Field Guide: The 28 Most Romantic Date Ideas in Philadelphia
Okay, so call us predictable for offering up a compendium of great dates on Valentine’s Day. Call us sentimental, or cheesy, or simple sheeple for caving into the pressures of a holiday designed mainly to keep Hallmark and Teleflora afloat for another year. Call us what you will, but the fact is even now, in the rather unromantic age of Tinder and Free Porn, most of us still yearn from time to time for a little romance. For a little fun. For a little break from the coach, and a chance to connect over something other than Netflix. And so whether V-Day fires up that yearning for you or not, we’ve got you covered with a list of 28 especially great date ideas — from group dates to sporty dates to sexy dates and beyond — that will serve you now and long after all the Valentine’s bouquets have withered away.
If you’re even a little bit sporty, then you’ll find the Schuylkill River Trail to be the perfect date: You can chat and pedal your way through the wooded path all the way to the Conshohocken Brewing Co. (it’s just past Manayunk if you’re coming from the city) for have suds and snacks—the bar is located along the banks and has plenty of bike parking.
Roller skates. Black lights. Pop music. Arcade games. The Cherry Hill Skating Center has everything you remember from your pre-teen dating adventures, minus the pre-teens. Just go on the first Friday of every month, for the designated adults-only skate from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. And as long as you’re going old-school, you can also hit nearby steakhouse standby, The Pub in Pennshauken, for “Texas Size” frozen drinks, cheap (but tasty) steaks, help-yourself sides and endless kitsch.
You don’t need reservations or experience to race the Italian go-karts at Horsham’s Speed Raceway—just show up, sign up and they’ll give you training, a helmet and your car – all you need for your own Mini Grand Prix. After the trash-talking, you can make nice again over a dinner by the fire at the beautiful Blue Bell Inn. Loser buys.
Forbidden Drive is an easy, popular, hilly hike with easy access near Lincoln Drive. Walk it for about an hour, and you’ll wind up at the quaint and historic Valley Green Inn in Chestnut Hill, which has brunch, booze, hot chocolate and a waterfront view.
In honor of the ultimate Philadelphia penny-pincher: Stroll across the Ben Franklin Bridge’s southside walkway, enjoy the (toll-free) view of the city, and then warm up with the so-decadent hot chocolate at the Franklin Fountain spin-off Shane Confectionery in Old City. If you have any pennies left, you can make your way over to Christ Church, and toss ’em on Ben’s grave.
Since the Curtis Institute of Music in Rittenhouse opened its doors in 1924, every student — from Leonard Bernstein to Lang Lang — has performed in the school’s free recitals, held mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 10 p.m. Show up 15 minutes early for prime mid-center seats; piano aficionados, sit to the left for the best view.
Every Monday night, the Trocadero transforms from mosh-pit mecca to a movie house where you can catch hits like Gone Girl and throwback crowd-pleasers like Die Hard. Three bucks gets you in and is credited toward a drink or snack — cheaper than an on-demand rental, and a lot more fun. BYO Twizzlers. Chinatown, 215-922-6888.
If you have a penchant for the slightly geeky, just head north on 611 to Ringing Rocks County Park in Upper Black Eddy, where you’ll find an expanse of rocks that ring like bells when you whack ’em. Bring a hammer, bang out a tune, and speculate about the phenomenon’s origin. (Ice Age anomaly? Supernatural playground?) On the way home, stop at the Sand Castle Winery for a $15 cellar tour and tasting. Ringing Rocks County Park, Upper Black Eddy, 215-757-0571; Sand Castle Winery, Erwinna, 800-722-9463.
If you can’t get lucky following an afternoon in the hotel spa at the Rittenhouse hotel, a romantic dinner at Lacroix (indulge in the well-worth-it $130 chef’s tasting menu) and nightcaps at the Library Bar — easily the sexiest little lounge in town — then we don’t know what to tell you.
Talk about a great date idea: Each and every Friday night, the Old City pottery gallery known as the Clay Studio offers “date nights” at which you get to channel your inner Demi/Patrick while shaping wet clay on your own potter’s wheel. The $135-a-couple fee includes beer and wine; pre-registration is required.
The Paris Bistro & Jazz Café has lots of raw oysters, an authentic Parisian bistro menu and live, sultry music Thursdays through Sundays that make for the perfect night out before the perfect night in. And with the (affordable!) rooms at the recently renovated Chestnut Hill Hotel right next door, you might not have to go far.
You might be looking to get straight to the point, and at the Velvet Lily in Midtown Village, talking about sex doesn’t feel silly. Book a one-hour private shopping session at Philly’s poshest X-rated shop. It costs $300, with the fee going toward a $500 spending minimum.
Sign your crew up for a block of time at Sky Zone trampoline park — jump times start every hour — grab your free Sky Socks, and feel like kids together for a while. Pre-gaming not recommended. Located in Oaks, Glen Mills and Moorestown, NJ, with a Philly outpost coming soon.
