By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com September 30 2010 3:40 AM ET
Summer is officially in our rear view mirror and the holiday season not quite yet in reach. If that leaves you with pangs of boredom, why not take a quick trip? Weary of the hustle and bustle of your big city? Venture out to your nearby wine country. Are you bored with seeing all the same bars and faces in your small town? Then try an action-packed weekend in a new-to-you metropolis. We've compiled a range of places to cut loose, become one with nature, and everything else in between to break the autumn homebound blues. And if we've missed any of your favorite refuges, leave them in the comments below.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump across the U.S.-Canada border, Vancouver is an easy drive from Seattle, but in some ways, it feels like a world away. Vancouver is one of those cities that just immediately feels like a vacation. A walkable city with equal parts dining, shopping, parks, lakes, jogging and hiking trails (and so on), Vancouver boasts a vibrant gay scene. But you can spend a week in Vancouver (or nearby Victoria, which looks like a European city at a third the distance) without immersing yourself in gay culture and have an equally enriching experience.
Amid the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers art deco architecture to rival South Beach’s, a thriving music and gallery scene, gourmet dining, and a plethora of gay nightlife options—among them Scandals, a multifloor nightclub in a former YWCA building, making for a new twist on the old anthem. You can also visit author Thomas Wolfe’s boyhood home and his grave (he did go home again), the Vanderbilt family’s breathtaking Biltmore estate, and gorgeous Chimney Rock State Park, where an equally gorgeous, buckskin-clad Daniel Day-Lewis cavorted for the cameras in The Last of the Mohicans.
Quebec City, Canada
Ooh-la-la! With its cobblestone streets, old city walls, and the majestic Le Chateau Fontenac hotel looming above the town, visiting Quebec City feels like you're on a romantic French holiday without leaving North America. The gay-friendly city, located three hours from Montreal, is rich in Old World atmosphere, and the numerous gay bars along Rue St.-Jean are filled with welcoming, English-speaking locals.
OK, the liberal studies graduates already know this one. Northampton is the quintessential New England college town, in the middle of the five-college area of Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This area is great for loading up on antiques and, of course, staring off at the vibrant fall foliage. And like any true New England college town, it has plenty of art house movie theaters, cavernous used book and record stores, and a bevy of great restaurants, and hiking is never too far away.
Galveston Island, Texas
Gay Houstonians are heading down to Galveston Island in droves, and it's not just for well-loved gay club 3rd Coast Downtown. On top of a beach area popular with gay visitors and locals (East Beach), Galveston Island provides plenty of shopping, gay B&Bs, and enough oysters to shuck all afternoon. While you’re there, pay homage to Robert’s Lafitte, the oldest gay bar on Galveston Island.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
No passport? No hay problema. Puerto Rico, despite a few issues with its gay residents, has been one of the most welcoming islands in the Caribbean for gay travelers (take that, Jamaica). While Old San Juan can have a bit of a tourist feel, doing a little digging can land you in hot clubs like Krash and the city's new cultural district, Santurce. If you're feeling at one with nature, head to the Caribbean National Forest, a.k.a. El Yunque, for 28,000 miles of hiking trails. Just watch out for those hurricanes.
As many considered it the regional theater capital of the United States, anyone looking for an excuse to enjoy the arts but not keen on paying New York prices should check out Minneapolis. The Guthrie Theater boasts numerous productions en route to New York, and the view from the Target Lounge is out of this world. The Chambers Hotel might as well be considered an art museum — every corridor is filled with painting or sculpture that will stop you in your tracks. And when you're done walking around some of the most beautiful lakefront property in the world, stop by any number of gay bars scattered throughout downtown.
It’s a stark reminder of just how behind the U.S. is vis-à-vis the world on gay rights: In March a marriage equality law went into effect in Mexico City — one upheld by the nation’s supreme court, which also ruled that marriages performed in the capital must be recognized nationwide. Indeed, Mexico City’s gay scene, most notably in the Zona Rosa, is as vibrant as it is unapologetic: Chances are you’ll count more gay couples holding hands than on a similar jaunt through the Castro. The nearby St. Regis provides an ideal home base for excursions through the city, from clubbing at Lipstick to touring the famed residence of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Santa Fe, N.M.
A bustling arts and literary town that has grown to become one of the Southwest's most frequented tourism destinations, Santa Fe has a little bit of everything for everyone. If the arts are your thing, the Santa Fe Opera is one of the finest in the country, while the region has been home to some of country's most respected writers, painters, and other creative types (Cormac McCarthy, Georgia O'Keeffe, and D.H. Lawrence are just a few of the people who honed their craft in Santa Fe). Spas are also in abundance in this region. For the upscale traveler, the La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and El Dorado have all the luxuries you could possibly want. The Encantado Hotel offers a more traditional taste of Santa Fe. And while there are nightlife options, many of the gay hotspots in Santa Fe are geared toward those in search of a romantic getaway. The Rouge Cat is a gay-owned and -operated bar and club, while the historic El Farol offers Spanish tapas and live music.
