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16 Great Non-Drinking Dates

No Drink Dates Collage2On the thousands (OK, hundreds) of Match.com meet-ups I had during my dating days, it was the rare man who suggested we get together to do something other than have drinks. While there’s something simple about that first-date go-to, I took special notice the time the stuffy-seeming contract attorney suggested we spend one of the last warm fall days of the year on a hike outside of the city. And even though the motivational speaker who promoted himself for two hours before he asked one single question about me was not someone I ever wanted to see again, I did enjoy walking along the beach with a delicious milkshake while he blathered on and on. A long time later, I loved that my first in-person meeting with the Not Boyfriend was to view a museum exhibit he’d been dying to show me.

Dates for drinks are easy, yes. But maybe first dates shouldn’t always go straight to the comfort zone. Don’t be lured into believing you need the warm, slow buzz of booze to get over the first-date jitters. Or that the pub she picks or the cocktail he orders will give you necessary clues about what kind of person is sitting on the bar stool next to you.

Getting just creative enough — no need to decorate mugs with puffy paints or take a helicopter to Aspen “Millionaire Matchmaker”-style — could carve a more meaningful opening for conversation and sharing and revelation than a couple hours of clinking glasses. It might also show you, like the motivational speaker did with flair, that it is not a good match at all.

Whether you choose not to imbibe, have said farewell to drinking altogether, or just want to spend some alcohol-free time together, here are some great ways to get to know your date. Worry not, none of them are bowling.

