Day 93: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Rock Date Night

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Although my wife and I aren’t jet-setting billionaires, we still have a lot of fun on our date nights. Living in Southern California gives us plenty of options and many of them require little or no cash to enjoy. Don’t let the lack of a Learjet, personal assistant, or a bank vault full of cash stop you and that special someone from having a blast together.

Here are five inexpensive ways to rock date night in Southern California. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but for what it’s worth, my wife approved of all of these dates: enough so that she actually ended up marrying me.

1. Trip Down Nostalgia Lane

Brady Bunch House

Brady Bunch House

As proud Generation X-ers, we were thrilled to find the actual house used for the exterior shots of the Brady Bunch. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, so respect the owners’ and their neighbors’ privacy and property. We took a few quick snapshots and left. Feel free to sing the show’s theme song before, during, and after your pilgrimage. Everyone else does (okay, maybe not, but we sure did).

Carney's

Carney’s

Continue your Trip Down Nostalgia Lane date with a stop at the nearby Carney’s. What better way to feel like a kid than to chow down on a coupla hot dogs inside a train converted into a diner? This Carney’s is just as good as the original restaurant on Sunset: get in line, order your food, then munch away while sitting at a window seat, pretending you’re on a trip somewhere. Get a dog with sauerkraut, one with chili and mustard, and a soda; it’s the perfect meal while you look at your photos of the Brady Bunch house.

More info: Brady Bunch House, Carney’s

2. Historic Downtown

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

This date is awesome because it’s easily accessible by public transportation and you can walk off all of the food you chow down at Grand Central Market. The scene at the market has always been vibrant and energetic. The food choices change over the years, but it’s always delicious. Trendy eateries come and go, but several have been here for many years. Our current favorite: Las Morelianas, which serves some of the best carnitas this side of the border. An employee is usually out front handing out a small sample of the meat in a fresh tortilla. One bite was all it took for us to order a few tacos. Be sure to ask for “mixta,” which is a combination of everything good on the pig that is, the pig snout, liver, and heart — trust me, it’s muy delicioso.

Angels Flight Railway

Angels Flight Railway

Two attractions at opposite ends of the market offer L.A. history. On the east side of the market across the street is the Bradbury Building. The moment you walk inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 20th century. You can access the first floor only, but it’s worth a visit (especially if you’re a Blade Runner and/or 500 Days of Summer fan). I wish they’d allow guests to use the elevators, but looking up at them and the skylight is still quite a treat.

At the west side of the market across the street is the quirky and cool Angels Flight Railway, which is the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s basically a ride up the hill connecting two streets. This is a must-do for tourists and locals alike; however, it’s currently closed (as of July … 2014) due to some red tape. Check their website to see if they’re open again during your trip there.

More info: Grand Central MarketLas MorelianasThe Bradbury BuildingAngels Flight Railway

3. Park, Ride, Eat

Our bikes parked in L.A.

Our bikes parked in L.A.

While dinner and movie is always a good, if predictable, date, combining some kind of physical activity is even better, since you won’t feel as guilty about wolfing down on all of those calories. While I enjoy walking and running, there’s something about riding a bicycle that is perfect for a date. Maybe it’s the childhood memories that sprout up from a good bike ride or the feeling of movement that’s unique to powering those pedals. Whatever the reason, when my wife and I hop on our beach cruisers, it’s hard for us not to have fun.

We’re fans of the Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail, which is open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists all year round. The trail runs from Claremont to Rialto, a distance of 27 miles, and is dog-friendly. This date will require you and your significant other to stretch those legs on the pedals, but the best part about is that you can vary it according to your fitness level, with several starting points throughout the trail. Ride for a few minutes or over an hour, depending on where you start.

Faux carnitas bowl

Faux carnitas bowl

For our date, we started at Central Park in Rancho Cucamonga, then rode our bikes a few miles to Viva La Vegan, an awesome all-vegan market and eatery. The food was surprisingly good. As much as I love carnitas (see Las Morelianas above), I know it’s not the healthiest food in the world. Thankfully, Viva La Vegan offers a “fauxnitas” made entirely of jackfruit (!) and is an excellent alternative to the piggy goodness. The cafe sits in the larger Viva La Vegan space and it’s a terrific place to relax before jumping back on your bikes.

More info: Pacific Electric Inland Empire TrailViva La Vegan

4. Shakespeare in the Park

Macbeth in the Park.

Macbeth in the Park.

Free arts and culture is always a good thing, especially with the top-notch Independent Shakespeare Company that puts on free Shakespeare at Griffith Park during the summer months. Pack a picnic basket with food and drink, a blanket or low-back chairs, and some type of insect repellent. The location near the Old Zoo at the park is awesome; you’ll feel like you’re in another world as you get wrapped up in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

For the perfect (and easy to transport) dinner at the park, my wife and I love the sandwiches at Roma Market in Pasadena. Mr. Mazzeo is the store’s longtime owner and resident sandwich maker; just ask him for a sandwich and watch him as he slices the imported meats and cheese by hand before drizzling imported olive oil on a freshly baked Italian roll. It’s minimalist deliciousness at its best and you’ll definitely have the best sandwich amongst your fellow Shakespeare fans.

