It’s gonna be an extra weird Valentine’s Day this year kiddos, especially if you happen to be having a first date on February 14th. If you’re just meeting your Valentine for the first time, you have no way of knowing whether they’re a diligent masker and quarantiner or a serial sneezer and door knob licker. Definitely safest to have your first date outside somewhere that you can be assured of ample social distancing at all times.

To this end, I have compiled a list of secluded outdoor venues perfect for staying far from your date and also far from everyone else who might be carrying the deadly virus. Conveniently, all of these locations are right in The University of Illinois Research Park! Now, as you surely know, Research Park is a “technology hub for corporate research operations and startup companies,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a scenic place suitable for a nice first date. For all you folks who need an outdoor location for a socially-distanced Valentine's rendezvous, I’ve scoured all of Research Park for the best spots.


There are of course many benches scattered around Research Park, any of them could be used for a COVID-safe outdoor meetup. It’s quite unlikely that you’ll be disturbed by actual Research Park employees since most of them are now working from home. I like this herd of benches near the Atkins Building.

There are three green metal picnic tables in a grassy area, with trees around the perimeter. The writer is sitting at the far picnic table, wearing a red mask. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.

It’s pushing your luck a bit for you and your date to sit at the same bench, so here you can each have your very own. However picnic benches are a bit boring, I’ve tried to find some more interesting, and definitely more romantic, spots for this column.

First off, you and your date could meet at the lovely buffalo statue in front of the Forbes Natural History Building.

The writer is standing next to a statue of a buffalo. He has a winter hat with flaps, a red mask, and is holding a single red rose. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.

There’s no real place to sit here, but the buffalo statue is cool and it’s easily eight feet long so you and your date can stand on opposite sides of it and be certain that you’re maintaining safe distance.

A close up of the buffalo statue. The writer is peeking over the top of it with his red rose. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.

Think of the statue as your own Contagion Protection Bison.

Just steps from the buffalo, near 1st Street, is this delightful orb-shaped jungle gym thingy. I was very surprised to find that it also spins and you can get inside it!

The writer is hanging off the side of a round climbing structure. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.
The writer is standing, hanging on to the side of the round climbing structure, holding a red rose. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.
The writer is laying on his side, inside the round play structure, with one leg knee propped up. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.

Now, I don’t actually recommend that you and your Valentine jump inside the orb together. That would be pretty close quarters. Instead you should each climb up and hang on to opposite sides, then you can have a nice conversation while gently rotating.

I discovered that Research Park has a few basketball hoops set up. This one is in the Yahoo! parking lot. If you’re a sporty type, you could meet your Valentine for some friendly B-ball.

The writer is standing on a concrete basketball court, just adjacent to a basketball hoop with a clear backboard. He is gesturing like he's shooting a basket with one hand. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black. 

However, to be safe, you should each bring your own ball and not touch each other’s balls and also sanitize each ball after every hoop. Don’t blame me, I’m taking these rules right from the CDC guidelines for romantic 1v1 street basketball.

Also near the Yahoo building is the Bruce Hannon Oak Grove.

A boulder with a plaque that says Bruce Hannon Oak Grove and has an etching of a man's face. A sidewalk runs alongside the boulder, next to pond. Photo by Andrea Black. Photo by Andrea Black. 

It’s a “grove” with some trees and a nice pond you can walk around with your date. (You can also have fun by singing “Bruce Hannon Oak Grove” to the tune of the Beatles' 1966 hit “Eleanor Rigby” while on your walk.)

Quite near the Bruce Hannon Oak Grove, I found another animal statue friend, an adorable fox of some kind. Wow! Isn’t it amazing being out in nature with your Valentine on a beautiful mid-February day in Illinois!

The writer is crouched behind a boulder. I front of the boulder there is a small statue of a fox. These items are place in large area landscaped with rocks. Photo by Andrea Black. Photo by Andrea Black. 

Anyhow, show your date you’ve got real school spirit by inviting them to these colorful benches in front of this dumpster enclosure.

The writer is sitting on a blue metal bench. There is an orange metal bench next to it. The benches are sitting along a brick wall. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black.

It’s the perfect place to say “I - L - L and I - LOVE - U.” (I advise you to not ever say this on a first date with anyone.)

Finally, there’s a bunch of rocks along Hazelwood Drive just near the Speech Language Pathology Clinic where you can sit fully distanced from your date and ponder the great mysteries of the world. (Everyone knows that sitting on a rock is more contemplative and philosophical than sitting on a picnic bench.)

The writer is sitting on a boulder next to a road, arm outstretched, holding a red rose. There is a similar boulder on the opposite side of the road. Photo by Andrea Black. Photo by Andrea Black.

Some of the rocks are however a smidge TOO far apart for conversing.

The writer is sitting on a rock in the distance, alongside a road. Photo by Andrea Black.Photo by Andrea Black. 

Choose wisely.

Well, whatever your COVID Valentine’s Day looks like, I hope it is as safe and happy as is currently feasible. See you all again soon!

Top photo by Andrea Black.