It feels like the confetti barely settles from New Year’s Eve when retailers and restaurants start trying to guilt you into overspending on hokey Valentine’s Day gifts and dates.
If your date gags at the sight of cheesy Valentine’s Day stunts, forget the rose petals on the hotel bedspread or customized M&M’s. Instead, focus on finding ways to have fun with your partner. That could mean getting creative, or it could simply mean finding ways to spend quality time with them doing what they love.
No matter your significant other’s tastes, there’s a fun and creative way to celebrate your relationship — no proverbial cheese in sight.
Fun & Creative Valentine’s Day Date Ideas That Aren’t Cheesy
These Valentine’s Day ideas won’t make anyone’s eyes roll. And who knows? You might even save money in the process — or create a new tradition for dodging Valentine’s Day cliches.
1. Cook a Low-Stress Meal
Try your hand at cooking your date’s favorite low-stress meal. That could be as simple as pancakes with scrambled eggs and bacon. Sheet pan steak and vegetables makes another easy option, as does a one-pan salmon recipe if your someone special prefers seafood.
And no matter what your date likes to eat, there’s probably an easy slow cooker recipe for it. You literally just dump in the ingredients and let them simmer for four to eight hours.
Top off your laid-back date night with a homemade Valentine’s day dessert, which you can prepare in advance for a low-stress Valentine’s evening.
2. Take Your Meal Outdoors as a Picnic
If you live in a warm climate, you can get creative with outdoor picnics.
Locations with a view, such as mountains, beaches, and overlooks, make for an enjoyable, relaxing atmosphere.
Choose dishes you can eat at room (or outdoor) temperature, such as sandwiches, or that travel well in sealed thermoses, such as stews.
Red wine is a suitable beverage for picnic meals, as it drinks well at room (or rather cellar) temperature and you don’t have to keep it cold. But water or hot chocolate also works if you have a way to regulate the temperature.
And if your date loves camping, you can stay overnight rather than heading home after dinner.
3. Go Out for Dinner the Night Before or After
If you absolutely must take your date out to a dinner date, don’t do it on Feb. 14. Getting a reservation alone is a nightmare, which says nothing of packed parking lots and crowded restaurants, which tend to mark up their menus to “special” holiday pricing.
In fact, skip the fine-dining experience altogether. Instead, get creative. That could mean trying a regional food you’ve never had before, such as chicken tikka masala or Chicago-style pizza. Or it could mean a unique dining style, such as fondue or Mongolian hot pot.
And this year, Valentine’s Day arrives just in time for the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning many restaurants have limited or no inside seating. So you may have to take it to go, anyway. So why fight the crowds waiting for curbside pickup on Feb. 14?
4. Do a Beer or Liquor Tasting
Thanks to the microbrew explosion of the aughts, you can buy beer styles from all over the world. So buy a few and set up your own beer tasting.
Have fun with it by picking a theme. You could do local beers from your city or state or try to track down beers brewed in the state where your special someone grew up.
Or choose a country with a rich brewing history and buy beers in various styles from that country. For example, German beer styles include favorites like Vienna lager, Oktoberfest (marzen) lager, weissbier, dunkel, bock, and doppelbock.
If your date is more of a liquor lover, pick their favorite poison and buy some bottles for a tasting. Whiskey lovers might enjoy comparing scotches of varying peat levels or comparing Irish whiskey to scotch to bourbon to Canadian whisky. You could compare vodkas from all over the world or assorted styles of tequila. When the burn gets too hot, you can switch to making various cocktails with them.
And of course, if your date loves wine, you can go the traditional route with a wine tasting. Read up on wine buying tips before shopping if you don’t know much about wine.
To add a little mystery, do a blind tasting. Put the bottles in paper bags before pouring so your date doesn’t know what they are. Set them on the counter and leave the room while your date rearranges them so you don’t know what they are either. Then rate and describe each one before revealing them all at the end.
5. See How Far You Can Get Through a Questions Exercise
Do you think you know your partner well?
To cut through the shallows and start swimming in deeper waters, try answering a set of 36 questions developed by psychologist Arthur Aron and popularized by a New York Times piece.
The questions are split into three sets of 12 questions, getting deeper and more challenging with each set.
Take turns asking questions, aiming for full disclosure and honesty. No cheating! It could get intense, and fast.
And that’s precisely the point. See how far you can get before it gets too uncomfortable and someone breaks and calls it quits.
Best case scenario, you and your partner get to know each other on a more personal level. Worst case scenario, you end up making a drinking game out of inventing stories and seeing whether you can spot the truth versus the lies.
6. Have a 2-Person Game Night
Too many couples just sit around watching TV together every night. Stop staring passively at the boob tube and start interacting with each other more.
Card games, board games, and video games offer the opportunity to talk and get to know each other through competition. Last Christmas, I bought my wife a retro game console with over 600 classic Nintendo and arcade games. Sometimes, we just sit around sipping wine and playing Super Mario Bros. with some music on in the background.
We also play any number of tabletop games, including rummy 500, chess, Scrabble, and Qwixx. The exact game you play doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do something together rather than sitting on the couch and staring at a screen.
7. Get Physical Together
Get outside for some invigorating exercise. Go for a hike, run, or bike ride or build a snowman together. Or just take a scenic walk around the city if you prefer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, physical exercise gets endorphins flowing in your brain, boosting your mood and helping you enjoy each other’s company even more. That effect compounds when you do so outdoors in nature, further elevating your mood and happiness levels, as Harvard Medical School explains.
That said, getting physical together indoors always makes for a fun Valentine’s Day activity too.
