20 Great Dates


I have a difficult job. I go out and do things, then write about them for this magazine. In the name of research, I have traveled throughout Northern California and to Maui, been pampered at spas, listened to great local music, seen wonderful live performances and interviewed some of the most interesting people in the area.

So when my editor approached me about writing 20 Great Dates, I figured it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. My assignment: find something unique to do, take a date, then write about our experience. So I gathered a group of guys&emdash;some I knew well, others I knew less well and one I met for the first time&emdash;and one by one went on 20 dates. From rock climbing and glider riding to side-by-side massage and meditation, we did it all.

Hey, no one’s knocking dinner and a movie, but the next time you’re pressed for something different to do on a date, I hope some of the following activities will inspire you.

1. Climb the Walls

Test out teamwork by rock climbing at Granite Arch Climbing Center in Rancho Cordova. After all, if you or your date can’t get it together, serious injury can result.

Derek and I began with a 30-minute orientation. Doug Boethling, our instructor, somberly showed us how to properly gear up. The steps seemed endless, the memory cues&emdash;including red means you’re dead&emdash;somewhat unnerving.

Once we started to climb, it was comforting to know Derek had my back, and I appreciated his calm demeanor as he helped me with my gear and encouraged me to climb up the 35- to 40-foot wall, my hands and feet grabbing for strategically placed holds. For him, well, I am sure he was glad a staffer was always nearby.

After two hours, we were tired and famished. This is more of a Saturday afternoon thing, Derek reflected, noting that if you really got into the sport, you’d be hooked for hours at a time.

But for us, two hours was long enough to learn we could work well as a team. Maybe our next adventure can be sky diving.

Cost: $21.50 per person for a day pass plus a $7 safety class

Granite Arch Climbing Center, 11335 Folsom Blvd., Building G, Rancho Cordova; (916) 852-7625;

2. Embrace Your Inner Artist

My interest in my painting date was piqued a few days prior with a small gift from Pat. Enclosed: two paintbrushes and a note that read I think you are an artist at heart.

I wondered.

At our destination in rural Davis, our instructor, local artist Daniel Mundy, greeted us and two other students.
See that tree over there? We’re going to paint it, Pat said.

Paint it? Freehand? I thought.

But Pat proved to be equal parts instructor and cheerleader. Easel set up, acrylics in hand and following his lead, I unleashed bold strokes of brown, more timid brushes of blue and dots of green. Oh, yeah, that looks great! he encouraged.

Two hours later, I had myself a pretty decent rendition of a tree in a field, just like Pat had promised. Mundy had come by on occasion to dispense tips and give us direction, but I was in more than capable hands with Pat, and that was kinda nice.

Cost: $25 to $35 per person

Danielmundy.com; (916) 205-8180

3. Pamper yourselves&emdash;and your budget

My penchant for well-kept hands and feet might paint me as a high-frills girl. But I don’t need the surroundings&emdash;or expense&emdash;of a froufrou spa. My choice for ultimate nail care: L.A. Woman Nail in Sacramento, which eschews a soft-candlelit-and-aromatherapy-instilled atmosphere in favor of high-backed, cushioned chairs and fluorescent lighting.

William and I relaxed completely as our hands and feet were pampered, the lull of bad daytime TV playing in the background. So relaxing is the experience, it’s more conducive to naptime than chat time. But maintaining a comfortable silence with each other on a date is a good sign.

This salon’s work rivals the most expensive spa’s in my book. Yet after paying only $30 for a manicure and pedicure, William and I could afford to splurge on a nice dinner afterward at Sofia Restaurant in downtown Sacramento. With low lighting, white tablecloths and tiny candles on the tables, Sofia exudes romance. And with a cocktail named Lover’s Delight on the drink menu, it knows it.

Cost: $30 per person for manicure and pedicure; dinner for two, roughly $60 to $70

L.A. Woman Nail, 2636 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 489-4244; Sofia Restaurant, 815 11th St., Sacramento; (916) 558-1580; sofiasac.com

4. Run Away With Your Date

If I had to grade myself as a running date, I’d earn a D minus.

