Lifestyle

Austin Date Ideas You'll Both Actually Enjoy

For when you’re ready to take it beyond FaceTime.

After these months of quarantine, everyone’s craving some connection as much as they are craving, well, anything to do besides deciding what show to binge watch. However, how do you meet your new someone without threatening your health (or theirs) in the process? By going on any of these Austin dates that are not only safe, but fun (remember fun?). So, grab your mask, ditch the sweatpants for some real clothes, and get back out on that dating scene.

See a drive-in movie

Various locations
With trucks of every shape and size barraging the roads of Texas, you may as well put those spacious flatbeds to use. Pile lots of pillows and blankets in the back and park that big mac truck right in Doc’s Drive In Theatre or The Blue Starlite Drive-In. Check out offerings of film favorites like The Goonies or Beetlejuice, playing virtually every night of the week. The open air, the stars -- ah, the rom-com of it all -- all to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own plushie vehicle. Both places have concession stands, so you can still get your popcorn fix, but with The Blue Starlite you have to be sure to pre-buy your snacks with your ticket online.

Take an (early) plunge

South Austin
Want to see if your date is up for anything/can literally get up for an alarm? Suggest an early morning dip at the famous Barton Springs. Until recently, this Austin staple has been closed due to COVID, but it has finally opened up for morning swim hours every day from 5am - 8am. For those brave souls who can roll out of bed in the early morning, no reservations are required, although there is a chance the pool could reach capacity, so the earlier you get there, the better your chances. If the water isn’t enough to wake up you and your crush, perhaps suggest grabbing some coffee after (nearby Patika is a great option) to round out the experience.

Tap into your animal instincts

Johnson City
Show your date you’re the next Steve Irwin by taking them on a drive-through zoo visit at The Exotic Resort in Johnson City. There, you can roll through the zoo in the socially distanced comfort of your car while feeding animals, like antelope, ostriches, and buffalo, that come right up to your vehicle’s window. We recommend you buy tickets, as well as pre-buy bags of feed,  ahead of time on The Exotic Resort’s website -- especially if you are planning on visiting during the weekend when the park is busiest.

Do some serious thrifting 

South Austin
Whether you are looking for records, home goods, or furniture, Austin is a dream destination for all things vintage. With Halloween on the horizon, there’s no better time to take advantage of this sort of date that is way more interesting than your standard dinner and drinks. Limit yourselves to a $5 budget and hit the Goodwill Central Texas - Outlet South, where you can buy clothes by the pound, to see who can put together the better costume. Afterwards, loser buys the drinks at The Jackalope South Shore.

Hit the breweries 

Various locations 
Take “let’s grab drinks” one-step further by going straight to the source of the libations themselves -- one of Austin’s local breweries. East side favorites Central Machine Works and Hops & Grain not only have delicious drinks, but also spacious outdoor space so you can get to know each other without the threat of indoor germs. If you’re organized enough to plan ahead, make a reservation to take your date to Jester King in Hill Country, which specializes in sour beers -- with seating available in such scenic locations as a vineyard and a pasture, you can guarantee both beauty and brews.

Rent a private movie theater

Alamo Drafthouse
For long-term loves celebrating an anniversary, or those just willing to shell out some extra bucks to really impress their date, take in your own personal screening at the Alamo Drafthouse. Yes, that’s right -- one huge movie theater to yourselves, with a full menu of food and drinks to order from while you enjoy your film. The Alamo Drafthouse does make you choose a movie from a pre-selected list to watch but, with everything from romantic classics like Casablanca to horror classics like The Thing, to choose from, you are bound to have a much easier time deciding on what to watch than you do when browsing Netflix.

Dive into the art (literally) at Wonderspaces

North Austin 
For a new activity even the most seasoned Austinite may not have tried, head over to the Wonderspaces art gallery. An interactive experience, Wonderspaces allows you to wander through hanging rows of light bulbs, cast your shadow on a screen in neon paint, and even have the VR experience of an alien encounter. To keep the space safe and socially distant compliant, there are only a limited number of slots available every hour which must be booked online in advance. Note: alcohol beverages are not sold or allowed inside but you can meet up at close-by Easy Tiger Linc for a drink before or after. 

Have a picnic in the park

South Austin
You know what they say -- if it ain’t broke, don't fix it. The same can be said of this classic date idea, and with the added factors of, you know, a national pandemic, grabbing some grub and hitting the park has never been a better (or safer) bet. With all the diverse takeout options available in South Austin and a beautiful view of the city skyline, Zilker Park is the ideal location to get your picnic on. Grab some burgers and milkshakes at Sandy’s Hamburgers before walking over or, if you’re more of a foodie, you can pick up Loro’s brisket and cocktails in just a quick five-minute drive from the park.

Take a tiki drink tour 

Various locations 
Let’s be real, it’s probably been a while since either you or your date have gone on a vacation of any sorts. However, you can evoke all the memories of a tropical vacation, with none of the TSA line waiting, by taking your own tiki drink tour of Austin. Start off at Pool Burger with a classic Mai Tai, then head to Wu Chow for their pineapple-tequila cocktail concoction the Green Dragon. Finish off the bar crawl at Nickel City, where you can choose from three “levels” of Painkillers based on how strong you want your drink.

