Everyone seems to have a different idea for the perfect first date. A fancy steakhouse and the theater? Dinner and a movie? Or . . . some burgers and the sunset? Although it is difficult to say exactly what the dating traditions are in the United States (everyone is different!) there are some things which are generally culturally accepted as dating “do’s” and “don’ts.”


Dating Traditions in the U.S.

1. Asking 

Although it is not incredibly common, it is socially acceptable for girls to ask guys out. Many dates are proposed using social media or text messaging, yet there are many people who prefer to be asked on a date the “old-fashioned” way: face to face, or by a phone call.

2. Polite customs 

The U.S. has a very big “car culture,” so it comes as no surprise that cars are a big part of dating traditions. The general rule is that the guy must come to the door when he picks a girl up: texting to say “I’m here!” is simply not acceptable! And, of course, as a courtesy, many men open the doors for women throughout the date.

3. Dating locations

“Dinner and a movie” or the traditional “white tablecloth” fine dining experience are what might come to mind when you think of dates, but many Americans prefer the first date to be a fun activity. Bicycling, hiking, picnicking, attending a sporting event, indoor rock climbing, and even visiting museums are all inventive first dates that Americans love. The more unique the idea, the more the person can show his or her creativity!

4. Paying

There really is not a rule when it comes to paying for dates in the U.S.: many girls will say that they expect the boy to pay on the first date, while others will argue that the person who initiated the date should be the one to pay. Some choose to “go Dutch,” which is slang for splitting the bill 50/50.


Great date locations in SD and SF

Now that you know some of the protocols for dating in the U.S., you have to choose your date location! Following are some suggestions by locals.

Fusion (or unique) Restaurants

Fusion restaurants are great places for conversation: each dish is a blend of cultures (and is probably something that neither of you have tried before) so there is a lot to talk about! (Click here to read about fusion restaurants in SF, as recommended by locals.)


Food trucks are a fun, casual date experience as well: check out our post on the food trucks in SF for some great ideas! Another great suggestion is to eat at a restaurant with a view, since the view provides a conversation piece. Our posts on restaurants with great beach views in SD and rooftop bars in SF are great guides when it comes to choosing a location.

Outdoor activities

Would you like to try a unique outdoor activity during your date? Hiking around San Francisco, playing laser tag in San Diego, skydiving (if you’re crazy!) and visiting the museums in Balboa Park are all great ideas.


The beaches provide plenty of date ideas as well: rent a bike and cruise along Mission and Pacific Beaches, play volleyball, canoe the Russian River, kayak in La Jolla, or kite surf in Coronado. The possibilities are endless when the weather is so beautiful!

Explore a new area

Both San Diego and San Francisco have really fun, unique neighborhoods. Spend the day walking around San Diego’s Little Italy, exploring SD’s Old Town, or walking along the Embarcadero and shopping in Seaport Village. If you are studying English in San Francisco, take a trip to Sausalito (the ferry ride is so much fun!) or soak in the style of Haight Ashbury or Chinatown.

Photo courtesy of SFCMA.
Photo courtesy of SFCMA.

Have fun at a street fair

San Diego and San Francisco host many awesome street fairs and festivals. From San Diego’s Beer Fest and Oysterfest to San Francisco’s music and film festivals, there is always something to do!


Of course, there are always local farmer’s markets to check out as well. Our post on San Francisco’s Farmer’s Markets is a great guide, and we highly recommend the Little Italy and Hillcrest markets in SD. Try some local foods, buy some flowers, and enjoy some music together!


 Who knows where a great first date will lead you? Two former students found love while at CISL and are now married: read all about their romance (and their honeymoon trip back to SD) here!