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Five romantic, memorable date ideas in Tampa Bay

After a long, hard work week, it's time for you and your honey to get out of the house.

So you turn to each other, sigh deeply and utter the dreaded words: "So, burgers and a movie again?" Welcome to the date-night doldrums. That's why we've scoured the Tampa Bay area for five fun date nights (and days) that put unique twists on your usual night on the town.

THE OUTDOORSY DATE

Pinellas Park

Sometimes you need to shake things up, get outside, play under a clear blue Florida sky. Head to Pinellas Park for an adventurous, bring-your-own-sneakers outing with your honey. Horseback riding at one of the many stables in the area is an exciting and fairly inexpensive way to spend the day together. Plus, getting outside and playing in the grass is just plain, kidlike fun.

1. The warmup

Start the date at Bill Jackson's Shop for Outdoor Adventure (9501 U.S. 19 N). Hidden in the woods down a tree-lined drive is the store, a sprawling shop that sells all things outdoorsy, from life jackets and kayaks to guns and fishing gear. It's fun to meander through the different rooms, or wander onto the wooden deck that opens onto a large lake. Bill Jackson's offers classes and lessons for outdoor activities ranging from archery and fly fishing to skiing. Most beginners classes (kayaking looks fun) are about $70. They even have a standup paddleboard clinic for free on Saturday mornings. Find schedules and pricing at billjacksons.com.

2. Saddle up

Sure, it's tough to feel graceful riding a horse, especially if it's your first time. But there's something romantic and fairy tale-ish about horses on a date. You'll find your pick of horse stables and riding clubs in the Pinellas Park area. Many clubs offer 30-minute to hour-long group and individual riding lessons for first timers or pros, most in the $25-$50 range (call ahead to schedule). At Saddle Up Riding Club (6080 94th Ave.), instructor Kellie Sipos offers couples horse trail rides at a discount if you call ahead for an appointment. On a recent horse ride with my boyfriend at Saddle Up, the shaded path made the scorching late afternoon temperatures enjoyable. But my advice: Don't wear jeans or shoes that can't get dirty, and bring a hat.

3. Get some grub

By this point in the date, you're ready for a big meal. From the stables on 94th Avenue, head about 10 minutes south to Cajun Café on the Bayou (8101 Park Blvd.), a waterfront restaurant/bar that sits on Cross Bayou. The menu is full of Louisiana-style entrees like catfish nuggets, frog legs and blackened alligator. For the slightly less adventurous eater, there are Cajun classic bowls — meal-sized portions of rice, beans, meats and yummy spices. (Don't leave without considering the signature whiskey bread pudding.) The place offers indoor or outdoor seating; we recommend sitting waterside or near the outdoor stage (where there's often live music) and cypress dance floor. And if after a day of sun and grass, the early night breeze feels good, just go with it. Order some craft beers and saunter over to the dance floor to sway under the open sky.

Michelle Stark, Times staff writer

THE SWIMSUIT DATE

Clearwater Beach

Have you ever wanted to walk out of your house wearing only your underwear and a smile? Well, you can't. Or, you shouldn't. But you can get pretty darn close at the beach! After a day of lying on the sand wearing next to nothing, throw on some flip-flops and a pair of shorts (if you must) and take your date to these casual beach spots.

1. Avoid the rush

Everyone knows Frenchy's is the destination dining spot on Clearwater Beach. But there's no reason to cram yourself into a long wait at the franchise's Rockaway Grill on the beach when you can visit one of the more secluded locations. Try Frenchy's Saltwater Café a couple of blocks away (419 Poinsettia Ave.). It's older, quieter, charming and romantic. And it has all the food you expect, including the grouper Reuben, which originated at the Saltwater location.

2. Snack stocking

After dinner, drop into Four Monkey's Candy Connection (391 Mandalay Ave.) and grab some sweets. The shop, which opened eight months ago, has more than 500 types of candy in cute glass jars. It's so appealing, a bride and groom recently stopped in to take wedding portraits, said owner Kristen Mortara. Candy selection (black licorice, paper dots, caramel chews, dark chocolate) tells you a lot about your date's personality. And it's a good ice breaker to talk about your favorite childhood treats. Four Monkeys is open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

3. Get a move on

Take your bag of candy to Pier 60 (10 Pier 60 Drive) and settle into a blanket for a free outdoor movie on a jumbo screen. The Friday and Saturday showings cap off the lively display of artists, street performers and folks twirling fire at the pier. The movies start around dusk, which is about 8 to 8:30 p.m. in the summer, but check sunset times to be sure. The movies are usually fun and light — this week is Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (you've been warned) on Friday and The Truman Show on Saturday. Casual enough to cap a day where you barely got dressed.

Stephanie Hayes, Times staff writer

THE DATE WITH KIDS

North Tampa

You're all set to go. You're wearing your little black dress, your pressed slacks, your bedroom eyes. The cab is waiting, and you're ready to tipple, baby! The phone rings. The sitter. Cough cough. Now what? There's no reason to cancel a good night out when there are options for the tykes to tag along. Just change into jeans and head out for family bonding that's not totally lame.

1. Bounce off the walls

Wear yourself out at Airheads Trampoline Arena (5072 W Linebaugh Ave.), a huge building filled with wall-to-wall bright blue and green trampolines. There are also 30 arcade games, seating areas to chill out and the Air Café with meals and snacks. Open jumping is $12 an hour and includes safety gear for the kids. It's $10 an hour after that. If you're hardcore, you can buy a five-hour block for $50. During the summer, Airheads opens at 10 a.m. and stays open until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday, midnight Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday.

