13 Great Dates
You’re sure to spice up your love life with these unexpected outings.
Illustrations by Delicatessen
Dying to ditch the same old date-night haunts and add a little excitement this Valentine’s Day? We’ve got the East Bay’s best unforgettable dates. Pick one that fires you up, and ensure a direct hit for Cupid’s arrow.
1. Animal Attraction
The plan: Have a reptile, bird, or mammal encounter at Lindsay Wildlife Museum—and make other dates seem tame.
Perfect for: Unabashed animal lovers unafraid of getting dirty.
Time commitment: Two hours, plus time to gush over the adorable gray foxes.
A puppy or kitten is guaranteed to produce a few “awws,” but if your sweetie’s tastes trend more exotic, schedule a VIPeek experience at Lindsay Wildlife Museum. During the customizable private encounter for two, you’ll get up close access to your favorite museum critter and participate in feedings and public presentations. When was the last time you held a bald eagle?
Make it happen: $150 per person for members, $175 for nonmembers. Reservations required two weeks in advance. 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978, wildlife-museum.org/visit/vipeek.
2. Hip to Hip
The plan: Learn to dance the tango in Blackhawk Plaza.
Perfect for: Dancing With the Stars fans who know how to keep a beat and sway those hips, and aren’t afraid to mess up a few steps.
Time commitment: One night, one afternoon, and maybe more: Wednesday night to learn the steps, a first Sunday to show off your skills, and any additional classes if you were born with two left feet.
With its thigh-high slit dresses and hip-to-hip contact, the tango oozes sexiness like few other dances. Learn the passionate art form during classes at Blackhawk Plaza. Once you’ve mastered the basics, dazzle other couples with your new moves. The rotunda transforms into an outdoor milonga, and a five-piece orchestra supplies the sultry tunes for dancers. Shy couples can schedule a private class before a big Sunday debut.
Make it happen: Wednesdays, 6–9:30 p.m., $10; every first Sunday of the month, 2–7 p.m., free. 3421 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (510) 406-4583, blackhawktango.com.
3. Love With All Your Art
The plan: Master the complicated art of blowing glass during a Valentine’s Day–themed class, or sip wine while unleashing your inner Picasso.
Perfect for: Fans of monthly art walks and gallery openings with a penchant for artistic expression (or a love of wine).
Time commitment: Up to five hours, depending on your lung strength for blowing glass and how much wine you down before putting brush to canvas.
Hearts of glass Give your honey your heart this Valentine’s Day—just make sure he or she promises not to break it. During the Crucible’s Hearts of Glass entry-level course, couples work together to blow and shape glass into those recognizable symbols of love. With one-on-one instruction in the small class, which is capped at six, you’ll be introduced to the tools and taught the skills to transform shapeless blobs into a collection of hearts.
Sip and swipe The newly opened Canvas and Cabernet provides a creative alternative to the same-old, same-old restaurant and bar scene. Owner Julee Herrmann, who previously taught art in Oakland and Orinda schools, leads 2.5–hour evening painting classes of up to 50 people. And yes, wine sipping is encouraged. So, you should have a fun time—even if that still life doesn’t turn out quite the way you imagined.
Make it happen: The Crucible, Monday, February 11, 5–10 p.m., $270 per person; 1260 Seventh St., Oakland, (510) 444-0919, thecrucible.org. Canvas and Cabernet, Thurs.–Sat., 6:30–9 p.m., $35–$40, Sun. 10 a.m.–1 p.m.; canvascabernet.com.
4. Reignite the Flame
The plan: Pull up a seat at one of these five tables for a romantic dinner, where you can whisper sweet nothings over the flickering of a cozy fireplace.
Perfect for: Fans of the classic Valentine’s Day date, with roses, champagne, and dinner spent gazing across the table.
Time commitment: A few weeks in advance to book the table, or hours spent pleading with the host if you waited to make a reservation.
Barone’s The tables by the fireplace inside offer a quieter dining experience than the outdoor fire pits. 475 St. John St., Pleasanton, (925) 426-0987, baronespleasanton.com.
Advance notice: Two weeks.
