Two humans meet, maybe on Tinder or at the Whole Foods salad bar or by way of an introduction from a friend. They make plans to go out together. They ask background-type questions, share appetizers, touch each other probingly to see if the reaction is positive or negative. They’re wondering, Will I sleep with this person, have children and enter into a contract to become lifelong companions?
Dating is pretty weird, man. Especially the first date, when you’re thinking about all of this while eating blistered shishito peppers and trying to hold a conversation. But while it’s strange and challenging, it’s also incredibly hopeful and ambitious to get out there and make finding love a priority, to finish a long work day and then put in another few hours trying to lock down a life companion.
First, though, you’ve got to plan the date. That sounds easy, but there’s more to it than hitting the pool hall with your buddies. The stakes are higher. Should you meet for a quick coffee before breakfast? A post-work cocktail? A live performance of Béatrice et Bénédict, 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz’s opéra comique based on Shakespeare’s comic love story, Much Ado About Nothing? You make the call, but to lend a hand we’ve dumped our collective dating expertise into one place to bring you 25 great date ideas in cities across America.
Get out there and touch each other probingly to see if the reaction is positive or negative.
– Jeremy Berger
The Best Spots in America for a First Date
PORTLAND HUNT + ALPINE CLUB – Portland, Maine
THE ST. LOUIS ORCHESTRA AT POWELL HALL – St. Louis, Missouri
BUVETTE – New York, New York
LA CARTA DE OAXACA – Seattle, Washington
ARNOLD ARBORETUM – Boston, Massachusetts
HONEY’S SIT ‘N EAT – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
MUSE RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR – Charleston, South Carolina
FRANK – New York, New York
PRESCOTT PARK ART FESTIVAL – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
TENNESSEE BEER WORKS – Nashville, Tennessee
SECOND EMPIRE – Raleigh, North Carolina
HOLLER HOUSE TAVERN – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
MOUNT BONNELL – Austin, Texas
CHURCH STREET MARKETPLACE – Burlington, Vermont
PIZZA AL FRESCO – Palm Beach, Florida
STORM KING ART CENTER – New Windsor, New York
ZUNZI’S – Savannah, Georgia
BROA – Jersey City, New Jersey
NAMU GAJI – San Francisco, California
EAT. SEE. HEAR. – Los Angeles, California
RUSTY SCUPPER – Baltimore, Maryland
PARLOUR – Minneapolis, Minnesota
RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE – Denver, Colorado
WELLFLEET DRIVE-IN – Wellfleet, Massachusetts
DELTA BISTROPUB – Greenwood, Mississippi
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club
Hip Cocktail Club Is a First Date Safety Net
Planning a date in Portland is to be spoiled for choice. The restaurant scene has exploded over the past few years: Classic spots like Duck Fat and Fore Street paved the way for an army of celebrated newcomers like Eventide and Central Provisions. If you don’t know a Basket Cove from an Island Creek, the Portland Museum of Art’s carefully curated exhibits rival some of the best in the country, and the city’s vibrant live music venues have been well known for decades. So what to do? In a town where all of the first-date options are cobbled together as densely as its streets, there’s only one way to decide: over a bowl of house popcorn and a bottle of Champagne at the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, naturally. Expertly staffed by ex-pat industry vets from all of those other cities, these folks have seen a first date or two, and they know what you need. Forget about the awkward back-and-forth cocktail menu volley. All you have to do is grab some low-pressure seating at the large communal tables, point wordlessly to the menu and feel confident knowing that the first impression is being handled.
– Lauren Friel
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at Powell Hall
Béatrice et Bénédict, Anyone?
Sure, you could take your date for St. Louis stalwarts such as fried ravioli or frozen custard, but neither of those foods are conducive to lovemaking. By contrast, a night at the symphony listening to a live performance of the overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz’s opéra comique based on Shakespeare’s comic love story, Much Ado About Nothing, will get the sparks flying. It’s just one of several Romantic-era pieces on the 2015-2016 season roster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, one of the world’s greatest ensembles ever since its founding in 1880. Since 1968, its home has been Powell Hall, a former movie palace and vaudeville theater — Looney Toons composer Carl Stalling got his start there as an organist — built in 1925 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Known for its fantastic acoustics, the inside of Powell Hall is appropriately grandiose, with inspiration taken from Versailles’ Royal Chapel — all the more to gawk at and talk about with your date while you both sip flutes of Champagne during the intermission.
