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The best places in Houston to take your Valentine. 

By Joanna O’Leary

Sorry, Ali MacGraw—love means always having to say you’re sorry, especially if you’re in a relationship and you’re not doing your part to keep the flame burning. So even if you and your beloved consider Valentine’s Day to be just a Hallmark holiday and loathe joining the unwashed masses in their schmaltzy exchanges of chocolates and roses, take the opportunity to do something romantic on one of the other 364 days of the year. Houston ain’t Paris, but Space City does have some attractions that rival those in the City of Lights in their ability to (re)ignite the passion.

An elite university may not be the first location that comes to mind for wooing your inamorata/o; however, Rice University—and specifically its James Turrell Skyspace—is an exception. There is something cosmically soothing about watching the gorgeous, muted hues of this light installation complement nature’s sunrises and sunsets—a feeling that is only intensified with a companion. If you and your better half are “morning people,” take in the dawn viewing before heading to a champagne breakfast. Night-owl couples should make reservations for the dusk show, then grab cocktails or beers in Rice Village.

Other al fresco spots in Houston can be the key to a fine romance, albeit one with kisses. Find ardor under the arbor via a slow afternoon stroll through the magnificent Centennial Gardens. As you take the time to admire prosperous sustainable vegetable and herb plots, lush rose bushes, and a lovely sculpture promenade, reflect on what you admire about each other and recommit to making more time for other terrific natural spaces in the city you both call home.

Apopular site for marriage proposals, as well as the most photographed attraction in Houston, the Williams Tower’s 64-foot-tall Water Wall is a stunning vertical fountain designed to create a relaxing, gushing sound in concert with its urban backdrop. Surrounding the Water Wall are hundreds of live oak trees that provide a cooling respite for visitors in the warmer months. Even if you said your “I do’s” long ago or are so “not there yet,” a stroll or a picnic at the Water Wall is a welcome way to spend an afternoon with your life partner or current flame.

There is magic in the moonlight at downtown’s Discovery Green, which hosts great date-night events such as movies, concerts, festivals, and many other activities made for two. In the summer, strip down and splash alongside the kids at the Gateway Fountain, or enjoy a paddleboat ride on Kinder Lake. In the winter, skate hand-in-hand on the man-made ice rink before warming up with some adult beverages and appetizers at The Grove.

Listening to any of the Houston Grand Opera’s soloists belt out a mesmerizing aria is enough to give you goosebumps, and the delight is doubled when your soul mate is seated next to you. For a particularly romantic experience, my show of choice from the 2018 season is West Side Story, for its balance of amorous ballads, high-energy dance numbers, and all-too-relevant social themes.

Finally, celebrate the pleasures of the flesh in more than one way by starting your evening with a meal of wild game and other braised and roasted animal proteins at the Rainbow Lodge, where the combination of rustic decor, soft light, working fireplaces, and fine linens makes it one of the most romantic dining locations in Houston. Or for a romantic feast that is also actually moving, I suggest making the short trek to Willis for one of Southern Empress Cruises’ Lake Conroe dinner or cocktail cruises aboard their replica of a 19th-century Mississippi steamship. While the buffet of classic American grub is nothing to write home about, the sunset views enjoyed with a martini in hand will have you raving for decades following the conclusion of your voyage.

Finally, sometimes the simplest gestures are the sweetest—literally, in the case of just treating your sweetheart to a shared dessert at either location of The Chocolate Bar. Cheat on your diets (rather than on each other!) by sharing a giant slice of chocolate cake, or stealing bites from each other’s confections. Remember: calories consumed in the name of love don’t count.

This article appears in the February 2018 edition of Outsmart Magazine. 

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Joanna O’Leary

Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.
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