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21 last-minute Valentine's Day dates

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Palms sweaty, heart racing, eyes about to roll back in your head? Yep, you waited too long to plan Valentine’s Day again, didn’t you. Don’t worry, if you need a Valentine’s Day date, we have you covered. No matter where you want to be or what you want to do, one of these options should cover your needs, or at least inspire you with a romantic eureka moment. Pick one or mix-and-match, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re with someone you love.

ANNA MARIA ISLAND
Mini Golf and Margaritas
For the young at heart, especially the young at heart with a competitive streak, nothing is more romantic than a round of putt-putt. At The Fish Hole Miniature Golf (115 Bridge St, Bradenton Beach, 778-3388, thefishhole.com) you’ll find yourself on a terrifically tropical course with misters, y’know, just in case you let things get a little too steamy. Another amorous plus, this place looks more like a botanical garden than a miniature golf course with 50 species of plants and a multitude of pretty fish populating the 3,000-gallon pond. After graciously winning or losing, have a 19th hole margarita, or three, while listening to live music and whispering sweet nothings to each other at The Bridge Tender Inn’s (135 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach, 778-4849) tiki bar that hugs the Intracoastal Waterway.
– Wade Tatangelo

Waterfront

The Waterfront

Sunset and Spirits
Few places in the country offer more spectacular sunsets than Southwest Florida, especially on the northern tip of Anna Maria Island. Lock hands with your lover, place your toes in the sand near the Anna Maria City Pier and watch that big, beautiful orange ball sink into Tampa Bay. Oh yeah, and try to plan that seductive smooch to coincide right with the glorious last rays of light. Next, walk over to The Waterfront (111 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, 778-1515, thewaterfrontrestaurant.net) and order a cocktail at the bar from the restaurant’s chic spirits menu. Plenty of fine wines and craft beers are also available.
– Wade Tatangelo

Gifts and ‘Gras
How about spending Valentine’s Day shopping together? More than just a mere souvenir shop, The Sand Dollar (5302 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-2024, myyellowshovel.com) is filled with everything from trendy clothes to organic candles that smell just like a warm breeze off the Gulf of Mexico. Nautical home accents, jewelry and natural health and beauty products are also among the items at this popular shopping spot with a rustic, coastal feel. After all the gift buying is done, go around the corner to Duffy’s (5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-2501, duffystavernami.com) for ice-cold beer and some of the best cheeseburgers in the 941. Want to make it an extra-special occasion? Call ahead and see if you can special order the awesomely decadent foie gras burger.
— Wade Tatangelo

LAKEWOOD RANCH
Sports and Scotch
You’d think that 13,000 square feet of trampolines at Jumpin’ Fun Sports (7321 Trade Court, Lakewood Ranch, 388-5867, jumpinfunsports.com) wouldn’t make for a romantic time, but there’s something about all that bouncing around that gets you totally ready to take the action back to the bedroom. Does dodge ball turn you on? They have that, too. But before heading home with your hottie, how about cooling down a bit with some beverages at MacAllisters (8110 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch, 359-2424, macallisters.com)? Forget about boat drinks for the evening and go to the bar and sip on some sexy single-malt scotches.
– Wade Tatangelo

Smoothies and Streaming
Do some cute, couples grocery shopping at Healthy Living Organic and Natural Market (10671 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch; 907 6865, hlomarket.com). You’ll find plenty of all-natural and organic goodies including snacks, produce, juices and succulent smoothies. Bring that recycled bag or two of organic goodness back home and cuddle up together for some serious binge viewing. Yep, we’re talking the entire second season of the wonderfully diabolical political drama “House of Cards.” Starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, it premieres Valentine’s Day on the streaming service Netflix.
– Wade Tatangelo

legacyLinks and Linksters
Ditch work Friday or simply relish the joys of retirement and spend Valentine’s Day driving, pitching and putting with that lucky him or her at Legacy Gold Club (8255 Legacy Blvd., Lakewood Ranch, 907-7920, legacygolfclub.com). Legacy is an 18-hole, Arnold Palmer signature-designed public golf course featuring elevated multiple tees with sand and water framing nearly every hole. The course also has 360-foot wide fairways on all corridors, making it visually dramatic and challenging while still approachable to all players. Discuss your favorite strokes afterwards over liquid love at Linksters Tap Room (8201 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park, 359-1282, linksterstaproom.com).
– Wade Tatangelo

