“Women have high bragging rights. You’ve got to have a good story to bring back to your girlfriends,” said Helen Malani, chief shopping expert at Los Angeles-based price comparison Web site Shopzilla.com. “You see women comparing the size of flower bouquets, almost like a measure of (his) love.” Play it safe, go exotic That competition is leading to more exotic gifts, like cooking classes or hot-air balloon rides, as men feel pressured to outdo themselves, Malani said. According to results from separate surveys by Shopzilla and the National Retail Federation released last week, romance on Valentine’s Day is more important to men than women, and men are planning to spend more this February than they did last year. That means moving beyond flowers and candy. “Men want to spend quality time with women, and that comes across in what they want as an experience. We’ve seen a big upswing in personalized gifts … there are sushi-making classes with personalized fortune cookies, dance lessons.” The theme this year, Malani said, is “experiential.” “Experiences (more so than objects) create romance and bonding,” she said. It’s hard to know what is prompting men to be more open-minded in the quest for romance. But Malani attributes a lot of it to women’s disappointment with Valentine’s Day gifts from years past. “Fifty-five percent of women say they have been let down in previous holidays. Over time, messages do resonate.” Luckily, party planners and attractions across Southern California have already come up with plenty of very romantic, unusual experiences sure to impress the pickiest of Valentines. Here are a few: Beyond dark chocolate Dining in the dark a trend that started in Europe has come to Los Angeles. Opaque, a restaurant located in the Hyatt West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, seats guests in a pitch-black dining room to be guided and served by blind or visually impaired individuals who have been specially trained to serve meals in the dark. The idea is to create the sensation of temporary blindness to concentrate all the senses on the food. Three-course meals (around $100) feature unusual dishes such as pancetta-wrapped filet mignon, truffled mac and cheese and Thai curry with forbidden rice & baby bok choy. Be warned: Diners will need to let their tastebuds confirm just what it is they’re eating. For reservations, see www.darkdining.com, or call (800) 710-1270. Chocolate spa You’re not actually bathing in liquid chocolate, but it’s about as close as you can get. For $125, the Gauthier Total Image Spa in Sherman Oaks will wrap your body in chocolate sauce, to “detoxify and balance excess body fluids.” Other Chocolate Spa treatments include the Hot Chocolate Melt Away, in which hands are dipped in warm chocolate paraffin, body is massaged with a Chocolate Cake scrub, and warm stones are massaged on the neck and shoulders, all while taking hot chocolate and biscotti. For spa and chocolate lovers who prefer to indulge at home, Gauthier is selling gift baskets filled with an aromatic Chocolate Candle, Chocolate Mint Body Scrub, Chocolate Body Mask, Chocolate Shower Gel, Chocolate Liquid Soap, Chocolate Bar (hand soap) and Chocolate Body Moisturizer ($120). Love is in the air When roses and chocolate just won’t do, treat a loved one to a hang-gliding lesson. The husband-and-wife team at High Adventure will take you into the skies above San Bernardino, with views of Crestline and Marshall Peak. Tandem lessons are $140. Call (909) 883-8488 or go to http://www.flytandem.com. Wine, dine and dance Watch tango and salsa preformed by professional dancers while you enjoy a romantic dinner of Spanish tapas and wine at Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula. The sampling event, on Feb. 11, the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, will include four wines paired to each of the tapas on the menu. Join the dancers after dinner for salsa and tango lessons. $65 for wine club members; $75 for nonmembers. Call (888) 989-4367 for reservations. Moonlight serenade Hire a mini-mariachi band to serenade your sweetie at a restaurant, at the beach, on a balcony or just at home. Party Time Entertainment will send three or four mariachis to the location of choice for $300 to $500. Gary Valentine, manager, says he gets a lot of requests for house calls to help patch up lovers’ quarrels, and demand is always high for romantic proposals of marriage. For reservations and more information, call (310) 393-8353. Going stag Who says Valentine’s Day is a strictly couples-only holiday? Each year, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, one of Southern California’s most romantic spots, celebrates Singles Night Out, a Valentine’s Day party in its Grand Exhibit Hall. This year, original Saturday Night Live cast member Garret Morris hosts and The Knack performs live ($20). Go to www.lasinglesnightout.com for tickets, or call (310) 722-5612. A birthday for Elmo Kids can celebrate Valentine’s Day, too. Mrs. Nelson’s Book and Toy Shop in the city of La Verne is throwing a birthday party for Elmo on Feb. 14. A special visit from Walkaround Elmo celebrates the popular character’s big day. Advance reservations are required; meet and greet sessions are scheduled hourly from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Presentations include a story and a craft. And best of all, it’s free. For reservations, call (909) 599-4558. [email protected] (818)713-3662160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Need a surefire way to tell your sweetheart you’re bored with the relationship? Send her flowers and chocolate this Valentine’s Day. That’s this year’s warning from the experts. The competition for romantic Valentine’s Day gifts has become heated in recent years, raising the stakes in the game of love.