Flowers. Bubble baths. Fifty Shades of Grey. What some find seductive, others find distasteful. Romance is a tricky game to play, but a good way to stack the deck is by being in a romantic city. A romantic destination sets the stage for couples to write their own love story by sharing breathtaking scenery, exquisite meals and arousing activities.
On that front, it seems that much love usually goes to San Francisco, NYC and New Orleans, so for our list we wanted to turn you on to smaller, more intimate cities that inspire romance – Livability.com's most romantic cities in the United States for 2013. We asked travel writer Paris Permenter, co-publisher of Lovetripper.com, a site that specializes in honeymoons and romantic trips, to help us determine what makes a city romantic.
“The most important romantic amenities a city can offer would include romantic hotels or resorts, a unique atmosphere, romantic restaurants – with extra points for al fresco dining – and outdoor recreation, whether that's a beach or lakefront or walkable parks,” Permenter says. “Regardless of the destination, though, the most important feature of a romantic getaway is one the travelers themselves have to bring to the trip. A couple can make a stay at any destination a romantic getaway by going into the trip with a positive attitude and determination to spend time enjoying the company of their best friend.”
With the understanding that beauty, or in this case romance, is in the eye of the beholder, we set out to find cities with amenities that cater to couples. We looked for places with alluring natural attractions, fine dining and other activities that awaken the body and mind. We researched similar lists from other media outlets and reviews from sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp. We then cross-referenced our research against the amenities of our 500 Livability.com cities to make our picks for the best cities for romantic interludes.
10. Hot Springs, AR
Postcard scenery, restaurants, antique shops, spas and hiking trails make Hot Springs a perfect place to stage a romantic rendezvous. Once a playground for gangsters like Al Capone, the city now attracts couples looking to relax and enjoy natural beauty. A trio of lakes and two nearby state parks set the scene for many outdoor activities in Hot Springs such as horseback riding, fishing and hiking. Many hotels, spas and traditional bath houses offer the chance to soak in naturally heated, mineral rich spring water. Dance clubs, magic shows, live theater and pubs with live music set the nightlife scene. Oaklawn Jockey Club provides thrilling thoroughbred races from January through April and year-round electronic gaming. Meanwhile, The Gangster Museum of America gives a glimpse into a time when gangsters used the city as a hideout and base for illegal gambling operations.
Where to Stay: The most prominent building in historic downtown's Hot Springs National Park, the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, offers old Southern charm, luxurious mineral baths and classic service.
Hot Spot: For fantastic views of the city, visitors can stroll the Grand Promenade behind historic Bathhouse Row, a half-mile path that leads to a hot springs cascade, quartz veins and sandstone cliffs.
Called "The City Beautiful," Coral Gables, FL, offers a romantic setting for couples to enjoy. Flourishing gardens, luxurious hotels and Mediterranean Revival-style architecture create an elevated aesthetic within this city by the beach. A suburb of Miami, planners developed Coral Gables in the 1920s under strict zoning regulations driven by the City Beautiful Movement popular in America during the early 20th century. Today's residents still enjoy the city's wide avenues, green spaces, monumental buildings and ornate plazas. The most famous destination is the Venetian Pool, which opened in 1924. This 820,000 gallon pool is filled with crystal blue water from an underground aquifer and features two waterfalls and cave-like grottos, which are perfect for couples to hide in. Many restaurants in Coral Gables provide settings for romantic dinners, too. Pascal's On Ponce offers intimacy along with French cuisine, while Caffe Vialetto serves Italian delicacies often with a Spanish zing. Museums, theaters and several music venues round out the entertainment options in Coral Gables.
Where to Stay: Among the most eye-popping scenery in Coral Gables is the Biltmore Hotel. This lush resort includes a spa, golf course and culinary academy. Each room comes with a city view, plush robes, slippers and Egyptian cotton duvet covers.
Hot Spot: Thousands of tropical plants flank paths that lead to fish ponds, butterflies, hummingbirds and sometimes even musical performances at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. There are plenty of secluded spots to steal a kiss.
See where Coral Gables ranked on our list of Best Cities for Book Lovers.