Casa Orinda Grab a table around the fireplace in the front room, which also sports a taxidermy moose. 20 Bryant Way, Orinda, (925) 254-2981, casaorinda.net.
Advance notice: Call now. Tables book up to a month in advance.
Postino Choose from two indoor fireplaces, one in the family room and one in the library, or opt for seating around the outdoor fire pit. 3565 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-8700, postinorestaurant.com.
Advance notice: At least a week and a half.
Prima Ask for the corner table by the fireplace, where you can sit side by side. 1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primawine.com.
Advance notice: At least three weeks, but the sooner the better.
Terra Mia The large fireplace, tucked into a stone wall, lends an intimate atmosphere to this Italian restaurant. 4040 East Ave., Livermore, (925) 456-3333, terramialivermore.com.
Advance notice: At least three weeks.
5. Get Down and Dirty
The plan: Forage for food in the Lafayette hills, or discover the world of backyard beekeeping.
Perfect for: Couples who grow their own herbs, keep a chicken coop in the backyard, and live for weekly CSA deliveries.
Time commitment: Two days—one for each experience—because you can’t call yourself a true foodie until you’ve learned how to identify edible greens and harvest your own honey.
Rustle in the Bushes Follow Kevin Feinstein, better known as “Feral” Kevin, on an excursion through Lafayette’s Sienna Ranch, and you’ll learn how to collect an edible bounty. During his two-hour edible plant forays, Feinstein identifies species for your dinner table and teaches sustainable foraging techniques. Bring clippers and a bag. You may score miner’s lettuce, wild mustard, and chickweed.
The Birds and the Bees Gerard’Z Honeybees owner Ed Zawada (Gerard was his grandfather) is creating a buzz around beekeeping workshops at East Bay wineries. The day begins with a lesson on backyard bee behavior and honey production. After a two-hour talk and demo, you’ll have the opportunity to taste the honey and try the winery’s grapes. The orange blossom honey pairs especially well with a dessert wine.
Make it happen: Wild plant foray, February 3 and 17, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., $40; feralkevin.com. Beekeeping and tasting, February 2 and 9, 10 a.m.–1 p.m., 1:30–4:30 p.m., $90; (925) 605-6119, gerardzhoneybees.com.
6. Join the Mile-High Club
The plan: Take to the skies, with an introductory flying lesson, an aerobatic tour, or dogfighting in military aircraft.
Perfect for: Newlyweds and longtime lovebirds who aren’t afraid to splurge.
Time commitment: The flights only take up to a few hours, but we guarantee you’ll spend a few more rehashing how cool it was to pretend you were Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Livermore’s Attitude Aviation elevates the ordinary date experience. Try any of the following to show your significant other how much you love him or her. Maybe not to the moon and back, but you will cruise among the clouds.
Take the wheel: Learn how to fly in Attitude’s four-seater Cessna. The FAA–certified instructor handles takeoff and landing, but you both can control the rest of the flight.
Flip for joy: If you crave the excitement of the open skies but would rather not pilot, fly in the open-cockpit biplane for aerial acrobatics with a professional pilot. Inside the “convertible of the sky,” you’ll be treated to loops, rolls, and spins.
Friendly fire: Go head-to-head in air combat, and experience the rush of dogfighting in Attitude’s military aircraft. Instructor pilots help new flyers take off in formation and fly out to the combat zone, where they receive real instruction in aerial combat techniques. Each aircraft has a smoke system to see when you get a good hit, and the entire battle is captured on video.
Make it happen: $395 for an open-cockpit cruise or biplane acrobatics, $995 per person for air combat. 299 W. Jack London Blvd., Livermore, (925) 456-2276, attitudeaviation.com.
7. Perfect Your Chemistry
The plan: Brew your own beer.
Perfect for: The couple that bonds over unpronounceable Belgian beers and wants to geek out over the complexity of hops and fermentation.
Time commitment: Four hours, plus the five to six weeks you have to wait before tasting your new brew.
