11 Inexpensively Awesome Bay Area Dates

So my friend’s brother just started dating this girl. And he really likes her. The kind of “likes her” that makes him want to do special things for her: plan cool dates, take her cool places, et cetera. Except – according to him – he has a little problem, which is that in addition to being a romantic and sweet and thoughtful guy (did I mention he’s handsome?), he’s also a grad student, and thus dead broke.

My opinion about this problem? Not really a problem. Because I have always, always found that the amount of fun you have on a date correlates not at all with (or, if anything, is negatively correlated with) the amount of money that you spend. You know what’s not especially fun? Getting all trussed up and sitting in a stuffy restaurant eating, like, French sauces and mousse. Or, okay, maybe that can be fun from time to time, but you know what’s more fun?


I mean, come on. So fun.

When this friend asked me to write a post with a few ideas for affordable dates in and around the Bay Area, I got all excited about it…and then realized that while I’ve certainly come across a few spots that I think would be great picks, I’m a relatively new resident and hardly an authority on these matters. So I consulted Morgan, who consulted her friend Thu, and presto: we whipped up a really, really, seriously good list. (I think so, anyway.)


1. Capitol Drive-In. I recently checked this San Jose drive-in out myself, and it’s just so fun – for just $7 admission (kids are free) you can choose from a number of current hits. Bring your own snacks and drinks, or purchase from the concession stand, and you have a movie night that’s way more affordable than a trip to the for-real cinema (and, IMO, a hell of a lot more fun).

2. Mill Valley + Muir Woods. Drive through the hills surrounding gorgeous Mill Valley to check out the insane real estate, then stop in town for a bahn mi and a beer at Boo Koo. Next, take the shuttle to Muir Woods for a hike through the woods where the Ewok scenes in Star Wars were shot.

3. Stargazing at the Foothills Observatory. It’s free and open to the public a few days a week, and there are usually staff members there who are happy to answer any questions.

4. Muir Beach and the Pelican Inn. When the weather is warm, pack a picnic lunch and order a few drinks from the Pelican Inn, then head over to Muir Beach to enjoy a bonfire in the cove.

5. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach, and wander the boardwalk checking out old-school attractions (plus a fun mini-golf course).

6. The New Parkway Theatre. This Oakland movie theater is styled like a living room, with couches, beer, and food service.

7. Chinatown Tour. Take a self-tour around the largest Chinatown district outside of Asia, and be sure to check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory – the oldest factory in the country that still makes fortune cookies by hand. You can take a picture with them for just 50 cents.

8. Stern Grove Symphony In The Park. This free event happens all year round (check the website for dates). Spend the afternoon laying on the grass, drinking, eating, and listening to music.

9. Thursday Nights at the California Academy of Sciences. Every Thursday night, you can enjoy music, food and cocktails while checking out stars and undersea creatures. Admission is just $15 for non-members.

10. Adults-Only At The Exploratorium. On Thursday nights, the Exploratorium hosts a wide range of adults-only events, including wine pairings, exhibits (one is called “Sexplorations”), crawls through the pitch-black Tactile Dome (omg), and science lessons.

11. Off The Grid. Check out the schedule to find out where this constantly-changing gourmet mobile food market will end up next.

Also, you can check out Fun Cheap SF for updated daily inexpensive (and often free) events.

Would love to hear any suggestions that those of you who live in or are from the area have – the more options, the better! 

Top image via; GIF via.