Parents night out: 30 date ideas for Valentine’s Day and beyond

Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Adam Rodriguez.
Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Adam Rodriguez.

When is the last time you and your significant other went on real date? One with hand-holding and conversation that wasn’t all about the kids.

It’s an important question for couples in the middle of parenting, demanding jobs and overscheduled households. One date night won’t be the single key to a successful marriage, but spending consistent quality time with your partner is worth prioritizing this year.

Couples can’t neglect the self-care part of their relationship — it’s a fundamental building block of happier families.

Marriage and family therapist Rachel Thomas recommends couples enjoy a fun night out together and away from the typical routine “at least monthly if possible.” Although it takes planning to find a babysitter and to schedule the time, the effort is worth it, she says.

“It makes a statement to a partner that he or she matters and is worth the energy,” says Thomas, owner of Therapy With Heart in Scottsdale.
She does caution couples with small children to refrain from placing too much pressure on a date night, especially because new parents and parents with very young children can be “exhausted, with minimal energy and in the overwhelm of life.”

And remember: Dates don’t have to be formal affairs.

“It can be as small as walking through Target together laughing and flirting, or it can mean a fancy dinner and night on the town,” she says. Even a hike, sitting at Starbucks or running errands can be enough for an “authentic heart connection” that Thomas says “is done through holding hands, laughing, listening, sharing and checking in about how the two of you are doing.”

Although time and budget constraints can nix date nights for too many parents, Thomas warns against dismissing the need to reconnect with your partner, because couples can grow apart without the investment of time and effort.

“Alleviate the pressure of making the date night super-special,” she says. Simply “enjoy the shared space and each other’s company.”

Rochelle Heringer, a Scottsdale mom of three, says it’s good for children to see Mom and Dad enjoy spending time together.

“It’s important to have a date night, because it means you’re making your relationship with your spouse a priority,” she says. “It’s valuable for our children to know this intention, too.”

Heringer says she and her husband make a point of focusing on each other — reconnecting and communicating, not multi-tasking, on dates.

Some of their favorite dates include dining at Isabella’s Kitchen and Tavern Americana in north Scottsdale, or even hiking Camelback Mountain early in the morning, followed by breakfast at the Breakfast Club in Old Town Scottsdale.

Kate Thompson Eschbach, a Scottsdale mom of four, intends to make sure she and her husband aren’t strangers by the time the kids are grown and gone. Scheduling a date night “like any other important appointment once a month (or more) on the calendar” can help avoid that marital distance, she says.

For those couples seeking opportunities to do something new, old or with an edge, the Valley has plenty of great date-night venues. Whether you and your spouse want to explore your creative side, enjoy an adult beverage at happy hour or dance the night away, options abound.

So what are you waiting for? Book the sitter and make room for “we” time!

Valentine’s Day and February events

Artisan Gift Market and Fine Chocolate
101 Easy St., Carefree
480-488-2014 ·
Set in the scenic Carefree Town Center, couples can walk the plaza, nibble chocolate, view fine art and listen to live music. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, through Sunday, Feb. 12. Free.

Carnival of Illusion at Tempe Center for the Arts
700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
480-350-2822 ·
Magic and mystery accompany this Old World magic show. It’s a twist on regular date night and an experience that should intrigue you both. 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. $45-$60.

Romance on the Rails
300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale
800-582-7245 ·
Couples can indulge in myriad chocolate treats while riding 20 miles on the scenic Verde Canyon Railroad. A champagne toast will be provided upon boarding, and wine is available for purchase. 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11; Sunday, Feb. 12; or Tuesday, Feb. 14. $129 per person.

West Valley Symphony
15550 N. Parkview Place, Surprise
623-218-7006 ·
Listen to works by Bartok, Brahms, Sarasate and Liszt as you wind down the weekend before Valentine’s Day. 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12. $30-$35.

Arizona Cocktail Week
Participating restaurants
602-633-5357 ·
If you and your significant other appreciate unusual, hand-crafted cocktails, this event is right up your alley. Friday, Feb. 17, through Friday, Feb. 24. Prices and locations vary.

Valentine’s Day aboard Dolly Steamboat
16802 N.E. Highway 88, Apache Junction
480-827-9144 ·
Want to pull out all the stops on this Valentine’s Day? Cruise Canyon Lake with your loved one as you enjoy a buffet dinner. The twilight cruise is offered on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, Feb. 14, and select days in February. Prepaid reservations required. $64.95 each.

Love in the Hills
12925 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills
480-837-8168 ·
Celebrate coupledom by renewing your vows in a ceremony at Fountain Park. Registration is free. Details were pending at press time, but the February event typically is close to Valentine’s Day.

Creative pursuits

The Duce
525 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
602-866-3823 ·
Experience the thrill of swing dance 7-8 p.m. every Tuesday at this unique venue in the downtown warehouse district. Lessons are $8.

Gogh Paint
20165 N. 67th Ave., No. 114, Glendale
623-566-6600 ·
Sip wine and see who paints the better masterpiece. Contact the studio for times and prices.

Sweet Basil Cooking School
10749 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
480-596-5628 ·
Since 1993, Sweet Basil has taught couples how to cook such tasty dishes as blueberry pork tenderloin, butternut squash risotto and sautéed chard with bacon dressing. Times vary for evening gourmet cooking classes. $150 per couple.

Friendly competition

AZ on the Rocks
16447 N. 91st St., Scottsdale
480-502-9777 ·
Which of you can climb an indoor rock wall the fastest? Things might get a little tense in this challenge, but it’s a fun date idea. 3-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 3-7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $16; $6 for gear rental.