I don’t like to talk, I often spit and my nose runs.

But I found a kindred spirit in Jared, a fellow runner and no-talking spitter. We ventured out to Run To Feed The Hungry on Thanksgiving morning, a 5K/10K walk/run through the streets of East and midtown Sacramento. We ran together the first 2 ½ miles and&emdash;despite a mutual abhorrence for course discourse&emdash;managed to utter a few words. (It was a date, after all.) Separated by a potty break, we did not see each other again until the end of the race. But we had great fun perusing the finish line area for goodies and saying hello to friends until chilly November temperatures combined with sweat-soaked clothing prompted us to call it a day. Or a date.

Cost: Charity runs vary in cost, but most average about 20-something bucks.

To find out about area runs, contact Fleet Feet Sports at (916) 442-3338 or fleetfeetsacramento.com.

5. Let Your Hearts Soar

Soaring some 4,000 feet in the air on a clear day in Williams, you’ll catch views of Mount Shasta, Mount Diablo and the Sutter Buttes.

Want to do some tricks? inquired Mark Haffer, our friendly pilot from Williams Soaring Center.

Sure, Patrick and I replied, a tad nervously. A moment later, our private roller coaster took off, swaying from side to side, then up and down. We shrieked with delight and fright.

The glider&emdash;a small, engineless plane&emdash;is übercozy; when sitting inside, the top of the plane brushes your head. Concerned with maintaining your personal space? This is not the date for you. But if you’re itching for close contact (you’re practically sitting in each other’s laps) and a protective arm across your back as you fly high in the sky, book this trip now.

Cost: Fantastic Journey runs $120, 10 percent discount with online coupon

Williams Soaring Center, 2668 Husted Road, Williams; (530) 473-5600; caladventures.com/williamssoaringcenter.htm

6. Dance in the Alley

Justin warned me he was a pretty good bowler. So confident, in fact, he even made up a rule that every time either one of us threw a gutter ball, we’d have to perform a crazy dance move in the lane.
Let’s just say Justin was dancing a lot the night of our date.

Elena, are you hustling me? he joked, simultaneously impressed and chagrined as I beat him in the first game.

Justin won the next two games, but never by the landslide he promised, and he threw his fair share of gutter balls. But from the moment he proclaimed our bowling nicknames (I was Green Banana; he was Blue Bowler) to his good-natured dancing, Justin proved that the real goal of the evening wasn’t about winning, wasn’t about impressing the girl, it was simply about having fun.

And have fun we did.

Cost: On a Friday night, about $42 per hour per lane

Country Club Lanes, 2600 Watt Ave., Sacramento; (916) 483-5105; countryclublanes.com

7. Teaming Up for Trivia

Name the song by one-hit-wonder band Deep Blue Something.

Questions like that set the stage for my double date with Patrick, his roommate, Mike, and friend Julie. We decided to form a team and tackle trivia night, held Sunday evenings at The Streets of London Pub in midtown.

Unless you or your date is a crackerjack trivia player, playing the game as a couple is intimidating. After all, who wants to look stupid in front of a date? But as a double date or, better yet, triple date, the cumulative brain power may add up to just the right mix of knowledge about current events, music, history and literature.

Although we didn’t win, our foursome placed in the top half of about 20 teams playing that night.
And while playing impressively isn’t everything, it sure doesn’t hurt on a date.

Cost: Sunday night trivia is free; you can spend anywhere from $5 to $50 on food and drinks.

The Streets of London Pub, 1804 J St., Sacramento; (916) 498-1388; streetsoflondon.net

8. Sustenance and Spirituality

Commence your karma-enriching experience with dinner at Sunflower Drive-In in Fair Oaks Village, a hot spot since the ’70s for vegetarian fare. After satisfying our tummies guilt-free with chili, tacos and smoothies, Thomas and I looked forward to quieting our minds at Healing Alternatives Meditation Center in Carmichael.

