Whether you’ve traveled to the City by the Bay with your someone special, or you’re in town solo or with a group of friends, there’s always some romance to be had in San Francisco. Between the fog-topped peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge and the shimmering waters of the bay, there are many opportunities to get loved up. Discover some of these underrated romantic gems in San Francisco to go to with your travel companion or on a self-care date, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with the city too.
The inside of San Francisco City Hall
Find old-school romance inside the decorated dome of San Francisco’s city hall building, where you might encounter couples who are just married taking photos by the ornately carved walls and pillars. There’s a gorgeous grand staircase and beautiful high arches with light streaming in, and during certain holidays the halls are decorated. It’s a must-see for architecture lovers, and if you visit during the day, it makes a great view for a picnic on the lawns in front of the building.Tip: City Hall is just a few blocks down Larkin Street from HI SF City Center hostel, and we recommend picking up a banh-mi sandwich in Little Saigon for your picnic!
The Castro Theater
The Castro Theater is another bit of legendary San Francisco architecture, with its Spanish Colonial Baroque front and one-of-a-kind leatherette ceiling. It’s a great place for a movie date, especially if you’re a fan of multicultural and LGBTQ films, or the occasional rowdy Disney movie singalong. On the way out, don’t forget to snap the giant neon Castro theatre sign, which is an icon of this San Francisco neighborhood that has always stood up for love.Tip: Visit the Castro’s sister theatre, the Paramount, in Oakland, which was designed by the same architect and features a variety of arts, from movies to live music.
Shakespeare’s Garden in Golden Gate Park
Get inspired to write a sonnet to someone or an ode to travel amongst the fragrant blooms in Shakespeare’s Garden inside Golden Gate Park. Picture the romance as you walk through the outdoor expanse colored with flowers mentioned in William Shakespeare’s great plays and poems. Pick up some treats beforehand to enjoy on a quiet bench where you can whisper sweet nothings underneath a tree.Tip: The garden is right next to the California Academy of Sciences, another awesome date spot featuring an aquarium, a planetarium and rainforest all under a living roof.
The California Street Cable to the Top of the Mark
San Francisco’s cable cars aren’t exactly underrated, but that’s because you can’t deny they’re one of the city’s most romantic icons connecting past and present. Most people take the famous Powell/Hyde line, but you’ll likely find fewer crowds going up California and Van Ness Streets through the skyscrapers of the Financial District to the top of Nob Hill. When you get there, head to the 19th floor of the bar at the top of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel for a cocktail with a view.Tip: Walk a couple of blocks to the majestic Grace Cathedral to see beautiful gothic architecture and the occasional pop-up event.
Tank Hill Park
While everyone else is trying to get to the views from Twin Peaks, you can go to Tank Hill Park, which is right next door to the iconic hills and always less crowded. From the top of this little park that’s hidden in a cute neighborhood, you’ll get views of Downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The best part is the two rope swings hanging from the trees.Tip: Tank Hill is only a 15-minute bus ride (or 20-minute walk on a nice day) from the Castro Theatre if you want to double up on sweet spots.
The top of the Greenwich Steps
For another off-the-beaten path view, climb the steep-but-worth-it Greenwich steps to the base of Coit Tower (the Filbert Steps are the usual option). Set on the edge of Telegraph Hill with the Levi Plaza at the bottom, the steps climb up through jungle-like gardens of old houses while views of the bay reveal more the higher you go. You might also see the legendary parrots that live in this neighborhood.Tip: Nearby North Beach is a great neighborhood for a romantic Italian dinner, and you’ll be a short bus ride from HI SF Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel.
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This essential list of off the beaten path things to do and see in San Francisco is perfect for travelers who like to veer off the regular road while sticking to a backpacker’s budget.