Planning the perfect date isn't just for Match.com meetups—dates are an important part of keeping lit the flame of love for long-time couples, too. At least, that’s what 99 percent of our readers told us in a recent survey on living and loving in Houston.
One person out of hundreds answered “no” to the question, “Is it still important for married couples to make time for dates?” This handbook may not be for her (yes, her, because we know you’re all wondering), but it is for anyone still pursuing romance on the regular.
And we’ve got it all: itineraries for perfect day-trips, cultural outings, hot spots to meet folks just like you (or nothing like you), and tried-and-true destinations for all the important milestones in a relationship—including Houston’s best break-up place, in case it all goes horribly awry anyway. But here’s hoping that with our handy guide, your next date's a hit.
Tables For Two
A meal is the centerpiece at every stage of courtship. We've taken the guesswork out of deciding on a destination for that momentous occasion.
The First Date
The awful truth is you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into the first time you go out with someone new. Skip the pressure of a full meal and get some excellent ice cream instead, at either the Rice Village or Heights location.
Bonus Points: Order the toasted rice instead of vanilla.
The Hot-and-Heavy Date
The restaurant is chic enough for seduction, while offering light fare that won’t weigh you down. Get one of the seasonal salads, substantial enough for a meal, and remember to leave room for dessert...
Bonus points: Don’t forget mints!
The Morning After
Vietnamese versions of steak-and-eggs and chicken-and-waffles at this Montrose favorite have the protein to help you recharge. Passion fruit iced tea helps recharge, too.
Bonus points: Share your bone-marrow-buttered baguette.
Reliability is key when making memories of this scale. Trust the pros at this Uptown stunner to expertly carve your rack of lamb and prep that chocolate soufflé for two at exactly the right time.
Bonus points: Splash out on the rare Ossetra caviar service.
It’s good to continue to raise the stakes in long-term relationships. This Spanish bistro, which serves avant-garde cuisine inside a cozy Montrose bungalow, fits the bill perfectly.
Bonus points: Order liberally from the vast Gin & Tonic menu.
How sad can you really be at a Waffle House?
Bonus points: You can keep the jukebox pumping with breakfast-friendly jingles to drown out any rogue sobs.
You've Never Been Where?
It’s your guilty little secret, and it’s just been discovered: You’ve lived in Houston how long and you’ve never been to [insert classic institution here]. This must be rectified!, your beloved gasps, before immediately setting a date. Below, what you should know before you go:
- Main Attraction: René Magritte’s Golconda (Golconde), one of the Belgian painter’s many prime pieces among the museum’s Surrealist collection.
- Dress Code: Comfortable shoes, your funkiest pair of reading glasses.
- Pro Tips: Leave your phone alone; there’s a strictly enforced no-photography policy.
- The Night Before: Work up your best debate points for the inevitable heated discussion of the divisive Cy Twombly.
- Main Attraction: The Break-Even Bottle, a rotating series of rare and costly spirits that the bar offers at-cost for the fancy-pants-on-a-budget.
- Dress Code: This season’s fast fashion from H&M and/or Zara.
- Pro Tips: For swifter service, avoid ordering anything shaken with egg whites.
- The Night Before: Hydrate.
- Main Attraction: A newly resurgent team led by James “Most Feared Beard in the U.S.” Harden.
- Dress Code: Nothing in the colors of the rival team (and that especially means no purple-and-gold during Lakers games); a hat you bought near the concession area.
- Pro Tips: Ubering to the Toyota Center is—financially, emotionally and physically—less expensive than finding and paying for parking.
- The Night Before: Brush up on the Rockets’ summer acquisition of All Star point guard Chris Paul from the L.A. Clippers.
- Main Attraction: The 64-foot wall surrounded by 186 live oak trees that circulates 11,000 gallons of water every minute.
- Dress Code: Anything you don’t mind getting misty, ideally in moisture-wicking fabrics
- Pro Tips: A patient partner doesn’t mind snapping a shot or striking a pose for the ’grams.
- The Night Before: Buy your own rose (or a dozen) and surprise your date, rather than overpaying for those sold on-site.
- Main Attraction: The Terms of Endearment room, where a scene from the Houston-set movie was filmed, of Jack Nicholson taking Shirley MacLaine on a date.
- Dress Code: That thing you wore to your rich cousin’s très fancy church wedding.
- Pro Tips: If you don’t spring for the flambéed-tableside bananas foster, what are you even doing here?
- The Night Before: Research pronunciation of Louisiana place names/dishes, e.g., Pontchartrain, Tchoupitoulas.
- Main Attraction: A 50-foot waterfall inside the three-story glass conservatory, surrounded by hundreds of species of exotic butterflies and other insects.
- Dress Code: Linen, cotton, basically any breathable fabric.
- Pro Tips: Houston’s humidity has nothing on this giant greenhouse; plan accordingly if your hair or makeup aren’t sweat-proof.
