Date Night Ideas for Valentine’s Day (and all year long!)

One of my most challenging attributes is gifting–I am the worst person to shop for. As easy-going as I feel about myself, I actually dislike most material gifts. Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas (really all holidays where gifts are given), over the past 14 years have been tough for my husband because of this. Finally, after years of not really enjoying anything he gave to me, I told him, “What I want most is to know we will intentionally spend at least one time every month together. I want you to give me monthly date nights. I want you to block off the date on the calendar, plan the evening, take care of it all. I would love for you to give me that all year long.”  

He listened. For Christmas, he gave me a binder with twelve pages in it, one date night planned for the entire following year. Best. Gift. EVER. Bonus–we have our Valentine’s Day plans already made! 

“Dawn,” you are thinking, “that is such an amazing gift! I crave quality time with my spouse, but I feel like we are in such a rut. What do you all do every month? How do you make this happen?”  I am so glad you asked. Read on.

Get Out the Calendar

The first step is to commit to the date night. For me, this involves putting it on my calendar. Anything on the calendar basically becomes law. Etched in stone. Otherwise, it is too easy to fill up the dates with all of our other commitments and obligations. Having the date marked on the calendar also helps us plan for that evening with our budget, babysitters, etc.  It also allows you to begin this commitment at any point in the year. Start where you are and look at the next month. Do you have an open evening (or morning, depending on your own daily schedules) that you can block off as “Date Night”? Now, look at every single month and pick the time that fits best for you.

Choose Your Budget

The second step is to set a budget. Now, I’ll admit, we are not the best at this still. It is a work in progress. But considering that this Date Night Binder replaces my yearly Christmas gift, we actually opened up our budget options. How much does your spouse usually spend on those gifts you really don’t enjoy? Replace the material items with quality time, and the cost is a better investment. It also helps us to know which months will be our “free” dates and which ones we want to spend more money toward (anniversary getaway perhaps?).

Part of our budget also involved paying a babysitter until our parents moved to town. Now our oldest child is our regular babysitter (she works for a shopping trip to Hot Topic). Perhaps you could ask a few family friends if they would be willing and able to swap childcare nights with you for free care. We find that having other children over makes our time actually less involved; the children entertain one another and rarely need us.

Make Your Plans

Now, the part you have all been waiting for–date night ideas! I bet you have been overthinking this step. Really, I feel lacking in creativity (this is why I asked my husband to create the date nights), but I am happy to share with you what we have done and enjoyed, and what I’d like to still do. Sometimes all we really need to be creative is to read what others have done. 


We used movie theater gift cards that were a “Two for the Show” special that included admission for two, a small popcorn, and a small drink. I bought them during their holiday promotion so we could use them throughout the year. Look for similar specials, or you could buy gift cards/certificates so that they’re paid for in advance.  Our local movie theater offers $5 Tuesdays and $5 student Thursdays, so go on one of those days for a cheaper option.

FREE idea: borrow a movie from your local library and stay in to watch it. Then you can also eat your very favorite snack and beverage of choice.


There are many, many theatre opportunities in our area. Some offer season passes (save over the entire season by purchasing up front) and others are per show. I love the season tickets because I can plan almost our entire year with dates and budget right then. We finally jumped in and became “River Dogs” (arooo!) with Riverside Theatre, and we have never been disappointed by a show there.

Other theatre companies in our area are Dreamwell Theatre, Coralville Center for the Performing Arts (various companies use this space for their productions), and Iowa City Community Theatre.


There are so many options here! We chose to do the World Beer Tour with Old Chicago a few years back. They have 110 different beers! It took us forever because I had two babies during that time, too, but we finally finished. What we loved was that they did mini tours during the year, and the kick-off night had free appetizers that night. We’d go in and only order a beer or two, but we could eat all the free food we wanted.

Other local places we love:

Monica’s is a fabulous choice for delicious food that is easier on the budget and is still feels private for a romantic date night.

We love going up to Cedar Ridge Winery occasionally, as they have a beautiful view, tasty food, and great wine.

The Mellow Mushroom is quickly becoming another of our favorites. The atmosphere is fun and quirky, and we both love mushrooms!

We also love 30Hop and Konomi at the Iowa River Landing in Coralville, and the Bluebird Diner on Market Street.


Ice Skating
Planet X (laser tag and mini golf)
SkyZone (trampoline park)
Paint it Yourself – painting parties and ceramics
Attend a sporting event 

So often we think of these as “kid” activities, but maybe it is time to let your inner child free again. Think back to what you did (or wanted to do) when you first were dating, and go do that with the person you already know and love.


This can be for fun and window-shopping only or for actual shopping needs. Neither of us truly are “shoppers,” but I love to go and browse and make silly comments or try things that we have no intention of really buying, if we know that is what we are doing for our time together. We also love going grocery shopping together, kid-free, because he loves to do the cooking, and I am particular about what he cooks for me (though I hate cooking!). It can be part of the fun of the evening to go buy the food, and then come home to make it and eat it together.

Game Night

Stay in and get those board games or playing cards out, and have fun playing games.  I think we sometimes forget to have fun with the games we have because we play Candyland thousands of times with our preschooler. Playing a game with a partner suited to your same brain maturity/function can help remind us of how much fun it can be!

Depending on your time and money available, you can even mix and match these ideas. We often will get dinner out before we see a movie or performance.  The goal is to make this a commitment to that quality time you crave and to enjoy one another again.

I’d love to know – what has been your favorite date night experience? 



Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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