Anyone who has uncorked a bottle of homemade beer only to be met with the skunky smell of failure knows brewing is a lot like relationships: It requires patience and an investment of resources, and sometimes benefits from a little professional help. So, take your love of suds, and your relationship, to the next level, with a brewing class at Livermore’s Good Brewer. On select Saturdays, the beer outfitter wheels its gear into an alley behind the shop and teaches a four-hour course on home brewing. Apply the class fee to a brew kit, and you’ll have everything you need to create a batch of beer at home.
Make it happen: February 23, 1–5 p.m., $20 per person. 2960 Pacific Ave., Livermore, (925) 373-0333, goodbrewer.com.
8. Leap of Faith
The plan: Swing through the air with an introductory flying trapeze class.
Perfect for: Athletic couples who are fascinated by Cirque du Soleil.
Time commitment: An evening mastering the basics. Warning: Running away to join the circus is encouraged.
I definitely, no question about it, do not want to take that first jump off the trapeze platform at Oakland’s Trapeze Arts. Despite learning how to hook my knees and release my hands on a stationary bar, I can feel a lump rise in my throat as I climb the narrow ladder. Even with the harness and netting, I nervously glance down.
“You’ve got it,” my boyfriend yells encouragingly. I try not to shake as I grasp the bar. “Ready,” says the instructor on my platform, and I bend my knees. “Hup,” he yells, and I’m off, my body slicing through the air. “Knees up,” another instructor yells from the ground, and I wrap my legs around the bar as I swing back toward the platform. “Hands off,” he continues, and I arch my back and outstretch my arms, reaching for an imaginary partner. “Success!”
I cannot shake my smile when I flop down on the netting. I haven’t been this terrified on a date since our first, and the rush is unreal. During the 90-minute class, we graduate to partner work with a trained catcher and both even learn how to do a backflip dismount. I’m probably not joining the circus anytime soon, but I’ll definitely be back the next time I feel the need to go out on a ledge for date night.
Make it happen: Join an evening or weekend group class for $45, or reserve a private instructor for the two of you for $225 per hour. 1822 Ninth St., Oakland, (510) 419-0700, trapezearts.com.
9. Trip Down Memory Lane
The plan: Take a relaxed ride through history on the Niles Canyon Railway.
Perfect for: Oenophiles, art deco fans, and history buffs who enjoy old-fashioned fun and long for a simpler, slower-paced life.
Time commitment: Plan on 45 minutes to two hours for a trip back in time.
During the two-hour Romance on the Rails trip on Valentine’s Day weekend, you’ll be treated to Livermore Valley wine and cheese pairings and hors d’oeuvres as the restored train travels from Sunol to Fremont and back. Really get into the spirit with 1940s attire.
If your partner is more interested in the history of the railway than February 14–related fanfare, ride in a steam locomotive for a narrated historical tour. Take the 45-minute ride from Niles Station in Fremont, and stretch your legs while antiques shopping in the town of Sunol, before heading back. You’ll have your choice of three different kinds of cars: an enclosed passenger car, a covered car with its large windows removed, and a car with no roof.
Make it happen: Romance on Rails, $75; regular ride, $12; ggrm.org/romance.htm.
10. First-Date Fun
The plan: Revisit childhood pastimes for a fun-filled, no-pressure outing guaranteed to get your blood pumping.
Perfect for: Young-at-heart couples looking to inject youthful thrills and excitement into their partnership.
Time commitment: Three to four hours, plus a few days of sore muscles.
Tag, You’re it Play hooky from work, and go to Concord’s Q-Zar when you’ll find a nearly empty arena. You may feel silly strapping into the Day-Glo vests, but the rush of adrenaline you’ll get as you plot to take out the other team will quickly replace any embarrassment. 2295 Willow Pass Rd., Concord, (925) 521-9663, q-zar.com.
Tip: The neon-lit venue also offers a two-for-$10 Monday night special.
Head Over Heels Challenge your partner to a jumping competition at Dublin’s Rockin’ Jump. The trampoline park hosts Saturday night open jumps that include three hours of air time and a slice of pizza and bottle of water for the first 100 guests. 5875 Arnold Rd., Dublin, (925) 828-7676, dublin.rockinjump.com.
