Ditch the reservations: 5 things to do on Valentine's Day other than going out to dinner

I'm here to make sure that you do not look basic when trying to express your love to your lover

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published February 11, 2024 9:15AM (EST)

Unhappy couple dining together (Getty stock photo/JGI/Jamie Grill)
Unhappy couple dining together (Getty stock photo/JGI/Jamie Grill)

Do you love Valentine's Day? Feb. 14 is rapidly approaching, and I'm here to make sure that you do not look basic when trying to express your love to your lover. 

The fact that it is always almost impossible to get a reservation at a good restaurant on Valentine's Day should tell you that this idea is super unoriginal and overdone. Don't get me wrong. I love fine dining and a great movie like anyone else in the world, but it has become so normal to so many of us in society. It feels like dinner and a movie is not as special as it was when our parents used to get dressed up to hit the "fancy white tablecloth, guys can't get in without a sport coat" type of restaurants back in the day. 

All of my social media timelines are full of people who fancy themselves as amateur influencers and restaurant critics, constantly posting videos of their many culinary crusades where they critique the many dishes they enjoy or hate from the many food establishments they frequent every week. Not special, overdone, basic . . . what’s new? 

Experiences are everything.  

So, how do you separate yourself from what any and everyone else in the world is doing on Love Day? Do you want your Valentine to feel special? Do you want their stories about your plans to be glowing and interesting? I believe you can achieve all of this and it's not that hard. Before we get into some date recommendations, I will say that expensive gifts don't always work.

I tried giving out expensive gifts, when I could afford it, for years. It's sad to say, but people forget about their designer bag or nice piece of jewelry. Sure they value it, but may not be able to tell you if they received it for Valentine's Day or their birthday or Christmas as the novelty wears off and it gets replaced by the next new thing. But experiences, experiences are everything. You cannot erase them or lose them, only become more grateful over the years as you reflect on them, and that is the cheat code for having a successful Valentine's Day. 

Here's five things I'd love to recommend: 

Cooking together (aka The Chef Package)
Just because I am pushing you to say no to the expensive restaurant doesn't mean that you and your lover can't share an enjoyable meal. But first why not start with a shared experience to enhance that meal?
Find a recipe you both can agree on and cook it together. Maybe you're the head chef, and they are the sous chef or vice versa. Either way, it would make for a night of fun, and maybe, just maybe, you'll get a delicious meal, the opportunity to learn some new things about one another and some fun memories to hold on to. 
Spa day (aka The Relaxation Package)
Everybody loves a spa day. So figure out what your lover desires – like back rubs, manicures or facials – and book an appointment with professionals who can accomplish those things. If paying for a spa day is out of your price range, then watch a YouTube tutorial where a digital expert can explain the proper techniques that should be used so when you pamper them, you won't come off like a complete amateur. Take a trip to Target or Walmart, buy the appropriate supplies and give it a shot on your own. Either way, your lover will appreciate both the gesture and your effort. 
Physical activity (aka The Voyager Package)
There's more to life than just laying around and eating all day, so maybe you can book a physical activity that can be fun and romantic. Dates involving axe throwing, miniature golf and laser tag are inexpensive and can be competitive and entertaining. You could also take a self-defense class, go hiking or learn archery. All these activities are fun, and will allow you to take some beautiful photos and make even more meaningful memories. 
Vision board ( aka The Dreamer Package)

Learn to dream together. Maybe you are already in a relationship where one or both of you work so much that you don't get to spend much time outside of the house. Building and maintaining careers are complex and sometimes leave us too tired to focus on romance, but you know what is romantic? Dreaming of the reality you deserve. 


What if you and your lover took a bunch of old magazines, clipped out beautiful images of the life you deserve and are working towards, and placed them on a vision board? You can also discuss the planning needed to make these lives a reality, while working. Creating a vision board with your lover is the ultimate experience and could lead to fantastic life-changing conversations that will ultimately bring you closer.

Binging a show (aka The Couch Potato Package)
If you are too tired to participate in any activity, maybe you can use Love Day to connect and vibe. There's so much television in the world now, that it is impossible to keep up with everything. You can find an exciting television show – maybe a genre you haven't tried or a show that has been on your list for a while – and intentionally binge-watch it with your lover. Hopefully, you can pick a great one, and enjoy it along with that meal you may have cooked together. 

Happy Valentine's Day. 


By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Advice Dating Dinner List Marriage Romance Valentines Day