– Tom Samiljan
Exquisitely French, Extremely Local
Buvette is located in the West Village on a beautiful townhouse-lined street. When you arrive, the hand-painted bicycle and simple facade screams quaint Parisian restaurant. If you haven’t charmed your date yet, this should do the trick. This restaurant was designed for couples, so any table will do. If you have the time, wait for the garden patio — it’s worth it. The menu consists of small plates with a wide variety of traditional French and European fare. Sweet or savory, they’ve got you covered. If you go for brunch, order a round of French 75s, the duck terrine, chèvre and eggs, mushroom toast and the apple tart tatin. Then just go get married already.
– Andrew Haynes
La Carta de Oaxaca (and More)
Middle of the Road Is the Best Path
First, go to Ballard. It’s quaint, approachable and offers plenty of options for extension if things are going well. Second, forget the fancy spots (Walrus & Carpenter, Volterra); this is a first date, not a proposal. Go with La Carta de Oaxaca. It’s plenty good enough to earn foodie respect, and the lively and intimate space will have you close-talking before the second margarita arrives. Afterward, there’s Sunset Tavern or Tractor Tavern for live music or Hot Cakes for molten chocolate decadence to inspire a bit of l-o-v-e.
– Matthew Ankeny
Alluring Urban Oasis
The wide, meandering paths of Jamaica Plain’s Arnold Arboretum have been courting the hearts of Bostonians since 1887, and it’s the perfect spot to sow the seeds of your own romance. To start, feel a sense of awe together on a stroll through the sylvan Hemlock Hill, show you can laugh at yourself as you delve into the pronunciation of various binomial nomenclature and marvel at how tiny all of those Larz Anderson Bonsai trees really are. Bring a picnic (sandwiches from City Feed & Supply and a surreptitious bottle of rosé from Streetcar Wines, both nearby) and spread out among the wildflowers on Weld Hill before an easy hike to the top of Peter’s Hill for a killer view of the Boston skyline. We suggest timing this one with sunset — if things are going well, it’s the perfect spot for that first kiss. Pro tip: Harvard owns and runs the Arboretum, so be sure to check the park’s website before going — that Ivy League endowment guarantees a schedule of awesome events all season long.
– Lauren Friel
Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat
Morning Date in Philly
We know what you’re thinking: breakfast? But getting grub and a cup of coffee is actually the ideal first date. It’s more affordable and quicker than dinner — plus, if it’s on a weekday, that provides a built-in timetable because you’ve go to work. For something low-key and delicious, head on over to Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat. They now have two joints in Philly, but go to their original 4th Street location. Winner of the “Best Breakfast in Philadelphia” in 2011 and 2013 by Philadelphia magazine, Honey’s dishes out powerhouse breakfasts like the Breakfast Bomb (giant buttermilk pancake stuffed with scrambled eggs and meat) and the a toasted bagel platter with Nova Lox or whitefish salad. It’s nothing too fancy, a tatted-up hipster will probably be your waiter, and your date will find it unique. Since it’s breakfast, you’ll skip the awkward “Should we kiss?” moment.
– Tucker Bowe
Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar
Southern Hospitality Done Right
Going on a first date in Charleston comes with an unfair advantage because the atmosphere does most of the work for you. Park on one of the city’s cobblestone side streets and walk through downtown to Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar. The patio is nearly perfect, but eat inside where each room of this home-turned-restaurant is decorated differently and yields an intimate experience; wherever you sit, you’ll feel like the only ones in the restaurant (but if you can, grab the second-floor table with the cushioned window box). To drink: ask for the chef’s recommended white wine. To eat: start with bruschetta. The duck is tempting, but you’ll want something light in advance of the rich and flavorful main course, bouillabaisse over orzo. Instead of dessert, order a cheese plate to share, which gives you an excuse to order more wine and stay if things are going well. This time, order the red.
