Sex + Dating

Underrated Date Ideas That Are So Much Better Than Dinner


So you’ve taken it upon yourself to ask someone on a date. Meeting for coffee? Obvious. Dinner? Just as obvious, and also excruciatingly longer should things go poorly. A drink at your go-to dive bar where the bartender will invariably ask about (or possibly be!) your ex? Why do you keep doing this to yourself?

You can do better. Instead of falling back on the obvious go-tos, reach for these more memorable opportunities, whether you’re trying to impress a first date or try something new with someone who has already decided to keep seeing you.

Take a trip to the weirdest roadside attraction you can find

This country is teeming with weird shit along the side of the road; and now you can even get an app that will show you every spot to check out. The excursion can run as long or as short as you like, with the added bonus of ample photo opps so you can start carving out real estate on that Instagram feed.

Embrace irony and act like a tourist without leaving town

We often take the most popular stuff in the places we live for granted, while simultaneously complaining that there’s nothing to do in said places. Take a boat ride to Alcatraz in SF, climb aboard a double-decker bus in Manhattan, or hop on the Chicago River architecture tour. Smaller towns have cool stuff, too -- like guided bike rides, ghost tours, bizarre museums and historic home tours. Bonus points if you actually pretend to be tourists and use accents/ fake identities.


Embrace the inevitable and act like an old person

Find the closest bingo night, go bowling, grab some suds at a VFW hall (where there will possibly be bingo!) or take a ballroom dance class. These simple, old-fashioned dates withstand the test of time for a reason. Also, if you mingle with old people and your date sees how great you potentially could be with her grandparents, it definitely won’t hurt your chances of an eventual Sunday dinner invite.

Dress up for an art opening even if it’s out of your league

Whether at a full-on museum or tiny, out-of-the-way gallery, art openings are bustling events with cool people to mingle with, interesting artist mission statements that will drive your conversation later on, and a reasonable-to-good chance you can get some wine and apps for free. Even if the art is terrible, opening nights are always interesting to attend and will give you the added bonus of appearing reasonably cultured.

Ignore politics and go to a shooting range

Chances are good that you're within 20 minutes of a shooting range, whether by bus, train or automobile. And no matter where you fall on the political fence, shooting ranges are fun -- whether you want to fire at clay pigeons or just test your eye in the gallery on some targets. Granted, for this one you'll want confirmation of your date's enthusiasm so you don't end up having a fantastically awkward afternoon with someone who absolutely has no taste for firearms whatsoever. Should that be the case, there's always an archery range (or paintball, or laser tag). But if you’re going full firearm, do a little research on the place before you show up so you know what the deal is for firearm rentals, ammo, targets and what newbies should bring or wear… and how they feel about people who don't know what they're doing. Unless you do, in which case you get to show off that eagle eye of yours. 

Go join the circus... class

Anyone who's ever spent even a second daydreaming about running away with the circus will totally dig carnie -- er, circus -- classes now popping up all over the place. You can learn tightrope walking, juggling, unicycle riding, acrobatics… or just go big and take a trapeze lesson. Probably don’t take a clowning class though, because, creepy.

Rely on the cuteness of dogs, even if you don’t own one

Up your awwww factor and head to an animal shelter to walk some dogs. This one requires a little bit of preparation: you'll have to call your local shelter ahead of time to ensure they have a program in place for this sort of thing (or sign up as a volunteer online). You'll have to pick a time slot, as well. And please, please make sure your date loves dogs because if she doesn't, this becomes a really terrible idea. Once you’ve done the legwork, and then the other legwork, your should be all but guaranteed another date.

Take a helicopter ride, which is way more doable than it sounds

For the price of a nice dinner and drinks, you can reach for something much more memorable that’ll let her see your city in a whole new way (unless she is a pilot, in which case this is probably not the optimal idea). Bonus: Goupon always has deals for this so be sure to check its local listings, which will often drop the price by almost half.


Pretend you’re one of those couples from House Hunters

House hunting is much like dating: you start out a little overwhelmed by all the options, have to work through multiple disappointments along the way, and try on several options for size before settling on the one. For all these reasons -- and because we all secretly/not so secretly love checking out how other people live -- open house-hopping is a sneaky entertaining date idea. If you're in a city, cover open houses in one neighborhood to make it a walking tour. You'll get a tremendous education on what kind of person you're hanging out with just by seeing her reaction to other people's dwellings. And you'll get a really great sense of whether your personalities line up -- all while trying on the role of coupledom since the realtor will obviously think you two are together.

Sneak into a hotel pool, even though you really shouldn’t do that

You might need to gauge your date’s appetite for shenanigans first, but rule breaking can be quite the aphrodisiac, and hotel pools can be quite fancy, so do some recon and develop a foolproof plan for illicitly taking advantage of some pool time. But do so at your own risk, and if you get caught, you never read this. 

Rent a car that’s way better than the one you’re normally driving

Score a convertible from any major car-rental outlet, or go ultra luxe by visiting a site that caters to renting people their dream cars. Once you’ve landed the ride and picked up your date the route you take is really up to you, but strong moves include seeking out serious scenery or some off-the-beaten path snacks. You won’t be breaking the “dinner cliche” rule, because you’re in that fantastic ride.

Put yourself in fate’s hands 

Grab some darts and take some throws at the alt-weekly’s calendar listings. Or, because print is dead, do the same with your favorite local lifestyle site (though please, no darts fired at computer screens … a blindfold and a fingertip should suffice). Maybe you’ll end up at a burlesque show. Maybe it’ll be a concert from a band neither of you has heard of. Maybe a … funeral? (Make sure you aren’t on an obituaries page). Really, however you accomplish is, the idea is to make an agreement to seek out something completely at random and then dive head first into said activity no questions asked. The results may surprise you. 

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Nicole Caldwell is a Thrillist editor who loves a good helicopter ride.