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Photograph: Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

The best date night ideas in San Francisco

Try these perfectly planned date night itineraries in San Francisco the next time you want a night out with bae

By Shoshi Parks
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Whether you’re a native San Franciscan or new to the city, it can be overwhelming to navigate the cornucopia of restaurants, bars and experiences this city has to offer. So, we did the work for you. These eight perfect nights on the town—complete with dinner, drinks and a show—will show you the best of what San Francisco has to offer after dark. 

 

Date night ideas in San Francisco

Blackbird
Blackbird
Photograph: Courtesy Blackbird

CASTRO

DinnerStarbelly

Starbelly serves seasonal California comfort food with a fine selection of gourmet pizzas—we like the housemade chorizo with sunny eggs and cilantro. Enjoy your meal in their bright, airy dining room or outside on the sunny back patio.

ShowCastro Theater

The Castro Theater needs no introduction. The most iconic venue in the city offers an ever-changing selection of old Hollywood films, off-beat gems and fun events like Disney movie sing-alongs. Get there early to enjoy the live organ music that famously kicks off every show.

DrinksBlackbird

Dark and stylish but with none of the pretentious attitude (what other cocktail lounge has a pool table and photo booth in the back?), Blackbird is the perfect place for a lively drink or two after a show at the Castro. Though Blackbird can get rather crowded on weekend nights, their rotating list of artisan cocktails are worth a wait at the bar.

Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
Photograph: Yelp/Noimee L.

MISSION

Dinner: Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya

Drop some Michelin Guide knowledge on your beau with a meal at this gourmet eatery. Belly up to the polished-wood sushi bar for izakaya-style skewers, vegan ramen and Shizen shiitake (mushrooms stuffed with shredded tofu and tapioca) while you explain what a soy-milk egg is to your significant other.

Show: The Roxie

Wanna flex your cultural prowess? Head to the oldest and coziest theater in San Francisco for a screening of not just any regular Hollywood blockbuster but an obscure foreign film like the Japanese comedy-horror Hausu. Bonus points if you don’t need to read the subtitles.

Drinks: The Hideout at Dalva

Venture past the noisy crowds at Dalva to the back of the bar, where you’ll find the Hideout, a small, dimly lit lounge serving memorable cocktails like the gin and celery tonic. Feel free to make out in a dark corner.

If things go well: Bissap Baobab

Burn off a little energy at this little-known Senegalese institution with a bright-red storefront and colorful walls. You’ll hear a mix of African rhythms, hip-hop and soul and encounter diners who are always willing to get down for an out-of-the-ordinary dance party. Michael Franti has been known to stop by for impromptu performances.

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State Bird Provisions
State Bird Provisions
Photograph: Ed Anderson

PAC HEIGHTS/ TENDERLOIN

Dinner: State Bird Provisions

Nothing impresses quite like battling with State Bird’s notoriously tough reservation system and winning—even more so if you nab the table where Ryan Gosling dined. A recent renovation brought a bright, updated interior with a mural from Color Factory artist Leah Rosenberg on the back wall. Although the small plates can easily add up to a hefty bill, we suggest starting with lamb tartare before sharing the signature namesake bird: fried, cheese-dusted quail for two.

 

Drinks: Louie’s Gen-Gen Room

This reservation-only cocktail bar lives in the basement of the trendy restaurant Liholiho Yacht Club. Tropical cocktails—like the one with Eagle Rare bourbon, passion fruit and burnt sugar, and another with Avuá cachaça, falernum, coconut water, lime and Green Chartreuse—are served alongside poppy-seed waffles with country ham, nectarine chutney and honey butter, or furikake waffles with avocado and uni.

If things go well: Wilson & Wilson

This 1930s-style detective-agency-cum-bar is a mind-boggling speakeasy inside of a speakeasy, where a reservation will get you a password that unlocks the secret door at Bourbon & Branch. The drink menu focuses on expensive whiskey like Yamazaki 12-Year and Old Pulteney 21-Year for a boozy yet civilized end to your night.

Acquerello
Acquerello
Photograph: Yelp/Brandon Y.

NOB HILL / POLK GULCH

Dinner: Acquerello

This long-time staple of the San Francisco food scene immerses you in a selection of Italian flavors with their prix fixe and tasting menus. Awarded two Michelin stars in 2017, Acquarello’s dark, intimate dining room is ideal for a romantic night out.

