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Save the date


I've known plenty of reasonable people who object to Valentine's Day. Some say it's too commercialized. Some call it lame. Some argue that there is no reasonable link between the 3rd-century martyrdom of Saint Valentine by Claudius Gothicus and today's heart-shaped harbingers of high blood sugar.

To them I say, sure, it's perfectly arbitrary. But every holiday is arbitrary in its own way. The Revolutionary War started long before July 4, and the New Testament makes no mention of any Easter rabbit. That doesn't make fireworks less pretty or boiled eggs less delicious. Unless you're profoundly square, an arbitrary tradition is a fine excuse to surprise your loved one with a gift or experience designed to inspire delight.

The other objections may be valid, though. Coastlines are sinking into the sea because of our endless hunger for mass-produced crap. The price of roses triples in February, and marketers have stocked the shelves with bland confections and disposable baubles. How do we square a healthy dose of hedonism with an objection to being gouged or bored? What are we to do instead of consuming for the sake of consumption?

If this thorny dilemma sounds familiar, dear reader, we've assembled a list of nontraditional local activities to salvage your Valentine's Day. Whether you're on a budget or you just want to try something different, there's something here for everyone.

Durand Beach

Durand Eastman Park is one of Rochester's most picturesque spots, even in the wintertime. Hike one of the trails or break out the Nordic skis if weather permits. The allegedly haunted "White Lady's Castle" is a must-see, but first be sure to dramatically tell your date the (totally bogus) urban legend of the disappeared girl, her vengeful mother, and the spooky ghost hounds that chase couples away from the site after dark. 

King's Highway North is a beautiful drive any time of year, but be careful on the S-curves when it's snowy. While you're up by the lake, swing by Don's Original for a burger or Murph's for some of the best wings this side of Buffalo.

Lamberton Conservatory

180 Reservoir Avenue. 753-7270. monroecounty.gov/parks-conservatory.

Nestled between the South Wedge and Highland Park neighborhoods, the Lamberton Conservatory is a lovely greenhouse that seems much larger on the inside than the outside. It's stocked with all manner of bizarre and beautiful plants, plus a cozy home for multiple turtles and tortoises. And don't miss the baby turtles at the front desk as you walk into the greenhouse.

The real selling point for the conservatory in cold weather, though, is its proximity to the Reservoir Avenue sledding hill. Located right next to the Conservatory, this glacial behemoth plunges the adventurous soul 60 feet into the park along a mostly treeless path. Warm up with a cocoa from Equal Grounds afterward to complete an essential wintertime South Wedge experience.

Wild Wings Inc.

27 Pond Road, Honeoye Falls. 334-7790. wildwingsinc.com.

To clarify, I am not talking about the chain restaurant. This Wild Wings is a sanctuary for wounded birds of prey located in Mendon Ponds Park. Open daily Friday through Tuesday, the not-for-profit educational facility is free to enter, though it's supported by an optional donation. All wildlife are in their own contained areas. On any given afternoon, you can meet hawks, owls, eagles, and the facility's mascot, a handsome and charming turkey vulture named Barf. Wild Wings is even home to a rather reclusive bobcat, but if you're lucky, you may get a glimpse.

The talented volunteer staff offer seasonal programs throughout the year. If philanthropic gifts are your style, the organization also offers an opportunity to "adopt" many of their raptors. You don't actually get to take the bird home, but you do get a photo, a cool certificate, and some information about wildlife conservation.

Dive Bar Safari

I love a good dive bar. The sticky floors and surly staff have an appeal all their own, and they're becoming endangered in our Yelp-driven "I'd like to speak to a manager" era. 

Now, it defeats the purpose entirely if I tell you which dive bar to go to. Publicizing these places ruins the ambiance and irritates the regulars. Plus, what I find quaint might be a deal-breaker for you. What I recommend instead is that you pick a few dives you've been curious about and make an itinerary. Then, using a responsible means of conveyance (Uber, Lyft, chartered limousine, whatever), explore the less-glamorous nightlife until you find a place that's playing your song on the jukebox. It'll be your little secret. Don't you dare Instagram it.

Visit your local butcher

The way to your beloved's heart is, scientifically, through a meal hearty enough to cause arterial buildup. Humans have been cooking for each other since the invention of fire, and it's been a universal way to show affection ever since.


Rochester is blessed with a number of excellent independent butchers who can help you find the right ingredients to impress your better half. The crew at McCann's on South Clinton Avenue are knowledgeable and make a fantastic smoked beef heart that's perfect for the occasion. Check out Swan Market on Parsells Street for all things pork. I've actually seen people moved to tears of joy by their sausage selection.

Arc & Flame Center

125 FedEx Way. 349-7110. rocafc.com.

Most of this list has focused on lower-budget ideas, but everyone's situation is different. If you are going to make a thing out of gift-giving this year, I can't recommend Arc & Flame highly enough.

For the price of a fancy dinner for two, the Gates-based school offers four-hour couples classes in blacksmithing, glass blowing, and other fiery media. Instead of indigestion from too much filet mignon and Bordeaux, you'll both take home a unique piece of handmade art.

As an aside, I learned the hard way that "peen" is a term of art in the smithing world. It refers to part of a hammer. Prepare yourself in advance so that you do not giggle when the instructor uses it in a sentence.

Finally, the important thing is to keep surprising each other. If your partner has impeccable taste and is also a CITY reader, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Let us know what you come up with in the new and improved comments section.

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