erinpryorChocolates plus flowers equals standard, or in other words, boring.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is a contrived holiday that requires a grip of cash to be spent on those you love, but if you’re going to participate why not mix it up a little?

Don’t get me wrong, I “love” love just as much as the next girl, but I’d prefer to receive flowers on a random day rather than one on which my guy feels obligated to send them.

There are a ton of alternative options, many of which are right here in your backyard.

First things first, you have to get the card. Inkwells Paperie in Corona del Mar is one of my favorite local card and gift shops. They have beautiful stationary as well as unique and somewhat untraditional cards for all occasions.

Next, if you feel so inclined, is the gift.

Many people love candy, and that’s not a bad option, but if you’re looking for something sweet may I suggest an alternative? Donna B’s Gourmet Cookie and Bakery Boutique in Laguna Niguel makes some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. They come in four different sizes and a ton of different flavors ranging from your classic Chocolate Chip to Oatmeal Toffee to White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. They don’t stop there either. You can also purchase cakes, cupcakes and cookie dough for those who like to do it themselves.

If you decide to go big with your gift, and surprise your one and only with a car, boat, new home or something of that sort, finding something to “wrap” it with can be challenging. Not to worry, the Irvine-based company King Size Bows has got you covered. They are the company that does the large bows used in the Lexus holiday commercials. Their bows are shipped year around, are reasonably priced and easy to assemble. Problem solved.

Another option this Valentine’s Day is to plan something fun and memorable. It doesn’t have to be a 5-star restaurant or anything that will drain your pocketbook. Why not go on a picnic, or make dinner at home? A Market in Newport Beach has a variety of phenomenal sandwiches, salads and pastries, not to mention a tremendous selection of cheeses, wines and other gourmet delights that will fill a picnic basket or make for a fabulous spread on the dining room table.

A great way to cap the day or evening is to catch a movie at the Lido Theatre in Newport Beach which was built in 1938 and has since been restored. Nothing beats a classic.

Regardless of what you decide to do, it is important to keep in mind that there are a lot of local businesses that can not only meet your needs, but also add a little spice and romance to this Valentine’s Day.

Erin Pryor, formerly with Salon.com and Sports Illustrated, blogs here every Friday.  Leave a comment for Erin or email her at erinepryor@aol.com.