There's something magical about Sonoma. For people who grew up in a big city and never got to experience the best of small-town life, Sonoma fills the gap. The town square has one of everything: coffee shop, bar, candle shop, clothing store, movie theater, drugstore, Italian restaurant — the list goes on. More than 75 vineyards are less than a 20-minute drive away. Check out SonomaValley.com for more on tours, dining, accommodations, and vineyards. To get a real feel for the town, stay at the historic Sonoma Hotel. The street-view rooms overlook the hustle and bustle of the town square, particularly magical during the holiday season.
San Juan Islands, Wash.
If you're feeling outdoorsy, you can go kayaking in Puget Sound, bicycling around Lopez Island, orca whale–watching, or hiking through San Juan Island National Historical Park. Or you can relax at a B&B and stroll through the town at Friday Harbor. Maybe have some ice cream. Go shopping at one of the used bookstores or one of the little boutiques along Spring Street. And you'll probably have to take a ferry. Who doesn't like ferries?
Weekend getaways don't necessarily need to involve plane trips or multiple tanks of gas. For Los Angelenos looking for a quick escape, Pasadena offers an oasis above the smog, terrific shopping and dining, beautiful craftsman and old Spanish-style architecture, and nature galore just a quick drive or light-rail trip away. The Huntington Library and Gardens boasts some of the most lush landscaping in L.A. and is home to an extensive Isherwood collection. For those who like a good bargain, the Rose Bowl Flea Market is world-renowned. And for those looking for a gay bar, Pasadena has that too. The Boulevard is a staple among locals and offers a truly stellar karaoke night.
The architecture (let's call the homes Modern Victorian), the food (hello-o-o, Voodoo Doughnuts' Captain My Captain), the weather (a reason to dust off your wellies), the hiking (you'll be navigating by mountain in no time), and the relaxed vibe make Portland a great place to spend a weekend. This town is great for picking up an unknown microbrew, buying some handmade marionberry jam at the Saturday Market, getting lost in Powell's Books, taking a boat ride on the Willamette River, or strolling around the Pearl District or Burnside in your skinny jeans. Feel free to bring Fido — whether you have a pug or a German shepherd, pooches rule the city of Portland.
Vermont’s largest city with just 38,000 residents, Burlington has amenities comparable to those of many a metropolis. You can sample cuisines of many cultures, soak up art in galleries and museums, and mingle with hip University of Vermont students and likewise cool townies in a variety of cafés and clubs. And since Vermont is one of the few states where you can legally marry your same-sex love, you might want to propose during a romantic cruise on lovely Lake Champlain and then honeymoon in the nearby Green Mountains, where you can hike, ski, or just huddle by the fire at any number of cozy inns.
This progressive university town can claim the nation’s fifth-largest per capita population of same-sex couples and the oldest student-sponsored drag competition, plus the Kinsey Institute, which offers free tours year-round and this autumn hosts the art exhibit “Nature & Nurture,” dealing with all aspects of human reproduction, including the development of gender identity. Bloomington’s numerous funky cafés, wealth of cultural and entertainment offerings (David Sedaris and local resident John Mellencamp are among those scheduled to appear at Indiana University in October), and inclusive vibe make it a great place to enjoy fall colors in the Midwest, no matter where you fall on the Kinsey scale.
The Outer Banks, N.C.
It's like a marriage between the character of coastal towns of New England with the charm and flavor of the South. The Outer Banks is a great place for anyone to go, but the minds behind The Gay OBX are attempting to play up the campy fun of this seaside town. The height of the travel season is clearly during the warmer months when beaches are filled with people, but that just may be the allure of hitting a beach town in October — no crowds on Coquina Beach, which acts as "Gay Beach" each Sunday from May to September.
Palm Beach, Fla.
Think of South Florida, and, naturally Miami and Fort Lauderdale spring to mind. But a more sophisticated destination lies a little bit north in Palm Beach, a pristine, quiet, and glamorous enclave. A getaway for years for the East Coast’s elite, Palm Beach is a 16-mile barrier island that is eminently bikeable. While (the mostly straight) nightlife is restricted to the island’s hotel bars (where some cabaret shows can be found), the real draw of Palm Beach is the phenomenal dining, Rodeo Drive-esque shopping, and those beaches. Devoid of noisy crowds and litter, the sands of Palm Beach feel like a mattress, and the warm water just may be therapeutic. Two great Palm Beach hotels include The Colony and the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton.
Located less than 10 miles from the Phoenix International Airport, Scottsdale is the perfect getaway for anyone in search of a relaxing weekend at the spa or resort. There's plenty to do in Scottsdale, but the best thing to do is a whole lot of lounging. The W Scottsdale boasts a full spa and one of the most beautiful pool areas in Arizona. At the Xona Resort, indulge in golf, spa treatments, and food from one of three five-star restaurants. For bar outings, Phoenix is just a short drive away, and come October, sports fans can enjoy Gay Bowl X, a weekend of football from gay teams around the country. Visit GayBowlX.com for more information.