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Hearts of the Cities : The Most Romantic Place in the Nation Is Any Town Where One Finds Love

KORBEL, THE California champagne company, recently commissioned a study to determine the 10 most romantic cities in America.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco was first. The others, in order, were Honolulu, Los Angeles, West Palm Beach, New York, Miami, Rochester, N.Y., San Diego, Boston and Grand Rapids, Mich.

I’m not sure I accept the validity of Korbel’s list, because it was based on such inconclusive factors as the number of marriages per capita; per capita sales of flowers, diamonds and champagne; the number of good restaurants and theaters; the miles of shoreline, and the number of sunny days.

I suggest that the amount of champagne sold in any city would be more an indication of its affluence than of its romantic ambiance.

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It was champagne sales, however, along with miles of shoreline and number of sunny days, that put San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in the Top 10.

I question also the weight given to the number of marriages. I suspect that people often marry as much out of boredom, frustration and a desire to escape their situations as for any romantic compulsions.

I have never been in West Palm Beach, Rochester or Grand Rapids, but I have had some experience in the other Top 10 cities, and I would not argue with their inclusion on the list.

In the early 1940s we lived for two years in Honolulu, and its balmy weather, its flowers, music, beautiful scenery and people were indeed romantic.

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San Francisco is high on my list. It was from San Francisco that so many of us sailed to war in the Pacific, leaving our wives or girlfriends behind. Our last recollections of home were the cable cars, the view from the Top of the Mark, the cozy little bars and restaurants, the style and energy of the natives. It seemed to have all that was best about America.

I left my wife early one morning and caught a cab for my ship. My wife was standing on a curb on Powell Street in front of our hotel. She was pregnant. We didn’t know if we would ever see each other again.

If romance is aching and poignant, and sad, that moment was romantic.

I came back on an aircraft carrier to San Diego.

The local high school band was playing. Hundreds of citizens had turned out to cheer us.

On my discharge, I took a job as a reporter on the San Diego Journal, and my wife and I set up housekeeping, with our first son, in a GI shack. I doubt that we ever drank champagne then, but I drank a lot of beer.

Still, in my book, the most romantic city in America is the city in which I met and courted my wife.

She had grown up there, the daughter of French immigrants. Her childhood had been frugal. She was still a high school student when I met her on a blind date that was arranged by a mutual friend.

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For me, it was love at first sight.

Our courtship was incredibly romantic. I was a dashing figure--a sports reporter on the local daily.

Every Wednesday night we went to the wrestling matches at Steve Strelich’s stadium. The wrestlers came up from Los Angeles by bus. Their matches were staged and phony. But we were young, and every experience was romantic. On Friday nights we went to the same stadium for the fights.

I can’t say that my wife ever actually warmed to the Wednesday wrestling matches or the Friday fights, but as long as she was at my side, I supposed, she was happy.

My wife had never eaten out when we met. I sometimes took her to Tiny’s coffee shop, where I, being sophisticated, had two martinis while she had a glass of Coca-Cola.

We often went to the Fox Theater, and I remember that it was there that we saw “Gunga Din,” as romantic a movie as was ever made.

Sometimes, after she finished work at the Owl Drug Store, we would drive up into Kern County Park to park in the dark under the trees by the river and engage in what was then called heavy petting.

Yes, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles indeed have their romantic character; but to me, the most romantic city in America will always be Bakersfield.

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