Here are nine great romantic experiences that work during the winter, spring, fall and summer. Here are cities and towns where love can blossom and every couple will have a time that they will never forget.
Gallup, NM, Hot Air Ballooning
About two hours west of Albuquerque on Rte. 66 lies Gallup, NM. Once one of the main stopping points on the road that travels west, Gallup today still has a ’50s feel to it with Route 66 neon, one of the most active train yards in the country and the busy Richardson’s Trading Post. It is also one of the ballooning capitals of America with an early December festival that fills the sky above Red Rock Canyon with colorful orbs.
For romance, make time to soar above the red rocks in a hot-air balloon. Stay at the evocative El Rancho Motel where the old western stars like John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, and Humphrey Bogart stayed while filming. Every room is named for a different star. Remember, it’s not luxury you are coming for, but the grand experience. Finally, take time to test what has been called the best stuffed sopapilla in the world at Genaro’s Café (600 W Hill Ave, 505-863-6761).
Omni Mt. Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Tucked into a White Mountain valley, just above Crawford Notch in Bretton Woods, the palatial Mt. Washington Hotel is one of the few grand old hotels remaining in New England. Renovated after being abandoned for years, then fixed up for summer tourism and finally insulated and expanded for year-round occupancy, this hotel is packed with history and charm. In the winter, New Hampshire’s biggest ski resort is across the street and during the summer one of the state’s best golf courses surrounds the building.
Make sure to dine in the main dining room to music beneath chandeliers with spreading views of Mt. Washington. Some nights the old radiators may clank a bit, but the new spa, public areas, the sports, hiking and views are spectacular.
Quebec City, Canada
Traveling here is taking a step back in time to a walled city and a journey into French-Canadian culture. Look for a package at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac and ask for a room with a river view. Or, stay in one of the scores of B&Bs and small hotels that pepper the old town.
Wander down rue Petit Champlain, one of North America’s oldest streets. Take the ferryboat across the St. Lawrence for wonderful views back towards the walled city. A cable car brings shoppers back to the upper old town. A walk through the old town is almost a European experience, with cobblestoned streets and sidewalk cafes or small bistros.
Quebec City is perfect for all seasons. In the winter, downhill skiing and snowboarding lie just outside the city center at Stoneham and Mont Ste Anne or a bit further at Le Massif. Cross-country skiing loops through the Plains of Abraham, where the British defeated the French in 1759. In the summer there are parks, sound and light shows and the wonderful Montgomery Falls.
For a taste of old Quebec in a cozy setting try Aux Anciens Canadiens (418-692-1627). The lunch special is always excellent and a great bargain. For one of the last remaining French restaurants with formal tableside service, head to the Continental (418-694-9995). For moules et frites try Auberge du Tresor across from the Frontenac.
Sun Valley, Idaho
This once was the center of winter style and a retreat of movie stars. It still is one of the most exclusive resorts in the American Rockies. The Sun Valley Lodge presents a regal aspect to Wild West-flavored Ketchum. Though there are other more luxurious spots hidden in the area, nothing matches the Sun Valley Lodge for atmosphere and winter or summer, the giant hotel hot pool is the place for drinks at the end of the day.
The town of Ketchum serves up everything from high end boutiques to real western clothing stores. Restaurants range from the super gourmet like the Lodge dining room and Bistro 44 to the affordable honkytonks like the Pioneer Saloon and Grumpy’s.
New York City
I used to live here and romance can be found around every corner. But for those picture-perfect moments, a stroll in Central Park, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry or a walk through the fascination of Greenwich Village are hard to beat. Transportation from one end of Manhattan to the other is quick, easy and cheap on the subway.
There are famous delis like the Carnegie Deli or the nearby Stage Deli, where sandwiches are bigger than any normal person can eat. Choose from more than a dozen restaurants on Restaurant Row, East 46th Street. Or for affordable French try Brasserie Cognac at the corner of Broadway and E. 55th St. Make sure to order an appetizer of Gougeres or melt-in-your-mouth cheese balls. In the evening enjoy a sing-a-long night at Don’t Tell Mama on 46th Street.
Charleston, South Carolina
This city seems to make it to many romantic lists and for good reason. The old town has been beautifully restored, the harbor provides gorgeous views, and horse-drawn carriages clip-clop along uneven cobblestones. In the winter it provides a respite from the cold and in the summer, though not balmy, the ocean provides a breeze and some relief from the humidity.
The city is as pretty as they come. Visit an old historic Charleston home like the Edmondston-Alston House or the Haywood-Washington House. Stroll along the breakwater with views out to Ft. Sumter, walk down Meeting Street and wander through the grounds of the College of Charleston.
