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Spring semester has become increasingly busy for me — anyone else? Between Zoom meetings, studying for exams, part-time jobs, extracurriculars, finding time to relax and everything in between, it’s been a challenge to balance it all.

Something extremely important in my life is spending time with my boyfriend. We met in high school and have been dating for four years, and we truly are each other’s best friends. We love being together, but sometimes it can be hard to schedule a time to be together because of our busy schedules.

If you have a significant other or a best friend you love to be around, you know the importance of having quality time together. A few hours with someone you love can be a motivating factor for your entire week. Or, it can simply give you the refresh and support that you need. This challenging time we are currently living through has made it harder for us to continue our social lives while simultaneously staying safe.

Because of our busy schedules this semester, my boyfriend and I have made a pact to have at least one date night a week. It doesn’t have to be a fancy dinner or anything extravagant, but we want to make it a priority to spend one day or night together to just enjoy each other’s company and have a fun escape together. One of our go-to date night plans is to get takeout from our favorite Japanese restaurant and watch a scary movie together, but we’ve also been searching for some new ideas.

We’ve been looking around on Google for some new COVID-safe adventures, and I stumbled upon a local Instagram account named @onlyingainesville. They post about local events and places to check out, and the page also includes followers’ recommendations.

Through our searching, we’ve created a short compilation of places we want to go and things we want to try around Gainesville. Here is our list of local date night ideas that we want to try — while staying safe and socially distanced.

Picnic at Lake Alice

This date idea is pretty self-explanatory but still fun and romantic, nonetheless. We want to find a day where the weather is nice to enjoy the view of Lake Alice. Our picnic food of choice would most likely be Publix chicken tender subs and maybe some cookies for dessert. But of course, your meal choice is all up to you.

This date idea is the perfect way to stay socially distanced from others but still enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company. Also, if you’re around Lake Alice near the dusk, you could always go watch the thousands of bats fly out of the bat houses on campus.

Safari drive-thru tour at Carson Springs Wildlife

My boyfriend and I have never been to Carson Springs Wildlife, but it seems like an interesting — and adventurous — spot to visit. Carson Springs Wildlife is a conservation and educational facility that rescues exotic animals in need. Their property is home to many different animals including leopards, cheetahs, lemurs, jaguars and more.

While looking through their event calendar, I was shocked by the wide range of events the wildlife foundation hosts. I never knew a place like this existed in Gainesville, and it seems like a very safe option regarding exposure and proximity to others.

Safari drive-thru tours are offered on occasional Saturdays, and the cost is $10 per person. Be sure to schedule this tour on their website ahead of time to reserve your spot!

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

Despite being a local favorite, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is somewhere my boyfriend and I haven’t explored yet. It’s a 16-mile path that passes by wildlife and winds through beautiful scenery. These photos of what you might see on the trail are stunning.

The path is fun and accessible for both hikers and bikers because it is paved.

Currently, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is stressing the practice of social distancing while enjoying the trail.

Local farmers markets

There are so many local farmers’ markets around Gainesville, and I want to experience them all. A few that are on our to-do list are Haile Farmers Market, Union Street Downtown Farmers Market and Waldo Farmers and Flea Market. All of these seem like great options to find fresh, local produce, as well as beautiful crafts and creations. Union Street Downtown Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Haile Farmers Market and Waldo Farmers and Flea Market are both open on Saturdays.

Overall, there are a wide array of interesting things to do in Gainesville. There are also many ways to enjoy some local fun and stay safe at the same time. These are only a handful of ideas my boyfriend and I have for future date nights, but there are so many other fun activities in Gainesville, too — all it takes is a Google search and a spark of imagination.

Try your best to prioritize quality time with the people you love, especially when times are stressful.

Madison Hodge is a junior at the University of Florida where she majors in Advertising. She has a small business on Etsy named Stardust Design, where she sells custom digital illustrations, stickers, apparel, and more. In her free time Madison loves to spend time with her boyfriend, go to the beach, drink lemonade, and draw.
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