San Francisco can be a truly dreamy city. In honor of the month of love, here are four romantic itineraries for two, each one coupling a pair of neighborhoods for a day full of sightseeing, romance and distinctly San Francisco charm.
Marina + Russian Hill
If you and your partner enjoy architecture, shopping, picnics
Start at the Palace of Fine Arts, a Beaux Arts monument with a grand rotunda that was built for the 1915 World’s Fair and is now a popular site for wedding photos. The path around the swan lagoon makes for a lovely stroll.
Continue to Crissy Field, a former airfield that’s now one of the city’s most scenic and popular recreation areas. Admire the panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge as you walk along the waterfront past beaches and marsh.
Pick out a special bauble at Union Street Goldsmith in Cow Hollow, a 40 year-old business specializing in colorful stones. For a vintage or antique trinket, visit Elle Meme in the Russian Hill neighborhood, where you’ll encounter unexpected views of Alcatraz and the bay around every other corner. The tiny and fashion-forward No.3 boutique stocks edgier pieces by indie designers.
Swing by Cheese Plus, a charming corner market stocking gourmet goods, for a bottle of bubbly, a snack and a fresh bouquet. Climb up to the miniature Ina Coolbrith Park above the Vallejo Street Steps, where you can snuggle up on a bench surrounded by garden flowers and soak in the view of the city while you enjoy your light picnic.
At night, Hyde Street oozes Old World enchantment with its al fresco dining, clanging cable cars and twinkling lights. Get dinner at a cozy neighborhood spot like Venticello or Frascati. The former serves Northern Italian fare, and the latter’s forte is California-Mediterranean. If you want to extend your night, order a glass of wine at the sleek, Barcelona-inspired Union Larder, buzzing most nights of the week.
Presidio + Jackson Square
If you and your partner enjoy nature, history, wine
Treat yourself at B. Patisserie, where the décor is modern but the exquisite pastries are made using traditional Parisian and Viennese techniques. Valentine’s Day ushers in particularly dazzling creations.
When you explore the Presidio, a retired military base that’s now a 1,500-acre national park, make sure to meander down eucalyptus-shaded Lovers’ Lane. Look through the trees and you might spot nature sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wood Line,” a winding arrangement of branches in the forest. At the quiet Immigrant Point Overlook, take a seat and gaze at a view of the vast Pacific and wild Marin Headlands.
Make your way across town to Jackson Square, a small neighborhood with distinguished 1800s-era brick buildings and a rich Barbary Coast history. You might feel as if you’re in another century as you amble down the pedestrian Hotaling Place. Tucked away in an inconspicuous nearby alley is the Hidden Vine, where you can sink into one of the comfy couches with a glass of wine in hand or play a game of bocce under the stars.
In another deceptively unassuming alleyway is a cryptic neon sign reading Bix. Walk in the door, and you’ll find yourself in a cavernous Art Deco supper club with fluted columns, a grand mezzanine, jacketed servers and live jazz.
Golden Gate Park + Hayes Valley
If you and your partner enjoy the outdoors, fashion, the arts
Golden Gate Park more than matches New York’s Central Park in size, and like its East Coast counterpart it presents plenty opportunities for romance. Rent a pedal boat or rowboat at the Stow Lake Boathouse and glide under an old stone bridge and past an island with a Chinese pagoda and waterfalls. The concessions window sells pink popcorn.
If you prefer to stay on land, rent a tandem bicycle and ride past the park’s Dutch Windmill, secluded Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory of Flowers (a palatial Victorian greenhouse made of glass and wood). The San Francisco Botanical Garden leads a Valentine’s Day walking tour through rare pink and magenta magnolia blossoms.
Part two takes place in Hayes Valley. Stop for an impossibly smooth, made-to-order ice cream cone at Smitten (the secret ingredient is liquid nitrogen). Or if your sweet tooth would be better served with candies or a petite baked good, the whimsical sweet shop Miette looks like something out of a storybook.
Make reservations for an intimate dinner at chef Traci Des Jardins’ landmark Jardinière, a restaurant many San Franciscans consider synonymous with amour, or Absinthe, a French brasserie with a decadent Belle Epoque vibe.
Get tickets to see the San Francisco Ballet perform its production of “Swan Lake” at the ornate War Memorial Opera House (Feb. 19-28) or see the San Francisco Symphony perform at Davies Symphony Hall.
Embarcadero + Financial District
If you and your partner enjoy: views, science, French fare
Walk to the Ferry Building Marketplace for Edible Excursions’ Valentine’s Day tour. You’ll sample goodies like chocolates from Recchiuti Confections, rose and chocolate macarons from Miette and heart-shaped Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.
Take a jaunt along the Embarcadero waterfront to the Exploratorium, a state-of-the-art science museum where every exhibit is a hands-on, interactive activity (perfect for parties of two). The museum hosts the adults-only After Dark gathering on Thursdays, where drinks are served and the focus turns to potentially racy themes like “Sexplorations.” On your way out, catch a glimpse of the Bay Lights, a shimmering art installation of 25,000 LED lights installed on the Bay Bridge.
End in the Financial District with an intimate dinner. (Hint: The storied local jeweler Shreve & Co. is nearby.) Situated in a quiet alley, Café Claude transports diners to bygone Paris with classic French dishes and live Jazz. Around the corner, French brasserie Gaspar sets an amorous tone with glowing vintage chandeliers, tufted leather banquettes in a rich shade of cherry and a pressed tin ceiling.