Modern Round
8320 W. Mariners Way, Peoria
623-388-6900 •
Virtual shooting gallery meets upscale lounge at this Peoria venue, where you can get dressed up and experience more than 40 different games, including duck hunting, police training, James Bond missions or fighting zombies. Happy Hour specials 3-6 p.m. weekdays. Prices and hours vary.

Wazee’s World
9750 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria
623-418-8234 ·
Laser tag doesn’t have to be about the kids. You and your significant other can blast away in this 7,500-square-foot multi-level arena. Prices and hours vary.

Happy-hour hot spots

Decanter Winery
18221 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale
480-209-1137 ·
Enjoy a California winery experience in the middle of suburbia. During happy hour, 3-6 p.m. daily, glasses of wine are $5 off and beers and cocktails are $2 off. Bruschetta boards, flatbreads and salads also are available at this DC Ranch spot.

Federal Pizza
5210 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
602-795-2520 ·
A glass of wine, handmade wine coolers and beer pitchers are only $5 until 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Complement your drink with a half pizza and salad for only $10.50 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Bar Louie
2000 Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe
480-658-1600 ·
You won’t feel guilty getting more than one drink at Bar Louie. A glass of wine is $4.25, draft beer is $3.25 and martinis are $5.25. Select appetizers and flat breads are half-off.

Intellectual evenings

Escape the Room
1422 W. Warner Road, No. A-102, Gilbert
480-264-7512 ·
Do you like to unlock mysteries? Using clues to solve puzzles, couples brainstorm their way out of one of several themed rooms within a set time limit. See how you and your significant other react under such circumstances. Experiences are offered Friday-Sunday. $28 per person.

First Draft Book Bar
300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
480-730-0205 ·
Grab a few books and take a seat at Changing Hands bookstore’s First Draft Book Bar. Order a drink and read poetry to your spouse or engage in a literary discussion. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Phoenix Art Museum
1625 N. Central Ave.
602-257-1222 ·
It’s a treat to peruse 17,000 works of art from around the world, including Yayoi Kusama trippy “fireflies” room. Admission is free 3-9 p.m. Wednesdays and the first Friday of the month. Closed Monday; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; extended hours until 9 p.m. Wednesday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. $18.

Musical Instrument Museum
4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix
480-478-8000 ·
Music is the universal language of love. Walk with your sweetheart and view the thousands of instruments from across the world, including a piano owned by John Lennon and an acoustic guitar owned by Johnny Cash. Better yet, get tickets to one of their many special concerts. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. $20.

The great outdoors

Japanese Friendship Garden
1125 N. Third Ave., Phoenix
602-256-3204 ·
Stroll the gardens, sip tea and slow down as you contemplate the waterfall and the koi-filled stream.
Free admission 4-6 p.m. the first Friday of the month. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. $5.

Desert Botanical Garden
1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
480-941-1225 ·
The garden’s stunning landscape offers couples a refuge from the day-to-day. Enjoy the sunset while you walk amid desert plants from Arizona to Australia. The Spring Music in the Garden concert series on the Ullman Terrace ($30 per person) offers a great date-night idea February through June. Couples can also dine or sip a drink at Gertrude’s restaurant. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. $22.

Camelback Mountain
5950 N. Echo Canyon Parkway (near Tatum Boulevard and McDonald Drive), Phoenix
602-261-8318 ·
Put on your hiking shoes, take plenty of water and climb the 1.2-mile Echo Canyon Trail. The climb is considered strenuous and difficult, but the views are breathtaking, even romantic. Open sunrise to sunset. A second route, the Cholla Trail, begins on the eastern side of the mountain at Invergordon Road and Cholla Lane.

Piestewa Peak — Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area
2701 E. Squaw Peak Drive, Phoenix
602-262-7901 ·
If you and your spouse want to enjoy a moderately difficult and highly scenic hike, try the 1.2-mile Summit Trail, then enjoy a picnic at one of the many ramadas in the park. If conquering the summit isn’t your thing, the park includes miles of less-strenuous trails. Dogs aren’t permitted on the Summit Trail, but they’re welcome everywhere else. Open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Ponderosa Livery Stable
10215 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
602-268-1261 ·
What better way to change things up and add some adventure to your date night than a horseback ride? Connect with nature while you mosey along the guided trails through South Mountain Park’s unique rock formations and petroglyphs. Availability and prices vary.

Encanto Park
2605 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix
602-262-6412 ·
“Forbes” magazine named Encanto Park one of the best city parks in the United States. It may not be canal-laced Venice, but you and your significant other can ride a paddleboat around the lagoon from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. until dusk Saturday and Sunday. $8.10 for 30 minutes.

Upscale dining with ambiance

Vintage 95
95 W. Boston St., Chandler
480-855-9463 ·
Do you want fine dining without the upscale attitude? Vintage 95, in what was Chandler’s original post office, features walls lined with wine bottles and a scenic patio. The American fare has a twist with classic wine pairings. Hours vary, but the kitchen typically closes at 10 p.m.

Quiessence at the Farm
6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix
602-276-0601 ·
Try this unique farm-to-table dining experience with fresh ingredients from the Farm at South Mountain. Quiessence opens at 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

The Boulders
35361 N. Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree
480-595-3500 ·
The splendorous Sonoran Desert serves as the backdrop to the Boulders, which features three dining options: Palo Verde restaurant, the Grill Kitchen & Bar and Spotted Donkey Cantina. Hours vary.