Paddle through Town Lake

Town Lake
After months of suffering through the summer heat, it feels like it has finally hit the season of perfect (aka tolerable) weather in Austin. Which makes it the ideal time to meet up at the edge of Town Lake and rent kayaks or paddle boards to explore the water. Both EpicSUP and Live Love Paddle offer great hourly rates, as well as the added bonus of parking. Bring along a cooler with some drinks to have while you’re out there, as well as a towel in case you have the embarrassing luck to fall in -- try to play it cool though.

 

Catch some live music at Sagebrush

South Congress
The way the world is going, the last thing you probably expected to see on this list is a concert. However, Austin isn’t known as the Live Music Capital of the World for nothing. Recently opened South Austin venue and bar, Sagebrush, gives you the music fix you need within the large space of an outdoor backyard our times demand. You can check out their website for a schedule of upcoming acts but, with a limited capacity of how many people are allowed in at one time and tickets only sold at door, be sure to get there early to secure your spot for the show.

Make your own pottery

Brentwood
What’s a better way to get close to your date than recreating that scene from Ghost? You can get as close as possible by taking an adult class at Austin Pottery. They offer one-time wheel throwing classes, as well as hand-building ones for those less inclined to connect with their inner Swayze. Not to worry if your only experience with clay goes back to the Play-Doh days of preschool -- both classes are perfect for beginners. Due to COVID, however, space is limited, so be sure to call them to make a reservation.

Ride the bike trails

Various locations
Roll off into the sunset together at one of Austin’s many gorgeous bike trails -- like the Southern Walnut Creek Trail in the East or the Ann and Roy Butler Trail which hugs the banks of Lady Bird Lake. If you don’t own your own bike, you can rent one through Barton Springs Bike Rental -- they even have tandems for the true love birds. If you’re less nature-inclined, rent one of the city’s Metrobikes and tour the landmark locations of Downtown, such as the Capital or the Willie Nelson statue.

Play your heart out at the arcade

Various locations 
There’s nothing like the nostalgia of playing Pac-Man, mixed with the adult ability to have a beer while doing so. A tried-and-true Austin staple, The Original Pinballz Arcade, allows you to do just that -- enjoy their huge selection of games, including their room of vintage pinball machines, in a space that is BYOB-friendly. A newer edition to the scene in South Austin, Cidercade, boasts unlimited play, pizza, and, as the name suggests, a plentiful offering of cider on tap. 

Explore outdoor art 

Various locations 
Show off how cultured you are by taking your date to one of Austin’s outdoor art museums. At the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, you can take in the work of renowned American sculptor Charles Umlaut while walking through the lush greenery which blankets every step of the space. In West Austin, there’s Laguna Gloria which features pieces by contemporary artists on the grounds of a 1916 villa that sits on the shore of Lake Austin. In terms of health guidelines, masks are required and space is limited, so both places encourage making reservations ahead of time online.

Rate the city’s breakfast tacos

Various locations 
Challenge your date to help you settle the penultimate question of all time: which place in Austin has the best migas? Start your journey at Radio Coffee & Beer where you can pair a drink with the selection from the Veracruz taco truck. Save room though for the massive portions at your next stop -- Juan in a Million on Austin’s East side. Finally, figure out if you're meant to be by going to both local chain rivals Torchy’s and Taco Deli. Be warned though: Disagreement over which one is best might be a huge red flag for a future relationship. 

Get off the beaten trail 

Various locations
Test their Tinder profile’s claim that they “love the outdoors” by suggesting a hike through one of greater Austin’s lesser known, yet incredibly beautiful, trails. About an hour north in Belton is the Chalk Ridge Trail at Chalk Ridge Falls Park, where you'll get to both see a waterfall and cross a suspension bridge -- all in the space of three miles. For those looking for a longer adventure, check out Crockett Garden Falls in Georgetown’s Cedar Breaks Park. Pack a lunch and bring your bathing suit for a six-mile trail that will lead you to the most gorgeous grotto you've ever seen for a well-deserved dip. 

Go mini-golfing at Peter Pan 

Bouldin Creek
To arrive at Peter Pan Mini-Golf, and see the giant neon green T. Rex that adorns the front of the course, is to know this place goes way beyond the standard windmill hole-in-ones. Add to this the further collection of wacky acid-trip animals that decorate the green and a BYOB atmosphere, and you have a great outdoor date on your hands. Be sure to bring a mask and while they have sanitized golf equipment, for those who would like to prevent further contact by bringing their own, that is also allowed. 

Stroll a farmers market

Various locations 
Multi-task by going on a date and getting your groceries for the week by meeting up at one of Austin’s weekend farmers markets. On Saturday, from 9am to 1pm, head to the Barton Creek Farmers Market at the Barton Creek Square mall where you can grab fresh tomatoes and bell peppers from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. The Texas Farmers Market at Mueller, which runs from 10am to 2pm, is the Sunday favorite. While there, those who have yet to attempt to make their own sourdough in quarantine can, instead, grab a loaf instead from Texas French Bread. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone you bought it. 

Take your dogs with you 

West Austin
We all know what’s really important in any potential relationship: What does your pet think of them? Throw them right in by bringing your furry friend along with you, especially if they have a dog of their own to join the party. Red Bud Isle, which sits on the right in the middle of the west side of Lady Bird Lake, is the perfect off-leash location for your meet-cute. Bring beer for your date and treats for their dog -- you want to be sure to make a good first impression.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.