2019 NYSD’s Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

      Finding the right Valentine’s Day present for someone special is never an easy chore. Here are some gift ideas that should add a touch of romance not just for February 14 but rather for anytime of the year.

     You cannot think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of flowers, and it’s hard to think of flowers without thinking of 1-800Flowers, the company founded and still run by Woodside native Jim McCann. While floral arrangements such as Victorian Romance,” “Valentine Magic,” and “Heart’s Desire Roses” are still the company’s main source of income, it has expanded its lines to include food gift baskets such as chocolate and vanilla dipped strawberries and oversized teddy bears. Teleflora is 1800’s leading competitor and their offerings include the Sweetest Satin Bouquet, Sterling Love Bouquet, Country Sweetheart Bouquet, and Happy Harmony Bouquet.    

     Jewelry is another romantic gift staple and comes in all price points. Manhattan retailer Roman & Sunstone (romansunstone.com) has one of the largest collection of high quality costume jewelry. Ritani.com is known for its fine jewelry that come in all price points and for all occasions such as your first gift to that special person to engagement rings. Lagos (lagos.com) makes rings and bracelets with prices ranging from $200 to $4,000.

     Men are being catered to by jewelers as well. Esquire Magazine has expanded over the years into lines of clothing and now the company is making men’s bracelets. Pranga & Company (pranga.co) is a leading producer of cuff links.

     Watches are the most popular form of jewelry because they are utilized by both sexes and you can find a quality timepiece for just about any budget.  Timex, Swatch, and Little Neck’s own Armitron, produce plenty of timepieces for less than $125. Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman created his own watch company, Chronspire (chronspire.com) that produces chronometers that rival Tag Heuer, Tissot, and Rolex but at a fraction of their cost.  Woodside’s iconic Bulova also makes fashionable and durable watches in the $400 to $800 range. On the other end of the spectrum you can select an Omega Tresa Quartz or Seiko SBGH 267 for $4,500 or really go big with the Grand Seiko SBGA 384 for $29,500.



      Handbags and totes are always useful. Flushing native Crystal Kodada (crystalkodada.com) is a newcomer to the high-end leather handbag business but her line tends to be a bit larger in size than most oh her competitors and there are a lot of zippered compartments for secured storage. Deux Lux has handbags, totes, and weekend duffels that range from $100 to $150.Vince Camuto (vincecamuto.com) and Banana Republic have totes in all fabrics and price points. Custom Bag Designs (custombagdesigns.com) has handbags that double as pop art works. Its Genuine Leather Rock & Roll Bag features the iconic Rolling Stones red lip and tongue logo.

      Cosmetics are tricky items for guys to purchase for women for a number of reasons. If you know which shade the lady in your life loves then you can’t go wrong with lipsticks from Ulta Lip Gloss, Be Yu, Hard Candy, NVEY Eco, Essence, Shiseido, Mineral Fusion, Kiko Milano, and especially Sephora.. Other gift ideas are Essence’s lines of mascara (sold at ulta.com), DHC Super Long Mascara (DHCCare.com), Moda MWAH! 5-Piece Full Face Kit (MODABrush.com).

       These days skin care products have become almost as popular for men as they are for women. With good jobs tougher to find as we age, no one wants to look older than they have to even those who aren’t the slightest bit vain. In addition, everyone is more aware of the dangers of the sun than they even were just a few years ago. Moisturizers, serums and sun-fighting products as Garnier’s Skin Active Soothing Rose Water Collection, Snow Fox Arctic Breeze Rescue Mask, Rebels Refinery Essential Rebels Kit, and the Cheech & Chong-inspired Josie Maran Skin Dope Hemp Seed Oil as well as products from CeraVe, Columbia Skin Cares, Bare Republic, DERMADoctor, Oneoseven (107oneoseven.com) and the humorously-named Kiss My Face, are all recommended.

      Kiehl’s, which has been around since 1851, makes a ton of skin products including its Ultra Facial Cream. For those who have the time to invest in looking as youthful as possible, Tammy Fender (tammyfender.com) has an entire at-home regiment kit for the truly dedicated. Masks are popular for all who truly serious about eradicating wrinkles. Perricone MD Cocoa Moisture Mask and Total Results Miracle Creator Mask are two well-respected products in this ever-growing industry.

     Men have been taking an increasing market share in the fragrance industry.  Ralph Lauren’s Polo Eau de Parfum Valentine’s Day and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb gift sets are safe choices. Other high quality men’s colognes are Dior Sauvage EDP, Armani Code Absolu Eau De Parfum, Blueprint Fine Fragrances from Dollar Shave Club, and Coach for Men which is available at Ulta. Former Jackson Heights resident and now L.A. transplant Tara Durkin has an excellent men’s fragrance called Dossage 8.