- The Night Before: Learn the name of a single other butterfly besides “Monarch.”
- Main Attraction: A 14-acre expanse of colorful gardens between Buffalo Bayou and the former home of Houston icon Ima Hogg.
- Dress Code: Your latest acquisitions from Lilly Pulitzer and/or Vineyard Vines.
- Pro Tips: Ladies, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses don’t just protect against the sun, they look fab in photos.
- The Night Before: Read up on Hogg, the philanthropically minded civic leader without whom Houston would be poorer in spirit and culture.
- Main Attraction: Trails that take you into the middle of nowhere in the middle of the city.
- Dress Code: That cushy pair of KEENs, plus a backpack to carry water, snacks, bug spray and camera, because you’re a considerate and thoughtful champ.
- Pro Tips: Make it a double-date with your dogs; they’re welcome here as long as they’re on a leash.
- The Night Before: The parking lot fills up fast on the weekend, so plan out a bike route.
How to Make a Great Cheap Date
Spend a little less now, and save for that big splurge later.
The Best Date for $35: Jazz and churros at Cafeza
This cute Latin American café in the First Ward hosts a free Jazz Jam with Latin percussionist Charlie Perez every Monday from 8 to 11 p.m. Order a couple of signature $7 Calimochos (red wine mixed with Coca-Cola and lime—trust us) and a generous charcuterie and cheese board for $12, then finish with a few cinnamon-sugar-coated churros dipped in guava sauce (six for $9) as you listen to Perez and his friends make sweet music.
The Best Date for $21: A double-feature at The Showboat Drive-in Theater
The charming, family-owned-and-operated Hockley theater always offers two movies for the price of one $8 ticket. Grab a small popcorn and a box of Raisinets or Junior Mints for $5, and settle in for the show. (Pro tip: Fill the back of your pick-up or SUV with beanbags, pillows, and blankets for maximum results.)
The Best Date for $14: Open mic night at Improv Houston
Your date having a good sense of humor can often mean the difference between heading toward Splitsville or Marriage-Kids-and-a-Dog-ville. Test the whimsy waters early on for only $7 a pop at an open mic night, held every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
The Best Free Date: Hiking the Houston Audubon Society’s Edith Moore Sanctuary
Your date will feel like you’ve led them into a secret garden at this hidden treasure in Memorial. Free bird and nature walks along a heavily wooded portion of Rummel Creek are offered the first Saturday of every month, but it’s equally rewarding to discover the beautiful bridges and picturesque ponds on your own.
Get Out There!
Four itineraries for the perfect day away.
1. Get away to Galveston
Noon: Leave the youngsters with a babysitter and get going on your kid-free getaway.
1:30 p.m.: Start with a peaceful horseback-riding tour along the shore. Galveston Island Horse and Pony Rides offers guided excursions right on the water, plus photo packages to capture the moment.
3 p.m.: Give your body a break with a couple’s massage at The Spa at Hotel Galvez.
6 p.m.: Toast the sunset with cocktails at The Rooftop Bar atop The Tremont House, which offers twinkling views of the Strand and harbor.
7 p.m.: Finish your night with ceviche and steaks at Rudy & Paco’s and your meal with and tres leches cheesecake and coffee, the better to bolster you for the drive home.
2. Cruise Lake Conroe
10 a.m.: Embark on a nature-filled journey to Lake Conroe.
11 a.m.: They don’t call it the Big Creek Scenic Area for nothing. Four looping trails provide three-and-a-half miles of easy, picturesque hiking through the piney woods of the Sam Houston National Forest. Pack a picnic and plan to enjoy it lakeside.
3 p.m.: Cool off with a canoeing voyage across Lake Conroe. SUP Conroe provides equipment, gear rentals, and trail suggestions.
6 p.m.: Finish with a wood-fired filet mignon pizza and local craft beers from Southern Star Brewing Co. and B-52 Brewing at The Red Brick Tavern in charming downtown Conroe.
3. Stroll Old Town Spring
9:30 a.m.: Get on the road!
10 a.m.: Start off swinging at TopGolf Spring, 10 minutes south of Old Town Spring. Booking a bay early in the day saves money: It's only $25 an hour before noon; later in the day, prices rise to $45/hour.
Noon: Refuel with classic comfort fare at Black Sheep Bistro in Old Town Spring.
1:30 p.m.: Take a tasting tour at Envy Wine Room, which offers 175 international vinos, plus 25 beers, if that’s more your style.
2:30 p.m.: Walk it off by strolling around the historic heart of Old Town Spring, making stops at the mom-and-pop and antique shops. Try to buy a secret souvenir from your day trip; it'll make a perfect present for that next special occasion.
4. Camp Out at Brazos Bend
1 p.m.: Plan to stay the night at Brazos Bend Park in Needville. It reopens to the public on November 7.
