Funny, isn't it, the way love blooms when the summer sun shines? No other season affords the chance to float side-by-side on the Potomac, to hold hands while hiking under a canopy of leaves and to snuggle up during a movie on the Mall.
Don't let the season pass without a little summer romance. Here are 10 ideas for great dates, with options for all sorts of budgets and interests.
Make a lunch date at Union Market
Perfect if ... you're foodies
There was a time when you might have spent a morning together flipping through vintage photographs and T-shirts at Eastern Market. These days, those in the know make a date to explore the renovated Union Market, which opened last September. In the cool promise of a lofty air-conditioned warehouse, you can savor perfectly frothed cappuccinos and stimulating conversation at Peregrine Espresso, walk a hundred or so feet for an appetite-whetting wine-and-cheese pairing at Righteous Cheese and round a corner to split a meaty sandwich at Red Apron Butchery. Go early for the perfect weekend-morning date, or get there around dusk and end the night sipping blackberry margaritas at Suburbia, the gleaming frozen-cocktail dispensary and outdoor hangout set up outside the market for just one more weekend (it closes shop Thursday). Another option: Go when the market kicks off the D.C. Drive-In on July 12.
Afterward: Roll your stuffed selves several blocks down Florida Avenue to Connersmith gallery (www.connersmith.us.com), which on July 13 opens its cerebral annual exhibit, "Academy," featuring work by promising young graduates. (Free.)
Get a little freaky. See "The Rocky Horror Show"
Perfect if . . . you're past the awkwardness of the first few dates (and, um, don't mind a little skin)
A little flirtatiousness. Mood-setting music. Copious amounts of leather. The bawdy rock musical "The Rocky Horror Show" has everything you need to stoke the flames. Studio Theatre's exuberant 2nd Stage troupe is tackling Richard O'Brien's cult tale of a naïve couple who stumble into the kinked-out world of the cross-dressing Frank N. Furter (played by Mitchell Jarvis, late of "Rock of Ages" on Broadway). We fully expect the amps, and the sexuality, to be turned up to 11. Wednesday-Aug. 4. ($40-$45.)
Beforehand: Find a spot at the bar at Ghibellina (www.ghibellina.com), the new Italian small plates shop, split a deliciously crispy, veggie-loaded pizza and sip on inspired bitter cocktails. They're on the happy hour menu until 6:30 p.m.
Take a hike, then visit a winery
Perfect if . . . you share a passion for the outdoors.
You've done Great Falls and climbed thrillingly close to the falls deep in the forests of Turkey Run. But can the two of you tackle a mountain? At just over 1,000 feet above sea level, Sugarloaf Mountain in Montgomery County isn't exactly Kilimanjaro, but ascending to its summit on a hot day is just enough of a challenge to energize you for the next adventure. Pick from four trails that range from the very easy to the challenging, then choose from varying levels of steepness as you approach the top. Daily from 8 a.m. to an hour before dusk, around 7:15 p.m. in the summer. (Free.)
Afterward: Wrap up your day at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (www.smvwinery.com), which, from its perch in the foothills minutes away, offers a deeply satisfying view of the mountain you just climbed together. And on July 20-21, the winery will be hosting a barbecue and bluegrass festival.
Lay out on the lawn for Strathmore's summer concerts
Perfect if . . . you're music lovers.
When you were a newcomer to Washington, the yogis and errant soccer balls, patchy grass and faint smell of incense were part of the charm of Meridian Hill Park's weekly Sunday drum circles. These days, you can listen to international sounds on a more lush lawn, with a gazebo, the odd outdoor sculpture and a cash bar footsteps away. The acts are hotter than ever at Strathmore's outdoor summer concerts. On the schedule: Alma Tropicalia, the breezy Brazilian ensemble more likely to sling its hip-shaking jams at D.C. clubs such as Tropicalia (July 17), and D.C.'s legendary go-go act Trouble Funk, which is marking its 30th anniversary this year (July 24). Wednesdays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 14. (Free.)
Beforehand: Get there by 6 p.m. to stake out a spot, hit the bar for wine and snacks and see roving performers, including Capital Fringe Festival regulars.
Return to Screen on the Green
Perfect if . . . you're interns, longtime Washingtonians or pretty much anyone who appreciates tradition.
It's hard to imagine a date night more memorable than watching a classic movie on a giant screen with the illuminated Capitol building as the backdrop. After a few shaky years caused the season to get slashed to four films, Screen on the Green has found its sweet spot again with the strongest lineup of classic movies it has had in years. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (July 22), released a full decade before this year's intern class was born, will appeal to the 30-somethings among us, while the psychedelic "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (Aug. 5) begs for a picnic basket stuffed, naturally, with chocolate. Mondays at dusk, July 22-Aug. 12. (Free.)
Before and after: Packing your own weekday picnic is practically impossible, so grab carryout bento boxes from Teaism in Penn Quarter. Then, end the night with a cool scoop of gelato at Penn Quarter's Pitango (www.pitangogelato.com).
Paddle out onto the Potomac
Perfect if . . . nothing brings you together like a new adventure.
