Valentine's Day is a great time to take a day trip or a longer vacation to have fun, reconnect and make new memories. Our list includes ideas all around the United States, from famous attractions and parks to unusual museums and lesser known romantic spots.
Surprise your better half with a trip to Hoover Dam, Space Center Houston, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Lands End, Mount Rushmore, Biscayne National Park, New York's Central Park and many other great destinations. If you are looking for ideas from specific cities, we've already written about amazing weekend escapes from New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities.
»From Las Vegas: Hoover Dam
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After you get tired of gambling and eating, take a short ride to see Hoover Dam, an amazing engineering feat that is on every American’s Bucket List. The dam is located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, and its construction created Lake Mead and Boulder City, which was built to house the workers hired to build the dam.
This concrete monster is 726.4 feet high and was completed in 1935. There is a tour that starts with a presentation that will give you all the facts about the dam. You will get to see the generators and climb to the observation deck for the spectacular view of the Colorado River and Lake Mead. The best view of the dam is from the Mike O' Callaghan -- Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which is approximately 1,500 feet south of the dam.
»From San Francisco: Lands End
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Spectacular views abound in San Francisco. Ocean, bridges, islands, shipwrecks, sea lions, parks, forests, everywhere you look there is breathtaking beauty. But, nothing beats the view from the Lands End Lookout. This popular park at the mouth of the Golden Gate Bridge is where the American continent ends at the wild and rocky northwestern shore, covered in cypress and wildflowers and edged with the Coastal Trail.
This spot is front row for the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean beyond. Follow the trail to the ruins of Sutro Baths, enjoy the nearby gardens, and stop at the Lands End Lookout for another stunning view of the bridge, sea lions and passing whales. At low tide, witness the ruins of the many shipwrecks that took place on these rough shores.
»In Houston: Space Center Houston
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At Space Center Houston, a part of the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston which is open to the public, you can get as close to going into space as you ever will. You can go inside the capsule of the 122-foot, 130,000-pound replica of the space shuttle Independence andexperience a multimedia "blast off", so real that it will shake you to the core.
The Living in Space exhibit will let you actually go into a space ship cabin and a NASA tram will take you to see an astronaut gallery with real, used space suits. In the Historic Mission Control Center and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility; you can test your skills at landing the shuttle in the simulator. (website)
»From Portland: Willamette Valley
There are so many fun things to do in Portland that you have to wonder how people get anything done. There is even more to do just a short trip outside of town. A 50-mile trip to Willamette Valley will bring you to the place that grows some of the best Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the country. There are more than 400 wineries within a 45 minutes’ drive, giving you plenty of choice. This breathtakingly beautiful area has a wonderful climate year around.
The picturesque Willamette River runs through the heart of the valley, and to the east, the Cascade Range looms, protecting the valley and offering some fantastic hiking. Check out the Red Hills Market for a bite to eat before setting off to explore the wineries. All of them offer cozy, hospitable wine tasting rooms with spectacular vistas of miles of vineyards and grapes in various stages of growth. The Inn's Jory restaurant is the recommended dinner destination and the Allison Inn & Spa can not only offer you comfortable bed for the night but also an amazing grape-seed facial, a must while you are in the wine country. (website)
»In Charlottesville: Monticello Artisan Trail
[Monticello Artisan Trail]
After visiting Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello and other historic sites in Charlottesville that shaped our country’s history, treat yourself with a lovely countryside trip along the Monticello Artisan Trail. This trail will take you through the beautiful landscapes of Nelson and Albemarle County across the valleys and mountains home to the network of talented local artisans scattered throughout the picturesque landscape.
You can visit their studios, retail galleries, attend workshops and events. There are more than 100 participating artists – potters, painters, fine furniture makers, leather-crafting artisans, glass studios, fine ceramics and much more. Local farms- turned tourist attractions are also part of the Trail.
»In Huntsville: Green Mountain Nature Trail
For the incurably romantic fans of the Bridges of Madison County, a popular novel by Robert James Waller, taking a stroll along the Green Mountain Nature Trail in Huntsville is a veritable pilgrimage.
The trail, starting in southeast Huntsville, takes you to the top of the Green Mountain, high above the city noise, to the world of blooming azaleas, wildflowers, ancient Champion Winged Elm Tree and, of course, the famous covered bridge. The 1.5 mile trail winds through the 72 acre park and loops around the Sky Lake, a lovely spot for quiet contemplation or line fishing.
Vacations for Couples: Best Romantic Getaways
»From San Diego: Oceanside
About 40 minutes from San Diego is the charming coastal town of Oceanside, which is planning an entire week of festivities to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Visit between Feb. 5-15, 2016 and take advantage of romantic dining specials, sunset harbor cruises, and an outdoor movie night at the beach.
There is even a run and bike event that will culminate in a beer garden and some great food. Other romantic activities include a romantic carriage rides along the coast, Oceanside Sweetheart Sunset Market, sunset whale watching cruises, and more. (website)
»In Santa Fe: The Harrell House Bug Museum
[The Harrell House Bug Museum]
There are so many museums in Santa Fe that it is easy to miss one of the most fascinating: The Harrell House Bug Museum. The Museum has an amazing collection of insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, both alive and preserved, as well as toys, puzzles, books and posters.