     There are obviously thousands of perfumes for women. You won’t go wrong in the perfume world with Nest Fragrances Ginger & Neroli Body Mist, Revlon’s Love Is On Eau de Toilette, Goutal Paris Tenue de Soiree Eau De Parfum, Goutal Paris Rose Pompon Eau De Parfum, Si Passione, or Elizabeth Arden’s Always Red. Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb gift set includes parfum, shower gel, and body cream. Other perfume brand options are Marc Jacobs Daisy Twinkle and SJP Stash Unspoken which can be purchased at ulta.com

      Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is a day when barring serious health issues, we can look the other way when it comes to sugar consumption. Godiva and See Candies make tasty chocolates but I have to admit to a special fondness for Ghirardelli’s peppermint bark and caramel squares.  Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates (vermontnutfree.com) is perfect for anyone who might have allergies to nuts of any kind. Harry & David ‘s Ruby Cacao Hearts could actually be good for cardiac health according to certain medical jounrals. For those who want a sweet option aside from chocolates check out XO Marshmallow’s line of confections (xomarshmallow.com).

      Cheryl’s (cheryls.com) has a Valentine’s Day gift box of its popular cookies while Harry & David’s has gift baskets of its popular Moose Munch popcorn as well as its many other confections.

      Couples who like to cook Italian food should look into the Colavita Sampler Tote which includes pastas, extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, crushed tomatoes, a cookbook, and a burlap tote.

      For the spirits industry, Valentine’s Day ranks just behind New Year’s Eve in terms of sales numbers. Liqueurs such as Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur, Bailey’s Old Irish Creme, Bailey’s Salted Caramel, and Bailey’s recent creation, Strawberries & Cream, and Kahlua are terrific dessert aperitifs. If you are looking for a cocktail that is a tad less sweet try Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Bitter.  

      Sparkling wines as California’s Meimoni, France’s Lillet Rose, and Italy’s Prosecco DOC Consortium are also synonymous with romance. If you want a slight sweet touch to somewhat harder alcohol try Smirnoff Wild Honey Vodka and Balvenie Caribbean Cork.

     If you prefer smooth over sweet, Glenfiddich 12, Macallan, Usquaebach, and Johnnie Walker Black Label (the Blue Label will cost you over $200) are great options in the scotch whisky market. Tequila aficionados can’t go wrong with Milagro Silver, Don Julio, or if you really want to go high end, try Tequila Avion. Blue Nectar Reposado Special Craft Tequila will remind many of a cognac because of its sweetness. A great mid-priced tequila that comes with terrific packaging for gifting is Patron Silver. Bacardi’s Gran Reserva 8 Anos is a very easy-to-imbibe rum. If you prefer a Japanese rice-based clear wine, try Ty Ku Sake and its newest flavor, Ty Ku Sake Coconut.

     Red wine not only goes with a romantic meal but according to a lot of medical research also offers cardiac benefits. California produces a lot of fine and affordable wines in the $15-$50 range. Among the fine reds from the Golden State that you can select from are Josh Cellars North Coast Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Dreaming Tree Crush (Dreaming Tree’s owner is rock guitarist Dave Matthews), Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon, BR Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Woodbridge by Mondavi Merlot. For those wanting to spend a little more on a California red, Michael Mondavi’s Animo Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $85.  If you want to go north of California for inexpensive but tasty reds, try Washington State’s Spoken Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon or Meritage Red (spokenbarrel.com).

      If you are looking for a true bargain, Chile’s Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon retails for around $5 and it tastes better than American budget wine brands as Yellowtail and Barefoot. Staying with international wines, Lucente from Italy’s famous Tuscany region is a Merlot-Sangiovese blend whose vintage is from 2015 and it retails for around $30.

     Searching for an inexpensive white wine?  Give Barone Fini Pinot Grigio or Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay a shot.

     In my opinion, Pinot Noir is the king of varietals because of its smooth and full body taste. Among the better California Pinot Noir brands are Castle Rock, Mark West Black, Woodbridge by Mondavi, and Josh Cellars. Chile is now becoming a Pinot Noir player Vina Pedro 1865 Pinot Noir 2014. I have to admit though that my favorite Pinot Noir brand, Benton-Lane, comes from the state just north of California, Oregon.

    If you want to go off the beaten path, North Carolina’s Old North State Winery has a semi-sweet red in honor of Ozone Park native Cindy Lauper’s signature hit, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.                 

    If you’re a fan of reds but your partner prefers white wine then you might want to think about compromising with a rose. Tuscany’s Rocca de Montemassi Renaissance Rose Maremma Toscana is a mouthful to say but it costs a very reasonable $17. If you want to spend a bit more try France’s Ruinart Rose which has a suggested retail price around $80.