– Caitlyn Girardi
A Conversation Starter with Food
Go to Frank for an extensive wine list and cozy outdoor seating during the warmer months. The laid back atmosphere and people-watching along 2nd Ave in NYC’s East Village makes for conversation that starts itself. As a warning, this place is cash-only and doesn’t take reservations. But, if you get turned away, just walk one block south and hang a right for Cucina Di Pesce, which serves more great Italian and wine at a spot that’s never crowded. And if Italian goes well, around the corner from Frank and Cucina Di Pesce is the Eastville Comedy Club, a less crowded club than the Comedy Cellar, stocked with the up-and-coming talented and untalented alike. You can walk right in on most nights, but I suggest not sitting up front on a first date. Comedians have an eye for the uncomfortable.
– Travis Smith
Prescott Park Arts Festival
A Movie in the Park
Nothing is more romantic than sitting in the park and having a picnic. Pair that with a nice rom-com or classic movie and you have yourself a winning combination. Every summer, as part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival, Portsmouth, New Hampshire puts on movies in the park. The park is located right on the Piscataqua River and is a short walk from downtown wine and tapas spot Cava, ideal for a post-movie glass of vino. The temperature also drops at night while the movies are playing, providing the perfect opportunity to offer your jacket or cuddle up under a blanket.
– AJ Powell
Tennessee Brew Works
Beauty’s in the Hands of the Beerholder
First dates work well when you’ve got something to do. And, what better to do than drink beer? Tennessee Brew Works is a two-story space that has plenty of room to cozy into a corner and pontificate on hops and malt. Or, go play darts inside the brewery. Or, jive to the live music (it’s Nashville, after all). Or, sit on the patio and imbibe in the aire libre. If things go well, you’ve got plenty of extension options in walking distance, like Jackalope Brewing and Yazoo Brewing.
– Matthew Ankeny
Southern Elegance or Casual Comfort
North Carolina’s capital offers plenty of downtown eats — from pit-cooked BBQ to seafood caught daily and trucked in from its Outer Banks region. At Second Empire, you’re apt to find just about everything the area is famous for, prepared in a way that’s anything but ordinary. In a bid to serve you regardless of the occasion, there’s an “upstairs” area where reservations are a must and you’re free to wear your finest tuxedo. The waitstaff is prim and proper, and the dishes are deliberately over the top. For a looser experience, reserve a spot in the lower tavern, where casual rules and the menu is more affordable.
– Darren Murph
Holler House Tavern
A Storied Bowling Alley with Character
Open since 1908, Holler House is America’s oldest certified bowling alley. The two wooden lanes in the basement function much like they did over 100 years ago: there are no chairs, pins are reloaded by hand and scores are kept with pen and paper. Though $4 games are hard to pass up, just as much character can be found in the upstairs tavern, where Milwaukee’s finest can be found eating hot ham and rolls. It’s also tradition for women to hang their bras from various points. Just warn your date ahead of time.
– Jack Seemer
A Short Hike for a Picnic and a Sunset
Just five miles from downtown Austin is Mount Bonnell, a 780-foot vista that sits adjacent to Lake Austin, part of the Colorado River. From the road, a short walk (0.3 miles) takes you up a set of steep stairs to a perch overlooking the river and the city. It is considered one of the best places in Austin to catch the sunset, extremely romantic with the water below. Pack a small cooler with beer (one each) to kickstart the sunset conversation. If all goes well, suggest that you return to the city for a casual bite to eat. If you live in Austin, barbecue is a big part of your world, and there’s no reason to be shy about a little sauce on your cheek just because it’s a first date. Black’s Barbecue is one of the original four family-owned restaurants to hail from Lockhart, and it now ranks amongst the best brisket in Austin.
– Will McGough
Church Street Marketplace
A Stroll Through “Urban” Vermont
Known to the locals just as Church Street, this brick-paved walking street is perfect for turning a casual meet-up into a top-drawer first date. Walk up and down the four blocks for a relaxing, quiet conversation. If things are clicking and you want to keep things going with a little drink, try The Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Vermont is home to some of the best beer in the world, and this is arguably its best beer bar. If you want to keep chatting, take the short walk down to the waterfront where you can sit on benches and look out over the idyllic Lake Champlain.
