10 unexpectedly romantic U.S. cities

Sure, we leave our hearts in San Francisco, and we want to be a part of it, New York New York. Romance easily blooms in cities that can boast the Golden Gate Bridge or the top of the Empire State Building. But take a closer look, and you will find special places for memory-making moments all over America. 

For natural beauty with a big-city vibe

Minneapolis, with its booming big-city feel, combined with its 180 parks, 22 lakes, and 80 miles of bike paths and trails, is a perfect destination for couples who want a mix of sophistication and time alone with nature. Book a room at the 24-room Nicollet Island Inn, on an island in the Mississippi. Its romance package is lovely, and you can venture out to stroll through pretty neighborhoods lined with Victorian homes.  The city’s Chain of Lakes offer abundant opportunities for romantic strolls complete with skyline views. Choose pretty Lake of the Isles, with lots of privacy-promoting nooks and crannies, for a late summer, early fall picnic. Go for drinks in the speakeasy-themed bar called Prohibition, at the hip Minneapolis W Foshay. Contact the Hitching Company for a horse-drawn carriage ride along the riverfront, along cobblestone streets and across the Stone Arch Bridge. In winter, cozy blankets are provided. On a less sophisticated note, you can take the light rail to the Mall of America, to get married in the “Chapel of Love,” or renew your wedding vows on the mall’s roller coaster.

Cleveland, Ohio
For rock 'n' roll nostalgia and more

What can be more romantic than reliving special musical moments together? And where better to do that than at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum? The Beatles exhibit alone includes some 70 artifacts (stage outfits, hand-written musical arrangements). Also catch the Grateful Dead exhibit (through 2012), and many others, including Jimi Hendrix, U2, and the Doors. On a totally different musical note, catch the Cleveland Orchestra at the handsome Severance Hall. Finish a day of touring at Edgewater State Park, where you can picnic while you watch the sun slip down into Lake Erie. Perhaps enjoy a nightcap at the Velvet Tango Room, a modern-day “speakeasy” in the Tremont neighborhood. Shop for retro fashion, antiques, and bargains in Larchmere. Grab a tasty lunch, including some interesting Japanese fare, at Flying Cranes Café on nearby Shaker Square. Extend your trip a bit by a drive out to Put-in-Bay, on South Bass Island, north of Sandusky. Book rooms at the Vineyard Bed and Breakfast, a century-plus-old farmhouse set among lovely vines, and with its own private beach.

Lanai City, Lanai, Hawaii
For Old Hawaii away from the crowds

Sure Hawaii equals romance. And this tiny island of Lanai, recently purchased by Larry Ellison, takes you right to the romantic Hawaii of times past. This former Dole Pineapple company town (it isn’t remotely a city), is still home to a one-cell jail and to colorful wood-frame buildings that once housed field workers. It is a place where you can load up on superb Hawaiian coffee at the grocery store, and dine inexpensively at places like the Blue Ginger Café, which serves great Fried Saimin (okay it involves Spam, which isn’t that romantic.) Stay at the cozy 11-room Hotel Lanai, with its bright Hawaiian quilts, comfy wicker chairs, and gently whirring ceiling fans (rooms start at $99). Rent a Hummer or Jeep and drive the 12.8-mile Munro Trail, with its Norfolk pines, and views all the way to Maui and Molokai. Head to pretty Shipwreck Beach—you may be the only folks there—to look for the ancient petroglyphs and to watch turtles play. Explore the pretty Garden of the Gods, with its dramatic rock formations. (Note: If you start to crave high style, there are two Four Seasons hotels on Lanai, but that isn’t what the island is about.) Lanai is 45 minutes from Maui by boat.

Long Beach, Calif.
For Old-World Glamour and Contemporary Romance

Yes, Long Beach is the second busiest container port in the United States, but it also has a wildly romantic side. Think graceful, palm-lined streets perfect for strolling, chic shops and inventive restaurants, and arguably the best aquarium in the United States (and yes, looking at flirtatious fish in wild tropical colors can be romantic). If proposing is on your mind, book a gondola (ask for one that did time in Venice), from Gondola Getaway. You can even arrange a proposal “message in a bottle,” as you float through the city’s Naples Islands. For major romance, however, head to the Cunard classic, The Queen Mary. In its glory days, when first class was ultra-posh, it carried everyone from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Greta Garbo to Elizabeth Taylor and her poodles. Cunard’s pride and joy retired in Long Beach, and folks in search of romance should book dinner at Sir Winston’s. The lobster ravioli and rack of lamb are Cunard worthy, the wine list is inventive, and the city skyline views are lovely. Stroll the decks, admire the Art Deco wood paneling, and finish the evening in a comfy first-class stateroom.

Little Rock, Ark.
For small-city Fun with a presidential flair

The William J. Clinton Library and Museum should top your to-do list, to give you the opportunity to remember when, to get a sense of what life in the White House was like during that era, and to see what sort of gifts Presidents get: Bill received an Elvis at the Piano Cookie Jar and a music box that plays “How Great Thou Art,” among a host of other gifts. Take an old-fashioned trolley ride through downtown. Explore the River Market (the perfect place to pick up lunch), and wander through the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, on the banks of the Arkansas River. Take a walk along the Arkansas River Trail, with pretty downtown views. See what might be on at the Riverfront Amhpitheater. Arrive early at the posh, Victorian-style Empress of LIttle Rock Hotel, for a couple’s massage, some downtime in the garden, and maybe a carriage ride along tree-lined streets and past the Governor’s Mansion. Enjoy dinner at nearby Ciao Italian for traditional fare and good wines, or choose the hip, just-opened, Art Deco 1620 Savoy. If the night is young, head back to the Market District for jazz or a piano bar.


