Top 5 Most Romantic Cities

To Do: Romance in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, and New Orleans

Top 5 Most Romantic Cities

New York by Kelly Bare

Obvious choice? Maybe. Wanna make something of it? The truth is, leaving this brash five-borough beast of a town off any list of superlative cities would be unthinkable. It's impossible to deny that the place that spawned Sex and the City and metrosexuals, G-strings and gossip rags, really did write the book—and publish the magazine article, and broadcast the Katie Couric interview, and bring you the reality-TV show—of love, American-style. Best of all, you don't have to get engaged to Donald Trump to enjoy the finest wooing and cooing New York has to offer. In a city full of dreamers, imagination works just as well.


Just witness how New York might seduce an innocent young girl writing at her kitchen table. It's July, and sultry. A rivulet of sweat is trickling down the back of her neck. Trucks and buses brush past her open window; a subway train—which she knows is packed with passengers, body to body—sails by, its deep rumble mixing with Latin music on the corner, mingling with exhaust fumes, and drifting in, uninvited, insistent, unrelenting. Even the Mister Softee man with his truck and his frozen treats and his tinkling, slightly forlorn tune can only transport her for a moment and then she’s straight back into the rhythm of a city just below the boiling point. When the sun sinks and the asphalt cools, she knows that New York will play a more genteel lover, offering her and a date the Philharmonic in Central Park, with a bottle of wine during and fireworks after, and maybe fireworks after that.


She could just as easily close her eyes and imagine summer turning to fall, when the Greenmarket at Union Square has 17 varieties of apples trucked down from their leafy homes upstate and laid out in a rainbow between the bright orange pumpkins and dark, dusty beets. Before she knows it, it's wintertime, and her fingers are frozen from waving, trying to hail a taxi, but suddenly there’s a handsome stranger in a bright red cashmere scarf who's offering her his cab and smiling, his grip firm as he helps her inside. Behind her, lovers glide arm in arm around the rink at Rockefeller Center, and she really can smell chestnuts roasting over an open flame 'round the corner at 50th and Fifth.

When she almost can't bear the cold for one more second, spring arrives. The elms in Central Park look like they're vibrating, with yellow-green buds on every winding bough. Oh, spring in New York, when hemlines go up, tense shoulders go down, and you can fall head-over-stiletto-heels on nearly every street corner, and buy your love a bauble ("Rolex? Rolex?") to prove it.

The ultimate romantic New York experience in any season may be simply losing oneself in the fray. In a city where passions run high and space is at a premium, the most private moments often are played out in very public forums, creating a kind of instant intimacy between strangers that ratchets up the intensity of everyday life. On the other hand, New Yorkers know when to look the other way, and exist by a code of willful ignorance that serves as a sort of synthetic privacy substitute. How easy—and thrilling—to hide together in plain sight.

MEET between the lions, on the steps of the New York Public Library at 42nd and Fifth; over a dozen gleaming bivalves, clam chowder, and beer at the counter of the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal; or at the Cherry Tavern in the East Village, where a beer and a shot will set you back only $5.


FIGHT on a subway platform. Don't be surprised if bystanders offer loose change for your performance.

HIDE & SULK at the Cloisters—the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval Europe (in Fort Tryon Park; take the A train to 190th Street.) Contemplate art, religion, and life, all with a view of the Hudson River. Plus, it’s the perfect place to swear celibacy (again). Remain on that higher spiritual plane by attending an evening concert at the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th.

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MAKE UP while strolling through midtown Manhattan's blocks and blocks of bling (Tiffany & Co., Cartier, H. Stern, Harry Winston, the 47th Street Diamond District). If that's too heavily symbolic, try either of New York’s breathtaking public gardens. The New York (Bronx) Botanical Garden’s yearly orchid show, a stamen-and-pistil showdown, will provide an exotic, slightly steamy backdrop for heartfelt apologies. Later in the spring, check out the riotous cherry blossoms or luscious lily pools at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—with the conservatory next to it all set up for one of the umpteen weddings held there. Who could stay mad? Seal the reconciliation with dinner at the River Café.

HAVE DARING SEX in the backseat of a cab. Scientists have not yet explained why this is so exciting, but it is. Other options: between stops on the G train or late at night in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park.

WHO ELSE: Donald Trump and Marla ("Best Sex I Ever Had") Maples; Tony Randall and Jack Klugman; Derek Jeter and the women of the Bronx; F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; Woody Allen and Diane Keaton; Woody Allen and Mia Farrow; Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn; Holly Golightly and Tiffany's. Anyone running through traffic to meet the love of his/her life at the top of the Empire State Building

ONLY IN NEW YORK CAN YOU... stay up all night and then go out for dinner; ogle the other beautiful people over the $62 fruits de mer and champagne at Blue Ribbon in SoHo or Brooklyn's Park Slope; wash down your duck meatloaf and gravy fries with a milkshake at Chelsea’s Diner 24; have a Chinese rice pudding dish while you wait your turn for karaoke at Congee Village on the Lower East Side; or go to Katz’s (remember Meg Ryan's "I'll have what she's having" scene?) and get in the mood to go home again.


