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Great Tampa Bay date ideas for Valentine's Day or all year long

Illustrations by ALLI ARNOLD   |   Special to the TImes

Illustrations by ALLI ARNOLD | Special to the TImes

You want to take your sweetie on a great date on Valentine's Day, of course. And rest assured, there is some pretty fun stuff happening around town this weekend. But why limit yourself? Here, from the brains of the Tampa Bay Times entertainment and lifestyle experts, are some original and lovey-dovey Tampa Bay date ideas for this weekend or the rest of the year.

RELATED: Five romantic, memorable date ideas in Tampa Bay

CONCERTS

When it comes to special occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, Burning Man — few date night activities are as fun as a live concert. Problem is, you can't always count on your favorite band or singer coming to town on a weekend, much less a special occasion. That said, there are some good, solid musical date nights almost every weekend on either side of the bay.

LARA CERRI | Times (2013)

The Florida Orchestra performs at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

In St. Petersburg, walk south along the waterfront, and you'll reach the Mahaffey Theater. This weekend's Mahaffey slate is chockablock with romantic options. At 8 p.m. Friday, a trio of gorgeous voices — Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell — will warm your hearts with Americana folk and rock ($39.50 and up). The Florida Orchestra takes the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday for a Valentine's Day pops concert ($15 and up) featuring romantic selections from West Side Story, Kiss Me Kate and even Star Wars. And on Sunday, pop-rock maestro Todd Rundgren (Hello It's Me, Love Is the Answer) takes the stage at 7 p.m. ($37.50).

LUIS SANTANA | Times

Rich Whiteley & Company perform in the courtyard in front of the Ale and the Witch in St. Petersburg.

End your night with a cocktail at one of St. Pete's many premiere bars. To keep things musical, check out the Ale and the Witch, which has about 30 craft beers on tap and features live music in its outdoor courtyard nearly every night. Or head to Ruby's Elixir, which every week brings in some of the area's best jazz, soul and blues artists.

Ybor City isn't everyone's idea of a romantic destination, unless you're turned on by trading vodka shots while dabbing to Migos. (And maybe you are! No judgment!) But amid all the nightclub noise, you can find several fun date night options.

On Thursdays, stop by the intimate Tre Amici at the Bunker to sip coffee, wine or beer — and maybe grab a light bite — during the weekly singer-songwriter night. There's no cover, and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

DJ Casper and DJ Lesage run the weekly Ol' Dirty Sundays night at Crowbar in Ybor City.

And while Ybor City has several prime music venues — the Ritz Ybor, New World Brewery, the Orpheum — keep an eye on Crowbar for weekly fun. A cool monthly event called "Reel Deal Thursday," features a screening of a musical movie followed by a local band performing songs from the soundtrack. At 8 p.m. Thursday , Crowbar will screen the documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, followed by a performance from Tampa hip-hop and reggae collective Gwan Massive. The cover is $8. And every week, Crowbar hosts Ol' Dirty Sundays, a laid-back dance party soundtracked by old-school hip-hop, R&B and soul music. This week's installment is an ode to Valentine's Day, with a lineup of R&B and neo-soul as you "come get down and look for the future boo boo." No cover.

Jay Cridlin, Times pop music/culture critic

MOVIES

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The historic Tampa Theatre, nearly 90 years young, is a backdrop for countless love stories.

"Turn down the lights, baby. Take my hand. I'll show you things you never dreamed."

That isn't the Weeknd or Teddy Pendergrass seducing with song but it could be you. All it takes is a movie and a romantic date planned around it.

My venue d'amore with my wife is historic Tampa Theatre, nearly 90 years young and a backdrop for countless love stories, on and off the screen.

This baroque explosion of Mediterranean design, under twinkling faux stars with the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ playing before shows. This weekend, catch Storm Large at 8 p.m. Friday for $48.50. The musician, actor, playwright and author broke out on CBS's Rock Star: Supernova. At 3 p.m. Sunday, catch Shakespeare in Love starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow as a part of the theater's Best Picture Classics Series ($10).

There are plenty of drink-and-dine options nearby. Tampa's Riverwalk and Museum of Art are easy strolls west, but The Hub's divine dive-iness on the corner is closer.

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Cocktails and delicious fare can be enjoyed while watching the latest movie at Cinebistro in Tampa or several other dinner-and-a-movie theaters.

Across the bay, St. Petersburg's Sundial 19 isn't as intoxicating, yet the nearby Beach Drive nightlife is a fun chaser.

Some Tampa Bay theaters are one-stop Tinder traps, offering upscale dinner, drinks and a movie at once. Cinebistro in Tampa's Hyde Park Village or Wesley Chapel's Grove 16 are stylish pleasures ($15-$29 entrees). Studio Movie Grill in Tampa's University Mall is equal comfort surrounded by struggling, unromantic shopping.

Secure in your relationship, not trying so hard? There are midrange options — not too pricey or fancy — at Villagio Cinemas in Tampa, Sunset Point Cinema Bar and Grill in Clearwater and Tampa Pitcher Show in Tampa. Practically any multiplex includes a full-liquor bar these days, and many offer decent eats.

"Just lift that armrest, snuggle up tight. Lights, projector, action."

