I recently tried this new thing called the outdoors, and let me tell you, it is not the horrifying world cinema has fooled us into believing. Plain and simple: the Teletubbies lied to us. The sun doesn’t actually have a demonic baby face. That Seinfeld episode where Kramer burns into a Colonel Sanders-level tan is not an accurate depiction either. And Edward attempting to commit suicide by stepping into the Italian sunlight is not something that is likely to happen to us mere mortals (no offense). For too long, the media has profited off their never-ending campaign to besmirch the outside world. Together we must say: enough is enough! Whether you’re a Birkenstocks gal or a normal f*cking person, Earth has something for everyone—even my Shih Tzu who cries every time I force her to go on a walk. (No, Shih Tzu is not a euphemism for my inner child.) As Queen Quarantine is hopefully sliding into her season finale, I have very few nice things to say about her. I dream of the day when I can sip endless iced teas in an air-conditioned restaurant. But, oddly the new “outside me” is someone I hope to bring into the post-pandemic world too.
If you’re not familiar with open air, there are a few terms you should familiarize yourself with before continuing. First, the sun. The sensation of sunlight is a sister wife to that warm and fuzzy feeling you get from a weighted blanket or that first perfect sip of hot chocolate. Suddenly, your body is a bit cozier than it was before. That’s sunlight! Secondly, you’ll need to understand the concept of grass. Grass is basically a wet, cool-to-the-touch, poorly made shag rug… with a crunch. There are all kinds of grass, but March in Los Angeles brings what professionals call “green grass.” Brown, Tan, Olive, Shamrock, and Chartreuse are some other species you should be aware of. Lastly, before you Dora The Explorer it, you must protect yourself against mosquitos who, similar to Fox News correspondents, come out of nowhere and never seem to die. Trust me on this one: invest in a perfume called Bug Spray—it’s the only way you’ll make it out alive.
Now that you’re caught up on essential R.E.I. lingo, you’re ready to figure out which outdoor activity is right for you. Luckily, as a clearly weathered expert, I have rated some options to guide you in the right direction while you wait for all your friends, frenemies, and lovers to get vaccinated.
What They Call “Hiking”: 3/5 Stars
Granola Patagonia people have tricked the rest of us into thinking that hiking is an extreme sport for which you need professional training, a golden retriever, and a Go-pro in order to partake. If you’re like me and you bribed the P.E. teacher into driving you around in a golf cart, you might feel like you don’t have what it takes to trail it. This is a lie. Hiking is literally just walking with sunscreen. Walking. With. Sunscreen! Imagine! And if you wear sunglasses, it almost feels like window-shopping, but for foliage. You don’t need Cheryl Strayed’s boots—you can Reese it with tennis shoes and a “Vote Y’all” water bottle. Honestly, if you hike like most Los Angelenos you don’t even need water. The worst that can happen is you spot a snake, trip the other direction, and then tumbleweed down the Hollywood Hills until a sad shrub not-so-gently breaks your fall. To echo Gwyneth Paltrow’s infuriatingly titled cookbook, “It’s All Easy!’
Walk-N-Talks: 5/5 Stars
The outside version of “bring over two bottles of wine” is none other than the latest and greatest Quarantine Walk-N-Talk. Sure, there’s no SZA playing in the background or the scent of candles lingering in that sweet, sweet way only a 14-hour burn can bring. But walking for hours with your friend while you diagnose the latest sociopath in your life is a new joy only the outdoors can bring. If you’re feeling intermediate or arrogantly advanced, you can even do a beach path or walk hillside. Whatever journey you choose, the main ingredients are deodorant, chapstick, and your most insightful confidant (bring extra water with Geminis, they can’t shut the f*ck up, and that’s coming from a Gemini). With nothing to do but point out the cacti, there’s something about these outdoor walk-n-talks that feels more profound and healing than the regular ol’ get-together. It took wandering seven miles for my friend to finally figure out the root of her cyclical self-sabotage. Are we licensed psychologists? Yes! (Paperwork pending.) Twelve months of chatting into the horizon and you can bet your quarantine buddy can fix you faster than seven seasons of Veep. Trust the science!
