While coffee shops and wine bars are fine first date ideas, you may want to try something a little more out of the ordinary to really woo your boo. What will make your first date stand out (from, let’s face it, the three other Tinder meetups your crush has had this week) is getting out of your comfort zone. Give your date a night to remember that goes beyond the typical first date bars, from learning to trust each other on a climbing wall to scavenger hunting in the Mission. And bonus: these first date ideas are activities you can still enjoy even if your partner is a dud. Just don’t get lost in the Sexploratorium—then again, if the date is going well, get lost on purpose.
First date ideas
The minigolf at Urban Putt, an indoor steam-punk course inside a Victorian mortuary where you and your date can putt your ball around the Transamerica Pyramid, inside a Jules Verne-esque submarine beneath the Bay, alongside cable cars and even through the 1906 earthquake. Grab a drink at the bar and upstairs before you play to calm your nerves, and if the date is going well, stay for dinner afterward in the restaurant, which offers tasty California comfort cuisine and portable bar bites.
This 14,000 square-foot jungle gym is a great date for someone you want to get adventurous with. Not only will you get to sneak a peek at their backside while they’re up on the wall, it’ll let you build trust and teamwork from the start. Mission Cliffs accommodates any skill level—from first-timers to avid climbers—and you’ll be sure to work up a sweat on any course. They even have beginner classes if you and your date both admit you have no idea how to belay.
For a good ol’ wholesome date, head to Golden Gate Park and rent pedal boats from Stow Lake Boathouse. It’s incredibly beautiful while being relatively cheap. Float along the calm waters, amidst towering trees, stone bridges, and a colorful gazebo while making conversation and pointing out the occasional turtle or line of ducklings. Just remember that being stuck in the middle of Stow Lake can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how well the date is going.
If you’d rather cut the small talk and move straight towards becoming a power team of murder mystery-solvers, you’re in for an adventure. Grab your Sherlock Holmes hat and pick from the several scavenger hunt options at Watson Adventures. Their newest addition is probably their best: The Secrets of the Mission District. Go beyond the burritos and graffiti in teams of two to six people to run around the Mission discovering hidden art and local legends. Even if your team doesn’t win, and you don’t score a second date, it’ll still be one of the best days you've spent in the 'hood.
If you’re looking for a lively date spot with great people-watching, this is your answer. With more food and drink options than there are lanes (only six of those), this is a place that requires a bit of planning—we suggest you make reservations a week out. The burgers here are some of the best in the city, but evenings might be too loud for the "do you have any siblings" chat. It’s less crowded for weekend brunch, and you’ll have the whole afternoon to work off the chicken and waffles by throwing some strikes (or gutter balls) down the lanes. And bottom line: Even if the date sucks, the bowling, food, and drinks most definitely won’t.
A short walk from the Ferry Building at Embarcadero, the Exploratorium is where you go to rediscover your inner child. Almost all exhibits are interactive and hands-on, and Thursday night is "Adult Night," where children are replaced by alcohol. Weave your way through the exhibits, both inside and outside, from drinking out of a toilet (trust us), to learning physics on a truck made of skateboards, and trying to fit yourself and your date inside a giant bubble. We recommend checking the calendar for "Exploratorium After Dark," aka the “Sexploratorium," which could be fun or awkward for a first date, depending on your style.
Walk along the cliffs, through the forest, and down to the beach for a perfect seaside afternoon. There’s nothing better than a free date in the most beautiful part of the city with grand views of our beloved bridge. There are several spots to stop, take photos and sit to enjoy the view while talking for hours with the cool ocean breeze at your backs. Hike down to the labyrinth and Sutro Baths, and then grab some food at the adjacent Cliffhouse restaurant with romantic ocean views. If you want to keep things cheap, pack a picnic and find a nice spot along the trail to eat.
If you want a lot of bang for your buck without a late night, Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission lets you roll dinner and a movie all in one. Little tables sit beside you and your date so you can share a bag of popcorn topped with kimchi powder or sriracha flakes, boozy milkshakes (two straws, please!), and bigger items such as burgers and pizzas—all while watching a fun flick. The movie selection ranges from new releases to old classics, so check with your date abefore reserving seats to BBC’s 1971 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s a strict no-talking policy during the film, but the rules don’t say anything about the classic "yawn and stretch" move.
If you’re the kind that likes talking during movies, check out the calendar of events for the Proxy in trendy Hayes Valley. This outdoor pop-up theater is surrounded by local businesses in shipping containers, most of which are great places to grab food or drink for the flick—including Smitten Ice Cream, Biergarten, Ritual Coffee and Casey’s Pizza. Most events partner up with their neighbors or arts and culture organizations, such as the Exploratorium. Indie films sometimes include a guest appearance and Q&A with the director, but you’ll also find classics like Dr. Strangelove and The Big Lebowski. The walk-in theater is free, and so you and your date can come and go as you please.
Day or night, a nice climb to the top of the hill is great for a romantic hangout. It’s an easy trek to the top, so don’t worry about running out of breath while trying to make conversation on the incline. There’s a bench at the top to relax, enjoy the view and dive into a picnic basket. The park is dog friendly and completely free, which makes for the perfect San Francisco day. It’s best to go for sunset if you bring enough layers—and if you forget, it's a good excuse to get cozy with each other!
If both you and your date can prove you’re SF residents, you get in free to one of the most beautiful and serene gems in Golden Gate Park. The Botanical Gardens will take you through almost every region in the world in 55 acres. From a California redwood forest to blooming Asian magnolias, walking along pathways lined with more than 8,000 plants will make your first date romantic, peaceful and meaningful. The fragrance garden is especially fun, where you and your date can figure out if what you’re smelling is a lavender plant or too much perfume.
What’s sweeter than your cute date? Making candy with your cute date! Papabubble in Hayes Valley is an artisan candy store. Ever wonder how they shape rainbow colors into fruit shapes inside candies? Well, you and your date will get to put on the gloves and get to work making swirly rainbow lollipops and rose-shaped sweets. You can even get super saccharine by popping sample candies into each other’s mouths and trying to guess their fruit flavor (the passion fruit is the best).
It might not be the most impressive zoo in California (we begrudgingly give that title to San Diego), but the SF Zoo is still a great first date spot. If you’re equipped with nice weather, it’s an easy stroll with lots to make conversation about. It takes a few hours to make your way around all the exhibits, depending on how long you and your date can stand and watch wrestling grizzly bears and sleepy lions. Plan a meal outside the park for after your animal adventure—even with an SF resident discount, the food is steeply priced.