2 p.m.: Begin with a hike along one of the park’s 37 miles’ worth of trails, keeping an eye out for American alligators, turtles, snakes and armadillos.
5 p.m.: Have a relaxing evening picnic by the lily-laden Elm Lake, which has restrooms on-site.
7 p.m.: Head to the George Observatory inside the park. Here, three massive, high-powered telescopes afford spectacular nighttime scenery.
10 p.m.: Complete the day with a sleepover at one of the park’s cozy cabins or screened shelters. You won’t need a tent, but you will need a sleeping bag, pillows, reservations and—of course— s’mores supplies.
A Dictionary of Modern Dating Terms
Just when you thought you mastered “bae” and “Netflix and chill,” 2017’s love language has been updated … again. Here’s your go-to guide.
Bread-crumbing: Sending kissy-face emojis, flirtatious GIFs and texts to lead on a person who likes you.
Cuffing season: No, this has nothing to do with Fifty Shades of Grey. The term refers to lonely singles who partner up over the festive fall and winter months.
Cushioning: Having a significant other, but keeping several prospects (cushions) on the side, in case the relationship falls through.
Ghosting: Abruptly ignoring your significant other’s phone calls, texts and Facebook comments without explanation, instead of, you know, breaking things off.
Haunting: Liking an ex’s Instagram photos and viewing their Snapchat stories after ghosting, as a reminder that you still exist, but never reaching out.
Sliding into your DMs: Sending a cool and confident direct message to someone on social media.
Textlationship: A “relationship” based solely on text messages, which rarely turns into the real deal.
Thirsty: Extremely eager and/or desperate.
U-Hauling: Originating from a joke—“What do lesbians bring on a second date? A U-Haul”—the term describes the moving-in-together-after-two-months-of-dating trend among both straight and gay couples.
The Trusty 10
You can't go wrong with a night out at any of these Houston hot spots. But how to choose?
For nights when: You want all your pizza, beer and cultural programming in one place
And you want to meet: Fellow NPR contributors
Who are into: Cult-classic movies (Monday movie nights kick off at 8:30 p.m.!)
And: Talking about intersectionality
For nights when: You're tired of hearing Bruno Mars everywhere you go
And you want to meet: Hard rock fans of all genres
Who are into: Coexisting peacefully over whiskey-rocks
And: Can actually decipher the name of the metal band on your shirt
For nights when: That patio weather is calling your name
And you want to meet: Cool artistic types with beautiful hair
Who are into: Listening to equally cool DJs with equally beautiful hair (#TBTThursdays bring DJs spinning old-school hip-hop tracks)
And: Aren't too good to tear into a Mr. Beer pizza with their frozen mojitos
For nights when: You've put in a hard week at work and need a frosé
And you want to meet: People who understand your obsession with Orangetheory
Who are into: Eating crawfish on the weekends
And: The occasional juice cleanse (The bartenders make fresh juices and ginger beer for all the cocktails!)
For nights when: It's gorgeous outside but you don't have your own backyard
And you want to meet: Local indie music fans
Who are into: Craft beer and bourbon cocktails at picnic tables
And: Taking and then giving away photos with a Polaroid camera
For nights when: You wish Houston was New Orleans
And you want to meet: People who don't think it's weird you attend cons
Who are into: The blues
And: Beating you at pool
For nights when: You wish Houston was Hawaii
And you want to meet: Other people who hate dressing up for work
Who are into: Mid-century modern design aesthetics
And: Planning vacations based around rum-distillery tours
For nights when: You don't want to get super-dressed up
And you want to meet: High-achieving HBCU grads
Who are into: Blowing off steam to some serious rump-shakers
And: Enjoying the occasional cigar
For nights when: You want to hoist a nice pint of ale
And you want to meet: Old-school live-music fans
Who are into: Legendary Americana acts
And: Also British food
For nights when: You've just gotta dance!
And you want to meet: Other people who actually know how to dance
Who are into: Salsa music mixed with a little EDM
And: Who also value a really good chimichanga
A Sure Thing
Three think-fast situations, three opportunities for a high-pressure screw-up, three itineraries for getting it right.
When you decide to spend the day together after a sleepover
Head to the Second Ward, where standing in line at Villa Arcos will give each of you insight into the other’s willingness to suffer at the altar of breakfast tacos—a key compatibility issue.
If it’s nice outside, grab a BCycle from the bike station on the Navigation Esplanade and cruise around exploring the street art of East Downtown. Take turns posing in front of the ever-expanding selection of murals on St. Emanuel, Polk and Chartres Streets.
When you’ve only got a few short hours without the kids
Fitting in both dinner and a movie can be a challenge when you have to get home to relieve the babysitter—that is, unless you head to iPic in River Oaks District, where a personal pod for two is plenty romantic, especially with servers delivering surprisingly delicious fare directly to your seat during the film.
