Did that big summer vacation (or just life in Seattle) eat a hole in your wallet? You can still have a fun date night, even on a budget.

Discover a new activity, revisit old haunts and just generally change up the dinner-and-movie (or Netflix-and-chill) routine with these ideas that cost around $20 per person or less.

Game night

The couple that plays together, stays together. Connect over a shared activity and celebrate each other’s victories at these spots where grown-ups can play the night away. 

Seattle Pinball Museum: A little bit history (museum-style cards identify the year of each game), a little bit pop culture (Willy Wonka!) and a whole lot of fun, Seattle Pinball Museum makes a great date night. For $18 a person, you can play more than 50 vintage pinball games, plus a few stand-up video games, such as Missile Command and Invaders from Outer Space, for as long as you like. Each game has a cup holder — loser buys the next round of vintage soda pop or local craft beer. 508 Maynard Ave. S. (International District); seattlepinballmuseum.com

At Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District you can play all of the vintage games for an $18 flat fee. (Courtesy of Alan Alabastro)
At Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District you can play all of the vintage games for an $18 flat fee. (Courtesy of Alan Alabastro)

Shorty’s: This beloved Belltown institution is the ultimate cheap date — in fact, I took my husband to celebrate the anniversary of our first date (and he says I never take him anywhere nice). With $3.25 pints and $11 pitchers of Miller High Life from noon to 4 p.m., $4 Frito Pies and $6 hot dogs, you can afford drinks and games. An old-time wooden “Test Your Love” machine beckons next to the Big Buck Hunter game. Welcome new additions include skee ball, a bowling game and a photo booth. I chatted with a cute young couple sharing a bar stool — it was their first date, bringing things full circle. 

Shorty’s recently moved to new digs on Second Avenue, bringing along its signature scary clown art, velvet paintings and tables handmade from retired pinball games by owner Avout Vander Werf. 2316 Second Ave. (Belltown); shortydog.com

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Meeples Games: Magic happens at Meeples. So does D&D and Catan. Geek out together with some old-fashioned table-top fun at this gaming hotspot where you can play board games for free when you order from the café. Our favorites included the retro-cool Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, designed in Seattle; Tetris-like Bärenpark; and the only slightly mean-spirited (and hilarious) Kittens in a Blender. Accompany your games with a boozy Not Your Father’s Root Beer Float or 2 Towns Ciderhouse Easy Squeezy Cider and a flatbread pizza. 3727 California Ave. S.W. (West Seattle); meeplesgames.com

But wait, there’s more: If you like handmade ice cream with your pinball, take your date to Full Tilt Ice Cream. Locations in White Center, Ballard, University District and Columbia City mean there’s probably one near you. fulltilticecream.com 

For an adults-only old-school arcade experience, head to Vidiot in West Seattle, a sprawling, low-key bar with coin-free games like Dance Dance Revolution and Police 911, plus a couch to revisit the Nintendo, PC and PlayStation games of your adolescence. vidiotarcadebar.com

Take in the view, and some Spam sliders, on Marination Ma Kai’s outdoor patio. (Courtesy of John Beck)
Take in the view, and some Spam sliders, on Marination Ma Kai’s outdoor patio. (Courtesy of John Beck)

Sail away 

Summer in Seattle isn’t complete without some time out on the water. These outdoor adventures are a bargain and romantic at the same time.

King County Water Taxi: When I was younger and had no money for a summer vacation, I would take a “cruise” on the water taxi to West Seattle. For $5.75, or $5 with your ORCA card, you get a relaxing 10-minute sail across Elliott Bay and a gorgeous view of the Seattle waterfront. Grab seats on the open top deck for a salty breeze and maximum romance. Pier 50 Terminal (downtown waterfront); kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/water-taxi

Marination Ma Kai: When you land at Seacrest Park, head to Marination Ma Kai’s outdoor patio for Spam sliders or kalua pork tacos ($3 each) and shave ice ($6), with or without booze. Then take the path by the water for a stroll, hand-in-hand. 1660 Harbor Avenue S.W. (West Seattle); marinationmobile.com 

Cruise Alki Beach on a rental bike from Wheel Fun Rentals, with a free second hour from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with coupon. (Courtesy of Wheel Fun Rentals)
Cruise Alki Beach on a rental bike from Wheel Fun Rentals, with a free second hour from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with coupon. (Courtesy of Wheel Fun Rentals)

Wheel Fun Rentals: Extend your sand-and-sea adventure by renting some wheels. Wheel Fun Rentals allows you to cruise down Alki Beach by bike ($13 per hour), three-wheel chopper ($15 per hour) or a tandem bicycle built for two ($20 per hour). Or splurge for a classic surrey carriage ($28 per hour) for great photo ops. Your second hour is free between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. with an online coupon at wheelfunrentals.com. 2530 Alki Ave. S.W. (West Seattle); wheelfunrentals.com/wa/seattle/alki-beach

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Alki Point Lighthouse: For a different vibe, make a trip out to Alki Point Lighthouse to visit a functioning, fully automated aid-to-navigation lighthouse on an active U.S. Coast Guard site. Sundays through Sept. 1, get a free tour between 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., with views of Discovery Park’s West Point Light Station, the Cascades and Mount Rainier. 3201 Alki Ave. S.W. (West Seattle); bit.ly/2Tv0Aag

Bakery Nouveau: Pair your history lesson with a treat in the form of colorful French macarons or famous twice-baked almond croissants at Bakery Nouveau. The line out the door speaks for itself. Bon appetit! 4737 California Ave. S.W. (West Seattle) (also on Capitol Hill); bakerynouveau.com