World-famous universities, historic mansions, bookstores, a dynamic arts scene and the Charles River make Cambridge, MA, an enchanting city. The lure of legendary college campuses Harvard and MIT draw many visitors in for student-led daily tours. Historic downtown overflows with music clubs, theaters, museums, and art galleries providing entertainment and inspiration. Additionally, restaurants in Cambridge range from ethnic bistros to elegant dining rooms, all squeezed into the city's six square miles. Besides plenty to do, there's much beauty to see, from the stained glass windows at Memorial Hall to the meticulously groomed grounds of Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the Charles River and providing views of downtown Boston, Hotel Marlowe offers in-room spa services, daily wine tastings and free kayaks for exploring the area by water.
Hot Spot: The colorful and spacious dining area at UpStairs on the Square offers enough room to have a private conversation, and with menu items like duck ragu, roasted red snapper and grilled quail, there is plenty to talk about.
7. Savannah, GA
Horse-drawn carriage rides, walks along the river, chocolate martinis and massages are all things couples can share in Savannah, GA. Okay, maybe not the chocolate martinis from Lulu's Chocolate Bar (only because they're too good to share). This city by the sea features Victorian architecture and Southern hospitality. Cobblestone streets wind beneath trees draped with Spanish moss and lead to park fountains and old cemeteries. And for those who prefer to walk on sand, moonlit strolls across Tybee Island Beach are just 20 minutes away. Savannah Day Spa has packages that let couples steam together, enjoy massages together and soak in a private Jacuzzi. Savannah restaurants like Noble Fare, Sapphire Grill and 17Hundred90 provide intimate settings and fantastic food.
Where to Stay: Drift into slumber with your sweetie in a four-poster bed, or curl up next to fireplaces in the charming rooms at Ballastone Inn, which offers turndown service with rose petals and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Hot Spot: Fear has a way of bringing people together. Savannah's ghost tours and graveyards will do just the trick. The city is noted among the most haunted places in the country.
See where Savannah ranked on our list of the Most Death Defying Places.
Kansas City, MO's growing collection of performance venues, museums, shopping areas, sports attractions and eclectic eateries makes this Midwest metropolis a cosmopolitan playground perfect for lovers to explore. Boutique shops, restaurants and art studios fill the city's Crossroads Arts District, a hip area that draws many young couples. The Country Club Plaza offers more entertainment and shopping with Old-World architecture, romantic setting for evening strolls. While the city's barbecue gets a lot of attention, Kansas City's gourmet restaurants range from the cozy atmosphere and Argentine-inspired flavors at Piropos to the French elegance of Cafe Des Amis.
Where to Stay: With the look and feel of a small European hotel, The Raphael Hotel provides couples with elegant furnishings, spacious bathrooms and sitting areas. Turndown service is available upon request. Travel+Leisure readers voted The Raphael Hotel one of the 500 best hotels in the world.
Hot Spot: At stylish cocktail bar Manifesto, a throwback to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era, bartenders carefully craft every drink. With only 48 seats, the place fills up frequently, so call ahead to place a reservation.
See where Kansas City landed on our list of Cities for Book Lovers.
5. Santa Fe, NM
Artists come to Santa Fe, NM, to capture the beauty of a city soaked in sunshine, while lovers come to bask and play. A spicy palette of colors extends from the skyline to the city's cuisine. Adobe buildings that date back to the late 1600s and architecture influenced by Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures create one of the most unique settings in the United States. Not far from the city are red mountains and green valleys, which contain vineyards, ancient Indian ruins and traditional pueblos to explore. Santa Fe's many museums and festivals reflect the city's rich traditions. The city's climate makes it ripe for recreation, including many parks and golf courses. When it comes to dining options, fresh takes on traditional foods and inventive uses of the chile pepper landed Santa Fe among the country's Best Food Cities according to voters in the Rand McNally/USA Today Best of the Road Rally.
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado's deep soaking tubs, heated floors, wood-burning fireplaces and balconies draw lovers looking for luxury.
Hot Spot: The Japanese-style spa Ten Thousand Waves offers private outdoor hot baths and his-and-hers massages.
