Welcome to It’s a Date, a series of idea guides to help you navigate your love life in the Bay through thoughtfully planned and curated itineraries, field tested by our staff. Today, our destination is a historic alleyway in Chinatown, where you can immerse yourself in local art, lanterns and fortune cookies.
Among the many bustling small alleyways worth exploring in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Ross Alley may be the most special.
More than a century ago, the narrow street between Jackson and Washington streets was known for its brothels and gambling dens. Today, the colorful lanterns and vibrant small businesses make for a perfect touristy afternoon—and also a romantic date in an unexplored corner of a neighborhood most San Franciscans think they already know.
Great for: First dates, locals looking to play tourist, people who want to have fun without walking too far
Vibe: Artsy, getting-to-know-you
Time: 1.5 hours
Any meetup should start at the still-new Chinatown-Rose Pak Station, as parking is very limited in Chinatown. After you exit the northern end of the Central Subway, climb the long and steep escalator hand-in-hand with your crush—and suddenly, the corner of Stockton Street, Chinatown’s main thoroughfare, and Washington Street, is right in front of you.
Ross Alley is only a one-minute walk away, filled with classic Chinese lanterns and modern murals.
On this little lane, you can test your cuffing compatibility and the potential for a situationship at a delightful boba shop, an art gallery, a flower shop and the world’s most famous fortune-cookie factory.
Drink Peach Coconut Boba
With elegant Chinese paintings and decorated cups, the beautiful By Me Boba Tea is the first place you’ll want to take a selfie while comparing your favorite flavors.
The menu has a wide range of drinks, like milk tea, fruit tea and even a good old latte, meaning you can size up whether this prospective soulmate craves adventure or likes to stick with the tried-and-true. Better yet for the budget-conscious, a cup of large peach coconut milk with boba is only about $7.
Make Fortune Cookies Like a Celeb
On a weekday afternoon, Chinatown’s tourist crowds should be lighter than usual, but if there’s one place where you and a date might get to know each other in line, it will be at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, one of the most iconic tourist destinations anywhere in San Francisco.
Owner Kevin Chan said that as the shop celebrates its 61st anniversary, everyone—not just tourists—should visit.
“We are not just a cookie shop,” Chan told The Standard. “We are also a mini-museum.”
If you’re lucky, Chan might invite you to make some cookies, the way many celebrities do. So start thinking of a flirty message for your date to find in their cookie, and hope you can guess their lucky numbers.
Find a Bit of Romance in an Art Gallery
When you’ve had your fill the sights and smells of a historic commercial bakery, why not try something a little quieter? Right across the street, 41 Ross is an art gallery and community resource space that grew out of a collaboration between the Chinatown Community Development Center and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.
Hoi Leung, a curator at the Chinese Culture Center, said the gallery has been transformed into a place that can host artist residencies so that future generations of Chinese American creatives can continue making art. The current exhibition is "Eclipse by Generation Chinatown," featuring art by seven San Francisco high-school-age youth on their stories and dedications toward healing.
Just note that although 41 Ross is free to enter, it keeps unusual hours, open Tuesdays to Fridays, 1-4 p.m.
Flowers for Your New Sweetheart
If the date’s going really well, why not take the risk and buy them some flowers? Sweetheart Florist is known in the community for event decorations—think weddings and funerals—but also you can just buy a fresh bouquet of lilies—or even a prom-style corsage or boutonniere. Sound a little cringe? Maybe. But then again, whose heart wouldn’t melt from their new boo pinning flowers to their lapel?
And since you’re in Chinatown, why not try out some of the neighborhood’s incredible wealth of pork siu mai and shrimp har gow? The famous House of Dim Sum on Jackson Street just off Ross Alley, is always good for some light bites before it’s officially time to call it and give your date a peck on the cheek.