      Lands End created a line of red products and clothing for February 2nd’s “Wear Red Day.” A portion of the sales proceeds for these products are earmarked for the American Heart Association. All of these items will be available through Valentine’s Day. UnTUCKit makes shirts and blouses that are designed to hang loose as opposed to being nestled behind a belt. Minnie Rose (minnierose.com) has slippers with romantic saying for both guys and girls.           

    Lingerie is synonymous with Valentine’s Day. Wacoal (wacoal-america.com) has a full selection of intimate apparel.

    Sunglasses are as necessary in winter when the sun’s rays are indirect, particularly in the late afternoon. Carrera makes stylish aviators for both men and women. Covry Eyewear (shopcovry.com) has retro style shades including the kind that Marilyn Monroe favored. Nike and Oakley are known for their fine athletic performance eyewear.

     For those who like to work out, Eggweights are perfect for those who like to easily work out. They fit nicely on the fingers and can be used for lightw orkouts. Visit www.eggweights.com for more details. 

     Bedding is crucial for both getting a good night’s sleep and romance. Farmingdale-based Bedgear makes high quality pillows, sheets, and blankets. ZEEQ’s smart pillow is a high-tech pillow that can let you stream music to help you doze off.

   Here are some ideas for what would be the Valentine’s Day equivalent of stocking stuffers. Candles help set a romantic mood and Chesapeake Bay Candle’s Love & Passion and LAFCO’s Duchess Peony (lafco.com) will accomplish that mission. Fresh’s Sugar line of lip products (fresh.com) will help prevent chapping and dryness. Since sweet products are Valentine’s Day essentials why not pick up Bosco syrups that can be used to make milk into a dessert or as a key ingredient for sundaes?

      New York City, for all of its hustle-bustle, has always had a romantic side. A dinner cruise on World Yacht or Spirit is always a memorable and enjoyable evening. Pretend to be a tourist and go up to the 86th floor Observation Deck of the Empire State Building or the One World Observatory at the new World Trade Center.

     While New York is wonderful (a good deal of the time anyway) a change of scenery is ideal for romance. Queens’ own JetBlue flies from JFK to a lot of the destinations that I am about to describe.

       The southeast Dominican Republic town of Punta Cana, which was basically unheard of back in the 1980s, has quickly grown to be one of the world’s most popular resort cities. One of the reasons that it has done well is that its many resorts are all-inclusive meaning that three meals per day and nearly every form of entertainment is included.

       The Catskills meets the Caribbean motif is very much part of what makes the Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana so charming. There is plenty to do during the day, as staff leads guests through various games on the beach ,as well as a variety of entertainment at night.         Surprisingly, there are still not a lot of well-known hotel names to most Americans in Punta Cana. The Hard Rock Café. Resort there is an exception.

     Puerto Rico tends to be overlooked when discussing Caribbean getaways and that is a shame because there is so much to see and do there. You also don’t need a passport because it’s a United States territory. The island commonwealth is still recovering from 2017 Hurricane Maria but most of the hotels have reopened in San Juan and there are deals to be had.

    For those who want to say on the continental United States there are plenty of options. It takes less than three hours to fly from either JFK or LaGuardia to South Florida. The PGA Resort in Palm Beach Gardens has undergone extensive renovations in recent years.. As you would expect from its name, there are five championship golf courses on the premises. From a romantic viewpoint, a joint lesson with a golf pro should improve your game. Of course golf is a frustrating game, so it is important that you and your significant other maintain a sense of humor and refrain breaking your TaylorMade clubs.

    . Other superb places to stay in the area are the Eau Palm Beach Resort (which was once the site of the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton), Boca Raton Resort, the Breakers (which I consider to be the Waldorf-Astoria of Palm Beach), and the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa.

       Just down the road from Palm Beach is Fort Lauderdale which has come a long way from its “Where The Boys Are” image. Upscale hotels as the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, the Bonaventure Resort and Spa, the Pelican Grand Beach Resort, the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa, and the four-diamond Sonesta Fort Lauderdale, have plenty of romantic packages.

      The Turnberry Isle Resort located just of the Broward County border in Aventura also has a terrific golf course, a top-notch spa, and great restaurants. The one drawback is that you have to take a shuttle bus to its beach in Sunny Isles which many of us baby boomers fondly remember as Miami Beach’s one-time Motel Row.

    California has no shortage of romantic getaways. There is nothing like watching the sun set over the Pacific in the coastal San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla and in the winter and early spring you can see the sea lions and seals that makes its coves their home.

