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It is tough to pick what to do for Valentine’s Day in Sarasota County. Not because there are no choices of great, fun options, but perhaps there are too many.
On February 14, 2001, my now-husband and I went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. College-me wore a new dress, college-he borrowed a friend’s car, and we went off-campus to a paella restaurant named, aptly, Paella.
During dinner, the man at the table next to us surprised his date with an engagement ring upon her return from the restroom. All of us surrounding their table watched with swooning anticipation as he got down on one knee, confessed his undying love, and asked her to be his wife. Then she replied “oh, ok.” This episode with the poor smitten man and what I can assume is now his ex-wife turned me off of this particular holiday for many years. But now as a mom of two young kids, I have sloughed off my bah-humbug views on Valentine’s Day and have instead embraced its message of love, romance, and gooiness.
For me, it’s an excuse to smother my husband and children with glitter-encrusted crafts and sweet treats, maybe even to sneak in a grown-up date night. For others, it’s a tradition. Maybe you’re newly dating and ignoring this particular date would bring that to an abrupt halt or you’re not-so-newly together and it’s go time. Maybe you’re just really, really romantic. The reasons differ. But what we can all agree on is that it’s tough to pick what to do. Not because there are no choices of great, fun Valentine’s Day options here in Sarasota, but perhaps there are too many.
Climb to new heights
You know how advertisements and Pinterest boards keep reminding us that “Strong is Sexy” and to “spend money on experiences, not things”? Both of these can be confirmed by a Valentine’s date to the treetop adventure course at TreeUmph. All fears of not knowing what to say (a fist bump will suffice), what to wear (your sexiest gym clothes), and what to do (climb!) are simultaneously diminished with the purchase of your tickets.
As you climb through the various routes through towering slash pines up to sixty feet high, your endorphins rush, your camaraderie tightens, and your body works to propel you through what lies in store. Watch your date climb that ladder from behind. See those biceps tighten at the zip line. Face your fears together. Sweat. Smile. Attempt the Summit (you’ll be so proud when you ring that bell). And when it’s done, you’ll have a memory to tell tales about for the remainder of any future awkward date convo lulls, and a really good excuse to give your partner a much needed V-Day massage.
Dinner and a Movie
For many, however, Valentine’s Day is not the time to be getting tired, but rather a much-needed opportunity to talk, relax, eat, and be entertained. And there is nothing wrong with the classic dinner and a movie. I’m a big fan. But on a special day such as this, it’s best to keep off the beaten path. Venture to a darker, more secluded, more remote destination, full of corners for grabbing a quick (or not-so-quick) smooch. Enter Owen’s Fish Camp and Burns Court Cinema.
Owen’s embodies all the qualities of an exceptional Feb. 14 dinner – you can dine outside under a massive banyan tree and café lights, or in the quaint restored house interior; the food is just plain good, but manages to fulfill the tastes of any diner, thus avoiding the “there’s nothing I like here” conundrum that is basically a date-destroyer (hint: just get the scallops with pork over succotash – amazing). Arrive early and enjoy the patio out back, where you can partake in some pre-dinner drinks while invigorating yourselves in the cool-ish Florida air, perhaps needing to snuggle together a smidge while the live band plays. It’s an environment that allows you to simply sit close and enjoy your togetherness.
A few steps away is the Burns Court Cinema. Featuring many independent and foreign films, it is a bit more exotic of a date night where there’s less distraction by teenagers fiddling on their phones and throwing popcorn as you try to make your move. No risk of a gaggle of giggling girls kicking your seat as you try to focus on the subtitles. Not a fan of obscure films? No worries - you both know you’re not really there for the movie anyway.
Create your own romance
Valentine’s Day has somehow become this over-the-top day of spoiling your partner with an expensive dinner, fancy drinks, elaborate gifts, and whatnot. If that’s what you’re into, go right ahead. But for some, for varying reasons, that is not in the cards. But Sarasota abounds with romantic locations for a free, romantic setting for gazing into your partner’s eyes and, well, whatever else you plan on doing. One recommendation is the Phillippi Estate Park.
Open until midnight, the grounds boast everything you’d need for a gasp-inducing picnic setting – plentiful lush grasses, water views of Phillippi Creek, a rose garden, there’s even a mansion. It’s pretty much a mail-order locale for romance. Set up a blanket, bring some goodies (Morton’s Market has a great selection for this type of occasion), and take in the surrounding breeze, a mix of roses and salt water. It’s also the perfect backdrop for photos. There is a smaller building on the grounds, to the east of the main building that is the epitome of Valentine’s Day photo op spot. And every time you look upon them fondly in the future, you’ll remember how amazing your partner thought you were for pulling off such a simple, romantic, thoughtful date. Score for future you.
Have a good time
As for me? On the actual V-Day, I’ll be making pink heart pancakes with my little ones, most likely in my sweat pants. But on the night before, the hubs and I will be at The Book of Mormon at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which runs through the 14th. Which means on that oh so romantic day, we’ll be attempting to sing and recap the best jokes from the night before, laughing the day away.
If you’ve already seen Mormon, head to McCurdy’s Comedy Club for some stand up chuckles. This intimate venue headlines varying comedians so be sure to check their online schedule. But the seats are always good and the show will guarantee you a sore stomach and cheeks from laughing. Bring on the endorphins. On Valentine’s Day, they are also hosting a burlesque show – laughing and then burlesque? Sounds like you’ve hit the jackpot for a homerun. With its new downtown location, McCurdy’s has no shortage of dining options nearby, though you can also eat there if you so choose. But, personally, I like to go out afterwards and reminisce about the jokes, the good and the bad. To choose a traditional V-Day dining option, walk to Hyde Park Steak House for a hubby-approved steak (please just try to control yourself; bloating is a definite mood killer), or walk another block to the less-traditional State Street (statestreetsrq.com) for an artisan cocktail.
If all else fails, head to the beach. It’s the solution to everything and it’s impossible not to fall in love to the sound of the waves crashing and the clear sky overhead. Bring a blanket, pack a cooler, and let nature do the work as the sun sets upon the horizon and the sky turns that magical shade of pink. Snuggle a little closer, let the salt stick to your glistening skin, and then go home and, well, you know, it is Valentine’s Day.