The Best Bars For A First Date In SF

First dates are tough, but you can make them a bit easier with an excellent bar that’ll keep you entertained even if your date is a bore.
Wood paneled restaurant interior

photo credit: Alanna Hale

After months of swiping, messaging, Instagram lurking, and bargaining with a higher power, you finally did it—you’re going on a first date. But that also means you have to do that thing where you meet a complete stranger and attempt to convince them that you are a cool person who’s worthy of love and affection. To pull that off, it helps to have alcohol. Preferably at a bar that’s not so fancy it’s uncomfortable, not so loud you have to shout, and not so quiet you can hear the other person regretting this decision. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if that bar also has delicious drinks and a decent food menu, either. It’s a tall order, but we have some ideas.


photo credit: Albert Law/Buddy

Wine Bar


$$$$Perfect For:Drinking Good CocktailsDrinks & A Light BiteDate NightDay Drinking
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Buddy is our go-to wine bar in the Mission. It’s got a few plants, a checkered floor, vinyl that spins all night, and food that’s actually worth the money a.k.a. all the essentials for a great first date. The wine bottles that run across the wall come in all sorts of hues, from a clear orange to a deep pink and a rich red, with funky labels to let you know that you’re drinking something closer to kombucha.

At Fool’s Errand, you’ll constantly overhear pairs discussing sibling quantities, upcoming travel, and, if things are going well, birth times. This is NoPa’s requisite first date bar, thanks to the low ceiling and snug cabin-like feel, ample seating out on the sidewalk, and nice selection of riesling. It’s easy to stay for hours and watch the action on Divisadero by the window, or you can down a cider and leave after 30 minutes if your date is overdoing it with stories about their ex.

When there are exactly zero bar stools available at Fool’s Errand and you need a NoPa date spot immediately, head to Mini Bar. The low-lit dive isn’t that mini at all—there’s an entire back area, plus seating in front and at the bar. Admire the local art on the walls while sipping on a margarita, petting whatever dog happens to be cozied up on a bar stool, and watching the 24 periodically roll by on Divisadero. It’s not too loud in here, so you can actually carry on a conversation with your date about upcoming vacation plans or whether you’re looking for “something serious.” 

Go to Golden Sardine in North Beach if you’re trying to pretend you actually read poetry (it’s okay—we won’t tell anyone that your Sylvia Plath collection is collecting dust). Even if literature isn’t your M.O., it’s still a great spot for wine, tinned fish, cheese, and thinly sliced ham. This two-floor bar gets tight at primetime (around 7pm), but if you can score one of their upstairs tables, you’re set for hours-long conversations where you can stare deeply into your crush’s eyes.

When you’re meeting up with one of the hundreds of eligible SF singles who have “up-and-coming DJ” in their bio, the safest bet is to suggest High Treason. This Richmond wine bar is constantly spinning records, so you can bob your head along to Lauryn Hill before asking “So…how long have you been in the city?” If you get hungry, they also have a short menu of Hawaiian dishes from the Unco Frank’s pop-up, or you can keep the night going at one of the many restaurants nearby.

You can learn a lot about someone’s character by sticking them in a room full of arcade games. Are they the overly competitive type who will chuck a drink at the Pac-Man machine if things don’t go their way? Find out at The Detour. This Duboce Triangle bar has everything from Skee-Ball and Tetris to Super Smash Bros. tournaments on Mondays (maybe save those for a fourth or fifth date). Asian-influenced snacks like popcorn chicken, lumpia, and adobo wings are on hand when all that gaming makes you hungry.

Go to Stoa when your first date happens to fall around dinnertime—the small plates coming out of this Lower Haight spot are leagues above most other bar food you can find in the city. Their cocktails, which are split into cheeky categories like “Stern, But Firm” or “Lean & Mean,” pair well with lime-and-fish-sauce chicken wings, grilled mochi topped with corn and bacon, and gingery porridge. The space is long enough to fit two bars and plenty of seating, so you won’t have to worry about jockeying for a stool with any other couples.

Key Klub in Lower Nob Hill is the Swiss army knife of first-date bars. It’s practically a two-story restaurant in disguise—all the food comes out quick, so grabbing a patty melt, steak frites, or even a brick chicken are all reasonable choices. But the vibe is also verging on the edge of nightclub (sans dance floor), so if your date ends up not being horrible, it’s always easy to order another round and get into the music to the point that you might even want to show off your moves.

If your date has “proud plant parent” in their bio, take them to Arcana in the Mission. Although they’ll probably already know about this wine bar/plant store combo, they’ll appreciate that you know their vibe. Giant plants cover this entire space, making it feel more like a rainforest than a typical wine bar. While the bites are okay, sharing a bottle of wine is the way to go.

