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COVER STORY

Love is optional

Valentine's Day can always be special.

February 07, 2008|Charlie Amter, Chris Barton, August Brown, Mindy Farabee, Jason Gelt, Jessica Gelt, Liam Gowing, Dean Kuipers, Lea Lion, David Ng, Pauline O'Connor, Enid Portuguez, Elina Shatkin, Margaret Wappler

LOVE IT or hate it, here it comes, right on schedule. Valentine's Day is either the day that personifies romance for you or the holiday that makes you want to drive a stake through the consumer heart of America. But whether you're a sap or a cynic, a happy loner, a bitter singleton, or half of a couple, there is something for you on Feb. 14.

WORK UP A SWEAT

Literally drive each other up the wall at indoor rock climbing venue Rockreation ([310] 207-7199) in West L.A. First-timers can take the Fight Gravity 1 class ($40 per person), which teaches the basics and includes gear rental. Afterward, stretch sore muscles -- plus learn new positions -- at Yoga Works Santa Monica ([310] 664-6470), which is hosting a Valentine's Day partner yoga class.

Strange fact: L.A.'s cupcake bakeries are situated in a sort of "cupcake corridor," and easily biked in an afternoon (go to latimes.com/cupcakes for a customized map). Sweeten up your sweetie by renting a bicycle built for two in Venice and begin pedaling: Start with Yummy Cupcakes, Vanilla Bake Shop and Le Cupcake in Santa Monica, head over to SusieCakes, Dainties and Buttercake Bakery in West L.A., then Sprinkles and Crumbs in Beverly Hills, followed by Cake and Art, Sweet Lady Jane and Joan's on Third in WeHo before doubling back. Scientific fact: The calories burned are exactly equal to the calories consumed. (Note: concept can be applied to any food -- gelato, pizza, escargot, etc.)

Searching for a romantic evening a little off the beaten path? Saddle up at Griffith Park Horse Rentals in Burbank ([818] 840-8401) and take a private, guided ride to Viva Fresh Cantina for dinner. Looking to start the festivities earlier? Try the two-person day ride to a secluded picnic area at Paramount Ranch with Malibu Riders in Agoura Hills ([818] 510-2245).

RUN AWAY

Only 75 scenic miles from L.A., Santa Barbara is the perfect day-trip. Pick up snacks at Lazy Acres Market ([805] 564-4410) for a picnic at dog-friendly Arroyo Burro Beach. Head over to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to wander five miles of trails, then finish the day with a photo on the old-fashioned wooden bridge over the Mission Dam.

Twenty minutes north of San Luis Obispo, Cayucos waits for anyone looking for a novel coastal getaway. Quaint and seemingly preserved in amber, this wee speck of a town may not offer much in the way of scintillating night life beyond a remarkable tavern, but the beach is across the street from most of the very affordable and often pet-friendly inns. How much more stimulation does a couple need ( www.cayucosbythesea.com)?

Roughing it isn't everyone's idea of romance, but, to our minds, a view like that at Leo Carrillo State Park ([818] 880-0363) is a sure-fire aphrodisiac. On one side of PCH jagged rocks frame the beach that never gets too crowded; on the other, the Santa Monica Mountains provide lush backcountry hiking. Pitch a tent at a campsite for $20 then escape for dinner at seductive Mediterranean spot Beau Rivage ([310] 456-5733).

LOCAL LOVE NESTS

The Inn at Playa del Rey (www.innat playadelrey.com) -- a 21-room gray-and-white New England-style beach house -- has rooms with fireplaces, Jacuzzis and lovely decks that overlook the bird-cluttered marshes of the marina. Tea is served in the afternoon, wine and cheese in the evening and a homemade buffet breakfast awaits you after your busy night.

For the painterly amour, try the Artists Inn and Cottage Bed & Breakfast (www .artistsinns.com). A short walk from the Metro Gold Line in South Pasadena, this cheerful yellow Victorian-style farmhouse and rose garden offers rooms decorated in honor of Van Gogh, Grandma Moses and Gauguin. The back cottage contains suites with fireplaces, canopy beds and Jacuzzis. Get in the mood with an afternoon visit to the nearby Huntington Library or Norton Simon Museum.

BEATS OF THE HEART

Long a local favorite, sad-sack (in a good way) singer-songwriter Mark Oliver Everett has a cracked vision of guitar pop that boasts a more upbeat palette since his 10-year-old masterpiece "Electro-Shock Blues" addressed such toe-tapping topics as suicide and cancer. Better known as Eels, he has a skewed view of life and love that's sure to warm the hearts of listeners with Valentines and without. (The Galaxy Theatre, Santa Ana. $20; www.galaxytheatre.com)

A fixture at Largo, the Fairfax district comedy and songwriter haven, Nickel Creek's Sara and Sean Watkins lead a reliably free-wheeling evening of acoustic and roots music, highlighted by the now customary special guests. At one recent show Fiona Apple sat in and sang Patsy Cline covers. Who knows what's in the air for (music) lovers at this year's Watkins Valentine Hour? ($15; www.largo-la.com)

The great Mose Allison will be playing at Culver City's Jazz Bakery ([310] 271-9039). Start the festivities next door with sushi and sake at Beacon ([310] 838-7500).

BREAK THE BANK

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