Up to Date: an After-Dark Guide to San Francisco's Castro

Take your date to the Castro Theatre – who cares what movie you see?
Take your date to the Castro Theatre – who cares what movie you see? | © Allard Schager / Alamy

A large queer community makes this LGBTQ-friendly ’hood a welcoming date-night spot for couples of all kinds seeking inclusive bars and buzzy restaurants.

From gold rush to flower power to tech boom, San Francisco has attracted a steady stream of trailblazers, dreamers and entrepreneurs through the years. Gay liberation also took root here, with the Castro district as its epicenter. Today, a vibrant LGBTQ community continues to define the neighborhood, which has evolved into one of the city’s most diverse and date-friendly districts. Here’s our rundown of the top dating spots in the Castro, plus some great places to stay, too.

1. L'Ardoise Bistro

Bistro, Restaurant, French

duck confit , Roasted Duck leg French food
© Oran Tantapakul / Alamy
It might be a cliché, but you really can’t beat a cosy French restaurant for un peu de romance. L’Ardoise has managed to bottle some of that Parisian magic and uncork it in the intimate, low-lit setting of this charming bistro. The French-born chef actually learnt his craft in Paris, and creates classic Gallic dishes which are displayed on traditional chalkboards – even the waiters speak with French accents.

2. Castro Theatre

Cinema, Theater

San Francisco, California, USA - August 2019: Castro Theatre building on Castro Street in San Francisco
© can yalcin / Alamy
A Castro landmark since it opened in the ’20s, this wonderfully ornate art-deco movie theater is still going strong. Its fabulously extravagant original interiors make the perfect setting for the cinema’s busy program of art-house movies, singalongs and offbeat live performances. An expertly played Wurlitzer organ sets a slightly zany mood before showings, so get there early. Opt for the balcony front row for the best view in the house, or back row if you have other things on your mind.

3. Blackbird

Bar, Market, Pub Grub, American

Set on Market Street, Castro’s main drag, this atmospheric bar is the perfect place to start or end your date. The combination of chunky wood, rough-cut stone and low lighting create a relaxed and rustic setting, while a long, cushioned banquette means you can offer your date the comfy seat. The menu is full of innovative cocktails and left-field concoctions, such as lychee lemonade kombucha and mango wheat ale. It also attracts a mixed, friendly crowd that rarely tips into rowdy.

4. Blush! Wine Bar

Bar, Wine Bar, Pub Grub

Blush! Wine Bar_img-4086
Courtesy of Blush! Wine Bar
This Belgian-owned wine bar is certainly one of Castro’s more sophisticated spots, with a warm and welcoming vibe that’s great for dates. Wine-smart staff can help you choose from more than 40 options, plus nibbles including French cheeses and Spanish cold cuts. Live music, from Americana to jazz, gets feet tapping twice a week, while rotating exhibitions of local artists add to the arty vibe. There are even regular tarot card readings, so you can find what you and your date’s future might hold.

5. Fable

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan

Vintage wine dinner for two. stefan-johnson-xIFbDeGcy44-unsplash
Photo by Stefan Johnson on Unsplash
Fable is a restaurant where it’s hard not to have a great time. You can snag a particularly romantic setting with a table in their secluded garden patio, with its cascading vines and numerous potted plants. A locavore ethos sees the restaurant source as much as they can from California farms and fisheries, ensuring an ever-changing menu of fresh produce. There are often some great vegan options, too, if you or your date are that way inclined.

6. Anchor Oyster Bar

Bar, Restaurant, Seafood

Oysters - david-todd-mccarty-H8cFn1PJGBo-unsplash
Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash
Whether or not there’s any truth to their libido-enhancing reputation, there’s still something a little risqué about slurping down oysters on a date. This nautical-themed restaurant, which has been serving the finest and freshest seafood in the Castro since the ’70s, is firmly established as a neighborhood landmark. After sharing some chilled mollusk, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try the cioppino – a hearty Italian-American fish stew that originated in San Francisco.

7. Monte Cristo Inn


Monte Cristo Inn_fd69e8ce
Courtesy of Monte Cristo Inn / Expedia

Few guesthouses in San Francisco can claim such a storied past as the Monte Cristo Inn – it might even be the city’s oldest. Opened in 1875 as a bordello and saloon, it became a speakeasy during prohibition and still brims with old-world charm. This certainly extends to the individually styled bedrooms, where damask wallpaper, antique furniture and vintage artwork combine to timelessly romantic effect. If you’d rather have a sleep-in with your love, order the excellent breakfast direct to your room.

8. Hotel Drisco


Classy white suite with large bed, writing desk overlooking the city and a separate living room at Hotel Drisco, San Francisco
Courtesy of Hotel Drisco / Expedia

There are so many reasons why Hotel Drisco makes a top pick for romancing travelers. Dating from the early 20th century, it’s old, upmarket San Fran – urbane, refined and immaculately presented. The hotel is imbued with the glamor of its time, albeit with a more neutral, contemporary polish where required. The hilltop Pacific Heights address affords swoon-worthy views from its higher rooms, while goose-down duvets and pillow menus make for beds you’ll not want to leave.

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