Putting together a good date can be like planning a bank robbery. You’re investing time, you’re fronting a bunch of money, and you’re coordinating complicated logistics — all in hopes of breaking the law. In this case, Murphy’s Law. I mean, let’s face it, half the time Valentine’s Day dates carry so much nervous tension and promptitude that we should all consider ourselves lucky if we wake up on February 15 with all our fingers — never mind whether we wake up alone!
There is no foolproof plan for a good date, but there is one factor that can be almost impossible for even the most lethargic lothario to mess up: the view. A nice view is always a nice view, even if you’re enjoying it with a person you think you just might hate.
So sure, you might leave the tickets at home, lock the keys in your cars, tear your inseam, spill wine on your date, or find out that she’s allergic to shellfish after you’ve made her try your seafood bisque. But at least your date might still gasp out, “The… moon… looks… pretty…” before the EMT places an oxygen mask over her mouth and wheels her out of your life forever.
THE SURE THING
These are the places where either the views or the reservations are guaranteed. The rest (ahem) is up to you.
Buena Vista Café
This place is a good bet. Get a classic Irish coffee at the place that invented it while looking out at romantic sailing ships on the Hyde street pier. They don’t take reservations, and Valentine’s is no different, so call to see how long the wait is. (Since it’ll be a Wednesday, the wait could be as good as 15 minutes.)
2765 Hyde St, SF; (415) 474-5044, www.thebuenavista.com. Mon-Fri 9am-2am, Sat-Sun 8am-2am
This vegetarian restaurant offers views of the Fort Mason marina. Two can eat for less than $100. And if your special friend is a veggie, forget the windows — they’ll be blown away just looking at all their options on the menu.
Building A, Fort Mason Center, SF; (415) 771-6222. Mon-Fri 5:30pm-9pm
This restaurant is sunk deep into the kitsch and tourism of the wharf. Since Valentine’s Day is on a Wednesday this year, you might still be able to get reservations as late as a couple days in advance.
9 Fishermen’s Wharf, SF; (415) 673-7025, www.fishermensgrotto.com. Mon-Sun 11am-11pm
Cliff House — Sutro’s Restaurant
So yeah, the new exterior looks horrible, but the views from inside are just as good as ever. The bistro section doesn’t take reservations, so look for a good spot at the bar — they have three cocktail lounges — and enjoy the scenery and a drink while waiting for your table.
1090 Point Lobos Ave, SF; (415) 386-3330, www.cliffhouse.com. Mon-Sun 9am-10pm
Feeling adventurous? Try an out-of-the-ordinary option to impress your one-of-a-kind date.
Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant
This art deco dinner option is tucked inside Golden Gate Park, overlooking Ocean Beach. Reservations are recommended, though walk-ins may be able to find seats too. (Call to see if tables are available). At the very least, their bar is first come, first served — and hey, they’re a brewpub. The view isn’t as breathtaking as some (about half of it is parking lot), but it does have the clearest views of ocean waves.
1000 Great Hwy, SF; (415) 386-8439, www.beachchalet.com. Sun-Thur 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm.
Weather permitting, you could get some food a la carte from their deli and have yourselves a picnic on Twin Peaks while the sun goes down. Throw in a bottle of wine —perhaps Sebastiani’s 2003 Merlot, buttery with a smoky finish — and a blanket, and you just might get to miss the moonrise.
635 Portola Drive, SF; (415) 664-1609. Mon-Sat 8am-8:30pm, Sun 8am-8pm
Well, not the most romantic – or is it? If you’ve got just the right ruca, bonding with burritos by the Bay Bridge, sipping tallboy Tecates out of paper bags, and watching boats glide by the docks could be the perfect evening.
Pier 1, SF; (415) 982-2182, panchovillasf.com. Open until 10pm
FLIRTING AT THE FERRY BUILDING
Everything here’s going to be a bit pricier. But Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge have your back, so it just might be worth it.
Hog Island Oyster Company
This oyster bar is first come, first served, but they’re only open until 8pm.