8. Make Something Together
Sure, you could carve an ice sculpture together if you happen to have an enormous block of ice, a chainsaw, that kind of talent, and years of experience. But you don’t have to get so extravagant to have fun making something together.
Try some Valentine’s Day kids craft ideas. Or try photo crafts for a fresh look around the house. Anything from homemade candy to bird feeders to making a DIY kegerator is fair game. Or you could make beer together — the ultimate practical hobby.
According to a 2016 Pew Research analysis, 64% of couples say shared interests is one of the keys to a long-lasting relationship. So a shared project could bring you and your partner together. At the very least, you’ll get a good laugh over how badly you bungled even a kid-friendly craft.
You may even discover you like making things. Most of us haven’t truly made anything since arts-and-crafts class in fifth grade, but those who enjoy it can earn good money selling homemade crafts online. You might even discover your next side gig.
9. Clean & Organize Your Home
Most people don’t want to live in a pigsty. Of course, most people also don’t want to invest hours of their time and energy to organize their home properly.
If you live together, toss out the idea of finally getting organized as a Valentine’s Day project. You can tackle it together with some music, snack foods, and perhaps a beverage to make it a party.
Make sure you assign a place for everything because if things don’t have a designated place, they end up just lying around. For more tips, read our article on cleaning and organizing your home.
10. Volunteer Together
Most people just want to give or receive Valentine’s Day treats, such as chocolates, stuffed animals, and flowers. But you can break the cycle of consumerism and indulgence by volunteering for a cause you both feel passionate about.
There are numerous ways to volunteer, including feeding the hungry, planting trees, and building homes for those who need them. The shared interest can bring you closer together and remind you just how much you already have.
If you need ideas, start with our article on good places to volunteer.
And no one says volunteering has to be local, either. By volunteering, you can potentially score a free vacation. In fact, you can even volunteer abroad for free or cheap international travel.
Rather than a weekend getaway at some forgettable corporate hotel, go make the world a better place together. There’s certainly no shortage of need in the world, and you might find it rewarding enough to make an annual tradition of it.
11. Plan a Trip
The travel industry got rocked more than most by the coronavirus pandemic. That means right now is the time to score great deals on vacations, even to pandemic-friendly destinations where you can spend plenty of time outside, like ski resorts, beach towns, and places with great hiking and snowshoeing.
As an avid traveler, I’ve done road trips, beach vacations, and hiking in the COVID era. My wife and I follow a simple rule: Avoid crowded indoor spaces. We go to warm destinations, eat outside, and do nothing but outdoor activities.
We’ve stayed at both Airbnbs and hotels during the pandemic. But try to avoid upper hotel floors that require an extended elevator ride.
But if you don’t feel comfortable traveling right now, you can always plan a trip for later in the year or even next year.
And you don’t have to go away to have a relaxing and fun weekend together. As a far cheaper alternative, plan a romantic staycation.
If your partner loves animals, visit the local zoo. Or go ice skating, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, or even camping.
You can book a local hotel or Airbnb in the same general area but in a different setting. For example, if you live in the suburbs, you could stay downtown in a trendy neighborhood. If you live downtown, you could book a place in a rural area outside the city.
Of course, you don’t have to go out and do anything. You can stay in the hotel room for a change of scenery, open a bottle of wine or make some cocktails, order room service, and binge-watch Netflix or a movie marathon.
12. Plan a Scavenger Hunt
When we were dating, I planned a five-stop scavenger hunt for my wife. She had to figure out where we were going at each step based on written clues (in iambic pentameter for good measure) I provided along the way. It was a blast, and I even arranged for some of our friends to be waiting for us along the way.
My scavenger hunt centered around restaurants and bars where we had a shared history. But it doesn’t have to revolve around spending money.
Your scavenger hunt can include anything from activities to hidden caches around town or even lead to a gift you bought.
13. Take a Cooking Class Together
Learning how to cook better is the ultimate practical way to improve your lives.
The better you can cook, the less tempted you are to eat out or order delivery and the more you enjoy cooking rather than seeing it as a chore. When you know what you’re doing, cooking becomes a hobby in itself.
And if you and your partner learn how to cook together, it not only gives you something new to enjoy together, but it reduces the odds of one partner resenting the other for never cooking dinner.
14. Plan Your Shared Dreams & Financial Future
Depending on how you look at it, fleshing out your long-term goals and dreams could be either extremely romantic or not at all.
What would your perfect life look like? Explore the subject with your partner over a beverage or meal. Compare the similarities and differences between your visions. Compromise and come together over a shared vision, which lays the foundation for lifestyle design.
Then take the harder step of practical planning, figuring out how to convert your shared dream into a shared reality.
Review your current finances, savings rate, and income. From there, work out a step-by-step plan for how to get to where you want to go. Expect to make sacrifices and major lifestyle changes along the way.
For example, it took years for my wife and me to get to the 60% savings rate we have today. We moved overseas, both for the adventure and the savings (in many countries, you can live comfortably on $2,000 per month). To save even more, we chose a walkable area where we don’t need a car, and my wife’s employer provides us free housing as a perk.
Despite the work it took to get here and sacrifices like living long-distance from family members, we’re not only living our ideal life, but we’re also rapidly building wealth and approaching financial independence.
Keep Valentine’s Day in perspective. It’s a Hallmark holiday designed to part consumers and their money. So focus on spending quality time with your partner rather than buying them a stuffed bear they’ll coo over once then set aside, never to think about again.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get them a gift too. There are plenty of practical, non-cheesy presents your partner will truly value. Check out our lists of Valentine’s Day gift ideas for him and Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her for inspiration.