- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When it comes to love, the capital of the free world barely ranks above the biggest city in Alaska, while San Francisco leads a host of West Coast cities that rank high as the most attractive and cost-effective places to woo one’s sweetheart with a last-minute romantic surprise.

A new survey by the personal finance website WalletHub.com found the West Coast is the place to be this Valentine’s Day, according to its ranking of the 100 most populous cities in the United States. Cities were ranked by 15 different metrics, including the average cost of a restaurant meal, the number of local date-suitable local attractions, the average cost of a bottle of wine, the number of jewelry stores per capita and even the chance of rain for Feb. 14.

San Francisco ranked first thanks to its plethora of date activities and stores perfect for purchasing gifts to spoil that special someone, followed by Seattle and Orlando. Seven of the top 10 cities are located on the West Coast including San Diego, Portland and Fremont, California, which came in first in the country for offering the least expensive average Valentine’s Day budget.

At the other end of the spectrum, Detroit ranked last as a hot spot for lovers, edging out Laredo, Texas, and North Las Vegas due to high restaurant meal costs in comparison to median income and limited retail choices to find that one-of-a-kind gift.

“Was there really any competition?” said the SF Weekly in a blog post on the study, “We think not.”

Better known for its power lunches than for its romantic dinners, Washington came in a middling 20th on the WalletHub survey, dragged down by a 46th-place finish in the average-cost category. That put the District one slot above Anchorage, Alaska and one slot below Omaha.

Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday this year, giving partners in the city an opportunity for a romantic weekend indoors away from the cloudy skies predicted by AccuWeather’s forecast.

The survey’s methodology leads to some unexpected results. Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, checks in at No. 9 on the list, two slots higher than Honolulu. For all its attractions and its marketing to lovers, Las Vegas comes in 28th, one slot behind Madison, Wisconsin.

The pain of Washington’s so-so finish is eased a bit by the even worse rankings of many of its main East Coast rivals, including Boston (37), New York (64), Philadelphia (85) and Baltimore (86).

While not exactly rigorous as social science, the WalletHub survey does point up one indisputable fact: Valentine’s Day is big business, for retailers, restaurateurs, florists and others who cater to the country’s lovebirds.

The National Retail Federation estimates that American spending will reach $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day expenses, with the individual paramour spending a record-high average of $142.31 on gifts and merchandise, up from an average of $133.91 in 2014.

WalletHub’s Valentine’s Day budget contributed to 44 percent of the total weight in determining city rankings and were adjusted to the median household income of each city.

WalletHub hoped their study would “give Valentine’s Day celebrants a sense of how good a deal they’re getting in their cities compared with the rest of the country.”

The website gathered its information from the U.S. Census Bureau, Tripadvisor, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Yelp, Numbeo, Eventbrite and Accuweather.com. The full rankings can be found at https://wallethub.com/.

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