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  • Find Something Fabulous at a Flea Market 1 of 16
    Find Something Fabulous at a Flea Market
    If a weekend day date is on the calendar, drive out to a flea market or neighborhood-wide garage sale to walk, talk and take in the wares. If you want to up the ante, challenge each other to spend twenty bucks (and $20 only) on the other person and see who can score the best/funkiest/most hilarious/sweetest find.
  • Have a Taste Test 2 of 16
    Have a Taste Test
    Forget the food carts. Choose a specialty where you live -- deep-dish pizza, shave ice, gyros, lobster rolls, chowder, mini-pies -- and visit at least three places to sample and rate the deliciousness. Even if the sweet potato curly fries stink or the soy capuccinos are not-so hot, the company should count, and hopefully will make the experience a lot sweeter.
  • Play Tourist in Your Own City 3 of 16
    Play Tourist in Your Own City
    Many of us live in phenomenal towns but rarely visit the most notable spots. Play tourist together, choosing attractions and venues you usually reserve for out-of-town guests. Take it up a notch by taking cameras and shooting pictures of the sites (and each other?). And if that's not enough to forge a connection, making fun of all the Griswold families visiting the same places should do it.
  • Kill it in Karaoke 4 of 16
    Kill it in Karaoke
    If you are the kind of person who goes big or goes home, karaoke could be the perfect non-drinking date for you. He might be a way off-key Kenny Rogers to your Dolly Parton, but you might turn out to be the kind of duet that can laugh about the rest of the night. And if all else fails, you can always poke fun at the inevitable drunky college girl singing Taylor Swift a little too seriously.
  • Hit a Carnival, Street Fair or Neighborhood Fest 5 of 16
    Hit a Carnival, Street Fair or Neighborhood Fest
    Rigged games, half-dead goldfish in plastic bags, hemp bracelet stands, ginormous stuffed Sponge Bobs, painted Jesus mirrors -- what's not to love about a street fest? If your first date lands in the summer months, there's sure to be some kind of carnival or fair in town where the silly, spendy games and people watching and sub-par concessions will give the two of you plenty to do and discuss and laugh about all afternoon.
  • Dive in to Darts 6 of 16
    Dive in to Darts
    Just because you're not drinking doesn't mean you can't have a battle of the bar games. Go to a hole-in-the wall spot or game center and challenge each other to a few rounds of darts, air hockey or skeeball. Doesn't matter who wins, loses or if you tie, playing the game graciously will score lots of points.
  • Spice It Up at a Cooking Class 7 of 16
    Spice It Up at a Cooking Class
    If you've always wanted to learn to roll sushi or prepare perfectly mouth-watering pasta, sign the two of you up for a group or private cooking lesson. If the culinary skills fare better than the conversation, then at least you will go home with leftovers.
  • Go See a Band You’ve Never Heard Of Before 8 of 16
    Go See a Band You've Never Heard Of Before
    Hit the town, just not to the venue where everyone else in the city is seeing the Stones or catching the 98 Degrees reunion tour. Instead, snag some tix to an indie band with a ridiculously obtuse name, sneak into an open mic or give an experimental genre a chance. You might discover some great new talent while you're getting to know each other.
  • Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride 9 of 16
    Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
    If you can put aside your fear of heights, want to make a sweeping romantic gesture or have a hankering the big picture of your city, taking a hot air balloon ride could be the '80's first date of your dreams. Just be sure to ask lots of questions about transportation, length of time and any safety concerns when you make arrangements as some rides pick up in one spot and land in another and can take all day from beginning to end. Plus, you will want your date to feel assured that you've checked into reliability and safety of the company you choose.
  • Indulge in a Movie Marathon, Sing-along Showing or Classic Film Fest 10 of 16
    Indulge in a Movie Marathon, Sing-along Showing or Classic Film Fest
    If you're concerned about asking or answering a thousand questions, opt for a few silent hours in a theater together. Maybe your local restored theater is showing Jean Claude van Damme movies or a Sound of Music sing-along sounds like a blast. You can always grab a little dinner or coffee after the last chorus of "Edelweiss" to hash out all the finer points of what was projected.
  • Get Out on the Water 11 of 16
    Get Out on the Water
    If you are lucky enough to live near a body of water big enough to boat on, take your date out on a guided kayak or canoe tour through a winding trail that leads to a picnic lunch. One company in my city offers evening tours that end with a perfect view of fireworks over the lake.
  • Randomly Pick a Hot New Restaurant 12 of 16
    Randomly Pick a Hot New Restaurant
    Use a shake-your-phone app to randomly choose a new restaurant in the area or take your chances by plunking your finger down on a Yelp list of best-reviewed spots in your city. Get dressed up and geared up and be just as adventurous when you get the menu as you were when you didn't-choose the location.
  • Have a Little Fun in the Bedroom 13 of 16
    Have a Little Fun in the Bedroom
    Unless you've been friends for a while, are already super-comfortable with each other or this is your gig, getting down and dirty on the first date may not be for you. But the bedroom might be the right setting for a later date. And if it is, choose something slow and steamy to set the tone, from simply buying new crazy-high thread-count sheets to a bit of burlesque to a night of old-fashioned making out. You will definitely know more about each other when that date (and maybe deed) is done.
  • Hit the Trails 14 of 16
    Hit the Trails
    Pack plenty of snacks and water and head out to a local forest preserve, state park or trail to see the sites and maybe even get the heart rate up. The benefit of keeping moving along a clearing, navigating a new area or just standing in awe of the sites is that it is OK for there to be moments (or longer) where the silence fills the space between you.
  • Cheer on a High-School Sports Team 15 of 16
    Cheer on a High-School Sports Team
    Are tickets to pro games impossible to score or way over budget? Or hell, maybe your hometown doesn't even have a big stadium. Then get a little old-school with your first date and cheer on a high school team nearby. Since tickets are only a few bucks, you will be free to splurge on licorice laces and hot pretzels with plastic-y cheese to share in the stands. Who knows? Prom could be next.
  • Bring on the Board Game Challenge 16 of 16
    Bring on the Board Game Challenge
    I have very mixed feelings about letting my inner competition-devouring demon out on a first date. But if you can keep it calm, cool and way more collected than tossing the tiles in the air and storming out, by all means, get Scrabble-y with your date. Apples to Apples is a fun, newer game. And if you want to get minimally digital, hit the arcade for a PacMan war.

Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass. Meet up on Twitter.  Ogle shoes together on Pinterest.

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