WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
Dating can seem impossible with high food costs and ever-increasing rent prices. It can be especially difficult when you’re trying to save money without moving out of California’s hottest cities, but there’s no need to despair. The Golden State is full of low-budget date ideas that feel upscale, which means you won’t have to sacrifice your entire savings account for your love life.
At these female-owned small businesses in California, you don’t have to spend more than $50 on a meal for two, so they can easily become part of your weekly routine. Before you count yourself out of the dating scene, check out the best cheap date ideas in the state.
Created by chef Isabel Cruz, Barrio Star tops the list of inexpensive date ideas in San Diego. Featuring a combination of Latin flavors, Asian influences, and soul-food comfort, this eatery is sure to become a favorite.
Though the dishes are crafted with healthier ingredients (including organic and locally grown products, whenever possible), the vibrant colors and savory flavors will make you think otherwise. Start with the house-made tortilla chips and guacamole before diving into the indulgent carnitas tacos. Finish the night with a flourless chocolate chipotle cake and vanilla ice cream for a meal your date will remember for weeks to come.
The restaurant also offers live music on Sunday nights and hosts “Date Night Monday” for $35 per couple—making it one of the coolest women-owned businesses in town. For even more affordable cheap date night ideas, stop by during happy hour (between 3 and 6 p.m.) for discounted nachos, chipotle chicken wings, and à la carte tacos.
When it comes to cheap dates near downtown San Diego, it doesn’t get much better than Cafe 222. Owner Terryl Gavre realized her dream of opening a restaurant when she sold a screenplay and moved to San Diego in 1992. The woman-owned small business has thrived ever since, serving unbeatable breakfast food—such as house-made buttermilk biscuits, pumpkin waffles, and corned beef hash—near Petco Park in San Diego’s Marina district.
Spend the morning wandering around the nearby Gaslamp Quarter before pampering your date with peanut-butter-and-banana-stuffed French toast, fresh fruit and granola, or savory biscuits and gravy.
After growing up in Napa and moving through the ranks of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, Crystal White opened Wayfarer Bread to serve the local community high-quality, small-batch artisanal bread. From English muffins to baguettes, to blood orange and almond galettes, to citrus marmalade and pistachio croissants, everything on the menu is excellent.
Wayfarer Bread is one of our favorite places for fun, cheap dates, but it’s not only because of the tasty pastries and loaves. The woman-owned business also serves savory sandwiches all day long and hosts highly sought-after pizza nights every Wednesday. Order a snack (like Marcona almonds or olives) before sharing a salad for two and a decadent pizza.
The pizza offerings change weekly but may include a roasted broccoli pizza with cheddar cream sauce, mozzarella, breadcrumbs, and chives; a spicy meatball pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, and dill; or a potato pizza with tikka masala, mozzarella, onion, and hazelnuts. The whole meal will cost around $40—but the experience will stick with you forever.
Huckleberry Cafe is co-owned by couple Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan—who fell in love at their nearby eatery, Rustic Canyon—and celebrates the bounty of Southern California by highlighting local, organic ingredients. With a rotating seasonal menu where every item is made on-site, this eatery makes for fun, cheap date ideas that taste expensive.
The restaurant’s all-day breakfast menu is swoon-worthy. From “Dad’s pancakes” with TCHO chocolate and maple syrup to fried-egg sandwiches with bacon and Gruyère, there is something for every craving.
Though Huckleberry Cafe is always an excellent choice, there is nothing quite like Hot Chicken Nights. Stop by on a Thursday or Friday between 5:30 and 9 p.m. for organic fried chicken, house-made pickles and slaw, and a luxurious selection of rotating pies. Order two entrées and a slice of pie to share, and you’ll still be comfortably under budget.
Pine & Crane is a women-owned eatery offering the opportunity for a cheap date night that feels anything but. Chef-owner Vivian Ku and co-owner Moonlynn Tsai opened the joint in 2014, selling the same popular dan dan noodles that adorn the menu today.
