How To Meet People in SF, How To Make Friends in San Francisco: Art Openings, Small Music Venues, Bars, Cafes, Sports Leagues, Restaurants & More

 Spend enough time in San Francisco and you will hear enough complaints how things have changed for the worst over the years and how hard it is to date. I wrote extensively about the dating scene in San Francisco in a previous post. It’s brutal, no doubt, but having trouble with dating is more so a symptom than the diagnosis or cause.

Before one can learn to date successfully, it’s imperative you prepare yourself physically, mentally and socially so that you are confident, have a good social circle, have things to talk about and know where to go on dates. To do that, it helps to know where to go, how to meet people, where to get recommendations and how to be comfortable in your own skin. 

If you meet someone who seems great on paper but you have nothing to talk about, struggle with appearance and wardrobe, don’t know where to go on a date, you’ll likely struggle with dating here in San Francisco and beyond. Meeting people is not just know what to say or how to say it but also reading people, understanding environments, having things to reference, being able to pivot conversations effortlessly and connecting with others.

You can’t connect if you have nothing to offer, share or discuss.

Who People Like To Surround Themselves With

People want to surround themselves with others that can make them laugh or smile, teach them something new or introduce them to others. Being just nice is not enough except for maybe niceguys on Reddit. Developing skills, curiosities, hobbies, interests and passions is the best way to draw people to you. Think of how you spend your life. Are video games, books, smarts, achievements going to attract people? Not necessarily but if you can convey passion, mastery, approachability or domain expertise then you have a chance.

Knowing how to use a food ordering app, how to look up things on Yelp, wandering aimless down the street are not personality skills. Being on the quest for the best street art in SF, knowing where to go for the best live music in San Francisco or knowing where all the best POPOS are in SF are much better things to acquire that can spark interest in others. Practicality, accessibility and familiarity are key components of figuring out what people are interested in and how easy it is to share this commonality.

Practice Makes Perfect: Patience, Discipline & Trial and Error

Once you have a list or starting point to explore things around you, it will take patience, perseverance, thick skin and luck to go through things one by one and by trial and error become and expert in your domain. Part of the process is having bad experience you can laugh at later, reflect upon and possibly use in witty banter. Too many people often dismiss something after one attempt. You have to give things and honest effort, get recommendations and be willing to try different approaches.

Take me for example, I took salsa lessons for years all over the Bay Area and sucked at it despite many years of lessons, failures, inability to follow directions and teachers that were too stiff and narcissistic. It wasn’t until I found a few instructors I liked and stuck with them that I eventually learned the basics enough to go out dancing socially. After that, it took lots of trial and error to discover the best clubs to go dancing and eventually find the bands that I enjoyed and loved. I could have given up after a few lessons or failing to master basic rhythm techniques but I had no shame and didn’t care what others thought. (I eventually got better and taught lessons myself in SF back in 2009). 

I don’t aim to be the best at everything or everything but enough to become a subject expert to find people with similar interests and passions. I may know absolutely nothing about you or see eye to eye on politics, religion, economics, social justice etc. but I can be certain I can bond with you over beer, Cuban salsa music, the best cocktails in SF, best views in the Bay Area, best camping sites in Northern California, restaurants, Bay Area Rap History, local, domestic and international travel, SF vs. LA vs. NYC topics, dating apps, sports, data science, hiking or several dozen other topics because I know them well enough and confident in my ability to seek out your expertise, compare notes or have healthy arguments. Harder to do this if you don’t bring anything to the table – good conversations require back and forth as well as equal contributions, effort, energy and passion.

What Inspires You, Interests You

This is often the first thing I ask of all clients is to see what sparks their interests. Know what piques your interests, what perks up your ears, what you geek out on and what makes you curious are great ways to build a list from which you can expand on. Individual hobbies and interests are great but it is social activities, group functions, multi-player experiences and communal environments that connects people.

Not everyone is a social butterfly but you do need to step outside your comfort zone. Taking new routes, getting off your phone, asking for opinions, talking to elderly, baristas, drivers etc. is a great way to obtain recommendations and build familiarity. Don’t know what you like, then trial and error your way until you have some things to investigate.

The other approach is to learn what does the area you live around you offer. I lived in LA and NYC and I gave up on beaches, rooftop bars, late night dining and Korean food because those places have all that – San Francisco doesn’t. What San Francisco does offer is hiking, street art, restaurants, cocktails, beer, art, live music, coffee, scenic views, daytrips, outdoor fitness and so much more. Start with what your area has to offer and research the best of each niche item.

Everything is subjective so it pays to be specific. Take cocktails for example, some people value quantity, price, ingredients, views, ambiance, crowds or even specific drinks. Unless you get really specific you will never reach a consensus on the best of X. No one place can meet the expectations across all these factors so finding out what is important for you and what you want to prioritize will help in figuring out what are the best places for you to explore.

