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Stretching Your Dating Dollars : Need a cheaper alternative? Try one of these.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim hawks his watch to buy a hair comb for his gal, Della. Meanwhile, she gets a haircut, finds someone willing to pay good money for used hair and buys him a watch fob.

Wait. That was an O. Henry story.

How about the time when Rocky was trying to get Adrian to be his girlfriend? He barges into an ice skating rink after closing and persuades the janitor to let her skate for a while.

No, that was a movie.

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In real life, it’s tougher to court without a wallet full of cash. A fancy restaurant. Tickets to a show. We’re talking a week’s salary for some folks.

So we did some legwork for you, researching low-price locales throughout the San Fernando Valley to compile a guide to cheap dates.

We have sampled each of the following suggestions and will vouch for their dollar-per-fun unit value.

Think of this as an “Impress for Less” guide:

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Fore for One

Speaking of movies, who can forget “The Karate Kid” and that magic moment when a baby-faced Ralph Macchio courts Elisabeth Shue by taking her to play miniature golf? From such stuff springs romance.

But a smoochy round of putt-putt can run you $10 these days, and that’s not counting cherry Cokes in the clubhouse. So we suggest the early-bird special at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. If you tee off between 10 and 11 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, it costs only $1 per player.

Course No. 1 is our favorite. It wraps majestically around a pond that appears to be filled with lime Kool-Aid.

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Give Your Wallet a Break

At the Plush Cue Recreation Center, manager Ron Donnelly knows that times are tough.

“Oh my,” he mutters. “I should say so.”

But business has remained steady at this Canoga Park pool hall. It is not a fancy place, with its thin carpeting and fluorescent lamps overhead. But it is clean and the rates, at $4.50 an hour for two players, are cheap.

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“We get a lot of guys bringing their girlfriends and wives,” Donnelly says. “People are budget-conscious.”

A cluster of video games--the electronic blare can be deafening--stands in the corner. If you have kids, you can park them with a fistful of quarters while you shoot a rack.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Tucked away in the northwest corner of the Valley, Chatsworth Park South is a gem of a municipal recreation facility that offers stands of trees for a shady lunch or wide lawns for those who prefer to bask in the sun.

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Such natural serenity is framed by rocky hills to the north and west, and there are trails that lead upward for an afternoon hike. Picnic tables and barbecue pits are provided. Best of all, Chatsworth Park South is rarely crowded.

So pack a lunch for a super-cheap rendezvous. And there’s a basketball court, just in case you and your sweetheart feel like going one-on-one.

Hit the Road

Once you get west of the Ventura Freeway, past the convenience stores and tract houses, Las Virgenes Road to Malibu can make for a pleasant weekend drive. The route winds upward through the Santa Monica Mountains, then follows Malibu Creek down to the ocean.

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The Venkateswara Temple rises in majestic white spires over the road west of Mulholland Highway. Stop in and walk around if you have the time. On the drive back, as you enter the only tunnel along the way, you can look up and see where the “Pink Lady"--a controversial 1960s nude painting-- used to be.

Beware of afternoon beach traffic.

It Doesn’t Cost Anything to Look

In a city chock full of oddballs and misfits, the 11000 block of Magnolia Boulevard might be the quirkiest stretch of pavement to be found. It is just the place for you and your hip darling to window-shop.

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First, duck around the corner to the Eclectic Cafe on Lankershim Boulevard. You’ll need some caffeine ($1.50 for an espresso) to fuel your sojourn, and interesting art hangs from the walls, too.

OK, now head east on Magnolia and resist the temptingly seedy North Hollywood Billiards. Remember, it’s cheaper at the Plush Cue.

The first stop is Kathy’s E Boutique, a closet-sized store for vintage clothes, where you’ll find everything from batik to a pair of see-through, hip-hugger bell-bottoms that Cher would kill for.

Next, visit the World Famous Philadelphia Sandwiches. For $4.50, you can grab what the sign boasts is the best Philly cheese steak in town. A large Italian sub with garlic topping is $4.95. Consult your significant other before ordering.

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All of which leads to the Survival Store, where the windows are crossed with bars, but the sign says open. Cans of purified water line the shelves, as well as an eye-opening selection of books:

“Wound Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Dressing and Healing.”

“Secrets of Modern Knife Fighting.”

“Espionage, Down & Dirty.”

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And, a copy of Rush Limbaugh’s latest tome is prominently displayed at the counter.

After the mayhem, you might be in the mood for charity. St. Anne’s Thrift Shop is waiting to help. All profits go to St. Anne’s Maternity Hospital in Los Angeles. Check the jewelry-and-mink room in back.

Music to the Ears

If music be the food of love, as Shakespeare insisted, you might want to drag your darling to hear some gratis tunes.

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Concerts in the Park run through Sept. 5. Set amid the greenery of Warner Park in Woodland Hills, these Sunday performances begin at 5:30 p.m. and offer a wide range of genres. The West Valley Symphony appears this weekend. Ballet Folklorico Ollin plays Mexican folk music Aug. 15. Fujima Kansuma Kai presents classical Japanese dance to close the series.

For a full schedule, call the Valley Cultural Center at (818) 704-1587.

Santa Clarita is offering music and live theater through Sept. 12. With a lineup of talent that includes blues players Guitar Shorty and B. B. Chung King, both headlining their own nights in August at Old Orchard Park, this is the longest series in the history of Santa Clarita’s summer concerts.