There's an exhilarating, walking-on-water feeling evoked by stand-up paddling, the curious sport that arrived here from Hawaii and the West Coast two summers ago. After a quick lesson on how to maneuver the wide, surfboard-like boards at Key Bridge Boathouse (the new waterside playground that replaced Jack's this spring), paddlers are directed one of two ways: Head southeast on the Potomac, along the Georgetown waterfront, for a prime view of the Lincoln Memorial, Memorial Bridge and even the Capitol. Head the other way, toward the rocky islets known as the Three Sisters, and you'll find idyllic, nature-made vistas teeming with bald eagles, beavers, turtles and ducks. (Board rental is $20 an hour.)
Afterward: Keep up the summery vibe and head to K Street's Chadwick's (www.chadwicksrestaurants.com) for bar food and margaritas, which are a mere $2.50 during the waterfront bar's daily happy hour. (Don't worry if you're a little soggy: The staff is used to welcoming post-boathouse crowds.)
Take the scenic route to Bethesda
Perfect if . . . working up a sweat together means a trip to the gym.
Your wintertime ritual of hitting separate treadmills feels so wrong this time of year. Now's the time to snag a pair of bikes from the Georgetown Harbor Capital Bikeshare station (near 30th and K streets NW). From there, zip the few short blocks to the Capital Crescent Trail, passing the sparkling new Washington Harbour fountain, waterfront park and Potomac River views. Just past Key Bridge, a canopy of trees appears to provide shade for the flat, eight-mile ride to Bethesda. Make a stop near Fletcher's Boat House to get a better look at the water, then continue on to bustling Bethesda, where the paved trail ends at Woodmont Avenue. ($7 rental per bike for non-members, plus hourly fees.)
Afterward: Stop at Bethesda's Kraze Burger (www.kraze.us) for tofu Vege & Bean burgers to treat yourself for all the calories burned (there is no Bikeshare station, so you'll have to find an alternative), then grab rehydrating fresh coconut water from Puree Juice Bar (www.pureejuicebar.com) before biking back to Georgetown.
Roam the sculpture gardens when the sun sets
Perfect if . . . you're past the first date but still getting to know each other (and still vetting each others' taste in art).
Imagine Jazz in the Garden. Now imagine the National Gallery of Art's Claes Oldenburg and Joan Miro-filled oasis with only you and your beloved (and okay, maybe a few dozen other roamers). Far more romantic, no? The museum extends its sculpture garden hours in the summer, shuttering at 7 p.m. rather than 5, meaning you can have a picnic and dip your toes in the fountain (and who knows, steal a few kisses?) after most tourists have long since retired to their hotel rooms. (The cafe stays open until 6 p.m. serving snacks and wine.) Open till dusk: The lovely Enid A. Haupt Garden, which borders the African Art Museum and Freer and Sackler galleries and where you can see the stunning installations that went in this spring, including Ghanaian artist El Anatsui's rusted, reflective monument to African industry. (Admission to both is free.)
Afterward: Catch a hit flick at the Museum of Natural History (www.mnh.si.edu), which in the evenings screens blockbusters such as "Star Trek Into Darkness" on some of the city's largest Imax screens. Tickets go quickly, so purchase them in advance.
Hit the links and feel like teenagers again
Perfect if . . . it's your second date and you're not ready for a long romantic dinner.
Currie FitzHugh, whose golf-pro father, Woody, owns Woody's Golf Range in Herndon, says she has seen her fair share of couples at the facility's Perils of the Lost Jungle miniature golf course, including a few who come back post-nuptials. Maybe it's the way the links inspire a little flirty competitiveness. These 18 holes, each with its own animatronic effect, recall the playfulness of Disney World but are some of the most challenging you'll ever try (it has been named one of the best mini-golf options in the country). Kids tend to dominate the course during the day, but couples start to filter in about 7 p.m.; the course stays open till 10. (Adults, $10.25.)
Afterward: Head to nearby Reston for burgers and fries at the Counter (www.thecounterburger.com), which is just casual enough to keep up the fun vibe of the date.
Play house at one Washington's most storied estates
Perfect if . . . you're due for a big night out.
Slip into the driveway, where valets meet you, ready to whisk away your car. Walk past the lush entry and the fountain, stop at the bar and set up on the lawn, where a server is at the ready with drinks and a spread of canapés or desserts laid out just for you. Finding yourself at such a party at Evermay -- the $22 million Georgetown home and object of obsession for local real-estate buffs -- once required a certain kind of Washington pedigree. But the Overtures series of classical concerts launched last year by Evermay's new owners has allowed those of us without the tony address to roam the estate's halls and gardens and feel as if we belong, if only for a night. The performances raise money for the S&R Foundation and spotlight such classical and jazz musicians such as Eishin Nose, Shawn Wyckoff and others talented enough to have won the foundation's awards. The season begins July 19. ($65 includes drinks and light fare).
Afterward: Keep up appearances by booking a late reservation at nearby Restaurant Nora (www.noras.com), the longtime organic restaurant that remains a hot spot for VIPs.