(Hye Jin Chung for The Washington Post)

For a first date, you could choose the hottest bar in town or the most romantic. But then you risk spending more time trying to get the bartender’s attention than getting to know each other. And if the sparks are lacking but the lighting is low, the setting can feel overly intimate. So it’s often best to keep things simple with a dash of special — and then work your way up from there.

Here are a collection of summer date ideas, perfect for a budding romance or a long-term relationship, that are a bit more creative than your usual outdoor movie or concert. Check the key below of emoji — today’s go-to flirting tactic — to see which outings might be a good match.


Cantina Marina offers views of boats docking at sunset. (Farrah Skeiky for The Washington Post)

Check out a cool art exhibition, then sip margaritas on the water

Moving pixels and dashes of light swirl around Artechouse’s digital exhibit “XYZT: Abstract Landscapes,” creating mood lighting fit for a first or second date. Motion sensors take cues from a viewer’s touch and project lighted images around the room; the playful and physical interactions can serve as an easy icebreaker or a welcome distraction from stilted conversation. Guarantee yourself a spot by buying tickets in advance online for a 45-minute timed session — they sell out quickly — and once you’re there, consider sticking around for a drink. A house bar opens daily at 5:30 p.m. with pours of Bagrationi, a sparkling white Georgian wine. If the weather’s nice, make the mile-long trek to Cantina Marina afterward. Sitting on the outdoor patio, you can nosh on fish and shrimp tacos over margaritas while watching boats dock at sunset. — Winyan Soo Hoo

Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave. SW. $10-$25.

Cantina Marina, 600 Water St. SW. 202-554-8396. $5-$29.


Brookeville Beer Farm has 13 beers on tap, all made in-house. (John Taylor/The Washington Post)

Spend the afternoon at a local beer farm

Where to sit with your date at Brookeville Beer Farm? The farm brewery, which opened in the fall in a quiet Montgomery County agricultural community, has options to fit any situation. Want a quiet spot with a little privacy? Grab one of the small tables inside the quaint tasting room or cozy up side by side at the circular bar, which has 13 beers on tap, all made in-house. (You also can watch the small pizza oven, firing up a variety of thin-crust pies with locally sourced toppings.) Still getting to know each other? One of the long communal tables — along with a few more of those craft beers — may help keep conversation lively. If you’re in the mood for music, the brewery hosts performers throughout each weekend, and, when it’s warm, they play outdoors on the patio, where the bar offers plenty of tables. Want to get away from it all? Bring a blanket, set up in the adjacent field and enjoy the farmlike atmosphere — a farm that isn’t that far from the bar. — John Taylor

Brookeville Beer Farm, 20315 Georgia Ave., Brookeville, Md. 301-260-1000.


The Band of Lovers perform during a recent Sofar Sounds show at Artist's Proof in Georgetown. (Mauricio Castro)

Go to a pop-up concert at a surprise location

The intimate pop-up concert series Sofar Sounds puts on shows in unexpected spaces: Think Artist’s Proof art gallery in Georgetown, the Femme Fatale pop-up store on H Street, Shake Shack in Union Station and private homes across the city. Sit on blankets and listen to music from a mix of local bands, emerging artists and such headliners as Vanessa Carlton, Broods and Buika — three past acts. (Some performers have been known to stick around after the show and mingle with the audience.) Here’s what makes this date interesting: The lineup and location are revealed only the day before each show. Concerts are BYOB, and you can pack snacks to munch on throughout the evening. The events clock in at about an hour and half, so the time commitment isn’t intimidating. Extra evidence that spontaneous music can lead to romance: Two Sofar Sounds staff members, who met at one of the shows, got engaged this year with a concert proposal by song. — W.S.

Various locations. Sign up for lottery tickets online. $15-$20.


Bike lovers can get moving by riding to the Caboose brewery and hydrating with German-style beers. (Deborah Jaffe for The Washington Post)

Ride your bike to a brewery for brunch

If a date involves exercise, you might want to plan a reward at the end. Caboose Brewing is just feet from the popular W&OD Trail, near mile marker 12 in Vienna. On weekends, a steady stream of lycra-and-helmet-clad bikers roll up to the patio, park and head inside for a refreshing pit stop. You don’t have to be a serious cyclist to make the trip to the airy brewpub: Brewer Chris Mallon, formerly of Heavy Seas, is deft with lighter German styles, including pilsner and Vienna lager, and chef James Marroquin, late of Capitol Hill’s Sonoma and Stanton & Greene, offers a stellar brunch menu featuring savory maple pork sausage and bacon, cheesy grits and buttermilk biscuits and gravy. Bring a growler (or buy one as a souvenir of your visit) so you can bike responsibly and enjoy more beer when you get home. — Fritz Hahn

Caboose Brewing, 520 Mill St. NE, Vienna. About 15 miles by bike from downtown Washington, on the Custis and W&OD trails; about six from Reston Town Center; and 12 from Shirlington. Brunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends; dishes $6-$13. Beer, $12 per flight (four five-ounce tasters) and $6-$9 per pint.


Lotus flowers were reaching peak bloom at Kenilworth last week. (Michael Reynolds/European Press Photo Agency)

Explore a garden that’s off the beaten path

Bars and restaurants are fine settings for early get-to-know-you conversations, but they also can be loud, distracting and expensive. When you’re ready to go deeper with someone new, it’s a good idea to head outside and get the blood pumping. Science backs this up: Doing physical activity together can help facilitate bonding, as can experiencing something new together. In Northeast Washington, close to Maryland, Kenilworth is a bit off the beaten the path and well worth the drive (or Lyft fare) to get there. Walking among the lotus flowers and waterlilies, with frogs croaking and birds chirping in the background, makes for a peaceful yet vibrant setting where it’s only natural to step beyond the surface of a budding connection. It’s the perfect spot to try some of the highly publicized 36 questions to fall in love, or simply let the conversation wander. — Lisa Bonos

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE. Free.