Things I Look Out For When Recommending Places

The places listed below offer a unique experience to San Francisco. It’s easier to bond and connect over specific, unique places and experiences than something generic. If something is unique or limited in offerings it is usually more treasured (look up the scarcity effect). The other thing to consider is the concept of individual vs group activities and hobbies. A hobby or interest is hard to bond over if it is typically done in homes or individually. You need a good balance of hobbies to be readily able to join others and invite others to join you. 

How To Look Approachable

The next item to consider when getting ready to put yourself out there in the real world is to look approachable. This means everything from wardrobe, eye contact, body posture, facial expressions, positioning and energy. Low-effort, low-energy people are generally not as interesting to talk to and engage with. You don’t have be an extrovert to succeed in this detail but you do need to show enthusiasm, passion on things you geek out on. This will take time and patience as different people will respond differently to you. Context also matters. It’s hard to bond over swing-dancing at a cafe but if you attend the weekly social gathering in Golden Gate Park you have more of a chance at succeeding. 

Some things you can do to become more approachable is to smile, look energized (work on your metabolism, watch what you eat, exercise more often), wear clothing that people can identify with (local sports team, college alma mater hat, local brewery shirt, a souvenir from traveling, a t-shirt from your favorite podcast, stickers on your laptop, book, your portable coffee tumbler or water bottle). Every item conveys some aspect about your life, your experiences, your travel, your hobbies or your background. Wearing things that are cliche or too local and common like Allbirds shoes, Twitter backpack, Uber fleece, or VC vest is nothing to be proud of – no one cares about these things unless you are looking to network for jobs. These don’t make you unique. 

Having a sense of style is one way to make up for your lack of energy, trouble making eye contact or trouble starting a conversation. Dressing with purpose goes a long way in SF where so many people have given up and dress up in the same clothes for walking the dog, going to work, and going to dinner. Inject some color and patterns in your wardrobe. Make sure your clothing matches your age and ideal maturity, not just what is the most comfortable. No one has ever said nice Birkenstocks or nice generic company t-shirt to anyone, ever.

People will recognize shoes, bags, blazers, shirts, hats, dresses, watches, suits etc. This doesn’t mean you have to dress totally stiff but you can mix and match accessories with more casual attire. You also don’t have to spend a fortune to accomplish these looks but you do need to get help to pick items based on your lifestyle, who you want to attract, your age, skin tone, hair style, physique etc. 

Places To Check Out In SF

The list below is range of interesting, fun and diverse people. You are not going to get diversity spending all your time on Chestnut, Union Street or Fillmore between Jackson and Pine street in San Francisco. 

Lindy in the Park – Free outdoor swing dancing in Golden Gate Park.

Salsa Saturdays at the Ramp – Live music, bloody mary’s and dancing.

Salesforce Park – Totating events and classes including yoga, pilates, salsa dancing and more. Picnic areas, board games to rent, small bites and drinks available at select days and times.

Rickshaw Stop – Great small venue featuring world music. My favorite is the Balkan Brass band – Kafana Balkan & Inspector Gadje. Other small venues I like are Bimbo’s, The Chapel, Amnesia, Thee Parkside, Cigar Bar, The Independent, Red Poppy Art House, The Fillmore.

Barrio Manouche – This flamenco gypsy jazz band plays all over the Bay Area and lately a few pop-up concerts in Golden Gate Park. Their shows draw great people with diverse backgrounds. Follow them on social media

Local Hiking Spots – Twin Peaks can be a bit crowded, so I tend to stick with more local spots like Tank Hill, Corona Heights, Bernal Heights.

Become A Regular – At a few bars, cafes, running routes, grocery stores, gym etc. Get off your phone, take out your airpods and get ready to talk to people.

Join A Team – Check your work for company teams or join as a free agent in the local soccer, basketball or softball leagues. If you can’t commit, join a pickup game. There are plenty of games at gyms, parks all over the city. Ask around. UCSF, Zog Sports, GGP pickup games, rec leagues and more.

Volunteer Regularly – Find a cause you like and volunteer there. Not just one but regularly. It will give you something to talk about, show what you care about and ideally meet others through your effots.

Wait In Line At Your Favorite Place – I personally will not wait in line for anything as there is too much good stuff in San Francisco to waste your time but if you must, you surround yourself with a captive audience that presumably enjoys at least one thing in common with you (said establishment you are waiting in line for).

Communal and Bar Seats – You can’t meet anyone if your back is to everyone, if you sit at a booth, if you look like you don’t want to be disturbed or if you sit somewhere with low-traffic. Sitting amongst others increases randomness and possibility you might connect with someone and maybe someone who is also there by themselves.

Teach Something – People are always looking to learn something. If you get good at something, teach it. I love learning about hidden talents and specialties about others. 

Express Interest, Enthusiasm & Appreciation – Not everyone is a mind-reader. You have to make something known verbally sometimes to be heard or recognized. Even if you are by youself this is quite easy to do. If you are at a bar, compliment the bartender, ask about the ingredients (but only if they are not super busy). If you are with a friend, mention how much you enjoy your dish or comment on other people’s dishes (ask about their order, what they think or how good something looks). If all else fails, take an improv class.