In the soft flicker of candlelight, we relaxed as teacher Lisa Chapman-Sorci guided us into a meditative state, emphasizing the importance of posture, breathing, ignoring distractions and attaining that space between your thoughts.

Thomas, a black belt who practiced meditation while studying martial arts for 15 years, described his meditation that evening as a cloudlike state. Afterward, he shared with the group: It was kinda scary in a way, but also one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Relaxed and refreshed, we felt quite groovy.

Cost: Dinner for two at Sunflower, including smoothies, $15 to $20; meditation class, $10 per person, per class

Sunflower Drive-In, 10344 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 967-4331; Healing Alternatives Meditation Center, 6920 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 606-7388; healing-alternatives.org

 9. A Couple who Laughs Together . . .

When I first saw comic Kira Soltanovich this past summer, I knew right away that Rubin&emdash;a fellow stand-up aficionado who shares my affinity for comics such as Jim Gaffigan&emdash;would dig her.

I was right. Our date at Laughs Unlimited had us both gasping for breath and wiping away tears.

Rubin good-naturedly went along with it when Soltanovich singled him out of the crowd for his infectious laugh&emdash;a rambunctious chuckle that could boost the self-esteem of even the most self-conscious comic&emdash;and asked if the alternative rock radio station he worked for played the soft-rock-veined Five for Fighting. (It doesn’t.) Rubin tried to move the spotlight onto me by pointing out that I was a local magazine writer, but that information wasn’t scintillating enough for Soltanovich.

After the show, we rubbed elbows with the comics and Rubin bought each of us CDs of Soltanovich’s routine, keepsakes from our evening.

If laughter is the best medicine, I think Rubin and I have been granted immunity from illness for the rest of the winter.

Cost: $10–$20 cover, with a two-drink minimum per person

Laughs Unlimited, 1207 Front St.; Old Sacramento; (916) 446-5905; laughsunlimited.com

10. Splash of the Grape

I feel pampered when a man orders wine for me. It’s the oenological equivalent of opening my car door.
So keeping dates brushed up on their vino with a little wine tasting can only work to my advantage.

Upon entering Capitol Cellars wine store in Roseville, Chris beelined it to the wine racks. Ooh, they’ve got Karl Lawrence Cabernet, he purred. That’s such a good wine, and it’s not easy to find around town. Chris had entered wine nirvana. Me? After a 22-mile training run in the rain that morning, I was ready to sit on a stool, sample the day’s offerings and listen to Chris discuss wine with the sommelier.

Capitol Cellars’ circular bar offers patrons a great view of open land; with the sun cracking through the clouds on this overcast day, it was pretty romantic. Chris and I discussed returning in the summer to sit on the patio.

After we tasted four wines, we savored dinner at La Provence Restaurant & Terrace next door, where you can bring your recently purchased wine or order from the restaurant’s wine list.  With a toasty fireplace and outdoor views, it’s a natural extension of the evening.

Cost: Wine tasting, $5 (Saturdays 2–6 p.m.); dinner for two roughly $100

Capitol Cellars, 110 Diamond Creek Place, Suite 100, Roseville; (916) 786-9030; capitolcellars.com; La Provence Restaurant & Terrace, 110 Diamond Creek Place, Suite 150, Roseville; (916) 789-2002; laprovenceroseville.com

11. Romance on the River

On a lazy Sunday morning, Adam and I embarked on the Spirit of Sacramento for its brunch cruise. We sipped Champagne while dining on eggs, potatoes and pastries on the nearly empty boat.

Although daytime river cruises are more popular in the warm months, the trip felt ethereal on the cold, foggy fall day. The views of the Delta and Old Sacramento have a hauntingly romantic edge that’s lost in the summer when bright sunshine, numerous other boaters and, yes, tourists fight for your attention. Being on the boat forces you to slow down, Adam observed. In our fast-paced way of life, this is a nice way to lose yourself, he said.

Back at the dock two hours later, Adam and I braved our return to our busy lives.

