The Great Recession may be over, but there's a lot of people for whom times are still pretty rough. However, just because you're broke doesn't mean that you don't have the need to take your significant other out on the town for some fun now and then. Luckily, if you're willing to dig around a little, there are actually plenty of great things to do in the city that don't cost anything other than the cost of getting there.
Miller Outdoor Theatre Shows are expensive...unless you go see them at Miller Outdoor Theatre. With only the rare exceptions (So always check the calendar carefully), Miller offers completely free performances and films. Just this year they had a song-and-dance tribute to Michael Jackson, the SEOP dance company from Korea, a musical about kung fu, an innovative mash-up of radio theater and pulp comic books called The Intergalactic Nemesis, symphonic performances, and more. Parking can be a headache sometimes, but for onstage spectacles on a budget, Miller is unbeatable.
Salsa Lessons If you'd like something more physically involved, there are plenty of places in Houston that offer free salsa dancing lessons. The Rainbow Tea House, for instance, has them every Saturday thanks to DJ Ritmo Latino. There's no cover charge either, the parking is free, and that leaves you some dough to spend on the drink specials if you're so inclined. The Downtown Aquarium also has a pretty awesome outdoor salsa night on Fridays. You have to pay to park, unfortunately, but otherwise there's no cover and on the last Friday of the month, the music is live.
Whole Foods Movie Nights Usually about twice a month, the Alamo Drafthouse hosts outdoor film screenings at the Montrose location of Whole foods. The films are all-ages, free and usually start just after twilight. It's a good idea to bring your own lawn chair if you plan on being comfortable, and though they sell concessions there, there's no reason not to bring your own candy and drinks along. This weekend they're showing Edward Scissorhands!
The Waterwall Officially Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park but always just The Waterwall to residents, it's one of the best romantic spots for the cash-strapped. Watching the elegant fountain as it drops a sheet of water nearly seven stories, gracefully lit with subdued light, is great for intimate conversation or just a quiet snuggle. Picnics are always welcome, though the fountain officially closes at 9 p.m., so be advised. Parking is free in the Williams Tower after 6 p.m. on the weekends, which solves the hassle of actually getting to the bloody place.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston Most things that are free in Houston require being outside, which is fine right now but can be a real pain when the warm weather returns. If you want to avoid the elements and skip past one of the most expensive cultural cover charges in the city, then the MFAH has a free day every Thursday. Unlike some of the other museums that offer free days, theirs goes until 9 p.m., so it fits nicely in after work. If you happen to be able to take a Thursday completely off, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is also free on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m., so it's easy to make a whole day of it with a picnic in Hermann Park for an early dinner.
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Comedy Open Mikes Five nights a week in Houston, you can watch comedy completely free thanks to a whole mess of open mikes. Granted, those two nights that you can't are traditional date nights, Friday and Saturday, but it's a small price to pay to not have to pay a price to get in. Rudyard's does them on Mondays, Warehouse Live on Tuesdays (That one is hosted by Gabe Bravo, one of the funniest guys in Houston), Improv has Wednesdays, Darwin's Theory Thursdays, and Hop Scholar Ale House does them on Sundays. There's no guarantee of what you're going to get, but I can't name a single successful Houston comedian who didn't get his or her start at one of these, so odds are you're going to get something worth seeing.
Menil Collection Another great cultural destination for those without a lot of disposable income is The Menil Collection. Admission is always free, though since it closes at 7 p.m., it's more of a day date destination than a romantic evening. Still, it's a great chance to see a collection of more than 17,000 works of art spanning from prehistory to modern day. While you're there, you can also visit Houston's famous Rothko Chapel, and there's also the Houston Center for Photography to explore. All open admission and within walking distance of each other. Plus, the Menil lawn is another of the best picnic spots in the city if you want to save cash on food.
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Discovery Green Another fantastic outside date night destination is Discovery Green, especially now that the ice rink is up. It costs to skate, but watching young skate stars like the ones who will be putting on an exhibition this Sunday is free, as are the movies that Discovery projects over the ice. There are also some good temporary art exhibits to look at right now, including the statues of Jorge Marín and Bruce Munro's Field of Light. If all else fails, you can always just take a nice walk in the park.
Sam Houston Boat Tour The Port of Houston runs a really first-class boat tour that is both educational and a lot of fun. It's a chance to see the ship channel from the water and to marvel at the massive vessels that visit us from all over the world. The tours are free, but I recommend making a reservation to ensure seating. Obviously, it's a daytime date, with a morning and an afternoon tour happening Wednesday through Sunday.
Open Mike at Mucky Duck If you'd prefer music to comedy, then McGonigel's Mucky Duck has an awesome open mike on Mondays. Billboard recognized the venue as one of the best acoustic showrooms in the country, and the list of top-notch Houston talent that lines up for a chance to show off a few songs is always impressive. Despite that, it's still no cover. You also get poets and other artists looking to try out material sometimes, but no matter what, you will definitely hear some fine tunes.