Backyard Hangs: 3/5 Stars
I have nothing insightful to say about sitting in someone’s backyard, other than that it’s free and easy and depending on their quarantine rules, and there’s a bathroom available in case of emergencies. Keep your friends close, but your friends with backyards closer.
Looking At Water: 2/5 Stars
Remember that feeling at the aquarium, watching dolphins glide effortlessly in that teeny, tiny tank? Now imagine that feeling without their high-pitched squeals screaming at you for trapping them inside. That’s what looking at water is! Whether you live near the piers or a lake or your neighbor has a bird bath, I highly suggest you take some time to stare at it. Bring snacks if you want! You can really mix and match the experience with whatever other comforts you enjoy. The point is, all you have to do is sit and stare. Unlike spending your sad lunch break gazing at the bouncing screensaver while holding back tears, looking at real-life water can reignite a will to live. You can even reenact some of your favorite movies. Pretend you’re Sandy singing down at a less controversial 1970s John Travolta. Or maybe you’re a Troy Bolton at the country club looking down at the golf course pond version of yourself. The water is what you make of it. And unlike staring at the ceiling, going outside and snapping a pic of yourself by a body of water counts as an activity! Now you’re “fun!”
Park Picnics: 4/5 Stars
If you’re going to host a multi-friend shindig, I highly recommend packing up your pantry and heading to whatever they call a park in your area. I get it: there’s something about eating outside that just feels off. You’re hunched over and the wind keeps pulling that same single strand of hair into your mouth. And yet, all your friends seem to suddenly love the Trader Joe’s crackers and 3-dollar block of cheese you scrounged together. Outside, they call this a charcuterie board, hold the board! Anyone can be a chef when the bar is set low enough—preferably on the ground and with the beach towel your mom bought for emergencies. A sarcastic “Wow, you really went all out,” under the not-so-Tuscan sun transforms into an enthusiastic cheer of “Wow, you really went all out!” This, my chickadees, is the genius of the park picnic. Leftover Chipotle napkins and some gummy bears? You’ve got yourself a semi-decent soiree! As I write this in a large grassy knoll that Google labeled a park, there is a little boy crying because a hero dog stole his remote-control Monster truck, which he was previously Tokyo Drifting into other people’s picnic blankets. What more could you want? And for mood music, the park is serving a dance mix of children yelling, dogs barking, helicopters chopping, bees buzzing, and a group of moms loudly comparing gluten-free recipes. Still, bask in the glory of the park picnic and let your therapist know you’re playing around with the idea of becoming an adult! You’re a host now!
When I told my friend I would be writing about “the outside,” she asked if it was on HBO Max. Suffice to say, I am not the woodsy Stevie Nicks my crystal collection would lead you to believe. Thankfully, whether you’re a hike-to-the-top-of-Everest or a sit-and-watch-bros-sail kind of kid, it’s important to remember no one cares. The last of this Covid-enforced-outside time is for you—make of it what you can muster. Like my sad bible study teacher once said, “God made this Earth for you!” While I am obviously certain the Earth was not made for me as there are way too many Chinese Cresteds for my taste, quarantine has taught me that outside is for even the most vampirish of indoor people. Don’t be afraid to leave the house during these grueling times. It’s easy to stay inside and keep letting Netflix shuffle, but you never know when stepping out and spotting a single monarch butterfly will remind you that you have a heart after all. Damn, that’s deep.
It’s finally that time of year to “fall” in love. Summer flings have ended and cuffing season is in full swing. Here are my top five “Brunch Boys approved” date recommendations. You’ll notice there is no apple picking on here, because I promise you nobody wants to see those Instagrams.
Rooftop Cinema Club
Instead of Netflix and chill, switch up your movie watching routine at Rooftop Cinema Club at the Skylawn Embassy (Hilton) Suites in midtown. Here’s the deal: $26 per ticket without popcorn, although you might opt to spend a few extra bucks for an unlimited bucket. Outside food and drinks are a no-no, but the Skylawn rooftop bar opens at 5pm daily, so definitely go early to get your food and drink on.
Watching movies outdoors is always a fun activity, but this particular venue provides wireless headphones to drown out the background noise. Hang out in your adjustable lawn chair (also provided) and remember to dress appropriately for the weather, as fall nights tend to get chilly, especially on rooftops. Come here for the iconic views—I’m talking about the classic films AND the NYC skyline backdrop. You can find the list of movie showings online, through October.
