Studies show that the secret to happiness is spending money on experiences, not things—and that’s especially true when you’re talking Valentine’s Day. Flowers and chocolates are sweet, and a romantic dinner is always a win, but if you want to make lasting memories with your love, try an unexpected experience. If you're in need of a little extra inspiration, check out these cupid-approved experiences across the state, listed north to south.
Feast on chocolate in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Exploratorium will transform into a chocolate paradise for one night on Valentine’s Day. Enjoy a decadent evening as you and your boo learn about the chocolate-making process and taste your way through a cocoa-filled flight. More of a vanilla bean girl? Check out these other unusual Valentine’s events throughout the city.
Create old-school romance in Concord
Explore Channel Islands National Park
Make your lover’s heart beat faster with an all-day adventure through the country’s most isolated national park just off the coast of Santa Barbara. Start the morning with a ferry ride (watch for dolphins) before kayaking through hidden sea caves, snorkeling next to sea lions, and more. Check out Island Packers for a Valentine’s Day Harbor Cruise on a 64-foot catamaran and trips to the Channel Islands from Ventura and Oxnard year-round.
Hop aboard a mystery train in Ventura County
In the 1960s, Fillmore & Western Railway Co. provided vintage locomotives for Hollywood’s period films. Today, they are fully operational passenger cars stationed in Fillmore (east of Ventura). On Valentine’s Day, you and your partner can play movie stars with a three-hour mystery dinner tour aboard a dining car.
Get cheeky in Los Angeles
If roses and a box of chocolates aren't your style, good news—Los Angeles has plenty of alternative events and super chic Valentine's Day dining specials. On Feb. 14, head to Grand Park for a free concert next to sidewalks lit in neon pink. Celebrating over the weekend instead? Team up with your number one for an R-rated scavenger hunt with Naked at The Getty, held Saturday, Feb. 16. Answer questions about the museum's clothing-optional paintings and sculptures for a chance to win some artful swag.
Go on a date-date in Palm Springs
The oasis-like city of Palm Springs is full of old-school romance. Take your date on a date for a date at the Shields Date Garden in Indio. Hold hands in the shaded garden, cheers with a refreshing date shake, and watch the sweet film, “Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” A girl can’t live on dried fruit alone, so make a reservation at one of the area’s top restaurants offering holiday deals.
Whale watch—with wine—in Orange County
Trade in chocolate fountains for 10-foot-high whale spouts with Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching. Explore the Orange County coastline with your love, searching for dolphins, whales, and sea lions, as you sip on four varieties of organic wine.
Soak up art in San Diego
Art lovers, this one’s for you. Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is featuring guided tours of the most romantic pieces in its collection. After the tour wraps, you’ll relax with a picnic basket dinner (complete with Champagne) at neighboring Panama 66. But why let the celebration stop there? Check out other off-the-beaten-path ideas for the perfect San Diego V-day weekend.
Looking for even more ideas? Check out 8 Romantic Escapes for 8 Kinds of Couples.