After 10 phone calls, you realize the fancy restaurants are all booked solid. Meanwhile, the flower shops are itching to break your bank account over a few rose stems. And all of a sudden your stress levels are so high that you can’t even remember if your bae prefers dark or milk chocolate. Valentine’s Day is starting to draw up feelings of anything but love.
Before you file Valentine's, and its preceding weekend, under the category of nightmare holidays, consider taking a different approach to celebrating this year.
Philly is filled with romance (they don't call it the City of Brotherly Love for nothing). While there are plenty of top-notch restaurants and chocolate boutiques to explore, there are also plenty of hidden gems outside of the traditional gift + dinner + drink formula.
From dancing to imbibing to ax-throwing, we’ve got these one-of-a-kind date ideas in Philadelphia that will ensure your Valentine’s Day is exciting, easygoing, and, of course, full of love.
Pretend you’re on your second date at your fave dive bar
First dates are awkward, so skip right to the second, and relive all of the flirting, giddiness, and novelty that went with it. Most love doesn’t begin over an expensive meal, but rather in a more casual atmosphere. Even if this doesn’t align with your story, who doesn’t enjoy an affordable tab at the end of the night? Choose your favorite dive bar (or, better yet, create a dive-bar crawl) and head out for a night of jokes, casual conversation, and perhaps a friendly game of pool or two. Remember, at this early point in the relationship, there shouldn’t be any fights to remember or negative memories to dwell on, but instead an eagerness to woo the one you’re with. We recommend Center City's Oscar's Tavern (1524 Sansom St., 215-972-9938), where you and your partner can share its cheesesteak-and-a-half special while sipping on 24-ounce glasses of Yuengling.
Try something new together
Ax-throwing? Free salsa dancing? Partner yoga? Research shows new and rewarding experiences help to flood your brain with dopamine, a mega mood-booster and neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward center. Create such experiences with your honey, and that’s the person you’ll associate those feel-good feelings with in the future. Need some new ideas? Engage in a few rounds of ax-throwing at Urban Axes, try partner yoga in a special Valentine’s Day class at Maha Yoga (2 p.m. Sunday, $65 per couple), or get grooving on the dance floor at Society Hill Dance Academy, where the first lesson is complimentary when you schedule as a first-timer to the studio.
Have a magical kiss in the mosaic-filled space
A Tuesday evening out doesn’t get much better than a $20 museum trip (wine included) to see the extraordinary works of mosaic-maker and artist Isaiah Zagar. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is set to host a special Valentine’s Day candlelit tour, focusing on the love-filled elements of the garden’s glittering galleries. Lovebirds will also learn the romantic story of Zagar and his wife, and how the relationship continues to influence Zagar’s work. Can't make the tour? The gardens are still a romantic spot even when it's not V-Day. Don’t forget to share a few smooches while you’re exploring the magical urban gem.
8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, Philadelphia Magic Gardens, 1020 South St., $20, 215-733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org
Get a tattoo with your boo
For a Valentine’s Day you’ll never forget, how about getting inked together at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention? Nothing speaks of formidable love like matching tattoos. Going down Friday through Sunday, the pre-Valentine’s Day weekend convention will be packed with artists from all over, many of whom are available for prescheduled appointments and/or walk-up sessions.
2 p.m.-midnight Feb. 10, 11 a.m.-midnight Feb. 11, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 12, Convention Center, 1201 Arch St. $22 (single day) to $45 (three days), 215-423-4780, www.villainarts.com.
Take an impromptu wine tour
The best part about the Garden State Wine Growers Association's Wine & Chocolate Wine Trail weekend is that you don't need a reservation, so if you spaced out on plans, just pick up a glass. On Saturday and Sunday, more than 35 wineries all around New Jersey will host special events to mark Valentine's Day weekend. Take the Coda Rossa Winery (1526 Dutch Mill Rd., Franklinville, 856-697-9463, www.codarossa.com): For $12, you get to taste 10 wines, enjoy live music, and get decadent with a chocolate fountain. For a list of all the wineries, go to www.newjerseywines.com.
Both the Blue Cross RiverRink's Winterfest and Dilworth Park's Rothman Rink will have Sweetheart Skates. At the RiverRink on Tuesday, $25 gets you ice skating, skate rental, chocolates, flowers, a photo-booth keepsake, and a DJ taking special requests. There are two sessions from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and 9 to 10:30 p.m. The Rothman Rink's lover's skate is on Sunday, and features two-for-one admission, a complimentary rose, and a photo from the photo booth. Take your skate from 4 to 8 p.m. Or Cooper River's WinterFest might be the place to go if you want to avoid massive crowds. Its not having any special Valentine's Day events, but it is Cooper River's final skate of the winter season.
Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, 101 S. Columbus Blvd., 215-925-RINK, www.delawareriverwaterfront.com
Rothman Rink, 1 S. 15th St., 215-983-1291, www.ccdparks.org.
Cooper River's WinterFest, 5300 North Park Drive, Pennsauken, N.J., 856-341-3416, skatewinterfest.com.
Cook a five-star meal together
Dim the lights, turn on some tunes, pour a glass of bubbly, and suddenly a night in the kitchen together starts to easily rival a date night out. Rather than simply cooking up your usual go-to, treat yourself with the help of Philly’s many top-notch food sources. Divide and conquer or go on an adventure together to places like High Street on Market, where irresistible loaves of bread await; Di Bruno Bros., sourcing high-quality cuts of meat, seafood, and creamy hunks of cheese; and Magpie, where takeout dessert comes in the form of artisan pies. The new Whole Foods in Fairmount is also a good one-stop resource, housing a handmade pasta bar, Dizengoff hummus, organic meats, and beer-to-go.