Paris has the glittering Eiffel Tower and Venice has gondola-clad canals, but you don’t need to cross an ocean to find romance. The most romantic cities in the U.S. are easily accessible and probably much cheaper. Merely cross the continent and you’ll discover cities on par with Europe’s romantic capitals that are certainly worthy of a road trip (or quick flight). From southern spots oozing with old-world charm to unexpected culinary capitals where each meal tops the next (who needs Noma when we’ve got our very own version?), here are 10 of the most romantic cities in the U.S. to add to your shortlist of romantic getaways—no passport required.
Don’t think this Rocky Mountain town is reserved just for winter getaways. While the Aspen Snowmass resort’s four peaks are prime for skiing (with a legendary après-ski scene), there’s even more to do here come summer. Trade your skis for a pair of hiking boots and hit the trails snaking around the Roaring Fork Valley, admiring wildflowers in bloom along the Cathedral Lake and American Lake trails. After working up a sweat, soak your weary legs post-hike in one of the most scenic of settings: Conundrum Hot Springs. If you’re visiting on a weekend in the summer, hop on a gondola ride up Aspen Mountain to catch live bluegrass and classical music. Up for an adrenaline rush? Catch wind paragliding up to 18,000 feet above the city, descending just in time for dinner at one of Aspen’s more romantic finds, Element 47, whose world-famous wine cellar boasts over 20,000 bottles. Need help choosing which wine to cheers with? One of the 50 sommeliers on staff will guide you to the perfect pick.
Considered the birthplace of the skyscraper, there’s a reason why Chicago often gets voted the city with the best skyline, since there’s plenty of picture-perfect rooftops that make for prime proposal spots. Take your pick of ways to eye the views opting between a boat on the Chicago River or an observatory deck on one of the skyscrapers themselves. Once you’ve checked the Wrigley Building and Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion off your sightseeing list, eat your way around town at one of the city’s many starred restaurants like Alinea, where chef Grant Achatz’s 18-course, multi-sensory menu is as artfully curated as Chicago’s world-class museums.
San Francisco, California
From the “postcard row” of Victorian homes lining Alamo Square to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of those cities that offers one Instagram opp after another. Bike over the bridge to the seaside town of Sausalito or hop on the side of a cable car for a fashionable form of sightseeing. You may be familiar with Alcatraz, but for a spot less crowded, catch the ferry to Angel Island and spend the day hiking or kayaking around the coast, pausing for lunch at the café along the water. When you’re ready to go day-tripping, just an hour north of San Francisco lie two of California’s most famous wine regions: Napa Valley and Sonoma. Take your pick of ways to cruise through wine country, opting between bike, vintage train, or classic convertible.
Los Angeles is home to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but in Nashville, you’ll find a music-themed version at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where 2.5 million musical artifacts sit on display. Everyone from Elvis to Bob Dylan and The Black Keys have recorded in the aptly nicknamed Music City, lined with over 180 venues hosting live music every night of the week. Visit the recording studio where Elvis recorded more than 200 songs, or check out art of another form by gallery hopping along the Downtown Fifth Avenue of the Arts. This isn’t Napa, but you and the beau can still partake in wine tastings twinged with a taste of the south at historic Belle Meade Plantation’s winery. To soak up one of the best views over the city, make your way to the hilltop Love Circle Park (aka lovers’ lane), perched on the highest point in the old part of town. For even more jaw-dropping views, hit the skies in a hot-air balloon soaring over the state’s rolling hills.