BRADENTON

Motorworks

Motorworks

Bocce and Brews
So it’s too late to impress with dinner for two at a fancy Italian restaurant. No biggie. Give your loved one a different type of Italian experience on the bocce courts that are part of the spacious beer garden at the new Motorworks Brewing (1014 9th St. W., Bradenton, 896-9892, motorworksbrewing.com). Bocce is a lovely lawn game that can be played with one hand. This means the other hand should be embracing, at all times, a mighty Motorworks brew or one of the myriad guest-selection beers. Great wines and full-liquor mixed drinks are also available. As for dinner, you can’t go wrong at Motorworks with pork or chicken from the practically always-present food truck, The Traveling Kitchen.
– Wade Tatangelo

Picnic and Pints
Stop by the iconic Chop Shop (5906 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton, 794-6328, chopshopgrocer.com) for all your picnic needs – from delicious deli sandwiches to homemade cakes – and then spread your blanket and basket on the Bradenton Riverwalk (452 3rd Avenue W., Bradenton, realizebradenton.com), which features tirelessly appealing views of the Manatee River and, in the distance, the Gulf of Mexico. End the evening with a short stroll up Old Main Street to The Lost Kangaroo (406 Old Main St., Bradenton, 747-8114, lostkangaroo.com) for a pint of great craft beer like the locally connected High Road Ale. The ’Roo also serves wine and spirits.
– Wade Tatangelo

Foliage and Fogelberg
To maximize the romantic factor at the pristine Robinson Preserve (1704 99th St. N.W., Bradenton, 748-4501, mymanatee.org), climb the observation tower offering magnificent vistas of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and give each other a kiss worthy of the astounding scenery. Take a joint selfie or two, climb back down, head to Ace’s Live (4343 Palma Sola Blvd., Bradenton, 795-3886, aceslivemusic.com) and let Don Campbell and his four-piece ensemble serenade you with the songs of Dan Fogelberg (7:30 p.m.; $20). And remember, it really is romantic to shed a tear or two together during “Same Old Lang Syne."
– Wade Tatangelo

SARASOTA
Pizza and ‘Philomena’
Burns Court is one of the most placid and romantic areas of downtown Sarasota, a breezy alley of old Florida houses. Start off with a pizza or pasta at the relatively new Matto Matto (543 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, 444-7196, mattomatto.com), where you can sit outside on the beautiful courtyard between Pineapple and Orange. After your casual dinner, stroll through the neighborhood and catch the 7:45 p.m. showing of "Philomena" at Burns Court Cinema (506 Burns Court, Sarasota, 955-3456, filmsociety.org).
– Brian Ries

Surf and Turf and Dragons
The fourth season of HBO’s hit original show “Game of Thrones” begins in April, so how about a marathon? Grab a steak and some lobster tails at Morton’s Market (1924 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, 955-9856, mortonsmarket.com) – don’t forget pastries in the sweet shop – and a bottle of Champagne at Michael’s Wine Cellar (1283 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 955-2675, michaelswinecellar.com), check out our recipes for simple and easy steak and lobster at ticketsarasota.com, then settle in for a romantic evening of death, nudity and dragons streamed to your TV thanks to season 3 of the fantasy epic. Isn’t it romantic?
– Brian Ries

Myakka Outpost's gator stew / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Myakka Outpost's gator stew / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Gator Gazing
Pack some gorp and water, put on your walking shoes and hike out to Myakka River State Park’s Deep Hole, where you can see a massive display of alligators in all their prehistoric reptilian glory. When you hike back, reassure yourself that you and your honey are still at the top of the food chain with some gator stew and deep-fried gator tail – along with craft beer – at Myakka Outpost (13207 State Road 72, Sarasota, 923-1120, myakkaoutpost.com), right there in the park.
– Brian Ries

SIESTA KEY/GULF GATE
SUP Hop
Gear up with sandals, a hat, sunscreen and wetsuit and try out a couples stand-up paddleboard lesson in the hands of Bob McFarland of the Sarasota Paddleboard Company (650-2241, sarasotapaddleboardcompany.com). He’ll bring the boards to you and show you how to get up and paddle like a pro, with plenty of falling off to the amusement of your loved one. Afterwards, no need to change before you bar hop through Siesta Key Village, downing drinks and snacks to refuel after your floating workout.
– Brian Ries

ophelia's

Ophelia's on the Bay

Bay Beauty
Ophelia’s By The Bay (9105 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, 349-2212, opheliasonthebay.net) is one of – if not the most – romantic restaurant in town, thanks to the quaint old house it sits in and the beautiful back deck that juts into the Intracoastal Waterway. Try and book a table (if they still have any) and prepare to have all the romance you can handle, along with great food and a nicely chosen wine list. Afterwards, you can walk across the street and canoodle on Turtle Beach, which is about as secluded as Siesta Key sand ever is.
– Brian Ries

