Top 5 Most Romantic Cities

Family, Self

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

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

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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