2. Calm down, then eat

By now, you're starving. Try Burger 21, an upscale burger joint down the street in Westchase (9664 W Linebaugh Ave.). The place is popular for its inventive burger varieties like beef, chicken, turkey and shrimp. You can trick your kids into eating anything if it's in a patty! On the 21st of each month, Burger 21 donates some proceeds to a charity. This month, it's Citrus Park Elementary. They're open until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 p.m. Sunday.

3. Healthy finish

End with a tangy treat and send the kids to bed. Check out Tanya & Matt's Froyo Fresh (12211 W Linebaugh Ave.), an endeavor by popular local ice cream shop owners Tanya Rubin and Matt Walsh. Go on, let the kids dump mounds of gummy bears on their dessert. It's date night! They're open until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. every other night.

Stephanie Hayes, Times staff writer

THE TROLLEY HOP DATE

Downtown Tampa and Ybor City

There's something romantic about ditching the car and riding the rails with someone special. Around here, your best — and only — option is Tampa's streetcar. The nostalgic yellow trains stop at 11 stations between downtown and Ybor City, each within walking distance of things to do and places to eat and drink.

The fare is $2.50 one way or $5 for a one-day pass. Bring exact fare because drivers don't carry change.

1. Hop off

While most attractions near the line close at 5 p.m., a few stay open late on certain nights. The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (fmopa.org) is an easy walk from the Whiting station and stays open until 8 p.m. Fridays. Or, if you don't mind hoofing it, the Tampa Museum of Art (tampamuseum.org) has free admission from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays. In Ybor, near the Centennial Park station, Tre Amici, a friendly, eclectic coffee and wine bar in the old Bunker building, has open mike from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and trivia night from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays (yborbunker.com). Those wanting some local culture should check out the flamenco dancing at the historic Columbia Restaurant (columbiarestaurant.com). Shows are at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

2. Fill up

Keep the streetcar theme chugging along with dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse (meatballs.com), where you can eat inside an old trolley car. More sophisticated Italian palates might prefer the Laughing Cat (thelaughingcat.com). In a few weeks, when the restaurant moves to the former Streetcar Charlie's spot, it will have the best views of trains rolling by. Head to Carmine's on Seventh Avenue for a taste of Ybor: Cuban sandwiches, devil crabs, roast pork and mojitos.

3. Drink it in

Experience downtown Tampa's waterfront at the Sail Pavilion, an open-air bar steps from the main transportation plaza. A popular pit stop for bikers, conventioneers and locals with their pets, the bar has live music Friday and Saturday evenings. Patio chairs and tables give it a laid-back beach feel. (sailpavilion.com). In Ybor, you can't walk a block without hitting a bar, so try one or 10. Near the streetcar line there's New World Brewery for live music and the Tampa Bay Brewing Company for homemade brew. Just remember your ride turns into a pumpkin at 2 a.m.

Susan Thurston, Times staff writer

THE WATERFRONT DATE

Downtown St. Petersburg

Few cities have more waterfront green space than downtown St. Pete. And thanks to the always busy Beach Drive, with a nice selection of restaurants, shops and galleries, you can enjoy a night out on the town — or several — without once losing sight of Tampa Bay.

1. Picnic time

Plenty of gleaming new restaurants have dotted Beach Drive in recent years. But why sit inside when it's so lovely outdoors? Most restaurants on Beach Drive offer everything to go, so bring a blanket and head to the water. Parkshore Grill (parkshoregrill.com) even offers a "picnic menu," offering a salad, entree and dessert for $16. It's available until 6 p.m. Plant yourself in Vinoy Waterfront Park just before sunset, and you're likely to spot dolphins chasing fish.

2. See the city

There are many ways to see St. Pete's waterfront: Segway (St. Petersburg Segway Tours, stpetesegwaytours.com), bicycle (Wheel Fun Rentals, wheelfunrentals.com), horse-drawn carriage (call (816) 215-8613 for reservations), standup paddleboard (Stand Up Fitness, standupfitness.com) and boat (Electric Marina Boat Rental, electricmarina.com; and Dolphin Queen cruises, pierdolphincruises.net). But for the ultimate waterfront experience, head to Albert Whitted Airport, where you can get dinner and a helicopter tour of downtown St. Pete, all for $99. Safari Choppers will take you and your date on a five-minute tour of the waterfront, the high-rises and the landmarks of the 'Burg, then bring you back for two entrees at the Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge (thehangarstpete.com). "We started that dinner flight on Valentine's as a date thing, and we flew 200 flights," said Safari managing partner Vance Harvey. "It makes a terrific date actually." The package is available for walk-ins on Saturday nights before 9 p.m., but you can call (813) 384-8687 to inquire about other nights.

3. Water, water all around — but what to drink?

For a taste of stately Old Florida, nab a seat on the veranda at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, where you can order fruity cocktails beneath gently whirring ceiling fans as you watch folks come and go. We recommend the razza-tastic Cuban Society ($10.50), reputedly a favorite of Ernest Hemingway; and the BBQ kettle chips with Ybor City Amber Lager cheddar dip, a steal at 99 cents. And whatever it may lack in subtle ambience Cha Cha Coconuts makes up for with spectacular views. Perched atop the Pier, it offers a standard menu of fruity tropical drinks, including a mojito in a souvenir tumbler. There's no better way to soak in all of St. Pete's waterfront at once.

Jay Cridlin, Times staff writer

Five romantic, memorable date ideas in Tampa Bay 07/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:54am]

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