Cost: $45 per person

Boards at the L Street Landing in Old Sacramento; (916) 552-2933; sacramentoyachtchar

12. Morocco for the Evening

Dining side by side, eating with your fingers, watching belly dancers&emdash;it’s difficult to find a more romantic dining experience than Marrakech Moroccan Restaurant on Fulton Avenue in Sacramento.

Cozy, low-to-the-ground seating at Marrakech allows you and your date to converse with your neighbors or become thoroughly engrossed in each other. The seating is intimate for all parties involved, so it’s easy for others to eavesdrop on your conversation, as Jeffrey and I experienced firsthand. 

You both look so cute. You look like you are really bonding, the woman at the next table commented. Is this your first date? We kept mum on the specifics.

On Fridays and Saturdays, Marrakech offers belly-dancing shows at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Most diners&emdash;men and women alike&emdash;grow easily entranced by the shimmery-costumed dancer. Jeffrey, however, averted his eyes, in part because he didn’t want to get selected to dance with her and in part, I believe, out of shyness.

Regardless of whether you boogie with the belly dancer, the evening can’t help but take on a sensuous feel.

Cost: About $40 for dinner for two, plus a tip for the dancer.

Marrakech Moroccan Restaurant, 1833 Fulton Ave., Sacramento; (916) 486-1944; marrakechrestaurant.com

13. Date in the Fast Lane 

I arrived a few minutes ahead of Steve at RPM Indoor Kart Racing in Sacramento and surveyed the scene. It looked like a miniature NASCAR race.

I started to second-guess this date activity, but having just met Steve, I was committed to seeing it through.
Dressed in the requisite orange jumpsuits, Steve and I watched a short safety video then grabbed helmets.

It’s quick to see who the experienced drivers are: Had smoke emitted from their karts, they’d have blown rings around mine. Steve held his own. My goals: not to spin out, not to get hit by another driver and not to look foolish on my first date with Steve. I achieved two out of three. Seeing that my Nonna&emdash;who never drove a day in her life&emdash;probably could have outpaced me, I’m thinking I looked a little foolish. But Steve had only praise. You didn’t spin out once, he pointed out. No. 23, she spun out three times! Besides, you look really cute in your jumpsuit and helmet.

Maybe this wasn’t such a bad date idea after all&emdash;or maybe I just had a good date by my side.

Cost: Nonmembers $24, plus $5 for headsock; discount for members

RPM Indoor Kart Racing and Conference Center, 3130 Bradshaw Road, Sacramento; (916) 368-7223;

14. Giving and Receiving

Volunteering together is a good way to find out how altruistic your date is.

So through Hands On Sacramento, a local organization that helps match individuals with volunteer opportunities, I set up a date to serve lunch at Loaves & Fishes one Thursday afternoon.

David and I were warmly greeted by Loaves & Fishes staff, who made it obvious they were happy for our help. Having arrived late, we missed out on the plum assignments, such as serving food; they already were taken by the other volunteers. David and I graciously agreed to dry dishes. This turned out to be a good task for a date, for though it got hectic as the lunch rush hit (Loaves & Fishes feeds on average 500 people at its Thursday lunches), we still could talk while we worked. 

Two hours later, the lunch rush cleared, and David and I left Loaves & Fishes, both basking in do-gooders’ afterglow.

Cost: Free

Hands on Sacramento, (916) 447-7063, ext. 304; handsonsacto.org

15. Recipes for Romance

I burned water once, Jeffrey admitted when I suggested we take a cooking class at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

I was glad our date would help him polish his culinary skills.

The evening’s menu: soups, perfect for a chilly night.

Our instructor, local chef Dionisio Esperas, taught us demonstration-style. While making four varieties of soup, Dio, as he suggested we call him, dispensed helpful hints and tips, and fun facts. Jeffrey and I only had to sit back, watch and absorb.

And eat. After the first bowlful&emdash;a healthy-tasting pasta fagioli with chard and turkey sausage, Jeffrey and I were itching for more. A glass of red wine provided midway through the evening further mellowed our psyches.