Show: Audium Theater of Sound

The Audium Theater of Sound is the only one of its kind in the world. Throughout a two-hour performance, theater-goers are left in darkness to be bathed in “sound sculptures” from the 176 speakers surrounding the circular 49-seat theater. Experience the speed and movement of sound in ways you’ve never imagined at this one-of-a-kind music venue.

Drinks: Miller’s Rest

This chic but unfussy bar and restaurant is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite. Inspired by the owner’s childhood lake home, unwind from your evening with their wide selection of cocktails, beer and wine.

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Beach Blanket Babylon
Beach Blanket Babylon
Photograph: Rick Markovich

NORTH BEACH

Dinner: The House

North Beach is synonymous with Italian cuisine but, take a step outside the box, and you’ll find this tiny neighborhood favorite. Their Asian fusion cuisine, boasting dishes like lobster tempura with black truffle aioli and braised pork shoulder with miso broth, will have you feeling right at home.

Show: Beach Blanket Babylon

Over 16,000 performances later, Beach Blanket Babylon is the city’s most beloved musical revue. The show, which puts a pop-culture spin on Snow White’s round-the-world search for Prince Charming, is a great way to laugh away the evening.

Bar: Tony Nik’s Cafe

Entering this classic North Beach cocktail lounge feels like stepping back in time—little has changed here since it was remodeled in 1949 to include wooden wall tiles and the bar’s canopy. This is the kind of place whose Mid-Century modern decor virtually screams for martinis and Manhattans. 

State Bird Provisions
State Bird Provisions
Photograph: Dylan + Jeni

FILLMORE/ LOWER HAIGHT

Dinner: State Bird Provisions

State Bird Provisions began as a recipe for preparing quail; Today it’s one of San Francisco’s most popular restaurants. The frequently changing menu offers fresh, seasonal foods in creative combinations like Spanish octopus with butter beans and chili vinaigrette. Be sure to make your reservations early—State Bird fills up fast!

Show: African American Shakespeare Company

Established in 1994, this small theater company seeks to change established conceptions of theater. Their performances—both Shakespeare works and other classics like this season’s Cinderella—feature actors of color in roles that are rarely open to them. 

Drinks: Maven

Maven, a gastropub and lounge in one, offers communal seating in a swanky, green-walled setting. Get comfortable on couches upstairs while you enjoy one of their fruit-kissed cocktails and a late night snack like their tasty Chinatown duck sliders.

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Single ice cream scoop in a waffle bowl
Single ice cream scoop in a waffle bowl
Photograph: Flickr/Yuichi Sakuraba

HAYES VALLEY

Dinner: Absinthe Brasserie

Don your finest for dinner here. With its deep-red velvet booths and hearty French fare, this intimate candlelit restaurant exudes romance. Start with an oyster/vodka shooter at the bar before moving on to French onion soup and coq au vin.

Show: San Francisco Symphony

It’s impossible not to be awed by a night at the magnificent Davies Symphony Hall. Grab a glass of wine at the lobby bar before you head into the modern, minimalist space for a night of Beethoven’s greatest hits (Feb 8, 15–17) or Amadeus scored live (Apr 6–7).

Drinks: The Riddler

Owned by an all-woman team, this small, cozy champagne bar has black-and-white seating and tabletops that read Hello Beautiful in gold writing. Head here for bumps of caviar served with champagne shots and free popcorn with seasonings.

If things go well: Smitten

End a classic date by showing how special your special someone is with liquid nitrogen–churned-to-order ice cream from Smitten. Share the berry-crisp sundae in pocket park Patricia’s Green across the street, illuminated by giant geometric light sculptures. 

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Photograph: Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

CHINATOWN/ NOB HILL

Dinner: Tonga Room

You won’t run out of things to talk about at this classic tiki restaurant, featuring a central lagoon with a band playing from a boat and faux storms that periodically sweep through, causing the walls to pour with tropical rain. Try the papa’i—fried crab claws with miso dressing.

Show: Audium

If a traditional theater is just too normal, head to Audium for an electro-acoustic show where theatergoers are left in darkness and washed in “sound sculptures” from the 176 surrounding speakers.

Drinks: Kozy Kar

Keep the weird vibes going with a stop at this dancey dive on Polk Street. Take a seat on a waterbed or in a booth fashioned like an old car, and analyze the retro TV shows playing on the bar’s many televisions. On the dance floor, vintage porn videos and a stripper pole display racier activities.

If things go well: Grubstake

Soak up the booze at Grubstake, one of the last few remaining diners open until 4am in the city. Set inside an old cable car, this place has plenty of regular burgers and omelettes, plus a menu of traditional Portuguese comfort food.

5 first date ideas in San Francisco
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