The Bug Museum also has over 100 live animals, including monster tarantulas the size of a dinner plate, scorpions that glow in the dark, lizards that look like dinosaurs and many more. Some of them you can even hold and touch, if you dare. (website)
Get away with kids: Best Family Vacations
»In Washington DC: Theodore Roosevelt Island
One of the most overlooked jewels of Washington DC is Theodore Roosevelt Island, a green, lush wilderness preserve on an island in the middle of the Potomac River. This great 26th American President was a well-known conservationist and was fond of talking about the "hardy life of the open." He would be the first to love spending a quiet weekend on this tranquil oasis so close to the hustle and bustle of the big city, hiking through the woods or listening to the birds.
If you join one of the resident rangers, you can hear the stories of President Roosevelt, and of the transformation of this once overgrown, neglected spot into a lovely weekend getaway.
»In Minneapolis: The House of Balls
[The House of Balls]
After you check all the obvious, most popular attractions in Minneapolis (and there are lots of them) and you still have some time, treat yourself with a visit to one of the quirkiest and most creative museums in the city: The House of Balls. Located in the Warehouse District and created by the sculptor Allen Christian 28 years ago, the House of Balls is the result of Christian’s belief that ordinary objects acquire a life force when touched by living beings.
Whimsical sculptures are made from some unexpected everyday objects such as false teeth, plumbing parts, pistons, typewriter guts, headstones, pianos and of course, all kinds of balls. The Museum door is always open and visitors are invited to look, touch push buttons just to see what happens, and add their own opinion to the recordings. Pushing various buttons gets many of the sculptures to move, spin, talk and interact with the visitors. (website)
Holiday ideas: Birthday, Anniversary, Girlfriend Getaways, Memorial Day
»From New Orleans: Swamp Tours
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Located just half an hour’s drive from the New Orleans City Center lies the mysterious, spooky swamp which teems with animal life.
Here you will find alligators, turtles, snakes, egrets, herons, hawks, ibis, owls, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, raccoons, nutria, and many others. If you are brave, you can rent a kayak and take one of the well-marked trails, paddling in silence through the ancient mangroves and listen to the sounds of life all around you.
If you would rather have a bit of a distance from the critters with big teeth, you can board one of many airboats and travel through the swamp in comfort. The boats are a bit noisy, but they will stop to show you the crocs, sometimes more of them than you will find comfortable. Most of the city tour operators will pick you up directly from your hotel.
Fun places to visit last minute: Great Things to Do with Kids, including Free Activities
»From St Louis: Meramec Caverns
Missouri is known as the Cave State, with over 6,000 surveyed and explored caves. About 60 miles west of St. Louis, beneath the Meramec Valley rolling hills, you will find the Meramec Caverns. These caverns are a complex of spectacular mineral formations in mesmerizing shapes and colors and are the largest commercial caves in Missouri.
Take a tour with a trained ranger along brightly-lighted walkways to see features such as an ancient limestone "Wine Table", or a seven-story “mansion” that took thousands of years to build. The whole area around the caves is part of the beautiful LaJolla Natural Park. Walk around, or book a six miles long, or longer, float on the scenic Meramec River. A shuttle takes you up river to the spot where you start the float, and you will float slowly back towards your car.
»In Pittsburgh: The National Aviary
[The National Aviary]
The National Aviary in Pittsburgh is America’s only bird zoo. It is a fascinating place that is home to more than 500 birds representing over 150 species. They are all free flying habitats that resemble the environment these birds would naturally live in, in the wild. The zoo is located in historic North Side, a short trek from downtown Pittsburgh, and it offers a unique opportunity to see the birds from every continent on the planet except the Antarctic.
Birds that belong to the same habitat, like cloud forest, are free to interact with each other and do what birds do. Check the schedule for free interaction with some of the birds – you can frolic with pink flamingos, feed raptors and mingle with penguins. Many of the birds are threatened or endangered in wild and the zoo participates in efforts to help in their survival.
»From Madison: Monroe
Wisconsin has 11,400 dairy farms and makes most of country’s cheese. Located 40 miles from Madison is the little town of Monroe, the cheese capital of the state. It is the home of the famous Limburger factory, which offers tours and cheese-sampling. Another cheesy place is very informative historic Cheesemaking Center.
This picturesque Swiss town has a number of cheese-related festivals, such as the Cheese Days parade when you can see huge Bernese Mountain Dogs pulling flower carts and hear traditional yodeling. Visit the splendid Court House Square and stop at the adjacent Baumgartner's Cheese Store & Tavern for the best cheese sandwiches in the world and sample the local beer.
»From Sioux Falls: Mount Rushmore
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The 60-foot high faces of four American presidents, carved into the granite face of the Mount Rushmore, are the product of 16 years of relentless work of American-Danish sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son. Gutzon died before he could complete his life work, and his son continued working until he finished the heads in 1939.