Extra, extra: If you’re not ready for the date to end after your return across the bay, do as the tourists do: Cap off date night with a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel ($15 per person). It stays open until midnight Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. Sunday–Thursday. Scared of heights? Enjoy the Wheel’s colorful 500,000-LED light show safely on the ground. Pier 57 (Seattle waterfront); seattlegreatwheel.com

Rent kayaks from Agua Verde on Portage Bay, or just sip happy hour drinks on the outdoor balcony. (Courtesy of Randy Foster)
Rent kayaks from Agua Verde on Portage Bay, or just sip happy hour drinks on the outdoor balcony. (Courtesy of Randy Foster)

Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club: On Portage Bay, the ideal day date awaits. Book a kayak for $20 an hour (or a double for $26) and paddle past colorful houseboats, visit turtles in the Washington Park Arboretum or sail under the freeway bridge toward a view of the Seattle skyline. 

You’re sure to work up an appetite, so pack a picnic to enjoy on the public park tables on the dock, or hit up Agua Verde’s to-go window for café con leche and Key lime pie to share ($11 total). Better yet, dine al fresco at the brand-new Marina Cantina’s outdoor bar and food truck, open through September. Gaze at the water together in the open courtyard with a $10 margarita, pork skin chicharrones ($6.50) and tasty taquitos ($7.50) as salsa music pulses in the background.

If you have a little more time and cash, elevate your experience with an outdoor balcony table at the upstairs café, under the new ownership of Travis Rosenthal of Rumba. Order house-made agua frescas ($4), rum punch ($9) and rockfish tacos ($12.50). Happy hour Monday–Thursday, from 4–6 p.m., shaves a couple bucks off your bill. 1307 Boat St. (U District); aguaverde.comaguaverdecafe.com

The author and her husband sing karaoke at Rock Box on Capitol Hill. On Sundays, the private rooms are $4 per person per hour. (Courtesy of Darcie Syme)
The author and her husband sing karaoke at Rock Box on Capitol Hill. On Sundays, the private rooms are $4 per person per hour. (Courtesy of Darcie Syme)

Outside the box

Impress your date with something a little more imaginative — and interactive — than dinner and a movie. You’ll be having so much fun together, you won’t even notice that you just got a bargain.

Rock Box: No more listening to drunk strangers (or being the drunk strangers) on karaoke night. Book a private Japanese-style karaoke room at Rock Box for an intimate duet. Wait staff bring drinks and bar snacks to your room, which comes with a tablet to select songs, lower the key and provide a boost of instant applause when you need it. During happy hour (which is all day Sunday), karaoke is $4 per person per hour, instead of $7. Sake sangria ($5) is perfect for summer, and the Jell-O shots ($2.50) are guilt-free since 100% of the profits go to charity. 1603 Nagle Place (Capitol Hill); rockboxseattle.com

Rancho Bravo Tacos: Afterward, sober up at Rancho Bravo Tacos. Tacos are $3.10–$3.60 each. Eat at an outside table or across the street at Cal Anderson Park. 100 E. Pine St. (Capitol Hill) (also in Wallingford); ranchobravotacos.com

Enjoy a flight of Batch 206 liquors at its tasting room in Interbay for $7, or take a 45-minute tour and sample a craft cocktail for $20 or less per person. (Courtesy of Will Dunn)
Enjoy a flight of Batch 206 liquors at its tasting room in Interbay for $7, or take a 45-minute tour and sample a craft cocktail for $20 or less per person. (Courtesy of Will Dunn)

Batch 206: Don’t just go out for a drink — go behind the scenes to see how your drink’s base spirit is made. At Batch 206, you and your date can enjoy a quick tasting flight (including four half-ounce pours) of handcrafted Batch 206 Vodka, Old Tom Counter Gin, Old Log Cabin Bourbon Whiskey, Elliott Bay Rum, Moonshine or Washington’s first blue agave (tequila-style) spirit, Sueño Azul. Tastings are $7 per person, and the fee is waived with a purchase. 

Even better is the distillery tour, Saturdays only by reservation, where you’ll taste a range of contrasting spirits and sample bourbon, gin and rum directly from the barrel. The 45-minute tour introduces you to barrel aging, barrel selection, blending, and the journey and the craftsmanship behind your favorite spirits. Tours are normally $20 per person, but keep an eye out for a Groupon deal, which offers a tour for two for $33, plus a post-tour Batch 206 craft cocktail in the Batch Bar. 1417 Elliott Ave. W. (Interbay); batch206.com 

Central Cinema: If you want to do dinner and a movie, do it here to make it unique and fun. Central Cinema shows cult classics such as “The Dark Crystal,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “The Goonies” on the big screen for $8 in advance, $10 the day of. Periodic $1.99 movie ticket nights are the best deal in town. 

Snuggle up on comfy sofa benches while your server brings you organic popcorn with real butter ($4). A full menu includes pig in a blanket ($4–$6), a personal French press of Caffe Vita Theo coffee, Seattle Soda ($3), wine, beer and themed cocktails such as the Director, the Gaffer and the Starlet. Kitschy-cool singalong events are popular, inspiring costumes and onstage dancing. “Beyoncé vs. Gaga vs. Rihanna vs. Britney” is next ($12 in advance, $14 day-of). P.S.: It’s air conditioned. You’re welcome. 1411 21st Ave. (Central District); central-cinema.com