The class did not leave much room for conversation. Communication was limited to a few whispered comments, short, handwritten notes and raised eyebrows. But while it didn’t allow us to indulge our loquacious tendencies, it did provide recipes. We could go home and make our own romantic dinner for two&emdash;together!

Cost: Class costs may vary; this one was $35 per person

(916) 455-2667, sacfoodcoop.com

16. Touch Therapy

There are few things more intimate than sharing a massage. In a darkened room (the Rain Forest Room at The Way Within day spa in midtown), candles flickering, soothing music playing, you and your date lie nearly naked on side-by-side tables.

William and I melted under the expert touch of our respective therapists, each one catering to our specific needs. After an hour of treatment, we were noodles.

We then were led into the Harmony Suite, which featured a Japanese soaking tub, aromatherapy bath salts, Thai coconut body wash and lotion, and green tea for sipping. Soaking in the hot water, we relaxed even more&emdash;aches, pains and cares of the day floated away.

One strong caveat: This is a great date idea, but for most people, not an ideal first date. While you can retain your modesty, the experience is best-suited for couples who know each other fairly well.

Cost: Bliss for Two, which includes an hour-long massage and an hour in the Harmony Suite, runs $225.

The Way Within, 1722 J St., Suite 1, Sacramento; (916) 446-4443; thewaywithin.com

17. Date With Ducks 

Feeding the ducks was a tradition I shared with my father from the time I was a little girl up until his death almost two years ago.

The silent ritual of tossing pieces of stale bread to the always-grateful ducks bonded us in a way words alone
could not.

Although there are duck ponds in William Land and McKinley parks, I took Patrick to the small pond in my condominium community. I’ve found great peace sitting on the benches while watching the ducks frolic, and I wanted to share this serene spot with him.

Patrick and I delighted in seeing the ducks bob for the bread as if it were the best filet mignon money could buy. A few ducks even dared to come up close to get first crack at our goods. It’s every duck for himself when it comes to stale bread; the alpha ducks clearly made their presence known. I could tell that Patrick, who had not engaged in this activity since childhood, was a little surprised at how much fun it could be. And I was glad to have shared this sweet tradition with him.

Cost: Free, plus the cost of some stale bread

18. The Sound of Music

There’s something to be said for an evening spent grooving to the sounds of Little Charlie and The Nightcats. But an even better perk of attending a concert: people-watching. Andy and I found it entertaining to watch the mostly after-work crowd at Cesar Chavez Plaza letting loose for the weekend. Gaggles of 20-something girls hovered together, stealing glances at neighboring guys; families with small children&emdash;the dating ritual long past or not yet sparked depending on the family member in question&emdash;enjoying picnic dinners near the stage; couples canoodling&emdash;you’ll see it all. For Andy and me, it was like watching a movie, but one where we were free to comment to each other.

After a couple of hours, we were hungry and decided to dine at Gönül’s, a tiny restaurant on a subdued stretch of J Street in East Sacramento. We left the sounds of downtown behind and enjoyed some one-on-one time over wine and dinner, unwinding for our weekend.

Cost: Concert, free; dinner for two $30 to $40 (includes a half bottle of wine)

Gönül’s J Street Cafe, 3839 J St., Sacramento; (916) 457-1155; jstreetcafe.com
Note: Free concerts abound in spring and summer. A great place to listen to music in the winter months at minimal cost: Crocker Art Museum’s Third Thursday Jazz Concerts. It’s free for members, $10 for nonmembers. (916) 264-5423; crockerartmuseum.org

19. Strike a Pose

Mark is a multifaceted guy. He can tear apart a car and reassemble it, then, a few hours later, mellow out in a yoga class.

I’m of no use to him when it comes to cars, but I can hold my own in yoga, so together we ventured off to Lotus Garden Yoga Center in Carmichael.

Our instructor, Lisa Wood, led us through a series of poses: downward-facing dog, plank, cobra, warrior. Some poses involved stamina, others flexibility.