Amazingly, the sculpture was completed with only the most basic tools. The monument is now part of the Memorial Park, which is one of the most visited places on earth. Mount Rushmore is located approximately five hours from Sioux Falls.
»From Bloomington: Exotic Feline Rescue Center
[Exotic Feline Rescue Center]
About an hour from Bloomington in the town of Center Point is the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. This is your unique chance to get up close and personal with some very big cats. The rescue center is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. They offer a home for life to the abused, unwanted and neglected exotic felines. Founded in 1991, the center received national recognition for its part in the rescue and care for big cats.
The center provides a naturalized habitat, appropriate nutrition and veterinary care to approximately 200 animals. You will be able to see lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, ocelots, savannah cats, lynxes, servals and bob cats. (website)
»From Cleveland: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
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Once you’ve seen the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the fabulous Cleveland Museum of Art, you need to see the other, green side of this exciting city. Just a short drive from the city, between Cleveland and Akron, lays Cuyahoga Valley National Park. With 33,000 acres of woods, waterfalls and wildlife, the park is a fantastic place to explore.
It is an easy, pleasant walk along the Towpath Trail, mostly along the Cuyahoga River on one side and the Ohio and Erie Canal on the other. The trail will take you by the 65-foot-tall Brandywine Falls, with dramatic sandstone cliffs and ancient rock formations at Ritchie Ledges. Two miles of the trail go through dense hemlock and birch forest. Keep an eye out for wildlife and the many species birds. The best way to see as much as possible is to hike in one direction and then take the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a comfortable way back.
»In New York City: Central Park
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Central Park is not just a park in New York. It is an integral part of the city which helps to define it, just as the Empire State Building does. It is an oasis in the middle of urban chaos, the place all New Yorkers hold dearly in their hearts. It is breathtakingly beautiful in any season, covered in snow or in wild flowers. Give it at least a day to really get to see everything this 843-acre city within a city has to offer.
Play Frisbee at the Sheep Meadow, visit the zoo, relax in the romantic Shakespeare garden, check out the Balto and Alice in Wonderland statues and discover the many other famous sculptures hidden all around Central Park. Visit the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, skate on the Wollman Rink, and explore Belvedere Castle.
»From Miami: Biscayne National Park
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Miami is surrounded by water. Exploring all that water teeming with life is a big part of any Miami adventure. The best place to start and see most of what makes Florida waters so amazing is Biscayne National Park, where 95 percent of the park’s 172,000 acres is under water.
It is the largest marine park in the States where you can visit four thriving ecosystems: the mangroves, Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys, and the coral reef.
Explore the mangroves by kayak or canoe and head along the coast, make sure you keep an eye out for themanatee, dolphins, cassiopeia jellyfish and juvenile nurse sharks and stingrays. Thousands of birds make the mangrove shallows their home. Rent a boat to take you to the reef, where you can snorkel or strap on the scuba gear to go underwater to see the magnificent marine life on the healthy reef. If you prefer to stay dry, take one of the glass-bottomed boats that allows you to see what is happening underneath. It is an adventure you will never forget.
»From Chicago or Indianapolis: Shipshewana
A two-hour drive from Chicago and a three-hour drive from Indianapolis is the little town of Shipshewana, Indiana, so close and yet in so many ways a totally different world. It is home to a thriving Amish community, one of the largest in the country, as well as a large community of Mennonites.
Walk around the town, and see the horse-pulled buggies on the streets sharing the road with modern vehicles, meet and talk to people, and explore Shipshewana’s famous arts and crafts, and antique stores.
»In Scottsdale: Pueblo Grande Museum
[Pueblo Grande Museum]
Spending some time in the desert is a must while you are in Scottsdale. One of the best ways to experience the desert, and to learn about people who made it home 1,500 years ago, is at the Pueblo Grande Museum archeological site. Here you will hike through the ruins of an ancient village built by Hohokam Indians, a prehistoric ball court excavated from the sand and reproductions of two full-scale Hohokam prehistoric dwellings.
Galleries have constantly changing exhibits on archaeology, cultures of the Southwest and modern American Indian arts. The museum offers numerous programs to encourage interest in archeology.
»From Seattle: San Juan Islands
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On a sunny day, taking a ferry to the San Juan Islands from Seattle is a pleasure in itself. The breathtaking views all around you will put you in the mood for exploring this picturesque archipelago of 172 islands, rich in history and natural wonders. There are many sandy and pebbly beaches, but don’t expect to be swimming, it is too cold most of the year.
It is almost impossible not to see the islands’ biggest attractions: orca whales. The best place for spotting them is Lime Kiln Point State Park. You will also see Harbor seals, Steller sea lions, the river otter, Dall's porpoises, Common minke whales and other breeds of whales on occasion. Don’t miss the fantastic sculpture garden at the 19-acre Westcott Bay Reserve.
23 of the Coolest & Most Unusual Valentine's Day Trip Ideas in 2016