For one of America’s prettiest cities

Forget the smoky, long-gone steel mills, and focus on the graceful beauty of Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the Ohio River at pretty Point State Park. For optimum romance, check into the Priory Hotel—a former Benedictine monastery on the city’s North Side, with just 42 cozy rooms, a fireplace in the lobby, and an on-call shuttle to downtown. Guests can stroll to nearby Max’s Allegheny Tavern, a classic with its beveled glass mirrors and hand-carved bar, to enjoy German specialties: The wienerschnitzel and sauerbraten get great kudos. Visit the nearby Pittsburgh-native’s Andy Warhol Museum, to see such Pop Art classics as his Campbell Soup Can, Portraits of Marilyn Monroe and his own self-portraits. Catch a Pirates game in summer. Take a cliff-hugging ride up the Duquesne Incline to the top of Mt. Washington—a popular place to propose—with fabulous views of the city below.  Drive out to nearby Moon Township, for dinner at Hyeholde, a castle in the woods, surrounded by lush gardens.  Choose the chef’s table option, if you’d like to dine in the kitchen.

Providence, R.I.
For small-city New England flavor

Think of pretty Providence, home to Brown University, as a small, easily walkable Boston, and you won’t be far wrong. Its lovely neighborhoods and compact downtown offer a delightful New England flavor, with just enough urban buzz to keep it interesting. WaterFire, the big summer attraction, presents about 100 bonfires lining the banks of Providence’s three rivers, accompanied by costumed performers and music from every corner of the world. Book a gondola to get close to the action. For a city this size, Providence has great restaurants. Consider the classic Hemenway’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar; New Rivers, in a 1793 warehouse, its bar crafted from reclaimed timber from the building; or the Cook & Brown Public House, a gastropub (try the salt cod fritters). Stroll the pretty streets around Brown University, and visit the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art (this is serious business, the collection starts with the Egyptians and travels all the way to Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained-glass windows, and is not to be missed).

For river views and earthly adventures

This pretty state capitol on the banks of the Sacramento River packs a gentler romantic wallop than San Francisco, but it has its own great charm. Couples can book the “River Romance Package” on the Delta King, a classic paddlewheel river boat, circa 1927, now docked in Old Sacramento. The Delta King’s Pilothouse restaurant has won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for each of the last three years, and you may want to schedule a visit to coincide with one of the King’s popular wine appreciation classes. Landlubbers may prefer the riverfront Le Rivage Hotel, with panoramic views of downtown. Be sure to explore Old Town, and to visit the Crocker Art Museum, home to pieces from the Gold Rush era all the way to paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. Stroll through the McKinley Rose Garden, or the State Capitol Rose Garden, perfect places for proposals. Visit Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, the oldest building in the California interior—you can also get married there, if you plan ahead. Venture out to Coloma, to see where the California Gold Rush began at Sutter’s Mill, and perhaps on to Lake Tahoe.

Salt Lake City
For magical mountain scenery and more

Salt Lake City, the heart of the Mormon Church, deserves a look, before heading out to its mountain-town suburbs, packed with hiking trails for summer that magically turn into ski slopes shortly after.  Start your visit at Salt Lake’s Olympic Legacy Plaza Snowflake Fountain, where even adult children play in the spray, to cool off to the soaring sound of the Olympic theme. Stay at the Inn on the Hill, a handsome mansion in Salt Lake’s Marmalade District. Explore Temple Square (especially lovely at Christmas, when millions of lights sparkle), and check out the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. Then drive out to pretty Park City, to hike or mountain bike the ski trails in autumn, or to schuss down them in winter, which arrives early. Book rooms in the charming Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley or at the Hyatt Escala Lodge, with ultra-comfortable apartments. Stroll the shops and galleries along Historic Main Street, and don’t miss the excellent Park City Museum, which relates the city’s vivid silver-mining history. Explore the Kimball Art Center. Soar in a hot-air balloon, and do a whiskey tasting at the High West Distillery & Saloon.


Washington, D.C.

For moonlight on the Potomac

Except for a few highly publicized presidential peccadilloes, the words Washington, D.C. and romance seldom appear in the same sentence.  It turns out, though, that even the most desk-bound D.C. bureaucrats have a taste for romance. Consider Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, 78 years old this year, and the place where Jack Kennedy popped the question to Jacqueline Bouvier. It still draws the VIP set —including every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush—as well as lots of locals on power dates.  More athletic couples may paddle along the “Widewater” section of the C&O Canal in Potomac, to watch the moon rise and listen to the night sounds. “Full Moon Hikes” through the National Arboretum are made for romance (book early, they sell out). Another option: Get a lovely overview of D.C. on a “Monuments by Moonlight” tour aboard the Old Town Trolley. If you are visiting D.C., consider booking The Normandy, an intimate, discreet and friendly hotel in stylish Dupont Circle. When nightlife beckons head for Tattoo on K Street, for some loud and lively rock music.