I could tell when Wood displayed a pose that wasn’t going to happen for Mark. He’d emit an Are you kidding me? chuckle. I was impressed with what he could do as much as I was with his acceptance of what he couldn’t do. That’s a sign of a man who is comfortable with himself. And isn’t that an important point of yoga: self-acceptance?

Loose and limber, and more spiritually aware after a meditation session at the end, we were ready for whatever the rest of the evening had in store for us.

Cost: $10 per class, per person

Lotus Garden Yoga Center, 7225 Lincoln Ave., Carmichael; (916) 944-8505

20. True Love Found

True Love Coffeehouse is all about options: hang out and chitchat, play a board game, listen to live music . . . the list goes on.

Rubin and I hung out with with Kevin Seconds, one of the owners of the recently reopened midtown hangout, and killed two hours just talking about the local music scene (Rubin’s a DJ on KWOD 106.5 FM; Seconds is a renowned local musician), working in the media and Seconds’ plans for the coffeehouse.

The laid-back vibe of TLC (catch that? T.L.C.)&emdash;the interior adorned with Christmas lights, its walls covered with fake punk show posters advertising gigs that took place only in the artist’s dreams and a few ever-so-apropos heart-shaped objects&emdash;can’t help but transfer to you and your date, making for a much more pleasant evening than one spent at a fancy (read: stuffy) restaurant.

Perhaps another night, Rubin and I will return to challenge each other to a game of Connect Four or catch a local band.

Or maybe we’ll just chill over mugs of chai tea and chat. So many options. Besides, at a place dubbed True Love Coffeehouse, how can you go wrong on a date?

Cost: about $5 for two coffee drinks; more if you order food

True Love Coffeehouse, 2315 K St., Sacramento; (916) 448-5683


First-Date Don’ts

– Wallow in negative energy   
– Talk only about yourself or dominate the conversation
– Forget to laugh
– Talk about past romances
– Go overboard on alcohol
– Make false promises for a second date

Sources: Julie Paiva, Table for Six; It’s Just Lunch!; Michelle Conboy and Tina Tessina, Match.com; Let’s Do Lunch&emdash;Elizabeth Marxen

Hot Enough?

A New Online Dating Site Will Let You Know   

HotEnough.org is not a typical dating site&emdash;in fact, it’s more of an exclusive club than a matchmaking tool.

Prospective members submit three photos of themselves to a preliminary screening by site administrators, who inform them of acceptance or rejection by e-mail. The images are then posted on the site and rated by members on a scale of 1 to 10. Users must get at least 25 votes of 8 or higher to be granted access to the online dating pool.

The site claims this screening process allows attractive people to meet each other, without having to scroll through profiles of unlikely partners.

See for yourself at hotenough.org.  &emdash;Elizabeth Marxen

Single in Sac?

Check out these dating services:

It’s Just Lunch!   
Meet a potential mate on your lunch hour. Organizers match singles based on what each looks for in a potential mate, plus similar hobbies and interests, then set up a midday meet-up. 
(916) 564-1400; itsjustlunchsacramento.com

Table for Six Total Adventures
A low-pressure alternative to the traditional first date. You’re among a group of three men and three women at an upscale dinner out with wine and conversation. If a connection is made between two participants, organizers set up a second date for the couple.
(916) 561-0506; tableforsix.com

Professionals Guild   
Live it up at one of the monthly singles parties thrown by the guild&emdash;with music from live bands, DJs, games and free massages.   
(916) 786-5858; pguild.com

Great Expectations   
Create a profile that includes photos taken at Great Expectations’ studio and a three- to five-minute digital video. Then, browse through other member profiles to find that special someone.
(916) 927-2700; ge-dating.com

Short on time? Then sign up for one of cupid.com’s speed-dating parties. Meet potential partners during a series of six-minute mini-dates.
(877) 477-3328; cupid.com

Mozie’s Adventures
Escape the pressure of making romantic connections by simply having fun with other 40-plus singles in the area. Mozie’s Adventures arranges hikes, camping trips, dance nights, theater outings and more for its members.
(916) 782-7181; moziesadventures.com&emdash;Elizabeth Marxen