I have been completely, painfully, 100 percent fiscally irresponsible the last few weekends — to the point that I haven’t worked up the courage to check what state my bank account might be in. Actually, I don’t have to look to know.
I don’t have to look to know that it’s about time I start looking for things to do that won’t break the bank, either. If you’re like me, and your Check Bank Account light has come on, I’ve rounded up a few date night ideas that don’t include a $10 movie ticket or $15 round of drinks. Get after it (and that cute person you’ve been eyeing).
Watch airplanes take off
When I was little and visiting Charlotte, my uncle would bring me out to Airport Overlook Park to watch the planes take off. Two things. (1) I was too overwhelmed by the loud noises to get out of the car and (2) For whatever reason, I wholeheartedly believed that each plane was going to Miami, and waved as they left for palm trees and blue sky.
But I’m older and more rational now. It’s a good spot for a date because of all the things Ted mentioned about it: You’re at an airport without having to travel, drinking beer (if you can get away with it), and plane watching. As he also pointed out, it’s kid-heavy. Come after the sun’s gone down.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
You don’t have to be an art person to appreciate a 33-stop crawl through the city’s go-to spots for all things independent. Spend your night getting to know places like Peddler’s Post, Neighborhood Theatre, and 510 Expert Tattoo, surrounded by other maybe-art-loving-maybe-just-beer-loving individuals. You can see a full list of stops here.
Hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first and third Friday of every month
Understand the art of beer
Late this year, NoDa Brewing Company began offering 45-minute tours seven days a week, so there’s no excuse to not go. You’ll get to experience the brewing process from start to finish, down to the hops, grains, and malts that go into some of Charlotte’s favorite beers.
Hours: 6 p.m. Monday – Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. No reservations necessary.
Cost: Unless you decide to buy a beer or merchandise (beer soap, anyone?), tours are free.
USA Today named Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s tour the best in the country. Not North Carolina. The country. OMB aims to give its guests a behind-the-scenes look at the painstaking process their brewers go through to live up to the German “Reinheitsgebot” beer purity law of 1516 (meaning it can be made only of malt, hops, yeast, and water). They’ll also learn how it’s lagered and packaged. Tours last 40 minutes and are open to all ages, so long as those under 21 are accompanied by an adult.
Hours: 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Cost: Free. They pay you in bragging rights — how many people can say they’ve been on USA Today’s #1 Brewery Tour?
The Levine Museum of the New South is one of a kind. It’s an interactive museum about people, places, and time (from 1865 on) that aims to build community through the South’s history since the Civil War with a focus on Charlotte and the surrounding areas. Exhibits are constantly rotating, and current ones include Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers and We Are the Music Makers.
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Free on the first Sunday of the month.
I ask this every time I’m in Cotswold: Why haven’t I visited the Mint Museum yet? The museum is the oldest museum in the state with the largest art collection in the Southeast. Both locations aim to inspire and ignite passion in visitors with “innovative collections, ground-breaking exhibitions, riveting educational programs, and profound scholarship.” Upcoming events include Viva Moschino! Curator Tour and Music at the Mint.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Wednesday at both locations (Cotswold and Uptown)
Maya Angelou said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle tangled Christmas tree lights. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they feel about museums.
Look for gold at Reed Gold Mine
Did you know we’ve got a famous, real life gold mine less than an hour outside of Charlotte? Reed Gold Mine’s claim to fame comes from being the first spot in the U.S. to have a documented gold find. Until 1848, North Carolina actually led the nation in gold production. Seriously.
North Carolina digs this. The mine has been added to the list of North Carolina Historic Sites and portions of the tunnels, along with the ore-crushing stamp mill, have been restored for tours. The visitor center is home to gold exhibits and actual mining equipment.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Bonus: If you visit between April 1 and October 31 and have $3 to spare, try panning for gold. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and seriously cool.
Get some fresh air
I love hiking, but I’m terrible at it. I’m the date that will constantly ask you, “Are we there yet?” only to be wowed into silence when we actually get there. And that’s why I love it. It keeps you humble.
It also teaches you what your date is really like. If you can handle my ugly sweating and I can handle your leg cramp, we can probably go out on another date.
Twenty-five miles from Charlotte, Crowder’s Mountain seems like it’s the go-to spot around here.
The fast facts:
- You don’t have be The Best Hiker in Charlotte. Or even a Hiker. It’s novice-friendly.
- The summit is at 1,625 feet. The Backside Trail is shortest and fastest at 9/10th of a mile, but it’s also the steepest.
- The trip to the top from the base of the cliffs will leave you surprisingly tired. Expect plenty of stairs.
- Little Mountain and Kings Pinnacle offer the best views.
- There are no trails at the top, meaning you’ll get to make your own adventure as you climb from cliff to cliff.
- You’ll see plant life that’s usually found in places like Boone here, including Highbush Blueberry.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in November, 7 a.m. to 6: p.m. December through February, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. March through April and October, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May through September.
But you can’t rule out Stone Mountain. It’s further from Charlotte than Crowder’s Mountain (a two hour drive as opposed to a 25 mile one), but it’s got everything you could think of, including camping, fishing, and picnicking.
The fast facts:
- If you’re looking for something short and sweet, go for the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail. It’s a half-mile one way and takes you along Big Sandy Creek to Middle and Lower Falls. Girls are suckers for waterfalls.
- If you want a challenge, head for the six-miles-one-way Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It’ll take you straight to the Devil’s Garden Overlook. I’ll skip this one — that many miles and that kind of name can’t be a coincidence.
- There are more than 20 miles of park streams dedicated to trout, and you can fish for fun on Bullhead and Rich Mountain Creeks year-round. Bullhead and Rich Mountain are catch and release only.
- Feeling particularly brave? Register for a valid rock climbing and rappelling permit and you and your date can hold hands as you climb the stone face.
But if you just want some fresh air without all the effort, go to University City and spend your day wandering through the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. Created in 1966, the gardens were meant to serve as a “living classroom.” Over the last 40 years, it’s evolved into 10 acres of gardens, a greenhouse, and a library that contains more than 1,200 books and covers everything you could ever want to know about plants.
Van Landingham Glen is considered one of the most diverse rhododendron gardens in the region while the Susie Harwood Garden a pond with waterfalls, an Asian garden and colorful paintings. The McMillan Greenhouse is made of eight greenhouse rooms to give you an inside look at plants from around the world. If this isn’t your first date, and the two of you liked Jurassic Park, it’s completely plausible to make the trip just to visit the Dinosaur’s Garden (really).
Bonus: Guys, this will wow her more than any bouquet ever will.
Hours: The gardens are open seven days a week. Visit the greenhouse from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
You now have no excuse not to go easy on your bank account when your S.O. is bugging you for date night. Prove me right.
I’m always looking for new date night ideas. If you have any, let me know: [email protected].