Cheap dates

Pub date February 3, 2010

By Chloe Roth

Crosby, Stills, and Nash once crooned, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” If you’re lucky enough (or unlucky, for the V-Day scrooges out there) to find yourself paired up with anyone on this recession-doomed Valentine’s Day, you might be worried about how to show appreciation for your significant other while staying within your budget. The Beatles aptly sang, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” And unless you’re currently in love with an escort, they are absolutely right. So this Feb. 14, whether you’re engaged in a truly loving and reciprocal relationship, passing time with a willing partner while you look for the ideal one, or courting a gold-digging opportunist, you can show the one you’re with a good time without doling out a lot of cash.

After all, “cheap date” doesn’t have to be a pejorative term used to describe the town bicycle (yeah, yeah, everyone’s had a ride). In the current economic climate, “cheap date” may describe your only option, but fret not! If you can’t afford an expensive five-course meal or want to steer clear of the overpopulated movie theaters (i.e. avoid seeing the cheesy rom-com your partner picked out), there are plenty of alternatives. Here are a few non-dinner-and-a-movie examples of how to show your honey a good (and affordable) time in either San Francisco or the East Bay.


When you were six, falling down in public was routine and relatively painless (given you didn’t have very far to fall). It’s a little different now that you’re an adult, especially if your clumsy face-plant happens in front of someone you’re trying to get into bed. But, really, what better way to get to know someone than through total humiliation? For many cold-weather novices (and too-cool-for-Brian-Boitano snobs), ice-skating offers the perfect opportunity for mutual embarrassment and, thus, subsequent bonding. On Valentine’s Day, the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (750 Folsom, SF., 415-820-3532) is open to the public from 1-2:30 p.m. and 4-5:30 p.m. Admission for adults is $8 (or $11 with skate rental), a pretty low price to pay for feeling like a kid again. If you find yourself on the other side of the Bay Bridge and still fancy a skate, head over to Oakland Ice Center (519 18th St., Oakl. 510-268-9000, It’s open for public skating on from 1-3 p.m. and 3:15-5:15 p.m. (also $8, $11 with skate rental).


If you skip the Valentine’s Day movie but still hope to get some R-rated action from an old-fashioned guy or gal, take advantage of San Francisco’s topography and drive up to Twin Peaks (501 Twin Peaks Road, SF.). It’s timeless, it’s free, and it’s quintessentially San Franciscan. Plus, who doesn’t love the classic make-out session at a lookout point? If you’re lucky, sneaking some of this old-fashioned romance into your night will get you one step closer to the set of twin peaks you’ve been trying gain access to since your first date. Or, if you’d like to catch a view of the Bay from Berkeley, drive up to Indian Rock (950 Indian Rock Ave., Berk.) or the Lawrence Hall of Science (Centennial Dr., Berk.


If you’re in the East Bay and you’d like to get your date a little drunk in the middle of the afternoon (and why wouldn’t you?), take them to the Takara Tasting Room (708 Addison, Berk., 510-540-8250, The popular local sake company offers five different courses of sake tasting for a mere $5. And since sake has an average alcohol content of 15 percent (that’s 3 times more than most beers), you can get a pretty nice buzz going. If you want to continue on a more pampering route, then head over to Piedmont Springs (3939 Piedmont, Oakland 510-652-9191, for a little soak in a rustic redwood tub. Sure, you could do the whole candle-lit bath thing at home, but who wants to spend the next day cleaning up puddles, soap rings, and melted wax when you could, well, not? Piedmont Springs offers private outdoor tubs ($15), saunas ($13), and their popular combination room ($20). And if you’d like to plan a little sip-and-soak series in SF, check out the Valentine’s Day lineup at the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild’s Beer Week 2010 ( Then once you’re nice and drunk, head to one of SF’s more affordable spas: Kabuki Springs & Spa (1750 Geary, SF. 415-922-6000,, or Imperial Day Spa (1875 Geary, SF. 415-771-1114, Side note: please remember that hot-tubbing while inebriated is not the safest thing to do, so be smart about it. Drowning does not a romantic Valentine’s Day make.


If it’s nearing the evening and you’re still seeking a last-minute hookup, the best (and strangest) place to look would be the Great San Francisco Pillow Fight (Embarcadero, SF., held annually in Justin Herman Plaza. When the Ferry Building clock strikes 6 p.m., grab a pillow you’re willing to destroy and start some feathery flashmob chaos. If you’re not familiar with the term “flashmob,” Wikipedia (that ever-reliable source of real information) defines it as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.” If all goes well, you’ll go home afterwards, sweaty and covered in feathers, and perform more unusual acts with your newfound Valentine.