Ashley Lee had pretty much sworn off dating when a guy she was sort of interested in asked her to go on a hike. “Strictly as friends—because dating is a miserable, awful thing,” she recalls. “I was down because I had not hiked in ages; was more of a yoga girl back then. [I figured I’d] try something new.”
They decided to hike Cowles Mountain in the middle of the day, and, for some reason, Ashley elected not to wear sunscreen. “Long story short, I darn near died on the way up, because yoga shape is not hiking shape,” she says. “He busted out almond Champagne at the top, which was delicious, but I also [almost] died on the way down. I’m a lightweight and dehydration kicked in… I got an epic sunburn… He still gives me a hard time about [it].”
Ashley’s hiking partner, Seung, can still rib her about her sunburn because, well, he’s now her husband. They have three kids together, and Ashley says that, despite the near-death experience, hiking made for a great first date.
“You skip all that formality of sitting at a table interviewing each other and sifting through who this person really is versus what they want you to think,” she reflects. “He seemed like a vaguely responsible and spontaneous guy who was very bright and motivated and spoke his mind.”
She says relationships and marriage are hard, and hiking gives you a better glimpse into how someone handles challenges. “You can kick the tires at the coffee shop and think it’s all great, but you are better served on a hike, where the rubber meets the road,” she emphasizes.
I may be biased, given my love for hiking, running, and generally being outside, but if I were dating now, I’d make all my first dates outdoor treks. I said yes to a first date run back when I lived in Berkeley (I thought I was a good runner, but I still got completely winded when my date took me on a jog up the Fire Trail), and I went on hikes and runs early in my relationship with my now-husband.
They really are good ways to get to know people—and can push you to ramble farther than you would otherwise.
Data from the running app Strava seems to support this notion. Its 2022 Year In Sport report found athletes in pairs went longer in both time and distance than when they were solo.
The company also analyzed all the running and hiking done on Valentine’s Day and found that a good chunk of people celebrated the holiday by exercising as a duo. A fifth of winter activities (skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowshoeing) were done in pairs on February 14 over the last four years, while 14% of walks and hikes and 13% of bike rides were two-person trips.
According to Strava, these are the most popular hiking routes for pairs in San Diego County:
- Top Part to Rockhouse (Bonita)
- Get to the Flag (Chula Vista)
- New Trail to Rockhouse (Chula Vista)
- South Fortuna Steps (San Diego)
- Top of Steps to Fortuna Saddle (San Diego)
- Father Junipero Serra Trail Climb (San Diego)
- Top of MTRP (San Diego)
- Quail Mountain Road Climb (Poway)
If you want something with romantic views, try Sunset Cliffs, Torrey Pines, or Kwaay Paay in Mission Trails (which, bonus, is rarely crowded). Meanwhile, local James Hauser says that when he was dating as a student at UCSD, he had a go-to third date: the La Jolla trail.
“[For] the initial first date, you go somewhere on campus. [The] second date might be sushi or somewhere near campus,” he says. “Then I would do this hike around sunset time where you get to see the beautiful ocean. If I did get the opportunity of having a third date, it’s a good way to get to know someone a little bit more than [I would at] a casual dinner.”
Plus, hiking takes a little longer than a typical dinner and can introduce more physical contact, he adds. “‘I need you to hold my hand, I need you to hold on to me,’” he jokes. “And it’s also just very beautiful. I think it’s one of the prettiest places in San Diego overlooking the cliffs. You have the gliders there going back and forth, and then you end up on the beach, and then you can walk back to campus.”
Hauser would tell his dates to wear comfortable shoes, and says he never had bad experiences. “I would be very encouraging [and say] that the hike wasn’t too difficult and any able-bodied person could do it,” he shares.
But one of these third-date hikes became his last—that’s because Hauser took the stroll with a woman who eventually became his wife.
“Maybe two percent of the reason why we’re married is because of the success of that third date,” he says. “She was skeptical at first. She was an L.A. girl who wasn’t into hiking, and I think I sold her on the fact that it was very pretty and I was bringing her somewhere that she hasn’t been before. It’s a little bit sketchy at times when you have to kind of hold on to someone or hold their hand, and so I got to [give] that additional reassurance—’I’m going to be here for you and support you’—and it went very well.”