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.