure she even wants to but is definitely looking forward to doing everything on this list. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.