With Valentine's Day around the corner, why don't you and your sweetie shoot for the stars and get a double-whammy bonding boost? We've got ideas for the 14th that will help you do that. Whether you're gay, lesbian, bicurious, or somewhere in between, we investigated some awesome options in San Francisco beyond the usual (yawn) dinner-and-a-movie deal—bright ideas that'll get you feeling both attracted and attractive to your friend-in-fabulousness in no time.
Canoodle at a cabaret
Humming along to jazzy standards from an earlier era is a surefire way to feel like the two of you have stepped out of the modern world and into a time-machine adventure. If you hit "Isn't It Romantic," a benefit concert with Nancy Gilliland for New Connections at the Castro Theater (429 Castro Street, $20 per ticket, available at www.ticketweb.com or by calling 925-363-5000), you'll also be privy to a special commemoration of the four-day frenzy of gay weddings that started taking San Francisco by storm in February of 2004.
Move to the beat
Any kind of dance class – from spicy salsa to somewhat silly square-dancing – sparks chemistry by definition: What is dancing, after all, but observing and hooking into your partner's body movements? If you feel shy about going to some big shindig, sign up for a semi-private lesson with your darling at the school of your choice, or hit the Wednesday night drop-in Club Salsa group classes taught by the legendary Ava Apple at Metronome Dance Center (1830 17th Street, 415-252-9000, www.metronomedancecenter.com; beginners class is at 7 p.m.). Note: Same Sex Salsa classes also exist but require prior commitment – you can't take them as a casual drop-in – but what a fab idea. Turns out Argentine tango is traditionally danced by two men!
Belt it out at karaoke night
For the more adventurous daters out there, karaoke is a perfect choice for a Valentine’s date. Why? The excitement of performing will give you a blast of adrenaline, not to mention a flood of endorphins – and sharing a microphone as you croon "Endless Love" is bound to bring you closer. The Mint is the most popular destination ( 1942 Market Street, 415-626-4726, www.themint.net), and you are guaranteed a great show, but be warned: Even mid-week, it can be difficult to get stage time. For a mellower, less competitive sing-along experience, go for Encore in Nob Hill ( 1550 California Street, 415-775-0442, www.encorekaraokesf.com), where crowds are small and divas are in shorter supply.
Laugh with your love
A good belly laugh can help shake off even the most pervasive date-night nervousness – and if standup comedy isn’t your thing, try an improv show. Laughter also releases hormones that help you bond and, for an added kick, you might get to be part of the show. The ultimate romantic improv show, of course, is How We First Met (Theater 39 at Pier 39, Beach Street and The Embarcadero, 415-433-3939, www.howwefirstmet.com), where couples arrive at the theater, write down a few things about themselves on a card, and then sit back to see which couple will be picked as inspiration for that night’s show. You could see a couple of fellow audience members’ lives reenacted before you – or get lucky and see the performers’ version of your own happy couplehood!
Do dinner and a movie—all at once
Indulge yourselves by chowing down and watching a flick at the same time at Foreign Cinema, an upscale eatery in the Mission ( 2534 Mission Street, 415-649-7600, www.foreigncinema.com). On the big day, they’ll be showing the French classic La Cage Aux Folles, sure to inspire chuckles as the daily-changing specials please your palates.
Visit the zoo
Maybe it’s because watching animals do their thing gets us in touch with our own primal instincts. Or maybe it’s all the off-the-wall conversation starters ("Golly, did you know the okapi has a 14-inch tongue?"). No matter how you look at it, the San Francisco Zoo (1 Zoo Road, 415-753-7236, www.sfzoo.org) can be a bonanza for bonding, and if you’re really brave, you can Woo at the Zoo: For $70 per person, you get sushi and snacks by a roaring fire in the Great Hall of the San Francisco Zoo – and a very special lesson in what happens in the jungle after dark.
Whip up a meal together
Sure, dining out together can be an elegant experience…but creating the dinner yourself from scratch? Now that takes teamwork that’s sure to help you form an attachment to each other. Sign up for a Date Night cooking class (Friday nights at Sur La Table’s Maiden Lane location, 77 Maiden Lane, 415-732-7900, www.surlatable.com/cooking) or a Romantic Dinner cooking class at Williams Sonoma ( 340 Post Street, 415-362-9450, Tuesdays and Thursdays, $40 per person, 6-8 p.m., call for more information).
Ooh, aah – what could get you more in tune with each other than a just-the-two-of-us (and-our-aestheticians) full-body massage? As you both sink into total mellow, glowing moods, you’ll be in perfect pillow-talk form. The Nob Hill Spa ( 1075 California Street, 415-345-2888, www.huntingtonhotel.com/nob_hill_spa/nob_hill_spa.cfm) has a specially designed two-table room – just be sure to call a cab for after, because you’ll be too blissed out to negotiate the streets.
Eat with your hands
There’s something undeniably sensuous about eating with your hands. Why? Well, you’re in closer contact with the elemental experience of tasting, not to mention table manners go out the window for a less formal, more relaxed ambience. Add in that finger cuisines usually require you share the same plate, and you two are bound to feel waaay comfortable with each other by dinner’s end. For East African options, try Axum ( 698 Haight Street, 415-252-7912, www.axumcafe.com) or the slightly more upscale Club Waziema ( 543 Divisadero Street, 415-346-6641, www.clubwaziema.com).
It’s a scientific fact: Work up a sweat with someone, and you’re bound to attribute at least some (or hey, all) of that heart-pounding adrenaline rush to the company you’re keeping. At AcroSports ( 639 Frederick Street, 415-665-2276. www.acrosports.org), you’ll get the added excitement of height in semi-private classes in the aerial arts (including trapeze and aerial rope) that run $60 for two people. Mission Cliffs Climbing & Fitness ( 2295 Harrison Street, 415-550-0515, www.touchstoneclimbing.com/mc.html) lets you and your partner take turns rappelling down a rock wall – while your other half guides your descent. Talk about the ultimate exercise in trust…now, don’t you think that’ll get you two feeling closer?
Amy Keyishian has written for Cosmopolitan, Maxim, and other publications. She lives in San Francisco and can personally vouch for the romantic potential of many of these dates.