     The Grande Colonial La Jolla is a hotel on the National Historic Register and it just celebrated its centennial. A few miles east of the Grande Colonial, is another great property, the Hyatt Regency La Jolla, which has terrific workout facilities, an Olympic-sized pool and a Jacuzzi. The Hyatt Regency is located right off I-5 in the University Town Center neighborhood which reminds me a lot of Queens because you can walk to restaurants and stores. San Diego’s mass transit system is surprisingly good.

     The greater Los Angeles area offers countless choices of where to stay. Santa Monica has the famous pier, a terrific beach, expensive resorts, and a new rail system that takes you into downtown LA in around 45 minutes.

      Another option is centrally located West Hollywood which is located adjacent to Beverly Hills and it has a lot of reasonably priced restaurants and lodging properties as well as plentiful night entertainment. The Ramada Plaza Hotel & Suites West Hollywood has reasonable rates, a picturesque swimming pool, and is centrally located near all of WeHo’s trendy restaurants and nightclubs.

      I could write an entire article just on San Francisco’s romantic side. Astoria native Tony Bennett summed it up best in his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” when he sang of “little cable cars that climb halfway to the stars.” I will add that the seals and sea lions at Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf also add to the romantic mood.

      The beach town of Santa Cruz is located about an hour’s drive south of the Bay area and it’s best known for its boardwalk which rivals that of Atlantic City, Wildwood, and other Jersey Shore towns. Like Atlantic City, the Santa Cruz boardwalk has a sizable amusement park. The city is also known for its arts and a bit of counterculture which is a throwback to the 1960s.

     The Golden State offers couples an opportunity to enjoy both surf and skiing. Big Bear Lake and Lake Tahoe have ski trails that rival those of Colorado, New Mexico and Vermont.

      Few desert towns anywhere in the world possess the charm of Palm Springs. There aren’t many better places to gaze at the stars at night with that special someone. The Triada Hotel, located in the city’s Movie Colony district, has a Spanish hacienda design, two pools, a Jacuzzi, and a fine restaurant, and rooms that remind you of the kind of hidden villas, the kind that celebrities have long enjoyed. Another well-known lodging property there is the Colony Palms Hotel whose cabanas also evoke memories of Hollywood’s glory days.

     Another terrific Palm Springs lodging option is the La Maison Palm Springs which makes you feel like you are living in a villa in the south of France with its beautiful courtyard swimming pool and hut tub. There are always complimentary beverages as well as a continental breakfast and a happy hour each day.

      If you prefer Arizona desert towns to those in California, well then you won’t go wrong in the greater Phoenix area with either the Talking Stick Resort or Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain which are both in Scottsdale, or the Hermosa Inn located in Paradise Valley which takes you back in time to Barry Goldwater’s Arizona.

      Las Vegas became famous for both gambling and for its plethora of wedding chapels. That hasn’t changed although the city has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, is performing once again at one of the city’s oldest hotels, Caesar’s Palace.

     Staying out west in the Rocky Mountain region, Aspen, the Colorado ski resort town made famous in the 1970s as a celebrity hangout and was constantly referred to in song by the late John Denver, is still going strong. Aside from its slopes, Aspen has become well-known for its art museums and galleries, wellness centers, and fine dining.  

     One of America’s fastest growing cities, Raleigh, North Carolina is only an hour flight from Queens and it’s the unofficial halfway point between New York and Miami. North Carolina’s capital city has a lot of museums (and they all offer free admission) as well as a very good nightlife. Raleigh is a two-hour drive to the beautiful Wilmington beaches to the southeast and a three hour trip to Asheville and the Smoky Mountains to the northwest.

    The Raleigh suburb of Cary is home to the Umstead Hotel & Spa is luxury at its best. Its location on Woodland Pond with its surrounding forest makes for a great retreat from the stresses of New York City life.

    “Virginia is for lovers!” was the famous motto that the state’s tourism department started in the 1960s. They can still back up that claim thanks to its beaches on the east and majestic mountains to the west.

     Williamsburg, Virginia (not to be confused with the Brooklyn hipster neighborhood of Williamsburgh) is known for its colonial image which makes parts of the city appear to be unchanged since the American Revolutionary War. On the more modern side, there is a Busch Gardens theme park here as well as many highly regarded restaurants and brewpubs.

    Money Magazine rated Alexandria, Virginia the top American destination in terms of value in 2018. It’s located give miles outside of Washington, DC and is accessible to our nation’s capital by the metro.

      Alexandria is a romantic destination thanks to its row homes, cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks, flickering gas-lamp streetlights, cozy restaurants, and views of the Potomac River. Strolling along both King and Prince Streets will take you back about two centuries in time.

      There’s no shortage of travel websites as anyone who has seen those ubiquitous Trivago commercials on television will attest. Booking.com and Cheapoair.com are also excellent resources if you are planning a trip on short notice.

       Happy Valentine’s Day!

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