We all love Rehoboth Beach, Del. Fire Island remains a popular and iconic destination for gay beachgoers, especially from the New York area. And Provincetown continues to draw LGBT crowds for its laid-back vibe and welcoming atmosphere.
But if you’re looking for something new, there are gay-friendly beach towns off the beaten path. Here are a few within driving distance of Washington.
Colonial Beach, Va.
Chris Adcock and Ted Tait were drawn to Colonial Beach in 2011 for its reputation as a great boating town. Once docked, they discovered its gay life.
For those wanting to skip the fast-paced partying and slow-moving traffic of Rehoboth Beach, Del., Tait and Adcock recommend Virginia’s second-largest beach for its quaint, small-town feel and warm acceptance.
“They’re drastic opposite ends of the spectrum in a good way,” Adcock says. “Rehoboth is the new, modern, clubby younger scene where as Colonial Beach is much more sleepy and neighborhoody. Everybody knows everybody.”
Tait and Adcock chose their Craftsman-style bungalow in Colonial Beach for its wraparound porch, perfect for entertaining. The couple was able to put their porch to good use much sooner than expected thanks to welcoming neighbors.
“The day after we closed on the house we had just gotten the keys and invited friends over for drinks,” Tait says. “Our neighbors started coming over to introduce themselves and next thing we knew we had a cocktail party for at least 30 people. I know more of my neighbors in Colonial Beach after living here on weekends for four-and-a-half years than after living in Springfield 18 years.”
Adcock remembers wanting to put up his rainbow flag, but hesitantly asking neighbors if he should. Everyone encouraged him to do it and the flag has flown for five years without a hint of negativity from anyone.
While the LGBT population in Colonial Beach isn’t quite as booming as Rehoboth, Tait and Adcock say the town is on the cusp of becoming more popular with more gay and lesbian couples moving in. They’ve welcomed friends into the town many times over the last five years for the same reason they chose Colonial Beach: affordability and community.
According to Adcock, their bungalow would be a half-million dollar home in Rehoboth, but was easily a quarter of that in Colonial Beach, which is less than a two-hour drive (65 miles) from Washington.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford a down payment in Rehoboth,” Adcock says. “You get more land and for your money here, and it’s not as commercial yet.”
Colonial Beach-goers shouldn’t expect nights of partying, but the town still knows how to come together. Summers are full of festivals like Potomac River Festival, High Tides Blues Festival, Sirens of the Beach Music Festival, Waterfest and Rod Run to the Beach. October is the time for Bikefest and the Father’s Day Car Festival, where motorcycles, old cars and golf carts can be driven in a loop around the point.
Tait’s favorite event is the art walk held on the second Friday of each month, where guests can enjoy nibbles and wine while walking from gallery to gallery. He also recommends the Lighthouse, a Thai and French restaurant, and Denson’s Grocery (a highly regarded restaurant despite the low-key name) with fresh, locally sourced seafood.
Ocean Grove & Asbury Park, N.J.
Shannon Mery moved to Asbury Park, N.J., almost nine years ago from Tampa, Fla. In the midst of the housing boom, his former company was building spec homes in the region and he needed to be closer to the projects.
After the bust, he started his own interior design firm. Denizen Design, his company, caters to high-end residential clients, many in New York. He’s close enough he can get there as often as he needs.
He was drawn to Asbury Park, which he calls a “transitioning” community in the state’s Monmouth County with about 16,000 residents, because it had the only gay life he knew of on the Jersey shore outside of Atlantic City. He says the change in the years he’s lived there have been remarkable. It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive (206 miles) from Washington.
“It’s still very gay, but it’s a little broader now,” Mery, 46, says. “There are a lot of straight people moving in, buying beach houses. There are also a lot of gay couples who come down from New York. … It’s exciting. It’s got a nice little pulse.”
Although Ocean Grove and Asbury Park are less than a mile-and-a-half apart in New Jersey’s Neptune Township, Mery says they have a different feel.
“Ocean Grove is a very historic kind of town with lots of gingerbread railings. Kind of like a Key West vibe, but in New Jersey. It’s very Victorian. I’d say Asbury Park is a little more urban and I would say more commercial. It’s just a totally different vibe.”
Mery volunteers at QSpot, an LGBT community center in Ocean Grove, an unincorporated community of about 3,300 just south of Asbury Park. He says there are clusters of gay people who socialize, have dinner and drinks and hang out together on the beach.
Tensions have periodically flared between Ocean Grove’s gay residents and the town, founded in 1869 during the “camp meeting” religious movement. Long known as a draw for Methodist groups, the community’s land is still leased to homeowners and businesses by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Tensions flared a few years ago when a retired lesbian schoolteacher wanted to use a public pavilion to marry her partner.
Real estate prices are comparable in both towns and not especially reasonable. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million for a beach house. Condos rent for $1,500-2,500 a month, Mery says.
So how did Asbury Park end up being the gayer of the two? Mery says it’s the same scenario that’s played out in many parts of the country — gays move into the dicier parts of town and over time, they gentrify.
“Back in the day, Asbury Park was not the best part of town. It was a place to go to dance, drink and party back in the day,” he says. “So the gays who came here then and made it through the bad period, they’re enjoying the renaissance now. It’s like any other town. We come in and convert it.”