Miami by Tom Austin
Sex, depending on individual perspective and how often you're actually having some, is either the ultimate party or a Technicolor plague. Miami is sex, a carnal city that has become one big erogenous zone, and sometimes it would be easier for all concerned, visitors and natives alike, if we could just take a pill (not that pill, you fool!) and make it go away. Despite the doll-house charm of Ocean Drive, South Beach feels at moments like the hot bottom of Bangkok, lust everywhere and nowhere at once. The invitation for the opening of Tommy Lee's Rok Bar featured a shirtless, excessively tattooed Lee holding up a slab of raw beef. Sex may be easy, but love is hard, and appropriate settings are equally tricky. Civilized romantics can find oases at Joe Allen or Pacific Time for dinner, and the Raleigh hotel at almost any hour. As palm fronds wave in the breeze by the Raleigh's famed pool, it's easy to imagine Esther Williams cavorting in the blue depths. Beach devotees, meanwhile, can roll right off the sand into one of Ocean Drive's more sensuous dance clubs.

But is also the American Venice, poised between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, with a series of canals that wind their way through the metropolis. As William Faulkner observed, landscape is character--sometimes a scary notion for Miami natives--and every visitor is quickly transformed by the ease, pleasure, and pure sensuality of being surrounded by water. Embracing that singularity is simple, with places to rent speedboats, sailboats, and jet-skis all over town. A modest craft will do: it doesn't have to be one of those vaguely sinister Cigarettes or some other mega-powered vessel of the kind that always seems to be owned by an over-compensating, horny vulgarian with a silicone-slap-happy girlfriend draped across the bow like a mermaid gone wrong.

By boat, Miami Beach is pure romance, one gilded isle after another, a voyeur's delight. Start on the northwest end of the Beach, in the calm waters of Biscayne Bay, and take in the series of islands that Christo once encircled in pink fabric, precisely capturing the sex-and-fun-through-fluidity essence of the city. Drift down past the paparazzi pay-dirt of Indian Creek and North Bay Road, a gift box of excessively moneyed hideaways: the tiki-hut complex of Julio Iglesias; Carl Icahn's gleaming Xanadu; and Jennifer Lopez's sex-to-burn estate, between the Brothers Gibb and sharing the street with love-god Ricky Martin.

On the open bay, head south to the Miami River, which spills out past the towers of downtown. Take a drink at Big Fish, then linger over a dolphin sandwich at Garcia's while listing Haitian freighters slide by remnants of grit and whimsy such as the penis-shaped pediment on the old East Coast Fisheries building, a nod to the river's bawdy history. Or keep going, down to Matheson Hammock Park, home to the lagoon-side Red Fish Grill, and end up at the sunset mecca of improbably poised fishing shacks off Key Biscayne. From there, the confectionary skyline of Miami is as beautiful and exotic as Angkor Wat: this is the city through the haze of a softening filter, and as any lover understands, even true romance can benefit from a little distance and proper lighting.


MEET on the beach, of course. No stretch of sand is more promising than that outside the Nikki Beach Club at One Ocean Drive. Spread your towel, make eye contact, and you may eventually wander together right off the sand into this laid-back, elegant club, where you can sip the house specialty mojitos in chaise lounges or a private cabana with billowing white curtains.

BUILD THE EXCITEMENT at Mango's Tropical Café, 900 Ocean Drive. A South Beach institution, the open-air Latin dance club is usually packed and throbbing with salsa and merengues. Inspired by the moves of Mango's hunky barmen and luscious barmaids, some of whom have triple-jointed hips, you'll end up doing the merengue too, and that has been known to lead to all sorts of things.

FIGHT in the surf, up to your chin. Try it. The pounding of the waves means you can yell at the top of your lungs without sharing all those intimate frustrations. There's nothing out there to throw at the idiot you're with, and the grandeur of the ocean will make your differences seem a whole lot less significant. When you're done arguing, you can ride a wave back in together.

HIDE & SULK by flagging down a cabbie and telling him you want to run away to the Café Sambal, the superstylish bayside café at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, 500 Brickell Key Drive. Lunch and dinner are busy with both locals and high-profile visitors, but the rest of the time the tables on the terrace offer a beautiful, peaceful view of Biscayne Bay. Just the place to think it over.


MAKE UP at B.E.D., 929 Washington Avenue. B.E.D.'s waiters will serve you dinner in private alcoves with platform beds, then close the curtains, leaving you to your own devices amid the large fluffy pillows. Feed each other or--whatever. B.E.D. doesn't just get you back together horizontally, it provides the necessary fuel for total reconciliation. Another option is to go old-world, with a night on Calle Ocho in Little Havana: dinner and café con leche at Versailles, followed by the dance club Hoy Como Ayer.

HAVE DARING SEX but not on the beach. Sand and thieves can ruin the moment. Mansion, 1234 Washington Avenue, is full of shadowy nooks. Other club-goers may watch discreetly out of the corners of their eyes, but no one will interrupt the dreamy-eyed lady, ostensibly sitting alone, whose boyfriend is under the table making her night memorable.

WHO ELSE: Just about every A-list star has "done" South Beach, and some have done it together. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay-Z and Beyoncé Knowles, J. Lo and Ben, J. Lo and Marc, J. Lo and--[Let's give Ms. Lopez a break here; at least she's out there emotionally, unlike some we could name. --Ed.]

ONLY IN MIAMI CAN YOU... rollerblade along a major thoroughfare in a string bikini without anyone batting an eyelash.