The Royal Cuckoo in Bernal Heights makes a great date spot when you’re nervous and want all the dim red lighting to hide the fact that your cheeks are flushing from all the butterflies. Plus, all the corner nooks make it easy to feel intimate if you’d like to get into a conversation about existentialism versus absurdism. While there’s no food here, they do have a giant record collection, alcoholic hot cider, and a warmed back patio if you want to briefly escape the red lights.

Anina is a large beer garden/tropical bar that works well for an energetic, vibrant first date. They have plenty of outdoor picnic tables, a steady, buzzy atmosphere, and fruity punch bowls and spritzes your date will hopefully appreciate. Get here early to secure a spot on their sun-drenched patio or at the long bar under the lanterns and twinkle lights before they start to get busy.

photo credit: Alanna Hale

If your date loves skiing, saunas, or the word “cozy,” they’ll love this natural wine bar on the east side of the Mission that looks like a shrine to mid-century modern design. The music is constantly bumping, but it isn’t loud enough that you won’t be able to hear your date talk about their favorite dog breeds or their time in Tahoe. Grab a few glasses of pét-nat, sit in a booth, and dig into some bar bites like the buttery grilled cheese and cacio e pepe deviled eggs.

Contrary to what you might expect from the name, The Snug is not ski lodge-themed. You won’t find a fire, warm blankets, or taxidermied elk inside. What The Snug is is a great spot in the Fillmore, and one that will work the next time you’re meeting up with someone you could potentially become romantically linked with. This place is big, busy, and “snug” in the sense that you can count on being elbow-to-elbow with other humans. So try to grab a seat in the cozy nook area (probably the “snuggest” thing here), and order from a menu of cocktails, wine, and snacks.

The Mexican bar in the Outer Sunset is fun, casual, and more laidback than a warm, fog-less afternoon at Ocean Beach. It also happens to be right up the street from the sandy hangout spot and is one of our favorite places to drink, thanks to excellent tequila and mezcal cocktails, solid tacos, a cute patio, and plenty of spread out indoor space. Before you plan a date here, know that Sunset Cantina can get crowded and they don’t take reservations. So try to come during off-hours or post up at the bar, which is also never a bad idea.

The NoPa cocktail bar should be high on your list of top first date spots, mainly because there really is no downside to coming here. This place makes great drinks, and serves both snacks and full plates for whenever your (hopefully) not awkward conversation makes you work up an appetite. And since Horsefeather is open by 2pm most days and has a big skylight that floods their semi-outdoor atrium with a ton of natural light, this spot is an excellent call for a day drinking or late afternoon date.

If the perfect date involves challenging each other to identify as many plants as possible, head to Propagation. The Lower Nob Hill bar is packed with cacti and leafy greens, and refreshing cocktails that riff on the plant theme, like the Thriller Spiller And Filler. Friendly bartenders and cozy seating options that range from a brown leather couch to two lounge chairs by the window make Propagation a reliable first date spot.

For something more intimate and romantic (but not too romantic), do a first date at Lone Palm. The casual bar in the Mission is dimly lit by candlelight and blue and pink neon, and dresses up their cozy round tables in white linen. It’s also quiet enough that you’ll most likely avoid having to repeat, “Wait, what was that?” over and over again—that is, until the late-night crowd comes in and adds a healthy buzz. But even then, Lone Palm is still as chill as they come.

The inside of this Russian Hill bar feels like a breezy New England home that’s also really into botanicals (hanging plants are everywhere). And after sitting on one of their cushioned chairs or in one of the booths, you’ll want to chill here with colorful cocktails all day. They also have parklet seating and a lot of great food options, like a Maine-style lobster roll and fantastic deviled eggs, that you and your date definitely need to get into.

Blackbird is an awesome, lowkey bar in the Castro that isn’t totally overplayed. They have cool art on the walls, friendly bartenders, and parklet seating. More importantly, they make excellent cocktails that are best enjoyed in the back at one of the small round tables.

The Interval is one of the more unique bars in San Francisco, and the fact that you even know it exists will probably impress your date. Tucked next to Greens in Fort Mason, the bar has an extensive cocktail list and is decorated to look like an eccentric chemistry professor’s office. This spot is good for an early evening cocktail and a walk along the water towards the bridge.

The nautical-themed dive bar in the Dogpatch is as versatile as they come, which also makes it a great first date spot. Sit at the bar and make good conversation over punny cocktails like Mezcal Aloe Mode. You can also watch sports on one of the TVs or challenge each other to a game of pool in the back. Either way, the drinks will be great, the vibes will be right, and you and your date will leave smooth sailing into date two.

photo credit: Krescent Carasso

The Alembic looks like an alchemist’s lair with dark leather seats, and shelves stocked with books and glass beakers. But the magical thing about one of our favorite bars in the Haight is that they consistently make great cocktails and food to go along with them. This bar is also dark and rustic, and is ultimately an ideal backdrop for a first date you’ll maybe one day tell your kids about.

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