10 ideas for unique couples fun around the Bay Area, on very little money
After you have been in a relationship for a while, keeping things fresh and fun can be a challenge. Putting some spark into being out-and-about can be an even greater challenge once you become of a certain age, or you are on a budget. Maybe you have recently met someone new, and want to spend time without making too large of an investment.
Zip through this list of ‘non-traditional’ ideas. You’ll find unusual ways to get in quality, extended, one-on-one time without breaking the bank. You might also squeeze in some spontaneity to boot. And, you’ll avoid the long waits and crowded dining rooms of the typical or most popular price-gouging restaurants.
If you are smart, you’ll string together more than one of these activities into an entire day or weekend, and run up your romantic scorecard. You can pull any of these out of your hat at any time of the year – whenever you need a break from the monotony.
We’ll start in ‘The City’:
1. Sip Mimosas on a blanket
Pack a basket with a Thermos® filled with your favorite orange juice, an ice-cold bottle of bubbly and some finger foods. Then, spread a blanket at Crissy Field’s West Bluff Picnic Area. The tranquil views of the Golden Gate and the city skyline, and chats about ‘the future’ will have you leaving your optimistic hearts in San Francisco. Remember, you are in a public space. TIP: wear layers, just in case the Bay Area breeze whips by every now and then!
Crissy Field’s West Bluff Picnic Area | Long Ave and Marine Dr. San Francisco, CA 94129 [MAP]
2. Prowl the Ferry Building
The San Francisco Ferry Building is a cool place to stroll, window shop, snack or sit down for a bite. There are tons of specialty retailers, bars, coffee corners, cafés and restaurants. Take your time, hold hands and explore. Hang out on the water side of the building and watch the boats skip across the bay. The day will melt away.
Ferry Building Marketplace | One Ferry Building, San Francisco, California 94111 [MAP]
TIP: squeeze in a ‘spontaneous’ restaurant visit – dip into the casual atmosphere of Hog Island Oyster Company before you head home. The bay view is excellent. Wait times are often rather long (no reservations), but if you are with a great conversationalist, the time will fly by. Prices are only $$. And, digging into some fresh seafood with your honey is always a good investment into having a fun night! Sit side-by-side and use your fingers to deliver ocean tidbits past each other’s lips. Ignore the people shooting those ‘get a room’ glances your way. TIP: you can avoid the line if you are willing to settle for sitting at the bar. Lots of people have also figured this little trick out, so don’t hold your breath for the bar seat.
3. Cruise the Bay
By the way, the Ferry Building has ferries coming and going all the time! Close your eyes and point to a spot on the map, (the ride to Vallejo is an hour!) then hitch a ride from the ferry building to the other side of the bay, and back.
TIP: the love seats under the heaters on the ferry deck have a great view; the bucket seats in the cabin are on the cozy, secluded side because everyone is on deck. Pick your poison.
4. Hug on the cable car
A cheap cable car ride can become a very romantic affair if your timing is right. Only two people are allowed on the rear deck of the cable car at a time. Watch for your moment to claim the spot, then go out there and wrap your arms around each other – for safety reasons, of course. Go ahead, name your streetcar ‘Desire.’ No one will know.
TIP: hop aboard at any one of the stops along a route instead of standing in line at the turnaround points, where the waits can last for hours. Grab a car headed to Powell Street Station, so you can set-up the next move…
5. Get floral on Powell Street
After your streetcar ride, meander down Powell Street until you ‘run across’ a flower vendor. Some have major set-ups with big variety. You and your honey should take turns assembling mini-bouquets for each other. You’ll make everyone jealous when your flowers decorate the table at your next stop…
TIP: save all those flowers carefully, so you can pull the petals off and scatter them on the bed, later.
6. Have a foodie adventure at Westfield San Francisco Centre
Going to the mall as a couple might seem like financial suicide – unless you put blinders on and head straight for the food areas at Westfield San Francisco Centre. The food court on Level C has some very upscale fare that is in the one $ range with really short prep times. Each of you makes the rounds, separately, ordering some random dishes from every kitchen. Then, assemble a hodgepodge buffet on your food court table and feed your partner spoonfuls of surprises. No peeking.
