By Kyle Buchanan
Originally published on Advocate.com October 02 2009 3:20 PM ET
With its temperate weather, crowded beaches, and busy nightlife, Los Angeles has the ability to make its citizens feel like they're on a permanent vacation. Still, everyone needs to get away from things once in a while, and though Palm Springs has become something of a weekend outpost for many L.A. gays and lesbians, the steadily growing San Diego is also making a play for that gay vacation dollar. Can it compete?
In many ways, San Diego has a lot to offer for travelers who want a change of scenery but don't necessarily want to trek out to the desert for it. Indeed, thanks to its close proximity to the Pacific, the city offers cool breezes at the same time that temperatures in Palm Springs -- or Los Angeles, for that matter -- climb into the triple digits, while its modern Gaslamp district offers plenty to do for people who'd rather walk than lay out.
The revitalization of San Diego's downtown has brought with it a host of upscale perks, including a chic Hard Rock hotel complete with a lavish spa, a Miami-style weekly pool party, and (most important) its very own, delicious Nobu restaurant. Sadly, one thing the area still notably lacks is gay bars. There are certainly plenty of drinking establishments downtown, but they veer toward the straight and fratty. Unless you happen to be in town during San Diego's world-famous Comic-Con (which draws more than its share of gay geeks), you'll most likely have to venture to the nearby neighborhood of Hillcrest, where there's always a healthy helping of gay dives and dance parties.
While Sea World is one of the city's most well-known diversions, the San Diego Zoo operates on a world-renowned level. An entire day could be spent checking out its exhibits -- and unlike the tragic Los Angeles Zoo, these animals appear well-fed and properly cared for. In fact, animal lovers will appreciate how transparent the zoo is about its methods, particularly in the new Elephant Odyssey Experience, a $45 million exhibit that makes its food and cleaning areas an intriguing part of the architecture. Should visitors tire of the options available in San Diego, they can always venture to nearby La Jolla, a posh community with a surfeit of restaurants and art galleries (try the Morrison Hotel Gallery, whose iconic music photography recently included the work of Beatles confidant Robert Whitaker).
Can San Diego out-gay Palm Springs? That's a tall order, but it can certainly offer a change of pace for gays and lesbians who've already spent the last two weekends sitting by the pool at the Ace Hotel. When it comes to travelers, there are two types: those for whom "vacation" means rest and relaxation, and the sort of people who pack their itinerary full of things to do. San Diego is perfect for the latter -- it can't boast that strange desert alchemy of chaise lounges and jungle music, but for a two-hour drive, it can provide more than a weekend's worth of sights, spas, and sushi.