There's an art to a good first date.
"First dates are inherently stressful — it’s hard to meet new people, let alone to meet a person that you hope likes you. Even harder if you’re the one planning the date,”Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, author and co-founder of OURS premarital counseling, told TODAY.
Once you take a step back and think about all the ways in which the date could be fun, Earnshaw says “you’ll be more prepared to enter into it from a mindset of hope and excitement than dread and anxiety.”
And if you’re looking for something more unique than dinner or drinks, then we’ve got you covered with the very best first date ideas.
Julia Storm, author of "5 Simple Steps To Manifesting Your Life Partner," stressed that first dates are designed to check your compatibility, so it's important to do something you actually enjoy. “They should also be as casual and un-date-like as possible,” she added.
That said, certain standbys like happy hour or coffee dates still have their perks. "Getting a drink or coffee at a local spot that’s quiet enough to actually talk is the go-to for a reason,” Rachel Zar, LMFT, CST, a couple therapist and ScarletSociety.com expert panelist, told TODAY. “Over-planning a first date can sometimes take away from what it’s actually about: getting to know each other.”
Since you're meeting up with a stranger, you should always ere on the side of caution. Steer clear of any activity that you find scary or stressful because, as Storm puts it, "you don’t need to prove how fun you are by accommodating someone else or being out of your comfort zone."
Ahead, we’ve rounded up 20 first date ideas — some cheaper and more low-key than others — that'll leave a great impression. All have their own distinct benefits, but most importantly, all of these ideas the experts’ stamps of approval since they spark important conversations.
Now, what are you waiting for? Set a date, and get ready for a fun time.
Have a coffee date at a bookstore
We’re one-upping the traditional first date at a coffee shop with this fun twist. “Save yourself a lot of unnecessary heartache by vetting your prospective partner by sussing out their appreciation of literature or lack thereof,” Storm suggested.
Laurel House, one of eharmony‘s relationship experts, seconds this suggestion. “Books can say a lot about a person,” she said. “Pick a cool, funky, independent bookstore and walk the aisles together, each picking out your favorite book or something you have wanted to read, then telling each other about it.”
Since many people are cutting back on alcohol or abstaining from it completely, picking a first date that doesn’t involve booze is always an excellent choice. To that point, 94% of single daters are interested in dating someone who doesn’t drink, according to eharmony’s 2022 Happiness Index. A first date without a hangover? We’ll take it.
Pick something from a farm
“Depending on the season, head to a farm and pick something. It’s playful and gives you the ability to have conversation while being active,” Earnshaw said. “It also gives you a great follow-up opportunity for a second date within the week." If pick a pumpkin, then you can set a time to carve them together. Same goes for peaches, apples and other farm-fresh finds.
Engage in friendly competition
Sure, pickleball gets all the attention these days, but there are so many other ways to fire up some healthy competition. “It’s been shown that people who work out together feel more chemistry towards each other thanks to the release of sweat-induced endorphins,” House said. “Go play pool, ping pong or challenge them to a game of shuffleboard.”
If all goes well, House added that you can “find a relaxed spot to grab a bite and deepen the relationship with great conversation.”
Go to an arcade
In the same vein as the idea above, Roma Williams, LMFT, founder of Unload it Therapy, is all for embracing your inner child with some good old-fashioned games. “Doing something like visiting an arcade can be a perfect venue for a fun date. You can play your favorite games, show your skills, compete and flirt,” she said.
Go for a walk
Lace up, folks. “When you are moving your body, it activates ‘feel-good’ hormones in your brain, so you will both be in a good mood,” Sandra Myers, co-founder of Select Date Society, told TODAY. “Walking can help keep the conversation going as you pass different interesting things to talk about along the way.” If nothing else, you’ll log some extra steps on your fitness tracker.
Opt for a hike
Take things up a notch by trading a leisurely walk for a full-on hike. "It’s often actually easier to have deep and personal conversations when you’re not looking each other in the eye. And any silences won’t feel so awkward as you take in the view," Zar said.
If you pick a hiking trail or path in a large park, make sure it’s in an area that’s public enough that your date partner feels safe. “A fun idea is to start the walk on a trail that leads to a playground — being in nature is grounding, calming and the playground evokes a sense of childhood and play and laughter," Earnshaw added.
Dine at your date's favorite restaurant
“If you’re the one planning the date, ask the person what their favorite cuisine is and find a restaurant that serves it,” Earnshaw said. “This shows that you’re a curious partner, up for doing things the other person likes, opens a great conversation." An example: You can ask your date what they love about this particular food, and if they have a favorite dish.
The bonus is that it opens the door for more date ideas. Maybe you decide to choose a new restaurant each time you go out and rank them. Or, if you're going ahead with a second date, they can the reins to research and make a reservation at a restaurant that serves the type of food you love the most. It's only fair.