“Hive” is the new installation at the National Building Museum. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Visit an art installation then sample the best barbecue in town
The National Building Museum’s annual summer blockbuster exhibition is the perfect weekend date, a combination of high-concept art and down-home flavors. “Hive,” which consists of more than 2,500 interlocked paper tubes shaped into a trio of domed chambers, is an immersive and Instagram-worthy experience. You can lose track of time playing with the chimes and percussive instruments inside. Once you’re Hived out, head outdoors to the Backyard Barbecue to picnic in the shadow of the museum with frozen margaritas, ice-cold beer, sliced brisket and pulled pork from Hill Country, recently ranked by The Washington Post as the best barbecue joint in town. Free lawn games are scattered around, and bands perform Friday through Sunday. — F.H.

National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. “Hive” open until 5 p.m. daily and from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. $13-$16. Hill Country Backyard BBQ opens at 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday. Food and drink priced individually.

The miniature golf course at East Potomac Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

Play a game of mini-golf then nosh with a view
Playing mini-golf is a timeless date idea: Couples were putting their way around East Potomac Park in the 1930s, and you can still enjoy a friendly game there with your main squeeze. The course is on the National Register of Historic Places — a fact you can use to impress your date! — and it’s rare in that it lacks the water wheels and loop-the-loops found on so many ranges. Instead, the long holes are attractively terraced and landscaped with stone, making for a pleasant stroll with plenty of time for chitchat. (There’s a really nice breeze even on hot days, due to the course’s location between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.) Once you’ve finished, head to the golf course’s Potomac Grille, a laid-back 19th hole where you can get burgers, nachos, snacks and even wine and draft beer. Make sure to grab a picnic table on the veranda, where you can watch golfers practice. — F.H.

East Potomac Park, 972 Ohio Dr. SW. $6-$9 per round.


Chicken + Whiskey managing principal partner Kris Carr saws a block of ice in the restaurant's back bar. (Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post).

Have a drink at a hidden bar

There are two new bars in the District that are hidden behind freezer doors. One of them — the one behind Capo Italian Deli, which requires texting a secret phone number and getting on a guest list — is too much of a hassle for a first date. The other, however, is a breeze: At Chicken + Whiskey, you enter by walking through the fast-casual Peruvian restaurant at the front and opening the freezer door. There’s no guest list, no bouncer, and the lights are bright enough to see the face of the person you’re just getting to know. At $6 to $10, the cocktails are refreshingly priced, especially for 14th Street. Along the bar, there’s a collection of records and a DJ setup, where one of the owners can be spotted spinning a couple of nights a week. The mash-up of fast-casual in the front, whiskey in the back is a great metaphor for a first meeting: At this point, you don’t know if you’re heading for something quick and casual or a pairing that’s stronger and heavier. You may as well pick a spot that caters to both sides of the spectrum under the same roof. — L.B.

Chicken + Whiskey, 1738 14th St. NW. 202-667-2456.


Trail rides at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center cost $42 per person. (Lisa Bonos/The Washington Post)

Go on a horse trail ride

By the time you’re booking this adventure, you should be at the stage in your relationship in which you feel comfortable planning things several weeks ahead of time. Trail rides cost $42 a person, last about an hour and are led by a guide. With only four spots per time slot — the schedule varies by season — the rides fill up fast, but it’s worth the wait and the advance planning. Clomping through the park is a fun, easy escape from city life without actually leaving town. The verdant tree canopy of Rock Creek Park makes this outing physically cooler and much more novel than the hottest rooftop bar in town. On a recent trail ride, I asked our guide whether the Rock Creek horses mate with each other, and she said, “There are no capable males” at the stable. So if your search for a suitable stud is proving to be a rocky road, saddle up. You’re in good company. — L.B.

Rock Creek Park, 5100 Glover Rd. NW. $42 a person. Space is limited; book weeks in advance.


The Millionaire cocktail at Beuchert's Saloon is made with bourbon and egg whites. (Winyan Soo Hoo/The Washington Post)

Dine alfresco, then catch late-night jazz

Dine alfresco under string lights at Beuchert’s Saloon’s brick patio, a romantic space that’s open during warmer months and makes for a classy rendezvous. Try the crispy pork shank with a light kohlrabi salad, heirloom tomato toast or blue crab bucatini pasta with a cocktail, including the frothy Millionaire, made with bourbon, Mandarine Napoleon, absinthe and egg whites. (For a more casual affair, opt for the nearby Santa Rosa Taqueria, where you can order filling tacos and $6 margaritas.) If you don’t want to call it a night after dinner, grab a nightcap at Mr. Henry’s around the corner. The legendary saloon, where Roberta Flack and Les McCann once played, features live jazz four days a week on the top floor. On a recent night, the soulful tunes of sextet Dial 251 inspired an audience member to join the band onstage for a down-tempo rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon.” — W.S.

Beuchert’s Saloon, 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-733-1384. $8-$38.

Santa Rosa Taqueria, 315 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-450-4800. $6-$10.

Mr. Henry’s, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-546-8412. Free cover for jazz Wed.-Sun. 8-11 p.m., $15 minimum for food and drink.

Read more:

Our favorite burgers in Washington, from diner-style to splurge-worthy

The best true dive bars in the D.C. area