Well, it’s officially fall, and many of us likely had a list of fantastic fall experiences lined up, but it looks as though COVID-19 (still) has other plans. One thing’s for sure, and that’s that we are all tired and tapped out from this pandemic. Most of us are vying for some quality time with our friends and family and some sort of return to normal socialization.
That said, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year and a half, it’s that we’re all also super creative and adaptive, and we can still make the most of the season.
If you’re looking for some ideas on what you can do this time of year as the leaves turn golden and the weather gets colder—while still keeping safe by wearing masks and social distancing—we’ve got 15 fall friend date ideas for you! And yes, they’re all totally alcohol-free. Just as long as you don’t forget the fall-themed and Halloween mocktails.
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1. Game Night
My boyfriend and I (who is one of the only friends I am seeing in person right now) have been having game night at least once a week. At the beginning of the pandemic, we binged a LOT of TV, but now that we’re settled in, games have become one of the best ways for us to keep our brains from turning entirely to mush.
If you’d prefer not to interact in person, there are plenty of games that are just as fun via Zoom, like bingo, trivia, Scattergories, and more. If you’re looking for more modern game options, you can also try Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Seven Wonders—all of which you can play virtually with your buddies.
2. Walk and Talk
During the pandemic, going outside every day and getting fresh air has been hands down the biggest saving grace for my mental health (aside from not drinking). I have a standing walking date with a friend on the calendar every week and it’s been the perfect opportunity to break up the day, catch up on each other’s lives, and get in our steps.
The best part of a “walk and talk” friend date is that you can both keep your masks on and stay six feet away from each other, which means you will be keeping everyone safe too.
3. Drive-in Movie
2020 became the year of the drive-in renaissance, and things are still going strong in this department in 2021. We have one in Charlotte, where I live, that is hosting EDM raves, live concerts, events for pets, and more, in addition to traditional film screenings.
So why not ask your friends to come in their cars and park next to each other? It might not be quite the same as sharing a big tub of popcorn like you used to, but you can still enjoy each other’s company (at least from afar).
4. Apple or Pumpkin Picking
Finally, a quintessential fall favorite that hasn’t been canceled due to COVID. Head with a friend (wearing a mask, of course) to your closest apple orchard and spend the day picking apples and eating apple cider donuts, or pick up a pumpkin and have a good old-fashioned pumpkin carving contest.
Nature is your friend this season and moving outdoors is great for a mental health boost. So head to a local trail or take a day trip to the best hiking spot near you for some socially distanced views.
Nature plus a good friend might just be the most perfect fall activity. You might consider bringing some hot cider or a fall treat to enjoy at a resting place as well. No matter what, though, make sure you’re staying safe while taking those perfect fall selfies, whether that be by socially distancing or staying far away from the edge of the trail!
Fall is my favorite season for fashion, and some of my friends are thrifting experts, so we’ll definitely be hitting some local vintage stores this season for staples like cozy sweaters, vintage boots, and soft oversized t-shirts.
Make sure you call the store ahead of time to check that it’s not busy when you plan to go, and of course wear your masks.
7. Ice Cream Party
Did you know you can actually make your own ice cream and it is not even that hard? I recently picked up an ice cream maker from a second-hand store for just $15 and have been creating my own custom flavors.
I’m not a chef by any stretch of the imagination, so believe me when I say this is easy to do and also delicious! If you’re more of a store-bought kind of person, pick up your favorite flavor, a couple of toppings, and invite a friend in your pod bubble over for a D.I.Y. sundae bar.
8. Halloween Movie Marathon
Invite your best pal over for a horror film festival of your own or, better yet, do a virtual movie marathon together. There are tons of tools now—like Zoom, Netflix Party, Houseparty, and more—that allow you to watch movies with friends without having to leave the comfort of your own couch.
9. Outdoor Tea Party
Uplevel your picnic by trading your typical dishware for a tea set. You can find an affordable vintage teacup and saucer (or even a whole set) at a local antique shop, pick up a bouquet of flowers, make some finger sandwiches, and bring a thermos of tea or coffee.
Have your friends all bring dessert and their own teacups, then have everyone pour out their own drinks. It’s definitely a cozy way to spend an afternoon of social distancing fall fun.
10. Book Club
I’ve been hosting a virtual book club with friends since the pandemic started through an alcohol-free social club, @counterculture_club, and it’s given me something to look forward to every week. Having a regular connection to discuss books and our sobriety during these tough times has been a great constant in an uncertain world.
You can meet up with your friends over coffee or connect with kombucha over Zoom to discuss your thoughts on the classic horror novel you read together in the spirit of Halloween (I’d recommend The Shining if you haven’t read it yet) or pick up a recovery memoir. I also really loved our book club’s recent read, The Sober Lush, which is full of decadent and adventurous alcohol-free activities to try.
11. Craft Together
Now that I am at home pretty much all of the time, I’ve been embracing a lot of my former creative hobbies from childhood, like crafting and coloring. Invite a friend to get crafty with you! You can either bring your own crafts—maybe your friend is working on a knitting project and you’re making your way through a mindfulness coloring book—or do a craft together. Friendship bracelets, anyone?
For a virtual option, settle in for an evening of crafting “together” over Zoom as you chat while each of you works on your current creative project.
12. Make a Friendship Time Capsule
Something that you can easily do together while staying apart is making a time capsule. Have a FaceTime date where you talk about the mementos and tokens from your friendship you’d like to include, such as concert ticket stubs or polaroids. Then, in private, write a gratitude letter to each other.
Get together outside, while social distancing, to put the items together. If you want, you can choose to read your letters before putting them into the time capsule or you can decide to just do that in five years, when you open the time capsule.
13. Boos-less Happy Hour
No booze, but maybe some “boos.” This is another idea that can be done virtually or in person. Find a recipe for one of your favorite fall drinks, like an alcohol-free apple Moscow mule, or Halloween mocktails that can be served all season long, and catch up while you sip on your delicious homemade beverages.
The 2020 trend of camping and road trips continues into 2021, especially since they still seem a lot safer than getting on a plane right now. You can go camping with your friends if you’re already choosing to form a quarantine pod together, or you can simply take some of the ideas of camping and do them one afternoon. I recommend making s’mores since you can safely sit six feet apart around a fire while chatting the evening away.
15. Haunted Gingerbread Houses
Because why do we have to wait until Christmas to build gingerbread houses? If you can’t go to a haunted house, build your own!
The easiest way to do this is to get a kit that already comes with everything you need, such as the Halloween Haunted Manor Chocolate Cookie Kit from Target. Or you can learn to make your own, like with this recipe from Food Network. Or just do it the easy way by buying graham crackers (the kind you used for your s’mores while camping), making some icing, and using your leftover Halloween candy for the decorations.
You don’t want to make one together, though, because of the potential spread of germs—so this is a fun activity to do over Zoom and see how creative everyone can get!
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This autumn, embrace the nostalgia of the season and rediscover some of your favorite childhood pastimes for creative ideas for alcohol-free friend dates. Even though we’re living during a difficult time, there are so many low-cost activities to do together that can help put you in a festive spirit. And don’t worry, there’s no shame if you want to spend most of fall curled up in a warm blanket with a good book. Just don’t forget that socializing is good for you, too—and there are ways to do it without alcohol and while still staying safe.