Swing by a museum or art gallery
If possible, plan this date for a weekday or during off-peak hours to avoid the crowds. While you're taking in the displays, Williams says you'll have "ample time to talk, share and get inspired."
Museums, in particular, "allow your natural curiosities and interests to run wild."
Take a class together
“When you learn something new together, it creates a connection between the two of you. Choose something new you would both like to try,” Myers said, citing the examples of cooking, art, salsa or mixology.
The sky is really the limit, but be sure double-check that the class is beginner-friendly before signing up. But, hey, a challenge might be a good test!
Painting classes are really the best of both worlds. They're fun and all, but they also allow time for conversation. “You all will be able to explore your creative sides while getting to know one another in a non-intimidating way,” Williams said.
Earnshaw echoes Williams' suggestion, adding that creative classes (pottery and painting, especially) help relieve anxiety since you can put your focus on the task at hand. “Not only that, but it’s also a wonderful way to learn about each other through something other than talking. What’s it like to do something new with this person? Are they willing to play and be creative? How do they approach decision-making," she added.
Try an escape room
Here's one way to see if you're compatible. “Escape rooms are all about strategy, teamwork and suspense. You can have an opportunity to save one another — in a non-life threatening way, of course,” Williams said. Plus, it'll make for an easy icebreaker if there’s a second date.
Attend trivia night at a bar
“Having a fun shared activity can reduce anxiety about asking and answering all those tough first date questions,” said Zar, noting that the competitive energy is a good thing for forging a connection, too. Put your phone away before trivia starts to help you be more present throughout your time together. But, by all means, whip out your phone if you take home the top prize.
Take a graffiti tour of your city
For those who live in metropolitan areas, this is an off-the-beaten-path option that will let you two see your city in a whole new light. “Look for local murals and graffiti art on Instagram, then create a walking or biking tour to check out the local artwork. Discovering new sights in your own city will lead to a great first date conversation,” Myers said.
Hit the water
One of Earnshaw's most memorable first dates was a kayaking trip. “I got to observe a lot of things about my date — like how they manage being in line for a long time, what they are like when it’s time to collaborate (we had to row the boat together!) and more about their sense of adventure,” she said. “This helps to build experiential intimacy: the type of intimacy we have when we do new and novel things together.”
On the plus side, the water can put you both at ease. "Whether it’s paddleboarding or renting a canoe at a local park, being on the water is a great way to relax and enjoy one another.”
Head to their part of town
It’s a nice gesture, no matter how you look at it. Do your research to find out the top spots in their area, then ask them how your findings stack up. Earnshaw recommends leading with your suggestion: "For example, you might say 'I’d like to come your way so you don’t need to drive! I did some research and it looks like XYZ restaurant is pretty good. Would you like to meet there?'"
Not only will this show your date that you're comfortable taking the lead, but also that "you’re open to trying new things that you don’t know much about."
Play at a board game cafe
There's nothing like some good ol' rivalry to get the conversation flowing. Track down a nearby board game cafe (or a bar with board games) and play your two personal favorites."
Playing games "allows you to get to know more about how each of you navigate competition and have a glimpse into each other’s childhoods," Earnshaw said. "The bonus is that it softens any awkward silences because when you’re not sure what else to say, you can just play!”
Walk your dog
First things first: Confirm your date likes pups and/or isn't allergic from the outset. If they're all in, then suggest grabbing a coffee and taking a stroll with your dog in tow. It's even better if you both have four-legged friends you can take with you.
Storm is a fan of this first date idea since she says it's a great way to see if you want to spend three hours over dinner and drinks with this person. “Seeing someone you like be sweet to your pet is really attractive. If it’s awkward then knowing they aren’t going to fit into the fundamentals of your lifestyle is better figured out sooner rather than later," Storm said.
"If your dog likes your date, it’s definitely a good sign."
Share something you love
You can take this date idea in many directions, and part of what makes it so special is that it’s personal to you. “If you’re a diehard baseball fan, take them to a game. If your favorite band is in town, buy tickets to the show,” Zar said. “There’s a vulnerability in sharing something that’s important to you that your date will appreciate — plus it will help them get to know you better.”
Set up a picnic outside
There's something incredibly romantic about a picnic. “The planning that goes into filling your basket requires an extra level of care and thoughtfulness that will have both of you feeling more invested,” Zar said. Set up at a local park or beach to take in the scenery — and each other. "It's the perfect setting for an intimate heart-to-heart."
Scope out local events
When planning a first date, search for events in your area like flea markets, farmer’s markets or festivals. "They’ll give you lots to talk about beyond the usual first-date questions. Plus, they’ll provide a fun and energetic atmosphere,” Zar said.