As we near almost a year of quarantine, you'd be forgiven if you're running out of creative date ideas. The Portland Book of Dates, out this week from Sasquatch Books, may be able to help.
Written by real-life couple Eden Dawn (an editor at Portland Monthly) and creative-about-town Ashod Simonian, the guidebook covers restaurants, getaways, hikes, shops, and over 155 other date ideas throughout Portland and Oregon at large, plus a few spots in Southern Washington.
Though it was written pre-COVID, many of their ideas are still social distancing-friendly or adaptable to takeout or outdoor dining. Plus, as the authors write, "Oregon will likely look different at the end of all of this, but it’s clear love and togetherness are here to stay and that is really what this book is about."
To give you a taste of the Portland Book of Dates, we've picked out our favorite COVID-friendly date they recommend in each neighborhood below, but we definitely recommend buying the book for yourself—there are so many more places to explore (even during COVID!) than we could possibly fit here, and the illustrations are gorgeous.
Cocktail-fueled dates may have to wait until you can sit in a bar again, but if you're up for something a little more sober, the book has two tea-centric date suggestions that are still very doable. First up is Lan Su Garden: "It's a fanciful wonderland of orchids, speckled koi, and traditional architecture. Explore each thoughtful corner before entering the teahouse inside the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflections for a cup of oolong and a moon cake," the authors write. That all still applies, though it's currently takeout only at the teahouse. They also write that you should "plan ahead to get tickets to the garden’s always-sold-out Chinese New Year festivities, where red lanterns glow and a dragon procession marvels the crowd." Those are on sale now. Option two needs no COVID modifications: "Tea and a beautiful walk sound just right but money is a little tight? Try grabbing a steaming cup of coconut milk chai from modern Tea Bar and taking a saunter through gurgling urban springs in tiny Tanner Springs Park."
Walk It Off
"Chicago has deep dish, New York has bagels, and Portland’s got brunch," the authors write. "The shiny new spots are doing a great job of expanding our city’s palate, but sometimes it’s best to remember the attitude of Old Portland that’s on full display at Stepping Stone Cafe," which is still open for takeout and outdoor dining. "The breakfast-all-day menu begins with the statement 'You eat here because we let you,' ends with 'Go Blazers,' and offers all the basic low-key diner grub from sugar-coma- inducing French toast to hefty three-egg omelets oozing with feta, mushrooms, and artichokes. Nothing is shiny or new, and that’s the best part. Once you’ve consumed your weight in hash browns and coffee, you’ll want to channel the motto of gym teachers everywhere and 'walk it off.'" At this point, the authors offer a choose-your-own-adventure itinerary: A 4.5-mile hike to the Skyline Tavern (which is currently closed), or a visit to the Pomarius Nursery, a "stunning oasis" that accepts walk-ins and takes shopping appointments. There, you can "wander around the perfectly coiffed Dr. Seuss–like topiaries, admire the succulent-strewn container gardens, or pick out a low-commitment air plant if you’re too busy to water."
Parks & Rec
"The treasure trove of NoPo" is the perfect spot to plan a handful of park-centric dates—as the authors write, they're "the F-word times two, meaning 'free and fun.'" There's the bikable, picnic-able Skidmore Bluffs ("the spot in town to watch nature provide an award-winning sunset"), Peninsula Park ("with its rows and rows of sweet-smelling roses in every shade of pink, orange, and red imaginable [it] has been a go-to location for romance for over one hundred years"), Kelley Point Park (whose "driftwood-scattered beaches at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers make for a lovely dog-date afternoon"), and Cathedral Park, which, aside from its famous jazz fest, "is good for a leisurely stroll or some sweet Frisbee action all year round." If you feel like a challenge, they're close enough that you can visit all of them in a single date.
Dinners & Drinks
The time-tested tradition of dinner and drinks looks different in 2021, but it's still possible. One of the book's suggested itineraries for "bringing your own pizzazz to an existing infrastructure" involves starting with dinner and cocktails at sister restaurants Angel Face and Navarre. While you won't be able to cozy up to the "hanky-panky-inspiring candlelit marble-horseshoe bar" any time soon, the restaurants have teamed up to offer their European-style small plates and cocktails for takeout, or you can grab a seat on their cozy outdoor patio. The authors' dessert advice still stands: "If you’ve saved room, or heck, even if you haven’t, a coconut-lemon-saffron ice-cream cone from Fifty Licks across the street makes for an extra-sweet final course." (You can also grab a pint or two to take home.)
A Wonderful Day in the Tabor-hood
The Book of Dates recommends lots of cute vintage shops and dessert hotspots in this neighborhood (including Tōv, the double-decker coffee bus that's open for takeout), but the Southeast date we think is especially COVID-adaptable centers around Mount Tabor, "a surprising volcanic cinder cone jutting up in the midst of the city, [which] houses a park known for its spectacular sunset views." They suggest you "linger over a long French brunch of yeasty barley waffles at Coquine before taking an invigorating walk up the Tabor Steps." The waffles will have to wait until Coquine serves brunch again, but for now, you can grab lunch takeout and eat in the park before beginning your trek, or grab takeout dinner as a well-deserved reward on the way home.
Washington Park's "410 acres of secret gardens, wooded paths, and play areas carved into the steep hillside" lend themselves perfectly to socially distanced dates. The International Rose Test Garden ("a Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice level of charming"), the Portland Japanese Garden ("where an hour’s stroll will result in peace, harmony, and tranquility"), Hoyt Arboretum ("nearly two hundred acres with twelve miles of hiking trails perfect for aimless meandering with your crush") and the Magnolia Trail (where springtime pink petals create "the perfect setting for a first kiss, the 'let’s get a dog together' convo, or saying sorry for hogging all of the nachos") are all open now.
North of the Border
Another date that needs no modifications for COVID times, just a quick hop across state lines. The authors write, "A cute mix of recently restored historic buildings makes downtown Vancouver perfect for a meandering stroll. It’s always taco time at Little Conejo, where the team grinds masa daily for the freshest tortillas and the walls of windows offer a sunny setting to sip on one of their hundred different mezcals, either as part of a curated flight or in a smoky margarita. Help that digestive system afterward with a walk over to Esther Short Park, the oldest public square in Washington State. There are bronze sculptures, a little water feature to splash in on a hot day, and the impressive sixty-nine-foot-tall Salmon Run Bell Tower—a glockenspiel diorama that comes to life thrice a day (at noon, two, and four), telling a story of the Chinook peoples while dozens of bronze bells ring. Finish off with the handcrafted libations at The Grocery Cocktail & Social." Both restaurants are open for both takeout and outdoor dining.
Tube the Light Fantastic
File this under things we're pleasantly surprised are still happening: "The sun sets disturbingly early in the winter, but Mount Hood Skibowl’s Cosmic Tubing is there to help combat your seasonal affective disorder with a trippy alpine rave and live DJs. Grab a tube for two and fling yourself down the mountain surrounded by six hundred thousand LED lights, black lights, and lasers." You'll have to wear a mask, of course, but you can reserve tickets for January cosmic tubing sessions here—as of this writing, there are still a few spots available on MLK weekend.
The Portland Book of Dates is available at Powell's or wherever you buy your books.