You don’t have be bankrolled by Google to have a good time in this city. Whether you’d rather belly up to a fleet of food trucks or make out against a scenic backdrop, these date ideas include some of the best things to do in San Francisco, and won’t empty your wallet. Still pinching pennies? Check out this list of gratis sights, attractions and museums.
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Best cheap date ideas in San Francisco
Clamber around Lands End, a coastal park replete with shipwrecks and rocky beaches. Follow the coastal trail to Sutro Baths, a private swimming pool built in 1896. Since a fire in 1966, all that remains at the marshy site is its low concrete walls and passageways, now overgrown with wildflowers and grasses. (It’s not unusual to spot pelicans stalking among the ruins.) Check out the view from the Camera Obscura, a giant, 70-year-old camera ($3). Afterward, head to Pacific Cafe, a 40-year-old seafood joint with the happiest wait-list around: The wine is complimentary until you’re seated.
Watch the sunset from Alamo Square, a dog-friendly park known for its views of the Painted Ladies—the gingerbread-trimmed Victorians of Full House fame. Then head over to The Mill, where Mondays and Fridays are BYOB pizza nights (6–9pm). The giant slices vary each week and include toppings like white radish, pardon peppers or summer squash on a thick cornmeal crust ($2.50). The Bi-Rite Market (550 Divisadero St at Hayes St, 415-551-7900, biritemarket.com) nearby serves up offbeat ice cream flavors like orange cardamom, honey lavender and green tea matcha.
Take an urban hike
Pick up sandwiches and a bottle of wine at Roxie’s Market (500 Kirkam St at 9th Ave, 415-731-0982, roxiemarket.com), an understated deli serving above-average sandwiches. (If it’s Sunday, detour two blocks to the Inner Sunset Farmer’s Market, where you can buy baked goods, cheese and produce.) Walk south to 16th Street and Moraga, where a 163-step staircase covered in a dazzling, mirrored mosaic leads up the hillside. Catch your breath at the top, then continue up the wooden stairs leading to Grandview Park to find gorgeous cityscape views. Bring a picnic blanket and heavy layers—it’s chilly at the peak.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Peter Thoeny
Stoke some friendly competition at Urban Putt, a 14-hole indoor mini-golf course, restaurant and bar in the Mission ($12). This isn’t the cheesy putt-putt of your youth: For starters, the first hole replicates the 1906 earthquake, complete with a trembling San Francisco landscape. Other greens include LED motion sensors, virtual simulations, sound effects and kinetic sculptures. Afterward, veer down Mission Street for no-frills Mexican food at La Taqueria or El Farolito (2779 Mission St near 24th St, 415-824-7877, elfarolitoinc.com).
The ultimate morning-after breakfast can be found at Devil’s Teeth Baking Company, an unfussy Outer Sunset bakeshop where surfers, kids and dogs chow down side by side at the zigzag-shaped parklet out front. Though the spot serves an assortment of baked goods and sandwiches, the highlight is the “special” breakfast sandwich: two eggs, pepper jack cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, avocado and lemon-garlic aioli served on a house-made buttermilk biscuit ($6.75). Post meal, stroll three blocks west to Ocean Beach, where you can watch surfers catching waves and fishermen reeling in crabs.
Get down—’20s style—with the aptly named 9:20 Special. The weekly swing night takes place every Thursday at the Russian Center in NoPa (2460 Sutter St at Divisadero St, 415-722-2772, 920special.com), which contains a sprawling, chandelier-lit ballroom. The $9 admission includes a beginner’s lesson from 9 to 9:20pm, taught by enthusiastic (and thankfully undemanding) professionals. At 9:20pm, the spot turns into an open swing party, where dancers of all levels Lindy Hop and Charleston to tunes from live bands and DJs. Fill up on Vietnamese comfort food beforehand at My Father’s Kitchen, where nothing on the menu tops $12 (1655 Divisadero St at Sutter St, 415-829-2610, myfatherskitchensf.com).
Chow down on dishes from 10 rotating food trucks at the SoMa Streat Food Park, a mobile village offering specialties from Korea, India, Ethiopia, France, Germany, the Philippines, Greece and beyond—most for $10 or less. Hit up happy hour on weeknights from 3–7pm, when beer and sangria are $3 each and pitchers are $13. Check the webpage for regular events like trivia (Thursdays) and stand-up comedy (Fridays). Sunday mornings bring a bottomless mimosa brunch (11am–4pm, $12), when the trucks fry up waffles, crepes, eggs and breakfast sandwiches.
David Miles, Jr., otherwise known as the “Godfather of Skate,” converted a former Catholic church into modern-day roller disco Church of 8 Wheels. Novices lurch around the rink's perimeter, while the Holy Rollers, a groovy, costume-wearing group of regulars, twirl beneath the mirror ball. The spot hosts open skates four nights a week: the gay-frequented Rainbow Night on Tuesdays, old-school funk night on Wednesdays, guest DJs on Thursdays and Black Rock (Burner night) on Saturdays. After working up an appetite, walk to Rosamunde (545 Haight St near Fillmore St, 415-437-6851, rosamundesausagegrill.com), a takeout gourmet sausage stand with varieties like chicken habanero and wild boar ($6.50–$7), and devour your links at Toronado, the heavy metal and craft beer bar next door.
On chilly nights, head to Shanghai Dumpling King. The lights are bright and the tables are crowded, but these steaming dumplings are among the best in the city. The specialty is xiao long bao, or soup dumplings ($6–$9 for 10). Round out your meal with an order of sugar egg puffs—fluffy, hot-from-the-fryer doughnuts. Then mosey over to Simple Pleasures Cafe (3434 Balboa St at 35th St, 415-387-4022), a neighborhood coffee shop where you can catch free live music by local bands three or four times a week.
Drag queens stalk the floors of delightfully divey Aunt Charlie’s Lounge. The red lighting, jukebox, lewd décor, and stiff, under-$5 drinks are a throwback to the ’70s. Catch the free Dream Queens Revue every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, when a campy cast of sequin-clad performers lip sync tunes ranging from Madonna to Ke$ha. Cover is $5 on Friday and Saturday nights, when the Hot Boxxx Girls take the floor. Make a reservation or arrive early to snag a stool.