Valentine's Day Ideas

Valentine's Day chez Kelly has always been a quiet, at-home affair. Patrick brings me flowers and dessert. I cook him dinner after the kids are in bed, and we break out the crystal candlesticks we got for our wedding. But this year, we'd been trading barbs; the daily grind has rubbed us raw. Something more was needed; something away from the house. I scanned the immediate landscape for getaways; I wanted to leave Patrick dizzy with options.Up in Temecula, David Bradley of California Dreamin' Balloon and Biplane Adventures (800-373-3359, www.californiadreamin.com) has teamed up with South Coast Winery Resort & Spa to offer a package deal. "It includes the balloon ride, a bottle of wine, and a room at South Coast in one of their villas. They have full amenities, including in-room Jacuzzis. We do our balloon flights in the morning because the wind comes through the valley in the afternoon. We serve coffee, hot chocolate, and croissants as the guests arrive. We start near the end of wine country, near Ponte Family Estates Winery, then go back through the valley -- from grapevine level to 2000 feet. The flight lasts about two-and-a-half hours. And standard with all our flights are tasting tickets for South Coast Winery." The package costs $395 for two, Sunday through Thursday, and $445 Friday and Saturday. [Nonpackage balloon flights are available every day for $130 per person. Open-cockpit biplane rides are also available for $208 for two people.]

If two hours in a floating basket with his sparring partner was too much to contemplate, I could offer him a day on his own, on the links. Meanwhile, I could get spa'd. Neesha Lahiri at La Costa Resort & Spa (800-854-5000) was happy to oblige. "We've just undergone a renovation and opened a brand-new spa that was rated one of the top five in the nation, and we have two championship golf courses." The Destination La Costa package "starts at $210 per room. It includes the room for two and your choice of a spa treatment or a round of golf per person." While Patrick took out his frustrations on a little white ball, I could soak in the spa's outdoor courtyard, "with a Roman waterfall massage. It's hot water, just pounding on your shoulders." Lahiri then tempted me with Valentine's special spa treatments involving chocolate -- a chocolate sugar exfoliation, a whipped chocolate body mask. Massages, wine, truffles, and roses rounded out the options; prices ran from $140 to $825 per couple.

Even more than golf, however, Patrick loves to eat in restaurants. Stacy Long at the Westgate Hotel downtown told me about a Valentine's special that centered on the stomach. "The L'Amour package offered on February 12 or 14 includes a one-night stay in a deluxe room (marble bathrooms, British wool carpets, French linens), Perrier-Jouet Champagne and chocolate truffles delivered to the room, American breakfast in bed for two, and a five-course dinner for two in the Le Fountainbleu restaurant. The menus are his-and-hers." For her: seared Hudson Valley foie gras, Dover sole filet with black winter truffles, strawberry-lavender sorbet, milk-fed veal or seared Maine lobster tail. For him: grilled jumbo shrimp with Osetra caviar, roasted squab breast, lemon-thyme sorbet, New Zealand venison with Lady Gala apple or grilled snapper. We'd have to share dessert -- a chocolate box filled with petits fours -- and, of course, Patrick would have to put up with me taking smidgens from everything he got. "There will also be live music and a dance floor," said Long, stirring my hopes. Cost: $465 per couple. (Reservations through Le Fountainbleu restaurant, 619-557-3655.)

If Patrick grumbled about such indulgence so close to tax time, I wanted to be ready for him. So I checked out some less extravagant options. Nazar Major, owner of Live Oak Springs Resort (619-766-4288), talked up a mountain getaway. "When you drive to us, it's mostly shrubs, but Live Oak Springs is built on a Campo Creek aquifer. There are about 100 oak trees on the property. The cabins are two-story A-frames. Downstairs, there is a bedroom and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi for two." Upstairs, there is a balcony for taking in the view. "The cabins have fireplaces and all the other amenities: TV, VCR, DVD, microwave, and refrigerator. We have two specials right now. For $99 a night during the week, you get the cabin and a full breakfast for two in the restaurant. For $169, you can get breakfast for two, a massage for two in your room, and dinner for two. We serve everything from pizza to a two-inch steak; I've been the chef there for 22 years. It's the best deal in San Diego."

Finally, I put in a call to Timothy Elliott at the Palms at Indian Head in Borrego Springs (800-519-2624), hoping that Valentine's Day would see some flowers blooming in the desert. "There's been tons of rain this year," noted Elliott. "The desert floor is totally green, and it's the blooming season. We're set apart from the rest of the town; we're adjacent to Anza-Borrego National Park. People like to leave from here and go for hikes. We're a boutique hotel; we've got only 12 rooms on a 20-acre property. But we've got a huge pool. Some of the rooms are in the classic modern style, but the rooms by the end of the pool are more cozy. Still, there are no phones in the rooms, and only wind-up clocks." Room rates for February 14 range from $129 to $159 and include a continental breakfast.

1. Flower bed

2. California Dreamin' Balloon Adventures

3. La Costa Resort & Spa

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