– Greg Goldstone
Pizza Al Fresco
Pizza on a First Date
There are few occasions when pizza might be considered romantic on a first date, but Pizza Al Fresco, in one of Palm Beach’s winding, historic vias, makes it happen. If the weather allows, eat outside in the tastefully lit, palm-tree-dotted courtyard. Go big, go unexpected, and order the frutti di mare pizza. Baby scallops, shrimp, calamari and diced tomato sit in luscious mozzarella with a gracious serving of olive oil. Hitting it off? Head to Cucina dell’ Arte for a glass of wine and music — and maybe some dancing. For something quieter (and much more romantic), walk the Lake Trail along the intracoastal waterway to the paradisal waterfront park known by locals as “Big Tree”.
– Caitlyn Girardi
Storm King Art Center
Stroll Among Sculptures in the Hudson Valley
Set in the idyllic Hudson Valley, an hour’s drive north of New York City, Storm King Art Center is known among art critics to be among the world’s finest sculpture parks. The renowned collection is spread over 500 acres, and includes works by contemporary artists Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra and Roy Lichtenstein. But even if these names mean very little to you and your date, just about everyone will revel in the park’s natural surroundings, defined by an expanse of rolling hills, wildflowers and ponds. Open April through November.
– Jack Seemer
A Casual Date with Southern Charm in Spades
The big-deal eatery in Savannah is The Olde Pink House, and rightfully so: its southern fare is delicious and the location is as cozy as it is historic. But if you’d rather play it cool and take off some of the pressure, go casual and let the food (rather than the price and atmosphere) impress at Zunzi’s, home of the best sandwiches in Georgia. Afterward, go to one of any of Savannah’s many square parks. If you’re both okay with the possibility of crowds, Forsythe Park is beautiful at night, and the fountain there pays homage to the one in Place de Concorde in Paris. It may not be the city of love, but it’s close enough, and a good place to snag that first kiss.
– Andrew Connor
A Taste of the Old World in a City Reborn
Out of all the restaurants that have come up in Jersey City’s recent rejuvenation, Broa is a cut above the rest — and that’s saying something. A repurposed garden apartment right on Grove Street decorated with vintage photographs and Portuguese art, Broa gives you the best taste of Lisbon without actually hopping time zones. It’s BYOB (the liquor store around the corner sells Portuguese wine) and it’s an open kitchen, so you can watch your food being made. On top of that, the menu changes daily, so every visit is a new experience. During the week it can be an intimate setting, where if you come in late enough, the head chef comes out to help clean up when orders stop coming in and is more than happy to connect with the night’s last customers. But, if you plan on heading there on a Friday or Saturday, make a reservation, or don’t even count on getting a table.
– Bryan Campbell
One Corner, a Trifecta of Romance
Dolores Park, the melting pot of San Francisco, is also a perfect spot to melt hearts. Start things off at Namu Gaji; share the Stonepot and, of course, add steak. Then go next door to Bi-Rite Creamery for the best ice cream in the city. Enjoy the sweet treat while walking up to the top of Dolores Park, grab a park bench and take in the downtown view (one of the best in the city). Things still going well? Finish the night off with a nightcap at the beer mecca Monk’s Kettle.
– Matthew Ankeny
Eat. See. Hear.
Go All the Way
Eat. See. Hear. is a recurring seasonal event from May through September featuring delicious food trucks, local bands and an outdoor (usually cult) movie on a giant screen. It’s the best of L.A.: movies, food and music, while enjoying the mild summer evenings surrounded by thousands of people. The venue changes each week, allowing you to explore different areas in L.A., which means you can be a repeat customer while feeling like it’s a totally different experience. The diversity of food means your date can have a nice selection of options and there is enough happening socially to continue conversation during this “getting to know you” phase. Tickets are only $12, or you can bump up to the $20 “Fashionably Late” option, where you get a reserved patch of grass for the movie. It’s been a regularly scheduled date night for me and my wife since she took me here for my birthday a few years ago — so first date or date night, it’s a great time.