Tip: Rockin’ Jump also hosts a bouncy adult dodgeball league on Mondays.
Pillow Talk On Valentine’s Day, hundreds of people descend on San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza to duke it out with pillows. Wait for the clock on the Ferry Building to strike 6 p.m., and start swinging. 1 Market St., San Francisco.
Tip: Avoid the bricklike Tempur-Pedic pillows, and bring a bandana to cover your mouth to avoid inhaling feathers.
11. On-Screen Romance
The plan: A one-stop dinner and movie date in a retro setting, minus the astronomical ticket prices and impersonal multiplex.
Perfect for: Movie buffs who pine for classics on the big screen but want tickets for less than $10 and more legroom.
Time commitment: Five to 15 minutes for your food to arrive, two hours for the movie, and however long the staff lets you stay in the comfy seats.
Cinema fans who lamented the close of Oakland’s Parkway Theater in 2009 have a new go-to spot for date night. After years of negotiations, Parkway fan J. Moses Ceaser brought the defunct theater’s business model and fan following to a new space in December. The Uptown Oakland location features two screens, a full commercial kitchen, wine and beer, and programming such as two-for-one Wednesdays, classic flicks on Thursdays, and special sports screenings. Even if he lives for the latest action flick, and you’d rather check out a classic rom-com, you’re bound to agree that the cozy love seats, table service, and nods to the theaters of yesteryear are 20,000 leagues better than any other movie-going experience.
Make it happen: 474 24th St., Oakland, thenewparkway.com.
12. Exchange Adult Love Notes
The plan: Listen to poetry in an unpretentious setting.
Perfect for: Fans of the written word, or tongue-tied lovers who want others to do the talking.
Time commitment: One night, plus additional time to practice penning your own ode to love.
Go beyond Shakespeare and E. E. Cummings this Valentine’s Day with a free live poetry reading at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books. As part of Poetry Flash’s long-running reading series, former Stegner Fellows Andrew Grace and Brittany Perham will share poems from their new books. If you’re inspired to jot down a few verses of your own, stop by Castle in the Air on Fourth Street. The whimsical retailer sells invisible ink, which turns peacock blue only when held near a heat source, ensuring the message meets your lover’s eyes only.
Make it happen: Poetry reading, February 14, 7:30 p.m., free; 2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 849-2087, poetryflash.org. Castle in the Air, 1805 Fourth St., Berkeley, (510) 204-9801, castleintheair.biz.
13. Love Potions
The plan: Sip a libation (or two) in a cozy watering hole.
Perfect for: Cocktail aficionados who like tippling in places where they don’t have to yell over the music.
Time commitment: An evening deciding between classic Manhattans and smoky mescal concoctions.
Bravo Bistro Nab two stools at the bar, and listen to the tinkling of the nearby piano. 1050 Contra Costa Blvd., Concord, (925) 363-4443, thebravobistro.com.
Drink this: Festive cocktails from the menu include a chocolate martini with Godiva liqueur and a French martini with Chambord and pineapple.
Fauna This sliver of a space next to Flora appeals to both sexes, with taxidermy animals for him and an intimate atmosphere for her. 1900 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 286-0100, floraoakland.com.
Drink this: Try the Fred MacMurray French 75, a combination of gin, lemon juice, and sparkling wine.
Oasis Grille and Wine Lounge
Sit close on a tufted bench in the warmly hued lounge, where candles, chandeliers, and richly textured pillows lend an exotic feel. 780 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 417-8438, oasisgrille.com.
Drink this: Instead of a plain glass of bubbles, order the Oasis Infusion—sparkling wine, fresh strawberries, and mint—or red raspberry Bellini, which includes raspberry liqueur and puree.
Plum Bar Slip into the long narrow bar adjacent to Daniel Patterson’s popular Plum restaurant. The walls are plastered with floor-to-ceiling poems, and you can watch the bartenders snip fresh herbs from pots in the back. 2214 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7586, plumoakland.com.
Drink this: The bar is planning a lineup of special Valentine’s Day cocktails, but you can’t go wrong with a drink off its ever-changing menu.