Alicia Ostarello was interested in what dating is like in parts of the country other than her California home. So interested, in fact, that she embarked on a project: go on 50 first dates, one in every state in the union. A Kickstarter project turned into a documentary, as well as a blog, and a journey that took her across the country and on many, many, many dates. She enlisted ZOZI as Adventure Consultants for active dates, and went outside her comfort zone to see what the men she met online might be down to do. After two and a half months of so-called “professional dating,” here are her 19 favorite first date ideas (some complete with Twitter-length commentary from the actual date).
Top 19 First Dates You’ve Never Tried
The Public Library
Get old fashioned and handwrite a book list, put a decrescendo on your vocal chords, and hit up this community resource. Discover what your date likes to read, listen to and watch. You’re already judging each other by your covers…might as well get some literature in, too.
50/50 story: In California, we read aloud Erika Stalder’s “The Date Book” and sized each other up based on Stalder’s warning signs. (We passed the test; the date continued.)
Fly A Plane
Yep, you can totally do this. ZOZI hooked me up with a smaller airport hosting “Discover Flying” classes in a Cessna aircraft. Adrenaline races, helping conversation flow both in the air and when your feet are back on the ground.
50/50 story: Steered plane into white puffiness, pulled hands off the helm and yelled “CLOUD! CLOUD!” Date laughed, pilot retook control.
You know, the morning meal. The one you sometimes skip for brunch (or substitute a donut for on weekdays). Breakfast is calm – no one gets riled up over pancakes with poached pears. It’s actually easier to be yourself and not over-worry when you’ve got a cup of coffee in your hands. Just don’t call it “joe” – that might confuse your date.
50/50 story: Restaurant gave us fresh baked cookies to take home just for coming in. (Well hello lunch…)Thanks, Nebraska!
It helps if at least one of you has a sense of rhythm, but swing dancing is great because it kind of doesn’t matter if you’re bad at it. Good swing dancers look fab, bad swing dancers just look like people dancing who are having fun. Twirl each other around, and if all else fails, tango.
Strategy. Conquests. Victories. Defeat. Spelling. Remember to not get too engrossed in the game or you’ll forget to talk to each other (my date had that happen to him before). Always an interesting way to see how someone else’s mind works.
50/50 story: Iowa boy was a math student with a passion for letters, so I made an Algebra joke…which didn’t go over so well.
Less strenuous (and thus less sweaty) plus less creepy-I’m-stuck-in-the-woods than a hike, disc golf gives you the chance to take a sustained walk with a purpose. It’s one of those games no one expects anyone else to be good at, so feel free to suck at it.
50/50 story: Mississippi – disc golf, good. Fact my date requested a job application from our waiter at dinner, bad.
Make dating a game. Find a stretch of road in your town that’s home to shops, restaurants, and parklets To start, you’ll need a neighborhood stuffed with a variety of shops, cafes and little places of interest, and one half of a set of dice, also known as a die. You’ll also need a set of questions that you’ve either developed on your own, or perhaps from a game such as “Would You Rather.”
Rules: 1) Each player takes a turn rolling the die. 2) After each roll, the number you’ve rolled dictates what happens next.
Roll a 1 or 2: Ask a question
Roll a 3-6: Travel that many businesses down and stop in to look around. At a restaurant, must share something. 3) Enjoy!
Suggestions from the AAA Guidebook
Being a tourist in your own town is a dating goldmine. You won’t ever run out of parks to explore or history you hadn’t heard about. Yes, the tour of the local cheese factory is quite interesting (plus you get free samples at the end).
50/50 story: Lost Caves of Kentucky included a long canoe, a history major guide who cracked us up, and a scarecrow contest.
SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard)
Another ZOZI idea! So long as neither of you has a fear of giant squids, SUP-ing is rather fun. Rhythmic paddling makes for contemplative conversation, and when you’re least expecting it, one of you will fall in the water.
50/50 story: Falling into the lake: refreshing, humbling, and laughter inducing. Don’t try this in Seattle if it’s winter, though…
Sure, the word “bang” shouldn’t really come up on a first date, but firing a gun is worth the potential Freudian slip. Even if you can’t hit the target, you inevitably look like a badass. Plus, guns spark debate, conversation, and adrenaline (which makes you super hungry). All excellent reasons to extend a good date.
50/50 story: In Virginia, learned that in case of a zombie apocalypse, hand me the gun. Date seemed as impressed by my beginners luck as my wincing every time shot.
Anything Involving Dinosaurs
That wonder you felt about prehistoric beasts when you were a kid did not go the way of the quagga. More like the way of the blue whale – almost gone, but not quite. Whether a museum full of dino bones or a park with dinosaur replicas to play on or a screening of Jurassic Park, these giants will not steer you wrong.
50/50 story: Montana date had a tied tongue til we started discussing the use of a Triceratops’ spikes. Make out at evening’s end: yes.
Geek out on local politics and architecture at City Hall. Listen in on hot-talk community topics at a City Council Meeting and feel slightly famous when you shake the mayor’s hand. As the hub of the city, there tends to be history and information for free – plus excellent Instagram opportunities.
Sweat = pheromones. Might as well figure out if your scents appeal to each other (and burn some calories at the same time just in case you decide to go to a pub quiz and drink beer after). Endorphins spike, too, meaning you’ll just feel better about life in general.
50/50 story: Ran by an Anne Frank memorial in Idaho, stopped and took photos. Date preferred my producer to me, which got awkward fast.
Planned Conversation Topics
Stick with me. I’m not usually a fan of previously-decided-upon questions, but having a go-to in your back pocket can lead to some wild conversation. Borrow anything from Loaded Questions and start sharing.
50/50 story: Him: “Tell me something you would not want a first date to know about you.” Me: “I clean my tonsils in the shower.” Him: “Wow.”
Or just a regular arcade, if your town doesn’t boast a pinball-only center (check though, those trigger-happy ball pushers are in gaining popularity). With themes from Star Trek to AC/DC to Monopoly to Family Guy, not only can you challenge each other to a duel but you get to uncover shared and unshared interests
Food truck food is never sexy. It’s like they plan for that stuff to be messy as all get out – curry tacos, fried turducken sandwiches – might as well just be smearing chocolate sauce all over your lips, right? That said, a little mess can lubricate conversation, and food truck parks are a hotbed of people watching.
50/50 story: Skeeball competition post dinner proved I had food in my teeth, but we laughed about it and rolled our balls. He won.
Go Kart Racing
Admittedly, I was skeptical. Single person car means no conversation on the course…but that doesn’t mean there’s not interaction. Wicked grins as you pass one another definitely inspire a rematch.
50/50 story: North Carolina date didn’t want to be rude, so despite my slow driving he stayed behind me the entire race.
Rock Climbing Class
Yeah yeah, learning something new with your date is great and all, but rock climbing is the best lesson of them all. You are putting your lives in each other’s hands while on the belay system. Find out – fast – if someone is trustworthy from fifty feet up. (This was another ZOZI activity.)
50/50 story: Definitely didn’t trust my Dallas date at first, but when he didn’t drop me while climbing the tallest indoor rock wall in the world, I changed my mind.
Not kidding. I’ve entered adult shops with more than one first date and it has never failed to break some ice, garner giggles, and give me a glimpse into what the physical part of a relationship could entail. Strap on your best poker face, walk in together, and point out what you like (and don’t like).
50/50 story: In Oregon’s famed SheBop, I walked to a display of Njoy toys and squealed “Ooo! I’ve always wanted to see these in person!” Date kissed me at the end.