More info: Independent Shakespeare Co., Roma Market

5. Games and Grub

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Nearly 1,000 games at Game Haus Cafe

Find out if your date has a geeky side to him/her by hanging out at the amazing Game Haus Cafe in Glendale. Kickstarted two years ago, the cafe is home to nearly 1,000 board games that you and your date can play all night for only a $5 cover charge.

Don’t waste your time playing the stale old Monopoly, though. We’re living in a Golden Age of Gaming, so take a chance with something you’ve never played before. I can think of no better introductory game than Ticket to Ride. It’s often noted for its elegant gameplay: it’s the perfect game for new players and seasoned gamers love it as well. It only takes a few minutes to learn, but offers a lot of replayability. The staff at the cafe is terrific. Feel free to ask questions or for game recommendations.

Food and drink are good at Game Haus and you’ll need sustenance for all of that gaming, but for better and cheaper eats, go down the road to El Sauz Tacos for great carne asada tacos and other hole-in-the-wall goodness.

More info: Game Haus Cafe, El Sauz Tacos

Bonus Date!

6. In the Air Tonight

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Here’s one more pack-a-picnic-and-go-the-park event that we love attending: free music at the park. Most cities offer a concert in the park series during the summer and we’ve enjoyed many of them. I especially like the event at Creekside Park in Walnut. Parking can be a pain (which is true for most of these events), but the park itself is roomy and comfortable, with a good sound system, and a few food trucks and local groups worth supporting. The crowds at these events tend to be families, so the vibe is always mellow and relaxing.

The music varies, though, as does the quality of each act. If possible, check the city and the band’s websites for samples of the music being played. Most are cover bands, so you’ll recognize the music, but the bands aren’t always top-notch. We saw a Beatles cover band a few years ago and they were one of the weaker ones, which was a disappointment. Still, free music at the park is a typically good evening out.

As for food, you can never go wrong with the Filipino dishes at Salo-Salo Grill a few miles away in West Covina. I prefer the family style meals at the restaurant, but you can get any of their affordable dishes to go. Definitely get the garlic fried rice; pair it with one of the entrees like beef tapa or lechon (pork) ribs. Whether you decide to bring it to the park or eat beforehand, either way you’ll be stuffed and ready to enjoy some free music. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or comfortable chair.

More info: Creekside Park Summer Concerts, Salo-Salo Grill

Day 75: International Tabletop Day

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This year’s International Tabletop Day is Saturday, April 11. It’s a day for celebrating tabletop gaming. Woo hoo!

After years of all-things-poker as my default game night, I picked up a few of the more popular games and started gaming with my wife. We both enjoyed Ticket to Ride, while I loved Pandemic enough to play solo games on a near-nightly basis. I’m excited to play Ticket to Ride with my nephew and nieces; I think they’re old enough to get into the game now.

It’s been great rediscovering my love of board games. Almost two years ago I stopped by Game Haus Cafe for the first time and was blown away. I knew that there were a lot of great games out there, but seeing hundreds and hundreds of them on the shelves really opened my eyes to the scene.

I started reading posts on boardgamegeek.com, watching episodes of Tabletop on Geek & Sundry, and posting a few screen shots of my gaming on the Google+ Board Games community. It’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to celebrate tabletop gaming with the rest of the world on April 11. I have an idea of where I want to host an event and I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can pull it off. If not, there’s always the comfort of my living room.

Day 8: Zombies at the Cafe

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Continuing from yesterday’s post on zombies, here are three other zombie-related things I like that I failed to mention:

  1. The Cranberries “Zombie.” I can make people laugh when I bust this out on karaoke night. Not sure if they’re laughing at me or with me.
  2. White Zombie. Okay, I don’t like all of their music, but I used to kick butt on their song on Guitar Hero.
  3. Zombie Dice, a game from Steve Jackson.

I came across Zombie Dice last year at the mind-blowing Game Haus Cafe in Glendale, California. The game was easy to learn and fun to play. A quick summary: you are a zombie. The 13 dice represent your would-be victims. Randomly pick three dice and roll them. A brain is good. A shotgun blast is bad. Footprints mean your victim got away. You can score the brains and end your turn or you can press your luck, get more dice and roll them for more brains. If you roll three shotgun blasts, your turn is over and you score none of the brains. First to collect 13 brains wins.

I wish I lived closer to the Game Haus Cafe. It’s a wonderful place, perfect for gaming, and we’ve brought my niece and nephew twice since it opened after a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2013. Parking can be a pain, but the place is still worth five stars (read my Yelp review here) and they offer 1,000+ board games, along with some decent food and drink. It costs only $5 for unlimited play during your visit. The game selection is staggering: all of the classics are available, along with newer games, popular Euro-style fare, and obscure titles. Shelf after shelf of games, arranged by content, will make any gamer’s heart happy.

Two things I love about this place: first, there’s no wi-fi available, so you’ll have to talk (gasp!) to your buddies and/or opponents over games with actual pieces, dice, and tokens. Second, happy hour is Tue-Thu until 4pm: you’ll pay only $2 for unlimited play.

View of Game Haus Cafe’s shelves below (click the image to enlarge). There are two shelves around the corner that aren’t shown. It’s a large space, with lots of big tables, comfortable chairs, and, most importantly, friendly employees.

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