Jack-o-lanterns and Halloween decor are in all the storefronts setting the spooky mood. Time to have yourselves a Saturday date night scare! Located down on Varick St., Blood Manor is a haunted house that will have you gripping onto your partner for dear life as you move through the labyrinth of terror. Instead of the electronic vampires with red eyes and digital dead people, Blood Manor has real actors who read the room and jump out at you strategically to optimize the scare factor.
This would be a fun group date idea because you are guided through the maze in small groups of six. DON’T wear any clothing you might ruin, in case you back up against a wall and smudge the set. DO wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking through the corridors. Although it’s only a 15-minute affair, it’s worth the scare.
Breathtaking Breakneck Ridge is a challenging hike, comprised of both rock face and marked dirt paths. Now is the perfect time of year to peep the changing leaves with your partner! This particular destination is just 90 minutes north of Manhattan. Just hop on the MTA from Grand Central to Hudson State Park in Cold Spring, NY. The main loop is just under three miles and takes about four to six hours to complete, so be sure to wear comfortable and appropriate clothing—aka sneakers and layers.
There are multiple overlooks with awesome and unobstructed views of the Hudson. Make sure you stop at the lookout points for epic couple shots—totally Insta-worthy. There’s no race to the top, but it’s definitely a workout, so bring snacks and plenty of hydration. DON’T go on this trip with someone you are just getting to know unless you’re totally comfortable. It’s not like you can cut the date short and bounce…the trail itself is a few hours, tacked on to a total of three hours of travel.
SoJo Day Spa
If you’re in the mood to escape the hustle and bustle of NYC and hang out somewhere more peaceful, check out SoJo Day Spa with your partner. If you ventured on the hike suggested above, maybe you can spend your next day off recovering and relaxing at SoJo Spa in Clearwater, NJ. There’s a shuttle bus from Hell’s Kitchen/Port Authority in NYC that takes you directly to the facility. Enjoy all the amenities, including different pools and saunas, with your day pass, which are relatively inexpensive for a spa. $50 for weekdays and $65 for holidays and weekends! You’ll have to pay for any other treatments you might want to add.
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The lovely @misspinno enjoying those beautiful rooftop views ☀ We’re so happy we could treat you… come back soon! ❤ . . . #sojo #sojospaclub #nyc #manhattan #skyline #Hudson #nj #infinitypool #views #travel #wanderlust #spa #spaday #pool #swimming #poolside #poolsideviews #rooftopviews #nycskyline #mysojospaday #sojospaday #koreanspa #spacation #spalife #selflove #treatyoself #bliss #getaway #staycation #energizedlife
Upon arrival, you put your belongings in your locker and proceed to the bathhouse: clothing is optional indoors. The fall special currently being offered is the “Pink Champagne Couples Massage”. Here’s the deal: a one-hour couples massage, pink champagne toast, chocolate truffles, and complimentary admission for two ($395). Note: you can only book this deal through 10/31. Spend the entire day feeling fancy AF in your robes. You can’t bring your own snacks to the spa, but they do have a stocked cafeteria with Korean-inspired dishes and other healthy options.
Fall is a time to hibernate and be cozy. Bikini season is over, so no need to feel bad about indulging in a cooking class with your SO. Instead of your nightly routine of going out or ordering in, mix it up by playing house with your partner and learning how to cook a gourmet meal. There are many options of cooking classes available in NYC, but two of my favorites are Sushi by Simon and Sur La Table.
Learn the Japanese culinary art at Sushi By Simon. All classes include two drinks and a sushi mat you can take home with you to rice roll on your own. $110 per person for the fall special, running now through the end of October. Sur La Table has a bit more variety in food options. Each night offers a different cuisine, and the chance to make everything from scratch! The chef gives you plenty of tips along the way, so it’s a great start for beginners. It’s also a great refresher for those of you who are already cooking-inclined. Whichever one you choose, you’re in for a night of delicious food and drinks and an intimate few hours with bae.
Images: Alora Griffiths / Unsplash; skylawnnyc, sojospaclub / Instagram