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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Five unexpected places to take your sweetheart around Madison for Valentine's Day
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Bear hug, anyone?
Bear hug, anyone?
Credit:Henry Vilas Zoo

While dancing and dining are traditional Valentine evening activities, spending the day hanging out together is romantic, too. Sure, there's always the bowling alley, but why take the conventional route?

1. Henry Vilas Zoo
The zoo is a perfect excuse to wander and talk about what you love about which animals -- the laissez-faire philosophy of the penguins, the zest of the river otters, the general appeal -- or lack thereof -- of the snakes. There are outdoor and indoor exhibits, including the reptiles, amphibians and fish of the herpetarium. Zoo hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; building hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

2. Indian Lake County Park
Hike up the hill to the tiny chapel, St. Mary of the Oaks, built in 1857 by Dane County pioneer farmer John Endres as a gesture of thanks after his family survived a diphtheria outbreak. It's also a token of family love that's endured over 150 years. 8183 Hwy. 19, west of Hwy. 12.

3. Paint your own pottery studios
Paint each other a valentine plate, vase, bowl or whatnot. You create; the store fires on the glaze; you'll pick it up post-firing about a week later. West-siders can head to Studio You (11 a.m.-6 p.m., 6670 Odana Rd.); east-siders to Fired-Up Pottery (11 a.m.-8 p.m., 425-B West Cottage Grove Road, in Cottage Grove).

4. Orchids Garden Centre & Nursery
You may know this greenhouse as Orchids by the Ackers. It's been in the business of growing orchids since the 1950's. Browse through the greenhouses, where room after room of the exotic flowers combine the psychedelic with something very feminine. Open Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 4823 Hwy. Q, about a half-mile north on Hwy. M, just outside Middleton.

5. Cave of the Mounds
There's an undertone of the sexual about tunnels, stalagmites and stalactites. Wait for that moment when the tour guide kills the lights to plant a surprise kiss. The cave tour lasts about an hour, departing on the hour from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 2975 Cave of the Mounds Rd., a half mile north of Hwy. 18/151, just west of Mt. Horeb.

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