1 Ferry Plaza, SF; (415) 391-7117, www.hogislandoysters.com. Mon-Fri 11:30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11:30am-6pm
Showing up at 5:00 might get you seated, and, as always, the bar is first come, first served.
1 Ferry Plaza Bldg 270, SF; (415) 861-8032, slanteddoor.com. Mon-Thu 5:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10:30pm
This old-school seafood restaurant is a classic standby. As an added bonus, their menu —including the lobster thermidor — is priced competitively. Call ahead to see if you can still get a table.
Pier 2 Embarcadero, SF; (415) 781-2555. Mon-Sun 10am-11pm
If you can swing it, take the ferry across the bay and cab it to this waterside Mexican seafood restaurant. It’s never been busy in the past, but they’re advertising a special prix fixe menu for the first time, so call about getting seated.
5 Main St, Tiburon; (415) 435-6300. Mon-Thurs 11:30am-10pm
Liquor and Love
Ok. You made it through dinner without bleeding. Congratulations. Now what? Sweep that special someone off their feet and into bed with another great view — and plenty o’ booze. These bars all offer the best moon-wedge garnish for your cocktail.
The View Lounge
The city seems a thousand miles away (and 36 floors down) as jazz flows through the cavernous rooms of The View Lounge. This sky-high bar is open to the public and features shell-shaped windows big enough to make you feel like a boardroom exec. The drinks are pricey, but the jazz is free. And they don’t take reservations, so you’ve got just as good a shot at a seat as anyone else.
Inside the Marriott, 55 4th St, SF; (415) 896-1600
Harry Denton’s Starlight Room
Denton’s place is having a special Valentine’s version of its weekly Indulgence club night, run by Sebastien Entertainment (415-979-3031). Starting at 8pm, there’ll be DJs, chocolate vodka truffles, champagne, and dancing. The cover is only $15, but the place will be busy. Call Sebastien Entertainment to see if they’re packed. Or reserve a booth or bottle service, if you roll like that.
Inside the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 450 Powell, SF; (415) 395-8595
Orbit Room Café
This art-deco bar also has café fare (bagels and pastries) and features a rare first-story view of downtown from high up on Market Street.
1900 Market St, SF; (415) 252-9525. Mon-Thurs 7am-12am, Fri-Sat 7am-2am
Bloom’s is kind of a grimy sports bar. But perched on the north slope of Potrero Hill, it has the best view of downtown east of Twin Peaks.
1318 18th Street, SF; (415) 861-9467
THE MORNING AFTER
Wow. You woke up with company. Now pull out the hat trick with View Number Three and get mom’s grandkids on lockdown — or at least get laid again…
Seal Rock Inn
This hotel and breakfast spot is perched on the cliff above the Cliff House.
545 Point Lobos Ave, SF; (415) 752-8000, www.sealrockinn.com
Greasy spoon style! Dig the orange tile inside and the ruins of the Sutro Baths outside.
902 Point Lobos Ave, SF; (415) 387-6330
V-DAY VENUE DON’TS
Unless you’re a high roller, or the restaurant’s owner, these places won’t be worth the trouble.
Pier 23 Café
This come one, come all waterfront restaurant and bar would be a great bet, except they will be CLOSED FOR REMODELING!
23 The Embarcadero, SF; (415) 362-5125, www.pier23cafe.com.
Don’t bother with this Telegraph Hill restaurant either. It’s also closed for renovations.
1541 Montgomery, SF; (415) 392-2222
Top of the Mark
The Mark is having a special Valentine’s Day dinner and no one will be seated without reservations.
1 Nob Hill Circle, SF; (415) 616-6916, www.topofthemark.com
It’s healthy to be wary of revolving restaurants in general, but they’re also having a special prix fixe V-day menu.
Hyatt Regency, Embarcadero 5, SF; (415) 291-6619
Their prix fixe menu is $75 per person, plus 18% gratuity. And there’s no mention of champagne being included; so if you just drink water, you’ll get out of there for $177.
Pier 33, The Embarcadero, SF; (415) 864-8999