I understand the all-too-typical millennial hostility toward Valentine’s Day — it’s too commercial, too capitalist, too invasive. You don’t want anyone telling you when, where, and how to celebrate your romantic relationship, much less some vague and impersonal calendar-filling government machine. Plus, for single folks, Valentine’s Day can be a depressing reminder of society’s many antiquated expectations of them.
But, if you’re an optimistic bibliophile like me, Valentine’s Day has the potential to be so much more than canned Hallmark poetry, thornless roses, boxed chocolates, and whatever-ghastly-pink-stuffed-creature-you-find-last-minute-on-the-shelves-of-Walgreens. V-Day can be a motivator to celebrate the things and people you love. For me (and my significant other), that often means books — and all things bookish.
This Valentine's Day, witness the birth of a new literary tradition — a romantic literary road trip. Whether you're an avid reader yourself or looking for a creative way to surprise your page-turning partner, these 14 off-the-beaten-path literary destinations — including a Hobbit-themed cafe in Houston, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Philadelphia, and Hunter S. Thompson's watering hole in Aspen — will make for perfect road trips and are sure to lift you clean out of your V-Day slump.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama
Nothing says romance like the torrid love affair of literary powerhouses Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and it's these things I'd believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn't all that she should be ... I love her and that's the beginning and end of everything." —F. Scott Fitzgerald, letter to Isabelle Amore.
The Fitzgeralds’ former home in Montgomery, Alabama was one of the few places they stopped long enough to put down some semblance of roots during their notoriously reckless and nomadic lives.
The Eaton Collection of Sci-Fi & Fantasy in Riverside, California
Get lost for a while in the massive fanzine collection, lay your eyes on first-edition copies of Dracula and Frankenstein, then revel in collectible, sci-fi ephemera like X-Files action figures at The Eaton Collection. It’s the largest public holding of sci-fi in the world, and it’s housed at the breathtaking University of California Riverside. Win-win.
Doc Ricketts’ Lab in Monterey, California
This unassuming building in the heart of Cannery Row once housed the marine laboratory made famous by John Steinbeck in his 1945 novel Cannery Row. The lab was home to the real “Doc” Ricketts who, in addition to studying marine specimens, held arts-focused parties that quickly became a gathering spot for the intellectually minded.
The J. Bar in Aspen, Colorado
Before his death in 2005, Hunter S. Thompson haunted the J-Bar, which is located inside Aspen’s oldest hotel, Hotel Jerome, and just miles from Thompson’s ranch home — where he penned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
Yes, this is the infamous hotel from the 1980 film The Shining — home of REDRUM and Here’s Johnny! Yes, it’s probably/definitely haunted. Yes, some people find the paranormal romantic. Yes, I’ve already made my reservations.
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana
What could be more romantic than typing your valentine a letter on the typewriter Kurt Vonnegut himself used to capture his literary genius? And, if you’re in a writing rut, you can refuel your hope tank by perusing the stack of rejection letters he received and kept over the years. Best of all, tours are totally free.
Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisiana
Famous for its revolving Carousel Bar & Lounge, Hotel Monteleone drew such literary legends as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Eudora Welty. Nothing quite says “I Love You” like sipping bubbling cocktails on the city’s only indoor Merry-Go-Round.
Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts
Hike year-round at the pond that inspired much of Henry David Thoreau’s philosophical musings on nature and man’s role as part of it. You can visit a replica of Thoreau’s cabin nearby, as well as the Ralph Waldo Emerson House, the Concord Museum, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, final resting place of Throreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.
The Kansas City Library in Kansas City, Missouri
You haven’t seen a true bibliophile’s paradise until you’ve visited The Kansas City Library and marveled at its larger-than-life façade of famous books.
Land of Oz Theme Park in Banner Elk, North Carolina
Once notorious for its eerily abandoned cottages and crumbling yellow brick roads, the Land of Oz theme park, tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina, has since been partially restored. Romantics looking for a secluded hideaway can rent out what was once Dorothy’s cabin.
The White Horse Tavern in New York, New York
Dylan Thomas took his last shot of whiskey at White Horse Tavern before falling into an alcohol-induced coma in 1953. Despite this bad omen, the bar maintained a strong literary presence, including Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Rosenbach of the Free Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pore over rare books, such as a hand-written copy of Ulysses or the personal letters of Lewis Carroll, at Rosenbach of the Free Library. This library is also home to (gasp!) the taxidermy raven that inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s acclaimed cautionary tale.
The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas
Yep, this is the same center that just acquired the Gabriel Garcia Marquez archive and has extensive manuscript collections of David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton, Doris Lessing, and others.
The Hobbit Café in Houston, Texas
A far cry from your typical grease-soaked local diner, The Hobbit Café in Houston features vegetarian fare, craft beers, and character-themed dishes that will transport you to the humble quietude of The Shire in no time.