If dinner and dancing is more your speed, enjoy both at Prohibition, which turns into a sexy salsa party on the second Thursday of every month, when D’Cuba performs “A Night in Havana.” A prix-fixe dinner is available, or you could opt for a bite at the oyster bar after the show.
Watching the budget? There’s always the option of packing a picnic and some wine and sharing it on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre. It’s the best way to take in some of the city’s best cultural programming, from musical theater to ballet—and it’s completely free.
When your long-distance love surprises you by coming to town for the weekend
If the future of your relationship rests on convincing someone to move to Houston, you better show off the city at its best. Head south on I-45, where, depending on the season, you can either spend the day enjoying the sand on East Beach in Galveston or slurping up oysters as big as your face at the legendary Gilhooley’s (222 9th St., Dickinson, 281-339-3813).
On your way back, stop and explore The Orange Show and the adjacent, fantastically romantic Smither Park, each a circus of artistic oddities, while doing your best to explain that Houston is the real weird city in Texas.
Do not—we repeat, do not—let your love leave town without finishing out the day with margaritas and fajitas at the restaurant where the latter were invented, Original Ninfa’s on Navigation.
What does your potential paramour's first date suggestion suggest about them?
PacMan Fever Friday at Joystix: Likely to solve disagreements with a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors
Goat Yoga: Has considered raising chickens in their backyard
Drinks at Tongue-Cut Sparrow: Already has reservations for that thing you just heard about
Performance at MATCH: Wears eyeglasses that are not, strictly speaking, necessary for their vision
Opening night at a Montrose gallery: Appreciates local art, events where drinks are complimentary
Game of Thrones Trivia Night at Front Porch Pub: Would probably be ok with a couple's costume of Daenerys and Drogon
Indoor rock climbing at Momentum: Wears sport sandals 90 percent of the time
Marfreless: Sloppy kisser
The Cheesecake Factory: Has not updated their first-date suggestion since high school
Tired of Tinder?
These online services offer unique approaches to meeting new people, with significantly less risk of an inbox full of trite, one-word introductions. (You know the ones: Hey. Sup. WYD.)
The personal ad is back for the Instagram generation. It’s something we never knew needed a 21st-century revamp, but now that it exists for ladies who like ladies, we recognize its brilliance.
It all started when the Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y—which documents historic herstoric lesbian culture from the 1800s through the 1990s—started posting personal ads submitted by its followers late last year. The practice became so popular, founder and curator Kelly Rakowski quickly launched @herstorypersonals as a separate account.
How it works: Write a personal ad stating who you are, where you are, and what you’re looking for—relationship? casual hook-up? cuddles?—and email it in during the monthly call for submissions. When it’s posted, the ad links to your Insta account, so that interested parties can slide right on into your DMs.
Want a travel buddy who could turn into more? With the tagline “Never Travel Alone,” this service, for both Miss and Mr. Travelers, is simple: Once you’ve created a profile, you can message potential companions, then meet at an agreed-upon destination. You can also request that your new friend come to your city—because everyone should get the chance to see how great Houston is.
If you want to get to the part where you interact with others IRL as quickly as possible, this site is for you. It features groups for every hobby or interest you could think of, from craft beer enthusiasts to self-proclaimed “old dudes on dirt bikes.” Groups for singles, polyamorous people, and LGBTQ Houstonians are well-represented here.
Hips Don't Lie
A body-language expert spells out the four nonverbal courtship cues to look for
Ask local nonverbal-communication expert Jan Hargrave, and she’ll explain how every move you make is part of a complex grammar of body language, signaling your true feelings no matter how coy you think you are.
In relationships, some cues, like stroking someone’s arm, are easy to pick up on. But after writing five books on the topic, Hargrave is here to help you interpret unspoken communication.
“We speak English and we speak French and we speak Spanish and we speak German,” she says. “Why not learn body language?”
Go with your gut
“You always point your body and your belly button where your mind wants to go,” Hargrave says. Repeat after us: If someone is facing away, they are not a potential bae.
No, you’re not imagining it—the cutie in the corner really is looking at you. Hargrave explains that cat-and-mouse games of eye contact are a natural, low-risk way of gauging interest. Fight the urge to look away, but don’t be creepy and stare someone down.
Cross my heart, hope to lie
Picture someone about to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but with fingers spread into an open palm. If you see that gesture accompany a bold declaration— something like, “I love you”—you better believe it. “The most honest gesture we’ve ever recorded is the right hand with the fingers spread out,” Hargrave says.
Body language never sleeps
How two people share a bed says a lot about the relationship. Insecure people ball up in the fetal position. Also, believe it or not, sleeping back-to-back rather than facing each other is a good sign. “People who are in a healthy relationship don’t have to be in your face all the time,” she says.