Spark joy with these first-date spots

Eight Sacramento places to ignite your love life

Evaluate your date's moves with Sunday night grooves at DJ Larry's Church of the True School Motorbooty Throwdown.

Most of my meet-cutes turn out to be end-bads. Or at least, end-mediocres.

My most memorable meet-cute happened on a Manhattan train: Me heading back to the cheapest Airbnb in Queens, him returning to his Brooklyn apartment. We smile at each other, I ask if I’m on the right train. Nope.

“I feel like I should get your number,” he says reluctantly before I hop off.

The next day we meet up at a sushi bar, where we both admit to journaling about one another. After dinner and walking around Manhattan, we end up at a Brooklyn dive bar. It has all the ingredients of a dope first date: Skee-Ball and hoops, a photo booth, alcohol and karaoke and a pair of cuties. We sing a duet of Blink-182’s “First Date” for a small, enthusiastic crowd.

It was tops.

By a New Yorker’s standards, I imagine meeting on the subway is too cliché to qualify as a romantic spark of cinematic proportions. But when you’re traveling, every moment seems to have that sheen of adventurous romance. Traveling has this way of separating the pressure and expectations from the first-date experience.

Spoiler alert: Train guy and I didn’t end up together. It’s a fitting outcome when your date lives 3,000 miles away; the impermanence is part of the charm.

Back at home, I’ve found the dating experience to be less charming as a feeling of disillusionment has attached itself to the redundant process. Dinner, drinks, an exchange of questions and pleasantries often punctuated by a distinct lack of connection. Only one of those dates has been terrifically bad (here’s hoping you got over your ex, Zach). The others just never seem to meet the bar set in that East Coast karaoke bar.

But hey, I’m not trying to bring down those V-Day vibes. For me, the point of a first date is to have low-pressure fun meeting someone new. Personally, I’m starting to think the best approach is to try to capture some of that adventurous spark ignited by travel. A good place to start is to pick spots with activities or games and good food, and places that promote spontaneity and fun conversation.

In the spirit of adventure, here’s my list of eight Sacramento-area spots to try for a first date—it’s as much for me as it is for you.

Shine Sacramento

This is easily my top choice for a low-pressure first coffee date. With Bob Ross episodes on a televised loop and a different featured artist on its walls each month, this down-to-earth coffee shop offers plenty of opportunities for conversations about art and creativity. Wednesdays alternate between the Speak Out! Sacramento open-mic series and landscape painting classes; Friday and Saturday nights feature live music. Plus, they serve beer and wine—an endearing quality in any coffee shop.

For years, Shine also stocked old-school board games such as Connect4. They’ve recently been removed, but maybe if enough people miss the games they’ll bring them back? After all, you can tell a lot about a person based on their approach to Guess Who?.

Until then, bring some pens and paper and get creative together. Draw each other in 30 seconds or write some haikus. It’s pretty dorky but in a fun, sweet way. 1400 E St., Sacramento,

The Crest Theatre and Tower Theatre

Rarely an advocate for movies on a first date, I make an exception for both these gems. They offer an experience to discuss more than just what you and your date thought of the latest superhero flick. Take someone who is into indie movies, documentaries and special series such as Hitchcocktober to the Tower. Visit the Crest for nostalgic films. From Selena to They Live, the Crest has wide appeal and also draws big names for live music and comedy. Crest Theatre: 1013 K St.,; Tower Theatre: 2508 Land Park Drive,

The Press

Looking for a spot for a fancy first date? This established Midtown restaurant is hidden in plain sight on Capitol Avenue with an interior that’s warm and unpretentious. Friendly servers make for a familiar feel even if you’re not a regular. Whether you’re scheduling a casual happy hour date or an upscale dinner, it’s an impressive choice for its delicious seasonal food and inviting upscale atmosphere.

1809 Capitol Ave.,

The Press Club

Evaluate your date’s moves with Sunday night grooves at DJ Larry’s Church of the True School Motorbooty Throwdown—aka Church. The free Sunday night dance party is a great way to kick off your week. This genre-crossing weekly dance party’s soundtrack might feature the Talking Heads or the Temptations; whatever the sounds, it’s a Midtown staple that will have you feelin’ yourself and hopefully the person you bring along. 9 p.m. 2030 P St.,

Coin-Op Game Room

Hey, don’t roll your eyes—hear me out. I’m not saying get a date at Coin-Op, just bring one there. Pinball and one-on-one hoops are great ways to play and laugh together. Try a weekday for smaller and quieter crowds, though. 908 K St., Sacramento,

The Red Museum

Your date may either be impressed or weirded out by what they find at Red Museum. This spot near 15th and C streets features live music, offbeat art demonstrations and variety shows in the industrial indoor/outdoor venue. It also hosts the monthly Audio Waffle, where you can munch on coffee and waffles together against the backdrop of sound of the noise variety. Check that out the third Sunday of the month. Too avant-garde for your date’s taste? They weren’t right for you anyway. On to the next! 212 15th St.,

Roseville Golfland Sunsplash

And for something completely different, isn’t it wonderful to retreat into the playful indulgences of childhood? Some say, “Yes!” If you’re mingling in the summer, this suburban playground is a nostalgic, activity-heavy destination. With water slides, a mini-golf course, arcade games and go karts, it’s also thick with families. Be prepared for that, and maybe go on a weekday. This spot doesn’t serve alcohol, so it’s a good option for non-drinkers or those who prefer to abstain when they’re getting to know someone. 1893 Taylor Road in Roseville,

Sunday Farmers Market

Shopping for local produce has never been so sexy. Talk about the affordability of free-range beef, the convenience of living lettuce and, if you’re so inclined, test out some sociopolitical topics. I enjoy bringing up my preference for supporting farmers of color and gauging the response. Many will tell you to avoid any such talk on a first date, but I don’t really want to be with someone who has a problem with that statement.

The market is set up each weekend under the freeway, across W Street from Southside Park. After you’re done shopping, cross the park and grab $4 bacon-wrapped hot dogs and other snacks from the folks with the food carts outside the Catholic church. Then, bring your snacks over to Southside Park to waste away a Sunday morning hanging out in front of the popular Chicano mural. 8 a.m.-noon. W St. and 8th St.;