Sushi and Scoops
Gulf Gate has long been one of the most dense and vibrant restaurant districts in town, so take advantage of that with a restaurant crawl. Start off with lively tapas and craft beer at Kazu’s 2.0 (6566 Gateway Dr., Sarasota, 922-5459, kazus2srq.com), cross the street for the best sushi in town at the intimate and romantic Vizen (6559 Gateway Dr., Sarasota, 926-0830, vizen-sarasota.com), then finish off with a shared sundae at Scoops Ice Cream (2132 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota, 924-6666). Three different experiences, all in one block.
– Brian Ries

LONGBOAT KEY/LIDO KEY
Kayak the Key
The best way to see the glorious mangrove islands dotting Sarasota Bay is from the inside, atop a kayak. Set off with your loved one from south Lido Key on a kayak eco tour led by Adventure Kayak Outfitters (779-7426, adventurekayakoutfitters.com). Afterwards, head over to the Ritz Carlton Beach Club (1234 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota; 309-2000; ritzcarlton.com) for cocktails at the tiki bar, toes in the sand and an amazing sunset over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
– Brian Ries

An almond nougatine with lemon curd mousse and a raspberry coulis is a specialty of the day at Maison Blanche.  (2.2.10; STAFF PHOTO / E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

An almond nougatine with lemon curd mousse and a raspberry coulis is a specialty of the day at Maison Blanche. (2.2.10; STAFF PHOTO / E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

Spa Day
Pamper yourselves at The Met Day Spa (35 S. Boulevard of the Presidents, St. Armands, 388-1772, themetsarasota.com) with the “Men’s Retreat” or “The Getaway,” both of which include a host of relaxing and beautifying treatments, with lunch thrown into the bargain. Refreshed and rejuvenated (and poorer by close to $900), continue your day of luxury at Café L’Europe (431 St. Armands Circle, St. Armands, 388-4415, cafeleurope.net), which will have a special three-course dinner (including a bottle of wine) for $159.95 per couple, featuring a variety of elegant choices.
– Brian Ries

French Fete
Maison Blanche (2605 Gulf of Mexico Dr., Longboat Key, 383-8088, themaisonblanche.com) is one of the best restaurants in the state, let alone our little neck of the woods. Make a reservation, dress nicely and prepare for modern French cuisine executed with an eye for perfection by chef/owner Jose Martinez, who used to have a Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of Paris. If that’s not enough of an evening for you, take a walk on the beach before heading back home.
– Brian Ries

VENICE, ENGLEWOOD, NORTH PORT

Stump Pass Beach State Park

Stump Pass Beach State Park

Bliss on a Budget
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a nice Valentine’s Day in Englewood. Head to Food Is Love (41 N. Indiana Ave., Englewood, 473-9439, foodislove.net), where original entrees come to no more than $9 and you can order breakfast all day. Then it's off to the beach. Any beach. But if, you’re looking for a little privacy, the best bet is Stump Pass Beach State Park (900 Gulf Blvd., Englewood, 964-0375, floridastateparks.org) at the south end of Manasota Key. The park extends from Lemon Bay to the Gulf and features more than two miles of undeveloped shoreline.
– David Hackett

Built for Two
Start by ordering a bicycle built for two, or a tandem. Beach Bikes and Trikes (412-3821) will deliver one to the Legacy Trail at the Train Station in downtown Venice. Ride the Legacy Trail along the Intracoastal Waterway to Sharky’s on the Pier (1600 harbor Dr. S., Venice, 488-1456, sharkysonthepier.com), featuring one of the area’s best water views, casual food and a vast choice of libations. From Sharky’s, head to Venice’s historic downtown, full of boutiques to buy your loved one a gift. You can return your bike there and get by the rest of the evening on foot in Venice’s very walkable downtown.
– David Hackett

Teppan-kayak-i
In North Port, adventuresome couples can spend a romantic outing splashing around miles from the nearest beach. Fine Bait and Tackle (14503 Tamiami Trail, North Port, 240-5981, finebaitandtackle.com) rents out tandem kayaks for $60 a day. Or, if you’re a more independent couple, you could rent two single kayaks for a half day for $30 each. For a scenic, down-river kayak trip, the Myakkahatchee Creek boasts lush forests and a plethora of wildlife. After a day of soaking in sights and sun, head to Kumo Japanese Steakhouse (17945 S. Tamiami Trail, North Port, 426-5866, kumojapansessteakhouse.com), where couples can enjoy performances by table-side chefs and order exotic seafood from the restaurant’s sushi menu.
– Shelby Webb

Last modified: February 13, 2014
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