Pepper Harding is the author of the dreamy, charming love story, The Heart of Henry Quantum, about a man who sets out in search of the perfect Christmas gift and stumbles upon the woman who got away. After all, anything can happen in San Francisco!
It just so happens I live in the most romantic city in the world. Yes, more romantic than Paris, Florence, or for that matter, the little place in Belize where I had the most incredible— but never mind about that.
Wherever you go in San Francisco, you’ll find some secret hideaway, glean a bit of disreputable history, or experience something extravagant, artistic, utterly surprising, and possibly even amorous. Maybe that’s why we have so many cute hotels everywhere.
Anyway, here we go—the five most romantic things to do in San Francisco:
- Ride the Cable Car – at midnight.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking – the cable car –trite and touristy. NO! You just have to time it right. Here’s a perfect evening: you’ve just finished the amazing prix fix dinner at Sons and Daughters (a romance in itself), you step out the door holding hands, walk to the corner of Bush and Powell, and flag down the cable car. It screeches to a halt; you jump on, you hang onto the rail and feel the chill night air on your face (you’ve got a scarf); you smell the oil coming off the cable mixing with the perfumes of the city as you climb up toward Nob Hill. The city is beginning to quiet down, the fog has dissipated, and moon is a silver disc shimmering in the night sky and – well, you know the rest.
- Making Out on Twin Peaks
This is one of my faves. Go at night, of course. You drive up a long winding road and emerge at a little parking lot, step out not knowing what to expect, and POW – the whole town stretched out before you like a candelabra reaching toward the sea. It’s cold up there, so you’ll instantly find yourself hugging whomever you’re with (or some stranger if you’re so inclined) which means it’s great for first or second dates – but even better if you want to put a little steam back into that long term relationship. Then comes the long ride down – when the silence is more anticipatory than it’s been in months.
- Christmas at the Fairmont
This is supposed to be one of those you things you do with your kids – the Gingerbread Christmas Tea at the Fairmont on Nob Hill. It’s got the gingerbread house in the lobby (a two story Victorian masterpiece made of real gingerbread), the huge tree, and this amazing high tea served by, well, elves. So yeah, kid stuff, right? Hah, I say! If you have even one romantic bone left in your body, this beloved event is irresistible. Even for guys. You’ll get swept away – into the fantasy of childhood, but also into the spirit of innocence and joy – and love. Kisses will ensue.
- Watching An Affair to Remember at the Castro Theater
The lights are going down, but you’re up in the balcony. The antique Wurlitzer organ has magically risen from a trap door at the front of the theater and is serenading you. You’ve marveled at the art deco interior, the dramatic staircase in the lobby, and the sheer beauty of the place, and now you’re cuddled down and ready to watch the most romantic movie ever filmed in the most romantic theater ever built. Necking is most definitely in order – that is, if you can stop crying. And no, you don’t have to be gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer to feel right at home in the Castro. It’s one of San Fran’s most wonderful and welcoming neighborhoods.
- A Walk in North Beach
There’s no beach in North Beach, but there’s just about everything else, from strip joints and honkytonks to elegant restaurants and by far the best coffee in the world. Go in early evening and fortify yourself with a cappuccino at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store. About as big as your walk-in closet, it’s a true original, serving excellent brew and small bites. (If you happen on North Beach on a Saturday or Sunday morning however, check out Caffe Trieste – you might get live opera with your latte and brioche.) But on this particular evening, stroll down Grant or Columbus Avenue, drop by City Lights Books, and by all means visit Biordi’s ceramic shop – floor to ceiling artifacts crammed into a tiny space that make you feel transported to Italy. There are a million great places to eat in North Beach, but, as night settles is, you walk down to Jackson Square (where Henry Quantum’s office is) and have dinner at BIX. Its art deco theme, supper club ambience, and fabulous martinis will make you tipsy with love.
- Bonus Romance!
Five slots are not nearly enough to scratch the surface of romance in San Francisco. My goodness: Drinks at The Top of the Mark. Couples massage at the Kabuki Hot Springs Spa. Dinner at the counter at Spruce. Lunch at Café Claude on little Claude Lane. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. A paddle boat on Stow Lake. The ferry to Tiburon and lunch at Sam’s Anchor Café. Oysters at Hog Island. The deck at Pier 23. Wine and Canvass for a fun date learning to paint. Hiking at Lands End. Mortified at DNA Lounge (okay, that’s not romantic, but it’s fun). I could go on and – and I already have.
But my real advice: find your own romance. It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere in my City by the Bay.