SPRING FLINGS; INTREPID TIMES STAFFERS SCRUTINIZE POTENTIAL OF LOCAL MAKE-OUT POINTS

BUDS JUT from branches. Rose bushes explode in seductive color. After awhile, even the birds start to sound a bit lascivious.

Once again, we’re knee deep in spring. And when the whole world heats up and grows fertile, sweethearts leave behind their couches in favor of alfresco romance.

Otherwise known as “parking.”

To help you enjoy the long, hot nights to come, a handful of Times writers and their special someones volunteered to road-test some of the East Bay’s best lovers lanes. Their mission: To kiss for at least five minutes and report back.

The ratings are from one to five stars, one being as dull as discount bar soap, five denoting spine-tingling excitement.

Here’s what they said.

Century Solano Drive-In

1611 Solano Way, Concord

Call 925-825-1951 for shows and times.

We chose the least-engrossing film possible: “Josie and the Pussycats.” Still, my husband couldn’t stop fiddling with the car stereo, trying to produce a richer bass track. Later, I noticed him opening his eyes as we kissed, so as not to miss any of the “plot.” “I found the movie to be distracting, because I paid $12 for it,” he admitted.

We also worried that there might be kids in the audience.

All in all, though, the retro ambience and the hint of misbehavior were oh-so-romantic.

Advice for would-be lovebirds: If you aim to smooch, don’t choose a PG-13 movie. Be sure to allow plenty of time to arrive at the box office (and concession stand) before they close. And try to find a car with a bench seat a Jetta just doesn’t cut it here.

Best time to go: Long hot summer nights. (The theater is closed throughout winter.)

Car required?: Yes. That’s why it’s called a “drive-in.”

Scenery: Headlights of passing traffic, piles of dirty popcorn on the pavement and a van whose front seats were suspiciously empty.

Privacy factor: If only those people weren’t sitting in lawn chairs right behind us

Overall rating: Three and a half stars (out of five).

Kissing partner’s overall rating: Four stars.

Sara Steffens, youth and family writer

Contra Loma Reservoir

From the parking lot to the top of the one of reservoir’s hills, 1200 Frederickson Lane, Antioch

My hubby says the first time he kissed me, it sealed the deal. Nearly seven years later, it’s still one of our favorite hobbies. And on this blustery late afternoon/early evening, it was no different.

Best time to go: Daybreak or sunset.

Car required?: No. Ride a bike or walk. Our spot at one of the reservoir’s highest hills was about a mile from the parking lot, so a leisurely, hand-holding, nature-appreciating stroll to the top would take about 20 minutes.

Scenery: On one side was the Contra Loma reservoir, the waters choppy from the gusting winds. To the other side, a view of the city and its sparkling lights, the Delta and the Antioch bridge made this a romantic setting. If you’re not into hitting the inclines, there are a bunch of other lower spots to hang out and lock lips.

Privacy factor: There was no one in sight, just us and the panoramic view of the city. At one point, an ambitious bike rider made it to the top during one kiss. He took a sip of water from his bottle, took a deep breath and puttered back down the hill.

Overall rating: Five stars.

Kissing partner’s overall rating: Five stars (as always).

Trine Gallegos, features copy desk chief

Inspiration Point at Tilden Park

Top of Wildcat Canyon Road (Turn uphill where Orinda’s Camino Pablo becomes San Pablo Dam Road). Open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Since I grew up watching “Happy Days” with its Inspiration Point, I half expected to see Potsie in the next car. The name screams “make-out spot,” though I’m pretty sure the area’s caretakers at the East Bay Regional Park District might say otherwise.

The spot is on the Orinda side of the Berkeley Hills opposite of the bay-side views getting attention from 18-year-old boys in their Camaros. Our spot has a flat, 40- to 50- space parking lot, where if a knee accidentally clips the parking brake, there won’t be chaotic screaming and scrambling to stop rolling downhill.

It was quiet, it was peaceful, and it felt a bit naughty. It’s amazing what crickets, a warm breeze and no television can do for you. Every married person should get out and pretend to date once in a while (with each other, I mean).