– Bradley Hasemeyer
Dinner and a View
At either end of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center. Skip ‘em. Too crowded and played out. For a low-key night with some culture, hike the 100-or-so steps to the top of Federal Hill Park, where a park filled with dogs, couples and Civil War history spreads out high above the city streets. At sunset, it’s the best view of the Baltimore skyline you could hope for. After the hike, head straight down the hill to the Rusty Scupper, only a short walk away, for Maryland’s famous seafood and a closer view of the water. After dinner, stick around Federal Hill for the local bars and music.
– Travis Smith
Casual and Eclectic Northcountry Cocktails
The North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis is the right mix of refined and rough around the edges, perfect for a first date where you want to impress but keep things casual. Parlour is modeled after a basement-level speakeasy, all exposed brick, casual seating and moody lighting that flatters but still lets you know what you’re getting into. Grab a corner sofa for some privacy, order a craft cocktail that isn’t too trendy, like the crisp Sun Lips with vodka, blackberry and prosecco, and use the bar’s eclectic crowd to spur conversation. Order the tuna with pineapple and red miso to nosh on, and if the evening is going well, move things upstairs to Borough, Parlour’s fine dining sibling, for a leisurely dinner.
– Jason Heaton
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The Rocky Theater Experience
Red Rocks is one of the country’s most renowned concert venues, built directly into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and looking out over the Denver skyline. At night, high-profile acts pack the stands, but during the day, the amphitheater is open to the public (free entry), and many locals come to run the stairs or hike the trails surrounding the venue. You don’t have to break a sweat running the stairs, but a leisurely stroll on the hiking trails around it is a nice walk-and-talk for two people meeting for the first time. Follow the stroll with a tour of the Red Rocks Hall of Fame, and then take a seat in the venue itself for views of Denver on clear days, and to picture what it was like when the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana performed in their prime. Between music, the mountains and the great people-watching, conversation should be easy and casual. If meeting at night is your only option, time your date with Film on the Rocks, a weekly summer event where the amphitheater turns into an outdoor movie theater, showing blockbuster classics and crowd pleasers (think Jurassic Park, Office Space, and Jaws). Arrive early to take a walk, then settle in for a beer and movie under the stars.
– Will McGough
Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre
A Drive-In by the Beach
Netflix on a laptop has nothing on a 100 x 44 foot screen an oyster shell’s toss from some of the most clean and beautiful coastline in America. Built in 1957, the Wellfleet Drive-In is located near the tip of Cape Cod, showing double features from May to September (the rest of the year is off-season on the Cape). Though the projection equipment was updated in 2013, the whole experience is retro without affectation, including an on-site dairy bar for burgers and milkshakes. For a perfect date — and probably the best day of your life — hit Marconi Beach during the day, head to the Beachcomber for beers and fried scallops, then park at the drive-in for a lazy evening of movies and holding hands.
– Jeremy Berger
Fine Dining, Delta Style
There are a lot of great reasons to wind up in the Mississippi Delta, whether you’re chasing down the blues trail or road tripping down to New Orleans. Greenwood is one of the region’s great towns, best known for being home to alleged grave sites of Robert Johnson and to Viking Range Corporation, maker of very high-end kitchen appliances. The best restaurant in town is the Delta Bistropub, where James Beard-nominated chef Taylor Bowen Ricketts makes her elevated take on southern food in dishes like fried rabbit tenderloin, black eyed pea cakes with remoulade, and pimento cheese and toast. After dinner, take a walk down the street for drinks at the Alluvian Hotel.
– Jeremy Berger
Producer: Jeremy Berger Writers: Matthew Ankeny, Jeremy Berger, Will McGough, Travis Smith, Darren Murph, Tom Samiljan, Jason Heaton, Bradley Hasemeyer, Jack Seemer, Greg Goldstone, Caitlyn Girardi, AJ Powell, Lauren Friel, Tucker Bowe, Bryan Campbell, Andrew Haynes, Andrew Connor.