Bay Area Romance on the Cheap: Seven spectacular date spots

Perhaps you’ve heard: The Bay Area is a bit pricey these days. There seems to be a never-ending influx of people who want to live here because, frankly, it’s pretty great.

Smart Bay Area dwellers know that just because the rent is due, it doesn’t mean date night is doomed. Inspiration for a perfect romantic outing in the Bay is everywhere, but if your routine needs a little spark and your wallet is a little light, here are seven outings to keep change in your pocket, and hearts and stars in your eyes.

Musee Mecanique

For actual pennies, you can spend a day impressing your beau the 20th century way: with those nifty robot arm-wrestling skills! Musee Mecanique at San Francisco’s Pier 45 harbors hundreds of historic arcade machines (yes, including arm-wrestling robots) that rarely cost more than a whopping 50 cents a play. The museum, which also boasts a scenic view of the Bay, is a charming throwback to turn-of-the-century entertainment with mesmerizing machines that run the gamut from fortune-telling to a bit of naughty peep-showing.

Trouble Coffee Company

Listen, San Francisco’s $4 toast trend may be a bit of a contentious topic, but how many other slices of bread have had entire segment of NPR’s This American Life dedicated to them? Trouble Coffee Company in the Outer Sunset is the original toast titan and once you’ve tasted that warm, sweet bread, those four little dollars are quickly forgotten. Grab a coffee and a slice of that legendary cinnamon sugar toast and have a seat outside, or take a walk down to nearby Ocean Beach to enjoy one of San Francisco’s most-discussed culinary delights.

Camera Obscura

Want to show your date San Francisco in a whole new way? Look no further than Leonardo da Vinci’s own design, still deftly showcased by the 1940s-era Camera Obscura, tucked directly behind the storied Cliff House. For just a few bucks, visitors are welcomed into the tiny darkened building for a view of Ocean Beach unlike any other. Utilizing just a mirror and lens, stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding area are projected on a white table for guests. If 15th-century technology and sparkling waves don’t make your lover’s heart skip a beat, nothing will.

First Fridays

Over the past decade, Art Murmur has transformed Oakland’s art scene into an accessible experience with a little something for everyone. On the first Friday of each month, you’ll find a list of participating galleries and collectives opening their doors to the community for a vibrant night of art, music, poetry and other entertainment. Taking a handheld stroll through downtown Oakland exhibitions doesn’t cost a thing, and many of the participating galleries have complimentary beverages flowing for guests.

Conservatory of Flowers

Getting lost in your own backyard is easy with Golden Gate Park spanning practically half the city . One of San Francisco’s most wondrous treasures is encased in the Victorian masterpiece known as the Conservatory of Flowers. For just $6 to $8 a person, visitors can explore three rooms of rare and exotic plants before moving on to the butterfly room, where the colorful creatures fly freely around guests. It’s an Instagram dream come true. Just remember to resist the urge to pick a bouquet for your boo anywhere outside of the gift shop.

Flea Markets

Bargain hunters and treasure seekers alike will love the literal cheap thrill of two of the Bay Area’s very best flea markets: the Alameda Point Antiques Faire and Treasure Island Flea. Both offer free parking, admission for $5 or less and priceless waterfront panoramas. Dig for your song in the record crates, share a delicacy from the fleet of food trucks and marvel at the sheer satisfaction of a successful deal.

St. Francis Fountain

St. Francis Fountain has been serving up diner classics since 1918. The entire interior is an untouched time warp with vintage signs and tall wooden booths, but nothing completes the throwback feeling quite like a large frothy milkshake or an ultra-retro egg cream soda. For about $4 to $7, diners can take a seat at the counter and indulge in the same artfully created frozen concoctions that San Francisco sweethearts have been sharing for nearly a century.

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Author: Laura Braun

Laura BraunLaura Braun is a San Francisco-based writer by way of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, She Shreds, SF Sounds, Thrillist and more.

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