Best time to go: The park closes at 10 p.m., but let enough time pass from sunset, because the place is overrun with bikers and hikers using it as a daytime staging point. Then again, it’s a regional park and is patrolled by police, so if you stay late, be prepared to dodge the cops. That actually could be fun as long as you don’t have outstanding warrants.

Car required: Probably. There are some benches rimming the horseshoe-shaped lot and some picnic tables in the middle. The benches front a stunning view over a deep gorge, but somebody should cut the nearby weeds. I’d stay away from the tables splinters tend to ruin the mood.

Scenery: Ranges of Contra Costa Hills and San Pablo Reservoir spread out before you, with a glimpse of Briones Reservoir to the northeast. Check your calendar and go when the moon is out.

Privacy Factor: OK, as long as there’s not too many cars, which doesn’t seem to be a problem. But again, watch the rearview mirror. Alcohol is barred in the lot, so don’t give the cops a reason to haul you downtown while you’re trying to impress someone with a bottle of Merlot.

Overall Rating: It would be at least a four without the 10 p.m. closing time, patrolling police and the narrow road that can be challenging at night. Otherwise, it’s a three and a half.

Kissing partner’s overall rating: Five stars. Don’t ever marry anything less.

Tony Hicks, Times staff writer

Seawall Drive, Berkeley Marina

University Avenue exit of I-880, head toward the water. Turn left; the parking spots stretch along the waterfront between the restaurants Skate’s By the Bay and His Lordships.

I haven’t engaged in public displays of affection since high school (I still wince at the applause I got for one performance), and my accomplice was suffering from sinus allergies, but we were willing to give the Marina a go. We went around 8 p.m. with coffee (for him) and cookies (for me) for some snuggling over the gears. It was at the cusp of sundown and moonrise. At the first spot I pulled into, we were squeezed between a van and an SUV and I was pretty sure there was a child in the SUV. I sought a less crowded spot, but be warned: Your territory measures only a car-width, and unless you have a Humvee, it’s more a place of meditation (or to have a fight, as I recall from a previous visit with an ex-boyfriend).

Best time to go: Dawn or evening, but probably not prom season since the nearby restaurants tend to attract those crowds.

Car required?: Yes. It’s a parking lot, so you’ll certainly stand out without one.

Scenery: The parking spaces face the water (unless you’re an exhibitionist and back in). Whispery fog, waves sloshing at the wooden piers and rocky slopes do breathe romance, but you are in a car. A path and the occasional bench permit alternate routes, but then you might be the equivalent of the main feature at the drive-in.

Privacy factor: It’s only as good as how much your windows fog up (and if you park away from the glaring streetlights overhead).

Overall rating: Three.

Kissing partner’s overall rating: Two-and-a-half.

Vera H-C Chan, Times events editor

Lafayette Reservoir

Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area, Mount Diablo Boulevard near Acalanes Road, Lafayette, 925-284-9669. 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily; open until 9 p.m. June and July. Parking: Quarters-only meters.

To this day, my husband and I can drive by roughly a dozen locations, ranging from the dead-ends of country roads to shopping center garages in downtown Walnut Creek and silently given the constant proximity of two children in the back seat recall with a sidelong grin or a squeeze of the hand the good old days when it seemed like all we did was make out in the car.

Now it’s not so easy. The kids are too young to be left at home, so what’s a couple to do in order to grab a few minutes alone? We headed for Lafayette Reservoir, where there are enough hidden benches in this bucolic setting to not only have a bit of privacy, but also kissing with one eye open to keep an eye on the kids. They didn’t even notice we were missing.

Best time to go: Early in the morning or in the evening at dusk, to avoid the runners, walkers, dogs and bird-watchers.

Car required: Nope.

Scenery: Smooth water, green hills and quiet (depending on when you go). Head at least a half-mile in either direction to get away from the parking lot.

Privacy factor: There are little paths off the paved trail going down to the water’s edge, or you can head straight up, as well, for more foliage. There are benches on either side of the trail at various lookout points.

Overall rating: Five stars.

Kissing partner’s rating: Five stars, of course, but location has nothing to do with it.

Lynn Carey, Times staff writer

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