Mountain views blend with historic architecture, sophisticated restaurants, a thriving performing arts scene and a storied college campus in the alluring Charlottesville, VA. Twisting roads connect the city to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and a collection of vineyards, many of which are open for year-round tastings. Historic sites in Charlottesville abound, perhaps the most famous being the majestic home of Thomas Jefferson.Guided tours of the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded and designed, allow visitors to step inside the famous Rotunda and climb the stairs to what many have called the most beautiful room in America – the Dome Room. Charlottesville's performance venues, including the renovated Paramount Theater host live music, Broadway shows and other events. Large oak trees shade a brick-lined pedestrian pathway that leads to more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants in the Downtown Mall, an open-air shopping center. Many restaurants in Charlottesville offer al fresco dining during warm weather.
Where to Stay: The private lake, gazebo and refined rooms at Clifton Inn create a romantic retreat. Foxfield Inn, a bed-and-breakfast, features a fishpond, outdoor hot tub and rooms with a Jacuzzi for two.
Hot Spot: It's not unusual to see couples huddled close together at the ice rink in Main Street Arena. Holding onto one another is good for warmth, balance – and other reasons.
See where Charlottesville ranked in our list of Cities for Book Lovers.
3. Bend, OR
The topography surrounding Bend, OR, transitions from high desert to pine forests and includes snowy mountain peaks and cascading rivers, creating a pristine playground for outdoor enthusiasts year round. Active couples looking for ways to get their blood pumping in a beautiful environment will find that here. Bend's outdoor activities range from fishing and hiking to swimming and biking. Warm sunny days motivate people to get outside, while cool, crisp nights give good reason to snuggle close. Bend's nine breweries welcome guests with cozy, friendly settings for sampling local beers and are located near enough to stroll easily between them. Vast as its landscape, Bend's culinary scene ranges from the intimate European bistro Ariana Restaurant to the creative Cajun flavors at Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the Deschutes River in the heart of Bend, both the The Riverhouse Hotel and the Pine Ridge Inn feature romantic packages that include champagne service, breakfast in bed, roses and fireplaces.
Hot Spot: A behind-the-scenes tour at hometown sweet shop Goody's shows visitors the care that goes into its chocolates and ice creams. The $2 tour includes samples of ice cream, chocolate and candy.
Bend is also a Top 10 City for Hiking Trails.
2. Napa, CA
Napa, CA almost defines "romantic" with its collection of wine bars, vast selection of upscale restaurants, proximity to vineyards and vibrant downtown. Daily agendas range from casual strolls through the city's quaint downtown, where art galleries and music venues, which provide plenty of entertainment, to invigorating hikes on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which offer expansive views of Napa Valley. In downtown alone, more than 40 restaurants offer palate pleasing menus. After enjoying the city's nightlife, which includes bars, pool halls, breweries and concerts, couples can recharge and unwind at an assortment of spas.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the river in a historic entertainment district, the Napa River Inn offers breakfast, evening wine tastings and gas fireplaces. A more secluded all-inclusive stay can be had at The Carneros Inn, a village-style resort with guest-only amenities, three restaurants, a spa, fitness center and complimentary bicycles.
Hot Spot: The French country ambiance, outdoor seating, culinary delights and expertly made cocktails at AngÃ©le Restaurant & Bar are sure to inspire passion.
Scottsdale, AZ's many spas, restaurants, art galleries, night clubs and shopping centers make it a lush, cultural oasis in a beautiful desert region. A suburb of Phoenix, Scottsdale offers couples a more intimate, less hurried vibe than the big city, yet still a fun atmosphere with plenty to celebrate. Downtown Scottsdale's collection of bars and clubs create a party atmosphere where people literally dance in the street.From Taliesin West, a home and studio built by Frank Lloyd Wright, to the Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, the city has plenty to intrigue and inspire art-minded visitors. An assortment of spas and resorts offer plenty of ways to be pampered together, from hot rock massages to swims in cool, crystal blue pools. Many restaurants in Scottsdale provide private dining experiences, but even the more wide-open places feature romantic atmospheres and scenery. The surrounding desert and its captivating views beckon adventurous explorers, whether by Jeep, bike or horseback.
Where to Stay: Clean lines, bright colors and mid-century style greet guests at Hotel Valley Ho, which features floor-to-ceiling glass openings onto private patios or balconies, oversized tubs and lively gathering areas.
Hot Spot: Hot air balloon rides float over the Sonoran Desert, which is covered by legume trees and columnar cacti. Arizona Hot Air Balloons, and most balloon companies, offer sunrise and sunset flights with champagne.
See where Scottsdale ranked on our list of Top Soccer Cities.