“We get a total mix, young people, old people, lots of families,” said Cecilia Burda, a recreation superintendent for Santa Clarita.

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For information, call (805) 255-4910.

Rock ‘n’ roll fans can get a taste of the 1960s when Spencer Davis performs such hits as “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and “I’m a Man” at Conejo Community Park in Thousand Oaks on Aug. 15. The concert is part of a series sponsored by Agoura Hills and the Conejo Recreation and Park District.

The Conejo Pops Orchestra performs Sept. 6 at the same location.

For a full listing of concerts and locations, call (818) 597-7361.

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A Room With a View

A perfect way to end the day: discount cocktails and free hors d’oeuvres.

The Odyssey restaurant is an old standby. Perched above Mission Hills, it features a cocktail lounge with wide windows and a startling panorama of the Valley.

This is a couples kind of place, with soft lighting and no televisions blaring baseball. Better yet, on weeknights from 4 to 7, the Happy Hour features a specially priced drinks (usually around $3) and a generous snack table that offers everything from fruit and vegetables to hot meats. Trust us; it’s enough for a meal.

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We suggest visiting on a Friday evening after 5 o’clock. Sip a cold drink, nibble free food and gaze upon the San Diego Freeway below, where thousands of miserable souls will be commuting home to the Antelope Valley.

Home, Cheap Home

If three bucks for a cocktail sounds too steep, rent a movie and stay in the house. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Odyssey Video in North Hollywood offers 99-cent rentals on any film in the store. Some of our sentimental favorites (in addition to “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid”):

“Casablanca.”

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“It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Also, spend an extra nickel for an Atomic Fire Ball Jaw Breaker from the jar on the front counter. Live a little.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

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Universal CityWalk can be expensive. The parking guy grabs $5 before you step out of your car. But this only place in the Valley where you can find street musicians, magicians and artists.

OK, they aren’t true street performers because they’re getting paid per diem. But they used to be street performers--MCA plucked them off the Santa Monica Promenade and other places where buskers thrive.

You see, CityWalk is promoting itself as a hybrid patch of Los Angeles, an everyman’s boulevard without the graffiti. We’re dubious about these concocted surroundings, but the Museum of Neon Art has hung wonderful signs along the street and the performers are truly talented. On a recent night, we thrilled to the sounds of Limpopo, a band of Russian emigres who know how to clown their way through a peasant folk song.

It was worth $5.

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Cheap and Good

When it comes to low-cost entertainment, Ron Lancaster has put his money where his mouth is.

The former Hughes Aircraft administrator has sunk his life savings and retirement funds into the Storyteller Bookstore & Cafe, a quaint Canoga Park storefront.

Half of the place is devoted to used books. We found a vintage guide to soldier’s etiquette that was a howl. There were also amusing picture books of dogs. But with such tomes priced $7 and higher, you might prefer to sit and read them on the premises.

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Lancaster has provided chairs and tables in the other half of his cafe. A small stage is frequented by storytellers, musicians and poets. On a recent Thursday night, we thoroughly enjoyed the music and odd ramblings of a Hawaiian slack-key guitarist. Performances are scheduled both day and night, and there is rarely a cover charge.

So sit and read and listen. You can order food--try the tasty, immense chicken taco for $6.25 and the Oreo cheesecake, at $2.95, for dessert if you can afford it. Or spring for a tall glass of cafe mocha, at $3, to keep Ron in business.

Fun Without Expense

* Sherman Oaks Castle Park, 4989 Sepulveda Blvd. Open 10 a.m to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Call (818) 904-1459.

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* Plush Cue Recreation Center, 20837 Roscoe Blvd., Canoga Park. Open 9:30 a.m. until after midnight. Call (818) 998-9358.

* Chatsworth Park South, 22360 Devonshire St. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Call (818) 341-6595.

* Las Virgenes Road west to Malibu.

* The 11000 block of Magnolia Boulevard.

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* Free concerts. Concerts in the Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays, (818) 704-1587. Santa Clarita summer concerts, various parks, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays, (805) 255-4910. Agoura Hills and Conejo Recreation and Park District concerts, various days and locations, (818) 597-7361.

* The Odyssey, 15600 Odyssey Drive, Granada Hills. Open 11 a.m. to midnight. Call (818) 366-6444.

* Odyssey Video, 4810 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. Open 9 a.m. to midnight. Call (818) 769-2000.

* Universal CityWalk, Universal City. Open 11 a.m to 11 p.m. Call (818) 622-4455.

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* The Storyteller Bookstore & Cafe, 22047 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. Call (818) 713-2518.

Where To Impress For Less

Sherman Oaks Castle Park--4889 Sepulveda Blvd. (818) 904-1459

Plush Cue Recreation Center--20837 Roscoe Blvd. (818) 998-9358

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Chatsworth Park South--22360 Devonshire St. (818) 341-6595

Las Virgenes Road--West to Malibu

1100 Block Magnolia Blvd.

Concerts in the Park--5800 Topanga Cyn Blvd. (818) 704-1587

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The Odyssey--15600 Odyssey Drive (818) 366-6444

Odyssey Video--4810 Vineland Ave. (818) 769-2000

Universal City Walk--Universal City (818) 622-4455

The Storyteller Bookstore & Cafe--22047 Sherman Way (818) 713-2518

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