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Posted at 10:18 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Cheap Dates: A New Social Stimulus Package

By Fritz Hahn

A few months ago, the Going Out Gurus put their heads together and came up with a big list of free and cheap date ideas, from garden strolls to a happy hour convenient to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Seeing how summer's on the horizon, we thought we'd offer some new itineraries for you. (You should still check out our original list, too.)

The western edge of the city is a pleasant and pretty place to wander on a nice day. Hop on your bikes and pick up the C&O Canal in Georgetown. Head north and exit on MacArthur Blvd to grab yummy sandwiches nearby at Jetties. Ride east through scenic neighborhoods to Dumbarton Oaks and stroll the tranquil gardens.

Hains Point and the Tidal Basin buzz with activity in spring, but once the cherry blossoms (and the tourists) are gone, it's a great place to spend the afternoon. Start with a quick game of mini-golf at the East Potomac Park Golf Course, followed by a retro lunch of hot dogs, chips and Cokes from the snack bar. Then stroll hand-in-hand up Ohio Drive along the water, past the Jefferson Memorial, and hang a right on Maine Avenue. Eventually you'll find yourself at the Southwest Waterfront, where you can have a cold drink at Cantina Marina -- which sits right over the water -- and watch the boats come in.

(More ideas after the jump)

You have to experience Jazz in the Sculpture Garden at least once. Pick up food to go in Chinatown -- Nando's, Cowgirl Creamery, Teaism, and head for the National Gallery of Art's outdoor green space. Sax player Marty Nau, pianist Robert Redd and groups like the Young Lions draw crowds at Blues Alley and Bohemian Caverns, but it's much more fun to enjoy jazz outdoors on a sunny afternoon.

Believe it or not, Georgetown has plenty to offer for the cheap date-seeker. Start out at Thompson's Boat House and rent a couple kayaks (or a double if you feel like testing your synchronicity) to paddle along the Potomac until your arms feel like Jell-o. Refuel with a mid-afternoon pick-me-up in the form of pain au chocolate and coffee from Leopold's, and take your snacks to the incredibly peaceful garden behind the Old Stone House, where it's possible to escape the craziness of Georgetown just steps away from M Street.

The bank of the Potomac is made for picnics, but few places are as lovely as the stretch right across Ohio Drive from the FDR Memorial. You can watch the planes come and go, hear the sounds of kickball and baseball and generally just chill underneath the weeping willows.

The free concerts at Fort Reno -- which run from mid-June through August -- are great for a Monday or Thursday night date. Grab corned beef sandwiches at Morty's or sushi from Whole Foods before picnicking to the beat of local bands.

In summertime, Dupont Circle explodes with activity. Grab some TangySweet fro-yo or Larry's Ice Cream and have a seat by the fountain as the city whizzes by. On Sundays, get your grub from the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market.

Eastern Market is a year-round destination, but this summer, it's worth a special visit. The market's building was badly damaged by a 2007 fire, but on June 26, it reopens after the renovation. Bring a date here to scope out artwork and then refuel with a cuppa at nearby Peregrine Espresso, or spend a weekend afternoon checking out the wares at the outdoor market, browse the great selection of used books at Capitol Hill Books, and then head to Market Lunch for a cheap and delicious crab cake sandwich.

Go see the flamingos at the National Zoo and you can pretend you're on a coastal safari. The aviary is easy to get to from the Connecticut Avenue entrance, but it's also quieter and more secluded than most other parts of the Zoo, because it's separated by a long, high bridge and lots of leafy trees. Take the trail that leads behind the Bird House, and suddenly you'll see dozens of coral-feathered creatures standing frozen still on one impossibly skinny leg. They seem so unreal, you'd think you were at an Alice in Wonderland croquet match. For a bargain meal that's equally exotic, set your mouth on fire at Cleveland Park's Spices, a friendly Pan-Asian/sushi spot.

Summer around here can be hot. So hot you don't want to walk around at all. So here's the cheap and LAZY date, a Courthouse special. Start off at CD Cellar and pick out the best/most ironic LP from the $1 LP bin for your date. Have you ever regretted buying a $1 LP? It's worth it just for the cover art. Then walk a few steps to Earl's and enjoy some homemade sandwiches. (David always goes with the grilled cheese, of course). Then it's just a few more steps to Boccato Gelato for dessert. New flavors daily; check the chalkboard for the scoop. (Get it?!?!) And finish off the evening just a few more steps down the road at Galaxy Hut. Try the Delirium Tremens. Yes, it looks expensive ... until you see the 9 percent ABV. See, you're actually saving money because it's the equivalent of buying two beers. Now you're drunk, with grilled cheese and gelato in your tummy, an LP in your hand, and you've walked less than a quarter mile.

-- Fritz, Julia, Rhome, Stephanie, Anne and David.

By Fritz Hahn  | May 21, 2009; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Events, Free and Cheap  
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