Pull together eight people for a private after-hours event at the 9th Street DiBruno’s in Bella Vista, and you can sample tons of meats, cheeses and olives, without the usual frantic Fight Club atmosphere. Chat with experts, BYOB, and get 10 percent off all purchases. It’s $450 for a group of eight; larger parties are accommodated, too. Advance booking is required.
Might as well just avoid that tedious “How many small plates should we get?” conversation entirely by having a special-order meal designed for a group. At Michael Solomonov’s Abe Fisher in Rittenhouse, you can opt for an order of short ribs for the table or Hungarian duck for two; at Old City’s Amada, the suckling pig comes with family-style fixings. Or you can simply make the meal the experience: With tiki drinks, the Benihana hibachi chef acrobatics become even more impressive (that’s in Cherry Hill), while the huge round tables at Chinatown’s Ocean Harbor are perfect for a crowd, and you can grab what you want off rolling carts that are teeming with tasty dim sum.
The indoor Keystone Mini-Golf and Arcade in Kensington makes for a fun-filled night of nostalgic Americana, with nine holes, vintage arcade games and a BYO policy. It’s also just a short walk to Fishtown’s Frankford Hall, where there’s brats, giant Bavarian-style pretzels, Jenga and giant tables that will easily fit five or six couples.
If you steer clear of the big crowd-magnets like Green Eggs and Sabrina’s (where you’ll be stuck waiting in long lines, making small talk on an empty stomach), a brunch date can be perfect: low-pressure, as quick or leisurely as you make it, and perfectly acceptable day-drinking. A few great brunches on your short list should be East Passyunk’s Black ’n Brew, Vetri’s warehouse-cool gastropub on North Broad, Alla Spina, and the jazz-themed Sunday brunch at Jerry’s Bar in Fishtown.
Above Abyssinia Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly is Fiume, a damn-near-authentic speakeasy with no phone number, website or signage. Settle in on Thursdays for live bluegrass by the Citywide Specials ($5 cover charge) and the drink deal for which they’re christened — $5 for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of whiskey.
You can make sipping the main event at Savona’s Friday-night wine tastings. Book in advance — there are only 21 spots per class at the popular Gulph Mills restaurant — and enjoy 75 minutes of swirling, swilling and, okay, getting tipsy in the restaurant’s wine cellar.
Yards Brewing Company, that venerable NoLibs beer mecca, offers free 40-minute tours on Saturdays and Sundays that include a couple samples of the signature ales, like Love Stout, which was just released in bottles. (Tours run from noon to 3:30 p.m, and fill up fast, so it’s best to get there early.) Afterward, retreat to the Yards Tasting Room for $5 pints and noshes from a rotating lineup of food trucks.
Take your main squeeze for Toblerone and a foreign flick at the artsy Bryn Mawr Film Institute or at Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Center, which screens “rare and underscreened” films every Tuesday. (This month? That includes Purple Rain, The Red Circle and If I Were King.)
It sounds macabre (hell—it is macabre), but Laurel Hill Cemetery offers a variety of walking tours that are surprisingly entertaining and truly fascinating glimpses into Philly history. Afterwards, you can keep it just a little dark at Time restaurant in the Midtown Village, where the mood is sultry and the absinthe is free-flowing.
Speaking of dark: The Mütter Museum’s compendium of medical oddities in Center City can spark some pretty interesting discussions (and make you appreciate modern medicine), and it’s just a stone’s throw from University City’s Penn Museum, where an extra $10 for the second admission makes it easy to museum-hop. Afterwards, grab an affogato (espresso poured over gelato) at nearby Capogiro.
For a special date this Valentine’s Day (or later, if you can wait until the spring), you can visit the one-of-a-kind Skyspace at the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting—an art installation by famed artist James Turrell that involves a retracting roof, the sky, LED lighting on the ceiling and an interior light display that runs about an hour or so (from 5:30 to 6:30 on V-Day), playing off nature’s own light at dusk and dawn. Registration (which is required) is here.
There’s just one path at Wayne’s Chanticleer Garden, but it swings you past a variety of mini-gardens with plenty of places to sit and chat and eat. Pick up simple sandwiches at the clandestine cafe in Valley Forge Flowers before you go.
Why not start by stargazing at Fels Planetarium in the Franklin Institute in Center City, where you can hold hands and feel like dreamy adolescents again? If you want to really get your hearts pumping, you can follow it up with a private dance lesson at Society Hill Dance Academy, followed by a nightcap at Bella Vista’s Good King Tavern, a dim-lit corner bistro that’s more Paris than Philly.
For a little more quality couple time, you can head to New Hope and get a room at the Inn at Bowman’s Hill. It’s quaint, and mercifully free of B&B weirdness (no shared bathrooms), and there’s a breakfast-in-bed option. And while you’re in the area, might as well hop on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, an old-timey train that takes passengers on a 45-minute tour of Bucks County. (There’s a bar cart!)
You can take in the sunset — and the spectacular view — from the city’s new observation deck at One Liberty for $19 a person, then come down a notch (to the 37th floor of Two Liberty) for drinks and oysters on the half-shell at the R2L, where the darkened dining room and skyline views make for a dramatic and lovely setting.
— With additional reporting by Grace Maiorano