Farmer’s Markets – Using good manners, saying thank you and commenting on things you are trying out can go a long way. Places like farmer’s markets are a prime example of how easy it is to strike up a conversation. These folks are natural salespeople and so learning about fruits and vegetables is one way to express interest and gain knowledge you can share down the road. There is more engagement and interaction typically at farmer’s markets than your local produce store.

Take Different Routes, Explore New Neighborhoods – You need to have things to talk about when you meet others or else you will just stand there awkwardly silent. Take the tiem to explore one neighborhood in detail. Check out a few businesses, look for interesting streets, find some art or interesting homes, and wander aimlessly.

Stay Current, Connected – Stay up to date on local news and events around you. Subscribe to email lists, get memberships to museums, gloss over EaterSF, SFGate, FuncheapSF and Eventbrite, follow places on Instagram even if you don’t post photos. Many venues offer unique, one-off experiences for classes or member events. Check out after hour at museums and openings at art galleries.

Join Your Local Alumni Chapter – See if your school has a local alumni chapter in the area. These groups are great for happy hours, game watches, volunteer events, outings and more.

Be Amongst Others – Go to festivals, picnics at parks, check out live music in the parks, explore neighborhood street fairs, ask someone for the wifi password, ask someone to take a photo of you while out at a scenic overview (or vice-versa), ask for recommendations on what to order, ask if a seat is taken, ask someone to watch your seat. Find ways to organically increase conversation and engagement with others. If you are a single parent, join a local group in the neighborhood.

Get A Pet – Not a cat but rather a dog and hang out in dog parks.

Learn To Cook Or At Least Shop Well – If you manage to attend a potluck or party, bring something to share and make sure its good. It will show you have good taste or cooking skills. 

Take A Class – Sign up for a cocktail glass at your local bar, register for cooking classes and communal meals at 18 Reasons, sign up for in person classes at city college, take hip-hop classes at your gym, take on rock-climbing, yoga, pilates, cycling or running sessions.

Work In Public – Find a cafe, park or public space to work from every so often. The more time you spend outside your home the more likely you are to meet others. I take this to the extreme as I do most of my work away from home or an office and have managed to curate the the most exhaustive list of co-working spaces in San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley and Oakland.

Never Turn Down An Invite – It’s too easy to be non-commital or unsure if you are available – this is total BS. Try something new, meet friends of friends, go to places where you don’t know anyone. You might discover a new venue, hobby, friend or miserable experience that you can laugh at later.

Build The Courage To Do Things On Your Own – Years ago, I bought a one-way ticket to your Europe and ended up meeting lots of amazing people and getting invited to dinners, drinks dancing and events just by positioning myself, asking questions (take a photo of me, asking for directions), wearing the right clothing, sitting at busy locations etc.

I am not an extrovery by any means but I do put myself out there in small groups, selective envirnonments and have lots to talk about. None of this would have been possible had I waited for others to make a move. Sometimes you have to fight that urge to stay home try something new.

Quit Your Job

If your job requires a long commute or long hours, considere quitting your job that provides something more fulfilling and better work-life balance. What good is a high-paying job if you can’t enjoy your life or your neighborhood. Tech life cut people off from many social interactions with their communities (catered lunches, on-site gyms, happy hours, private bus commutes etc.). Re-integrate yourself with people and neighbors around you. 

Use Technology Sparingly

Use Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz modes, download Shapr, join a neighborhood group on Facebook, sign up for Meetup groups, try your luck with some Eventbrite event listings, browse FuncheapSF for last minute events. 

Final Thoughts

The more you invest in exploring the things around you, the more likely you are to run into others with similar interests and in turn, learn to exchange ideas, hobbies and interests so you can build your lists. These things take time – it doesn’t happen overnight. You also have to be engaged in the things you take on and cannot take them on with a superficial interest otherwise people will see right through you.

I offer clients customized, specific recommendations and action items to explore and check out based on their lifestyle, schedules, interests and more. Contact me for a free consultation.

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About Eddie Hernandez 

Eddie Hernandez is a professional photographer specializing in natural, candid online dating photos. Featured in the SFGate, ABC7News, East Bay Express, Salon; contributor to Good Men Project, Plenty Of Fish and Meddle. In addition to photos, he provides guidance around app choice, bio optimization, messaging techniques, wardrobe advice and date ideas. https://eddie-hernandez.com/contact/

Dating Profile Critique

For those of you who are remote or virtual dating help and are looking for an online dating profile critique you can read more about my services here.

For other helpful online dating tips check out my blog: https://eddie-hernandez.com/blog/ 

Online Dating Frequently Asked Questions (Photos, App Choice, Wardrobe, Messaging, Bios and More): https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-frequently-asked-questions/

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