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

TAKE IT OUTSIDE

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Lovers Key State Park is a great place to visit any time, not just on Valentine's Day.

There are more than 160 state parks in Florida, but only one for lovers: Lovers Key. In the early 1900s, this barrier island near Fort Myers was accessible only by boat. Out of the way and hard to access, only sweethearts looking to get away were willing to make the trip. The 2-mile beach, accessible by boardwalk or tram, is ideal for long, romantic walks. You'll also find Lovers Key great for shelling, picnicking and paddle boarding. Stay for sunset and keep an eye out for the ghost of Black Augustus, a pirate who spent the his days hiding on Black Island. The state park also offers monthly concerts at a great acoustic gazebo, right on the beach. Go to floridastateparks.org.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Water flows on the Hillsborough River through the section that runs through the Hillsborough River State Park, in Thonotosassa, one of Florida's first state parks.

River otters are playful critters and always fun to watch as they frolic along the rocks of the Rapids Trail at Hillsborough River State Park. Just a half hour north of downtown Tampa, this is a great place for a before-dinner stroll. But if you really want to see some wildlife, get there first thing in the morning. The trail is wild, but not too secluded. The state park, one of Florida's first, has three other trails from 1.1 to 3.4 miles long, but the River Rapids Nature Trail, which will take you down to the Hillsborough's Class II rapids, is the best.

If you're looking for something a little more adventurous, book a spot on one of the local dolphin tours. These playful marine mammals love to jump boat wakes and surf waves. The protected waters of the Gulf of Mexico with its myriad sheltered bays and lagoons provides ideal dolphin habitat. Curious by nature, most dolphins will usually swim over to a boat just to have a look. The state's best tour operators those that have earned a "dolphin smart" label know how to safely keep their distance. Check out the Florida Aquarium Wild Dolphin Ecotour in Tampa or the Shell Key Shuttle on St. Pete Beach.

Terry Tomalin, Times outdoors/fitness editor

STAGE

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The Florida Orchestra also performs at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall this weekend.

The dinner-and-a-show category happens to be a handy and classically romantic combination.

On Valentine's Day, the Florida Orchestra is offering a Valentine's Pops show — conducted by Stuart Malina, with lyric soprano Maren Weinberger doing the heavy lifting on vocals — at 7:30 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall for $15-$45. floridaorchestra.org. As for that dinner part, precede the show at Besa Grill, minutes north of Ruth Eckerd at 2542 N McMullen-Both Road. The Latin-accented restaurant prides itself on presentation, not to mention its margaritas and full line of tequilas. Besides, "besa" is Spanish for kiss.

Head over the Sunshine Skyway bridge to Sarasota's Asolo Repertory Theatre, which this week features Living on Love, a light romantic comedy about an aging diva and her equally vain conductor husband. It stars Canadian opera star Rebecca Caine showing off some amazing vocals. Shows are 8 p.m. Friday or 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $24-$81. asolorep.org. Before or after, walk across the street to dine at Muse at the Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Road. Reservations essential on busy days, especially including Valentine's Day: (941) 360-7390.

LARA CERRI | Times (2010)

St. Petersburg Opera Company conductor Mark Sforzini.

Maybe the most romantic thing of all is to save your money for flowers. On Sunday afternoon, maestro Mark Sforzini of the St. Petersburg Opera Company conducts an operatic octet called Love Is in the Air. The free show (donations appreciated) starts at 3 p.m. at Saint Mary, Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church, 515 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. That leaves plenty of time to head to the beach and catch the sunset.

Andrew Meacham, Times performing arts critic

ACT LIKE A KID

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Q-Zar Laser Tag in Tampa offers high-energy action.

Create a memorable night by diving into the wayback machine and reliving some of the greatest hits of your childhood. Who says laser tag and games are just for kids?

Build a bond by working as a team to show those smart-mouthed tweens how a serious game of laser tag is played. The Terrace Sports battle station in Temple Terrace has strobes, sirens and a fog machine that create an adrenaline-pumping atmosphere at 5311 E Busch Blvd. Q-Zar LaserTag, 7807 N Dale Mabry Highway, is primed for date night with hours until midnight Fridays and Saturdays and a fun pack for under $40 with two games each, a pizza and a pitcher of soda to whet your warrior whistle. Xtreme Fun Center has an arcade to play around in between games at 13211 93rd St N, Largo.

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Guests try to escape the Tampa Bay Escape Room in downtown Clearwater.

The escape room game craze has been popping up around Tampa Bay lately, bringing an adventure game in which players are locked in a room and have to find clues, solve puzzles and work together to escape the room before time runs out. Inspired by Agatha Christie novels, the Great Escape Room ( thegreatescaperoom.com) at 300 Madison St. in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Escape Room ( tampabayescaperoom.com) at 625 Cleveland St. in Clearwater, Can You Escape? ( can-you-escape.com) at 5811 Memorial Highway in Tampa and Escape Countdown ( escapecountdown.com) at 4536 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa offer an afternoon or evening of riddling fun for about $25-$30 per person. Games have to be reserved in advance. On Sunday at Escape Countdown, couples get champagne and chocolate before entering 30-minute escape game in Paris. Tres romantique.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

Great Tampa Bay date ideas for Valentine's Day or all year long 02/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 11, 2016 3:05pm]
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