If you prefer a more predictable menu, the Restaurant Collection Under the Dome on Level 4 of the mall has several first-class epicurean experiences. Here you will find great cuisine priced from $$ to $$$$. It might be a fair bet that dining ‘under the dome’ will be off the beaten ‘couples’ path, with no reservations needed.
TIP: while eating at Westfield, Fandango what’s playing at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and take in a movie after dinner. By the time you’re done, all the jewelry stores will be closed.
Now, let’s explore a day in ‘The Town’:
7. Mimosas on a blanket, east bay style
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is open to the public from 8 am to dusk, year around. The park is tucked away in a mostly industrial Oakland neighborhood, far off the worn Valentine’s Day trail. Pack up a basket of bubbly, o. j. and snacks. Grab an empty table or spread a blankie. Stare into each others eyes while you toast to the sound of the waters lapping against the shore and the feel of the bay breeze rushing over your skin. Then, stroll one of the meandering trails to the water’s edge.
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park | 2777 Middle Harbor Rd, Oakland, CA, USA [MAP]
TIP: Instagram a pic of you two embracing, with the cargo cranes or the Bay Bridge in the background.
8. Indulge in a breakfast cocktail and a midday movie
District Oakland, in historic old Oakland, serves an upscale, fully bottomless brunch buffet every Sunday. Venture to downtown Oakland for a filling mid-morning meal and some creative libations to set the mood for the rest of your day.
District Oakland | 827 Washington St, Oakland, CA 94607 | (510) 272-9110 [MAP]
TIP: after brunch, stroll over to Washington Street and dip into the Regal Jack London Stadium 9 for the Sunday $6.25 anytime special, because a meal and a movie with your honey is all good (FYI – the special ticket price applies only when you buy at the box office).
Regal Jack London Stadium 9 | 100 Washington St. Oakland, CA 94607 | (844) 462-7342 ext.698 [MAP]
9. Find a hot sports bar
If you are lucky, your honey is a sports fan. That means you can avoid the typical restaurant crush altogether while taking in whatever team you are both hot on right now. There’s no cooler sports bar in the Oakland area than Grand Oaks Restaurant & Sports Lounge. Enjoy the cool, classy-yet-casual vibe, upscale bar food menu and screens on every wall. And, GO is a sports bar, so pricing is pretty reasonable and consistent, whatever the time of year.
Grand Oaks Restaurant & Sports Lounge | 3701 Grand Ave Oakland, CA 94610 | (510) 451-5253 [MAP]
TIP: after the game, take a romantic stroll along the banks of Lake Merritt. Hold each other closely to keep warm against the usual Bay Area sunset chill. Try your luck at snagging an authentic Venetian gondola ride.
10. Wrap up with some hot comfort food and hotter music
Two great soul food restaurants are at the foot of Oakland’s Broadway: Everett & Jones BBQ, and Home of Chicken and Waffles. Hitting these spots on a date is about as ‘non-traditional’ as you can get. That means short wait times, small crowds, and great eating at a reasonable price. Both establishments have bars, so belly up and avoid the S.W.A. waitresses.
TIP: volunteer to be the designated driver, and tip the bartender to spoil your honey while you two indulge in the heavy, made-with-love cuisine. You’ll be thankful later.
Everett & Jones Barbeque | 126 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607 | (510) 663-2350 [MAP]
Home of Chicken and Waffles | 444 Embarcadero W Oakland, CA 94607 | (510) 836-4446 [MAP]
TIP: after dinner, spontaneously dip into Yoshi’s for a great live music shows by popular artists. A night of dirty dancing to smooth jazz, salsa, Latin jazz or contemporary music performed live will get you two fired up for a great private after party. Be ready to call in slick on Monday.
TIP: if you want to keep the ‘spontaneous’ flair, secretly buy your Yoshi’s tickets in advance because shows at Yoshi’s often sell out.
Yoshi’s | 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, CA 94607 | (510) 238-9200 [MAP]
For more ideas on enjoying the Bay Area, see my page on The Culture Trip, or, drop by my Yelp page for reviews that might help you plan visits to other great places to dine and drink around the Bay Area.
Feel free to Comment below: what are some of your favorite things-to-do around the Bay Area, with a companion?
Top photo: A couple embraces on a San Francisco waterfront. Photo: Flickr/Russell Mondy
Also published on Medium.