Palm Beach, Florida
The one-time playground for the high society set hasn’t lost any of its luster, but Palm Beach has traded in some of its stuffiness for a laid-back, resort-style feel. Of course, you can still count on classic events like polo and the PGA Tour, but this is no longer the Palm Beach your grandparents knew. Take Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, for example. Formerly The Ritz-Carlton, the re-envisioned resort still sports grandiose ballrooms deserving of a debutante, but you’ll notice suites (à la Jonathan Adler) skew on the more modern side. Restaurants like Angle embrace Palm Beach’s vibrant food scene—celebrated at the annual Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival—with farm-to-fork fare inspired by South Florida’s seasonal ingredients. Couples after classic fine dining can still get their fix at spots like Café Boulud, but if you’re looking for a more tropical setting, set off by boat to former sandwich shop Guanabanas. Located along the Intracoastal waterway, the banyan tree encased, seafood-centric restaurant will have you feeling like you’ve slipped away somewhere exotic like Tahiti—thatched-roof tiki hut and all.
Fernandina Beach, Florida
Florida’s southern islands like Sanibel and the Keys tend to get all the love, but one of the state’s most stunning spots sits closer to the Florida-Georgia border. The northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, Fernandina Beach crowns the barrier Amelia Island, offering up to 13 miles of uncrowded sandy shores and a 50-block historic district that’s been conquered by everyone from pirates to Gilded Age millionaires. If you’re looking to skip splashy South Beach, this is your spot. Kick back with your other half in one of the historic hideaways like Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, where you can spend your days horseback riding along the beach or sailing to Cumberland, another island favored by the likes of the Carnegies and Kennedys, where the main inhabitants are 150 mustangs.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Big Easy may be known for its nonstop nightlife (this is the town famous for Bourbon Street, after all), but one stroll along Frenchmen Street will have you instantly swooning—and swaying—over New Orleans’ signature jazz music. Roll along the Mississippi on a jazz cruise or catch a show in one of the iconic music clubs like The Spotted Cat. If you’d rather cozy up in your hotel, you can still hear music streaming from the street below on your wrought iron balcony in the oldest stretch of the city, the French Quarter. Cocktails were practically invented here, so you won’t be hard-pressed to find a libation that’s up to your style—and standards. Our pick: a Sazerac at The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel.
Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s capital packs the best date night activities all into its super walkable downtown. Literary buffs can peruse the shelves of the Providence Public Library on an architecture-themed tour of the historic building, while foodies can get their fix dining at standout eateries lining the three rivers flowing through downtown. Start with dinner at locally fueled Gracie’s, which serves up whimsically curated tasting menus (ranging from three to nine courses), before heading across the street for a show at local institution—and Rhode Island’s largest arts organization—Trinity Repertory Company.
Home to brew giants like Pabst and Miller, Milwaukee is a Midwestern gold mine when it comes to breweries. Set off on a beer crawl around Brew City, stopping for tastings at favorites like Third Space Brewing and Good City Brewing before posting up at one of the many German-inspired beer gardens, such as The Bavarian Bierhaus. Milwaukee is in the heart of cheese country (if you haven’t tried cheese curds, you’re seriously missing out), but the city is making a name for itself as a culinary capital where the term locavore couldn’t ring any truer. Almost three-quarters of the city’s restaurants are locally owned with ingredients sourced around the seasons (think everything from raw honey to edible flowers). Plan date night at the city’s first community-supported eatery, Braise, where ingredients are sourced from no fewer than 40 Wisconsin farms—including the restaurant’s own rooftop garden.
Live out your Gone with the Wind fantasies in Spanish moss-covered Savannah, whose cobblestoned historic district and statue-filled squares are so picturesque, they’ve been featured in other classics like Oscar-winning Forrest Gump. Pick up some lunch fare for a picnic spread under a shady oak in nearby Forsyth Park for an iconic, southern-style date idea. If you and your other half are looking for something a bit more active, hop in a kayak and paddle your way past salt marshes and swamps along the city’s scenic rivers like the namesake Savannah. Old-world charm extends to eateries and some of the best serving up low-country cuisine (calories don’t count on vacation, right?) are housed in revamped 18th-century mansions so pretty, they’d even please Miss Scarlett O’Hara. Call it a night in one of the city’s newest boutique hotels, the Perry Lane Hotel, with a rooftop pool prime for cooling off after a day of strolling around in the southern heat.