Virginia Woolf famously wrote, “One cannot love well if one has not dined well.” We're pretty sure that means she’d have been a fan of candlelight, fresh flowers, decadent desserts, plush booths, cozy corners, soft music, dazzling ocean views, and any of the other strategies San Diego’s most romantic restaurants employ to set the mood with food. With aphrodisiac atmospheres, well-crafted cocktails, scintillating scenery, and memorable menus, you're sure to leave feeling full and frisky.
Love can make you feel like your head’s in the clouds as can the stellar view of the skyline and landing planes from this Bankers Hill classic. That’s probably why it's been the site of so many marriage proposals, Valentine’s dates, and special celebrations since it opened decades ago and especially since it was reimagined by owner Bertrand Hug in 2000. The upscale American menu features standbys like pork chops and duck breasts in their most classic forms as well as modern takes on dishes like swordfish and lamb with smoked date jam.
Hot tip: Call early and often as reservations, especially for coveted tables 50 and 52, are notoriously hard to get.
The Marine Room
While the food at the Marine Room is first rate (think Paramount Imperial Osetra caviar, lobster bisque, and elk medallions) and the service impeccable, the real star of the show at this white-tablecloth La Jolla stalwart—which has enticed many celebrities, public figures, visiting dignitaries, and folks marking milestones since 1941—is the proximity to the beach. The waves can literally crash against the picture windows of the sunken dining room during high tide or pass calmly below and give the illusion that you're floating on the ocean. The location also makes for stunning sunset viewing.
A tried-and-true choice for a romantic night on the town, the signature restaurant at the splurge-worthy Lodge at Torrey Pines invites sweethearts to linger longer with its craftsman-inspired interior design, beamed ceiling, live music Wednesdays through Fridays, warming ornate fireplace, three kinds of pate, and deck overlooking the 18th hole of the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course. The chef is dedicated to working with local purveyors and as such the menu changes with the seasons. The intricate plating is as artful as the works created by the restaurant’s namesake, a 20th-century California artist whose paintings line the walls.
Jeune et Jolie
Bursting with Art Deco flair, convivial vibes, and a songbird soundtrack played on a vintage reel-to-reel, it’s easy to find yourself tickled pink in the rosy velvet booths of this year-old nouvelle French bistro in Carlsbad. Named one of 2019’s best new restaurants in America by an Esquire writer who himself discovered it on date night, the 80-seat space reimagines across-the-pond staples like frog legs and rabbit through a Golden State lens, which means Asian and Mexican influences and more seafood and vegetables. An absinthe tower and oysters from a beautiful raw bar also help set the mood for love.
Bo-beau Kitchen and Bar
You should have no reservations about having dinner at this cozy Cali-French spot in Ocean Beach. It transports pairs to the south of France with stone walls, caramel wood decor, and a terracotta tiled roof. Even on a chilly night, opt for the small open-air patio as you’ll be warmed by overhead heaters, the wood-burning oven, and a toasty fire in the hearth. Finish the meal with a suggestive Ménage a Trois (flourless chocolate cake, a macaron, and semifreddo) and one of the three cocktails affectionately called Goodnight Kisses.
Romantics are drawn to Prado's charming patio with animal magnetism. Maybe it's the proximity to the zoo, or, more likely, it’s the twinkling lights, gurgling fountains, enchanting front courtyard, and surrounding lush nature and striking historic architecture of Balboa Park. An expertise in the ways of red wine-braised short ribs and paella probably doesn’t hurt either.
Money can't buy happiness but it can buy you and your someone special a palate-pleasing pan-Asian feast of Korean fried chicken, 45-day dry-aged rib eye, Ora king salmon with pomegranate ponzu, or a variety of delicious crudos at "Top Chef" contestant Brian Malarkey’s latest entry in the San Diego fine dining scene. The space, a $5.5 million project, is awash in sumptuous shades of gold, chartreuse, and coral from the elegant chandeliers to the custom carpeting. Both can be admired while sipping something from the quality Japanese whisky collection.
Don’t let the unremarkable corner that Starlite sits on dissuade you from walking through that cool hexagonal front door because what awaits is even more mysterious and delicious. The sunken bar is dimly lit and moody, with sleek black leather booths, cork tiles, walnut paneling, and an eye-catching chandelier that creates a cosmic illusion. A mirrored ceiling allows one to steal glances on the sly while enjoying seasonal slow food specialties like roasted bone marrow, charcuterie, asparagus salad, and their signature ice cream sandwich. They also get bonus points for serving nibbles and craft cocktails late into the night.
One of San Diego’s finest modern Italian restaurants, Il Dandy, has a secret you’ll want to know about—a second restaurant hidden in a private room beside the kitchen. Arama is inspired by the father and son chefs’ Michelin-starred Ristorante Abbruzzino in their native Calabria. It offers a 12-course tasting menu for only two to six guests each night. The exclusivity is sexy as is watching the sunset from the patio with an aperitif in hand.
Everything looks better in candlelight not that Veladora, the signature restaurant at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, needs any help wooing couples in search of a romantic night out. The gabled wood ceiling, Mediterranean-meets-hacienda vibe, iron scrolled chandeliers, views of the surrounding hillsides, and a show-stopping piece of art by Damien Hirst has that covered. And if that’s not enough to draw you in, consider the menu that takes full advantage of the regional bounty of fresh produce and high-end proteins. If you're truly lucky, you can slink back to your room for dessert.