Gifts of Champagne and roses are timeless gestures for expressing love on Valentine’s Day, but less traditional overtures often make for a more memorable experience. This year, employ some ingenuity. We Texans have plenty of offbeat options for celebrating the occasion—whether it’s with your sweetheart, best pal, mom, or sister. Here are eight ways to tell someone special, “You’re in my heart.”
1. Elope to Texas Hill Country
An intimate setting for tying the knot awaits at the Star of Texas, a bed-and-breakfast retreat five minutes from downtown Brownwood. The elopement package is a no-fuss choice for guests, as the hosts (one of whom is a minister) do all the work, providing a flower-and-herb bouquet, wedding cake, sparkling wine, and photography. Even better, you’ll stay in one of three lovely cottages hidden within hilly, thickly wooded grounds, providing ample privacy. A nature trail on the property winds through the oaks, where you might see birds, deer, turkey, rock formations, wildflowers, and bottle trees, the latter perfect for hiding love notes. Each cottage has its own hot tub and kitchenette. Lounge on the porch and enjoy an elaborate breakfast delivered to your door. Inquire about spa treatments and wine and cheese platters, too.
2. Self-guided tour of Galveston Island
Only on Galveston Island can you see nearly 30 sculptures carved from once-mighty trees. In its 2008 tidal surge, Hurricane Ike destroyed many magnificent oaks. Industrious artists carved exquisite works from more than two dozen that remained rooted to the ground, creating soaring images such as a mermaid, dolphins, water birds, flowers, and angels. Rent a bicycle built for two from Island Bicycle (islandbicyclecompany.com) and go on a self-guided tour throughout Galveston’s historic East End, where restored Victorian homes showcase the island’s early romantic allure. Then check into Carr Mansion (carrmansion.com), a stunning 19th–century Greek Revival mansion just blocks from the beach. Complimentary cocktails are served upon check-in, and the hotel can help arrange horse-drawn carriage rides through the East End.
3. Send an e-card from NASA
To send a romantic message that’s truly out of this world, look to NASA. Engineers there show a softer side, attending to the science of love. A choice of 27 e-cards—featuring images of Pluto, Saturn, and Jupiter; heart-shaped pits on the surface of Mars; granite rocks from Mars shaped like hearts; and magical streamlines from magnetic fields; among others—come with delightful messages for your beloved. “You make my heart race faster than the speed of sound!” accompanies the brilliantly hued image of a supersonic jet’s shock wave, and “You’re the light of my life,” is the message attached to a fiery photo of the sun. The bonus? These cards are free to send. Pick an image, fill in your email address and that of your recipient, your personal message, and click—off it goes, shot from Cupid’s digital bow.
4. Sent with love from Valentine, Texas
Valentine’s Day Postmark, c/o Postmaster
311 W. California Avenue, Valentine, TX 79854-9998
Send a love letter the old-fashioned way, and make it extra special with a postmark from Valentine, Texas. Located in the heart of the Trans-Pecos, Valentine (pop. a little over 100) is 36 miles northwest of Marfa and 159 miles southeast of El Paso—a quiet place that gets busier just before February 14. That’s when the post office receives thousands of cards and letters from around the world to be hand-stamped with a “Love Station” mark created anew each year by a local student who wins the annual design competition. Put your addressed, stamped Valentine’s Day card in a larger envelope and post it to Valentine’s Day Postmark, c/o Postmaster, 311 W. California Avenue, Valentine, TX 79854-9998. “Take your mail to your local post office to make sure the appropriate postage is affixed before mailing it to us,” says Postmaster Ismelda Ornelas. “Some Valentine cards are a little heavier and require extra postage.”
5. Recite romantic poetry in Waco
Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library and Museum
710 Speight Avenue, Waco. (254) 710-3566; baylor.edu/browninglibrary.
Lovers of poetry should make a beeline to the heart of Waco, and the magnificent Armstrong Browning Library and Museum at Baylor University. Within a beautiful, three-story Italian Renaissance–style building lies the world’s largest collection of the romantic works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The facility serves as the permanent home to some 600 poetic and literary manuscripts, 11,000 letters, 33,000 volumes of books and periodicals, and 1,500 musical scores pertaining to the Brownings and British and American writers and artists of their time. In the Browning Library Collection, you can see books from the Brownings’ personal libraries and that of their immediate families, some showing annotations in the poets’ handwriting, along with first editions of all works by the Brownings. Spend time taking in the 62 stained glass windows illustrating in vivid color the Brownings’ poetry; the visual impact leaves lasting memories.
6. Sunset picnic atop Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Few places in Texas seem more romantic for watching the sunset than the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 17 miles north of the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. Hike 425 feet to the top of this massive pink granite dome (it covers about 640 acres; the climb is like that of 30 to 40 floors in a building) for a view like none other. There’s great stargazing in this remote park, too, but the sun’s descent speaks to romance. Plan ahead by picking up items for a gourmet picnic basket in Fredericksburg. A sure bet is Emma and Ollie (emmaolliefbg.com), a restaurant and bakery that offers bacon-cheddar scones, charcuterie boards, pesto-pasta salad, a fried chicken bucket with roasted potato salad, and delicious sweets, such as handmade peanut butter cups. Good Texas wines are sold here, too.
7. Soak in natural mineral springs just outside Ruidosa
The ultimate getaway in Texas awaits at what feels like the end of the world (and we mean that in the best possible way). Chinati Hot Springs lies at the end of a rocky, unpaved track about 40 miles northwest of Presidio, just outside the minuscule village of Ruidosa in the Chihuahuan Desert. It’s so remote that there’s not a hint of cell phone service. This little mineral-springs oasis sits in the shade of cottonwood trees, with rock-lined communal pools—cold and hot, all with soothing waters—and a shared kitchen used by all guests. The selection of seven charming, comfortable cabins includes El Patrón, with a deep soaking tub on your private patio where you can take the relaxing waters while gazing upward at a stunning canopy of stars.
8. Romantic farm-fresh dinner at Pharm Table
In historically romantic San Antonio, Pharm Table in Southtown offers a Valentine’s dinner sure to steal your heart. Chef Elizabeth Johnson woos you with her ruby red grapefruit margarita to start the pairings menu. The succession of dishes includes quinoa–black bean tamales with pumpkin escabeche and chile pequin salsa; seared axis deer chili con carne with mesquite flour tortillas; and a dessert crowned with pecan-horchata ice cream. Candlelit tables, an eclectic global music mix, and an essential oils aromatherapy experience prior to dinner set the mood. Afterward, head to the new Thompson Hotel (thompsonhotels.com/hotels/Texas). Enjoy a nightcap at the rooftop bar, inspired by Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, or in your suite, where your sculptural soaking tub offers a view of the city’s nightlight just beyond your balcony.
June Naylor is an award-winning travel journalist, dining critic, and food writer with more than 20 years of experience. Follow her adventures on junenaylor.com.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.