Start with the noodles to see why they’re a crowd favorite, but don’t miss out on the pork potstickers, scallion pancakes, vegetarian rice, or spicy shrimp wontons. With a plethora of tapas-style dishes, Pine & Crane is always the right choice.
Chef-owner Jessica Koslow is a master of culinary creations, crafting a legacy of bread, jam, and plant-centric dishes that are just as craveable now as they were when Sqirl opened eight years ago. The restaurant has been on our radar for cheap date ideas thanks to its highly regarded ricotta, avocado, and brioche breakfast toasts, but the eatery is equally enviable during lunchtime.
Order the tomato jam sandwich with cheddar cheese and arugula, or go for something a bit more unique with the aptly-named “Yeuban” sandwich featuring pastrami-spiced yuba, pickles, sauerkraut, and rye bread. Add rhubarb lemonade or red peach iced tea for even more memorable (yet inexpensive) dates.
Media Noche is a women-owned small business that brings authentic Cuban food to San Francisco. Owners Jessie Barker and Madelyn Markoe have created an inviting, vibrant space that gives off 1950s Miami vibes without sacrificing the energetic spirit of the Mission District.
If you’re looking for cheap first-date ideas in the area, nothing surpasses Media Noche. Start with an order of empanadas—and get blown away by the accompanying green sauce—before sharing the ropa vieja bowl with black beans, rice, and coconut slaw. Finish with a round of the cold-brew “Cuban Coffee” and the “Mia Abuelita Favorita” dessert with guava cheesecake ice cream, crushed Maria cookies, and a Guittard chocolate shell.
Located in the Emeryville Public Market, Minnie Bell’s is the comforting soul-food destination you’ve been looking for. The menu here will beat out all of your other inexpensive date-night ideas with its rosemary fried chicken, sumptuous mac and cheese, refreshing pickled veggies, and nostalgic sweet tea.
Owner Fernay McPherson uses her family’s recipes, so it’s easy to taste the authenticity at one of Emeryville’s most memorable female-owned businesses. Order the four-piece rosemary fried chicken and choose two of your favorite sides—like braised greens, candied yams, or cornbread—or settle on the fried chicken salad for a balanced meal you’ll continue to crave long after your date.
Tucked around the side of Swan’s Market, Super Juiced is not only the ultimate self-care focused establishment, but also the ideal place for cute, cheap dates thanks to its relaxed atmosphere. Though Oakland is known for its incredible minority-owned businesses, this juicery is truly something special; owned by Emanne Desouky and Rana Halpern, Super Juiced aims to prove that access to organic fruits and vegetables is a human right—not a luxury. By providing healthful foods to the communities that need it most and hiring systems-impacted queer youth of color who might not otherwise have assess to job security, this duo is making the world a better place.
The Super Juiced menu showcases organic, seasonal ingredients, so you’ll likely find something new to try each time. Unlike many affordable date ideas, this juicery offers tons of healthy options. From smoothies and juices to bowls and tonic shots, each item is better than the last. The “Rose Glow” juice contains apples, beets, celery, ginger, and rose water, resulting in a beautiful pink hue that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is delicious. The matcha bowl is equally impressive, featuring organic matcha green tea, coconut milk, mango, spinach, farmers market fruits, granola, coconut, and local honey. It’s so easy to stay under budget here, so don’t feel guilty about ordering a juice with your bowl or adding almond butter to it.
Yo También Cantina is full of flavor and love—and dancing when owners Isabella Bertorelli and Kenzie Benesh are around. The couple takes their cuisine seriously, but not themselves, so there’s always a carefree spirit wafting around the cozy eatery. While this Sunset District spot is the ideal destination for cheap, romantic dates, it’s also the place to be for social gatherings.
Plan a morning date in San Francisco, and order the “Jammy Sammy” with a jammy egg, provolone, rosemary ham, and seasonal greens. Or, go for the ricotta and preserved Meyer lemon toast topped with herbs, dukkah, and olive oil. The innovative combinations of simple foods are impressively tasty and just as photogenic.
Do you know of any other low-cost date ideas in California? Share them in the comments below.