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When meeting a love interest for the first time, the location can play a huge part in the date's success. The right balance of atmosphere and activities will help you and your date feel comfortable getting acquainted — and maybe even igniting a spark.

See also: The man's guide to dating after 50.

"Meeting for a quick coffee generally doesn't give you enough time for you to get a good feel for someone," says AARP relationships expert Pepper Schwartz. "A first date is full of opportunity, so take advantage! Pick a place where you can relax and enjoy each other's company, maybe try something new."

We've got eight suggesions for doing just that — fun (and safe) first-date locales with plenty to do and talk about.

Zoos and aquariums

There is much to be said for museums — you just can't say it without disturbing others. But zoos and aquariums are a little livelier, where roaring and splashing are perfectly fine (for the inhabitants, anyway). Float through a jellyfish exhibit or learn about lions, followed by some monkeying around at the cafe and gift shop.

A walk in the park

Public parks are safe (just choose a well-populated spot) and full of activities and people-watching. Need some conversation boosters? See who can name more bird species, or count passers-by in hats, etc. Bring along some coffee or a picnic lunch. If you have dogs, take them for a stroll — pets put us at ease and create more conversation fodder.

Festivals and fairs

Festivals offer a wealth of fun activities — live music, food, games, shopping and exhibits. Relive your childhood eating cotton candy at a grade school bazaar, or travel back in time to watch blacksmiths and jousting at a Renaissance Faire. Check your newspaper or a city tourism website for upcoming events.

City sightseeing

Let someone else do the driving and take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of your own city. You'll learn fun new facts and can go at whatever pace you prefer. Group tours via Segway or bicycle are also popular in larger cities. Or Google some quirky sites and visit them on foot.

Farmers markets

Kill three birds with one stone as you spend an afternoon sampling a farmers market's fresh, locally grown products: Have a great date, help the environment and grab ingredients for dinner, too.

A new restaurant

It's the age-old first-date question: "Where would you like to eat?" How about, "Where have you never eaten before?" Pick a restaurant with cuisine you've never tried. Order several smaller dishes to share, and discuss your past — or future — travels.

There are plenty other good first-date options, so use your imagination to come up with something fun. Just be sure to avoid anything that's too competitive or strenuous. After all, you don't want your date to feel embarrassed in any way.

Finally, make sure to focus on safety when meeting up with somone you don't really know: Watch your alcohol intake and avoid dark or isolated areas. Tell a friend where you're going and what your plans are. And take your own car (or bring carfare) so you can leave if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

A few other things you should make sure to bring: an open mind, a positive attitude and an expectation that, at the very least, you'll have some fun.

Published November 2012

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