For accommodations, stay in one of the historic inns, numerous B&Bs or try Charleston Place or the Embassy Suites for hotel comforts right in the middle of history. For good low-country cooking head to Poogan’s Porch on Queen Street, Magnolia’s on East Bay Street or Slightly North of Broad just up East Bay.
New Orleans, Louisiana
My first introduction to New Orleans was during Mardi Gras. There was little romance about that experience, but it sure was fun and hedonistic. But during other visits to the Crescent City I began to savor other facets of this complex city. The nooks and crannies of the city that I found most evocative were not always those that Mardi Gras revelers frequented and sometimes the most romantic time of day for me was early morning when New Orleans was just thinking about waking up.
In New Orleans, there is none of the feeling one might get in Miami or Southern California, like, “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” My experience tells me the people of New Orleans are genuinely happy to welcome tourists to their city.
That kind of welcoming attitude makes everything so much more enjoyable. Wander through the French Quarter, under the giant oak trees of Uptown or past the magnificent mansions of the Garden District. Enjoy world-class shopping and museums. Spend the night in scores of small hotels and B&Bs that define romance. Try to soak in the narrow streets of the French Quarter and the riverfront when you can have it to yourselves, or at least only share it with a handful of others rather than throngs of tourists.
My favorite dining spot is mid-scale, like Lüke (333 St. Charles Ave. 504-378-2840). For more upscale, head to August at 301 Tchoupitoulas St. (504-299-9777), where John Besh, one of the city’s star chefs, pulls out all stops every night. You can’t go wrong. And if Valentine’s Day was on a Friday, I would say to head to Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street (504-525-2021) for lunch; everyone who is anyone will be there to see and be seen. Get in line early. At the other end of the scale and the other side of the French Quarter, head to Port of Call (838 Esplanade, 504-523-0120) for half-pound hamburgers or steak and salad and not much else. Locals swear they make the best burgers in the world.
Lake Tahoe/Reno, California and Nevada
It’s hard to beat this city and lake any time of the year. Skiers and snowboarders will find the biggest concentration of high-quality resorts for both downhill and cross-country skiing in the country. The lake is spectacularly beautiful whether it is visited during the winter or the summer (though the drive around the lake is normally cut off in winter due to deep snow).
Combined with the almost surreal beauty of Lake Tahoe comes the bustling city-that-could, Reno, Nevada. Once the divorce capital of the country and a gambling destination, this town has resurrected itself with a burgeoning arts district, independent restaurants, theaters and museums that while overwhelmed by glittering casinos here in downtown Reno, would stand out in other cities.
For accommodations, pick your flavor — giant casino hotels with non-stop action and room service, small B&Bs or throwback motels. Reno has something for everyone. Or stay right on the lake, which has its own collection of eclectic accommodations. South Lake Tahoe has high-rise casinos and ’60s motels and not much in between and the north end of the lake offers ski resort lodging, a clutch of casinos and some good B&Bs.
For dining, I’ve always liked Gar Woods in Carnelian Bay or Jake’s on the Lake for a shimmering lakeside dining experience. Or drive to Sunnyside just south of Tahoe City for more of the same, where the lake laps right beneath your window. For a great burger and bar head to Bridgetender in Tahoe City; nothing particularly romantic about it, but the half-pound burgers are great.
If you and your partner love live music bars and if you love barbeque, you have come to the right place. Add a little bit of museums, some culture and the Mississippi River flavor and Memphis is the kind of place where one could spend some romantic time.
Music spills out of the bars and venues along neon-lit Beale Street; not only blues, which one would expect since this city is the birthplace of the blues, but rock and roll, country, gospel and jazz, too.
Stay in the middle of it all at the Peabody Hotel, where blues musicians like Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes and Tommy Johnson all made their first recordings in rooms at the Peabody in the late ’20s and early ’30s, playing for talent scouts from big record labels like Vocalion and Paramount. It has a fantastic Sunday brunch and of course the ducks are legendary. This iconic hotel is just blocks from Beale Street, the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum, Gibson Guitar Factory, Fed-Ex Forum, National Civil Rights Museum and Sun Studio. And who can forget Graceland, the home of Elvis.
For eats, Memphis is one of the culinary capitals of America, with something for everyone. I love the down and dirty BBQ joints and chicken joints. Try Gus’s at 310 S Front St. for fried chicken that lives up to its hype. Go to Tom’s Bar-B-Q and Deli at 4087 New Getwell Rd. for his rib tips (forget everything else, but try the strawberry cheesecake as well). For romance, if your sweetie insists on tablecloths and fine napkins, try the charming Restaurant Iris (2146 Monroe Ave., 901-590-2828) for Creole/French fare or head to Paulette’s (2110 Madison Ave., 901- 726-5128 ) where generations of locals have gone for “that special meal.”