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Spring fun in the valley of the sun

Phoenix has good dining, weather, sites and gay life

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Phoenix gay travel, gay news, Washington Blade
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

I have been to Phoenix four times in recent years but could never find the gayborhood. Indeed, the local travel guide said they didn’t have one. Wrong. You will find it at 7th Avenue near Melrose in midtown. You will not need a rental car if you stay and play in Midtown and use the Light Rail to get around.

Spring is the perfect time to visit. The desert is in bloom. Temperatures are in the 80s. You will wonder why you don’t move here.

WHAT TO DO 

The Desert Botanical Garden features a great display of native cacti. You can reach the garden and the nearby Zoo via a light rail/bus connection. The Garden is located In Papago Park just northeast of the Airport. After a hike through the gardens, continue on the light rail east to Tempe, home of the beautiful Arizona State University campus. There are lots of restaurants and shops in downtown Tempe which is very walkable.

Work out at the LA Fitness, Camelback at 7th Avenue. It’s where the boys are.

Phoenix’s Pride Parade Festival is scheduled for April 4-5 (phoenixpride.org). It’s the 40th anniversary of Pride here. 

Don’t miss the new arts district just north of downtown. 

NIGHTLIFE

Make your first stop Stacy’s at Melrose (4343 7th Ave.). Sunday night is the drag show, Stacy’s Follies. It’s packed. 

Nearby is the Pat O’s Bunkhouse (4428 N. 7th Ave.) which is also a lot of fun. 

The lesbian owned bar, Boycott Bar (430 N. 7th Ave.), welcomes everyone.

Charlies (727 W. Camelback) has fun karaoke and two-for-one specials on Tuesdays. Wear your cowboy gear.

WHERE TO EAT 

The Wild Thaiger (2631 Central) has great Thai food.

The Mexican restaurant at 7th Avenue at Osborn, Mi Patio, is also very good.

Durant’s Fine Food is a Phoenix tradition (also on Central).

GETTING THERE

I took American to Phoenix and Southwest home. 

I don’t like the new uncomfortable Southwest seats, especially on long flights. But the staff is friendly and they don’t charge a ticket change fee or bag fee.

Fares can be lower on American (which has a huge hub here) and the service is better. (And the seats are more comfortable.)

From Sky Harbor, hop on the Valley Metro Light Rail (44th Street Station) for the short ride to downtown or midtown. Rental car or Uber not needed.

WHERE TO STAY

I stayed at the Extended Stay Midtown (Metro stop Osborn at Central). It’s a doable walk (or bus ride) to the gayborhood and there’s a 24-hour Walgreens nearby if you need anything. The Ramada is another option as is the Wyndham. I would recommend also The Clarendon but they charge a “resort fee” (which I avoid).

Other hotel options include the new Cambria Hotel in the Arts District. Downtown has a lot of great hotels. I like The Sheraton and the Residence Inn. Downtown too is very walkable and a short light rail ride up to the bars.

FOR MORE TRAVEL TIPS

Phoenix has two excellent LGBT publications. Ion Arizona Magazine (ionaz.com) is one. See its navigation map for a listing of the bars and other attractions. Echo Magazine is the other publication (echomag.com). It, too, has a great map of Phoenix bars. 

Phoenix NewTimes is a new weekly and also lists lots of stuff to do.

The fabulous Arizona Highways has ideas of where to visit around the state. Head up to the Grand Canyon National Park or Sedona if you have time or down to Tucson. Arizona is an amazing and beautiful state.

Phoenix is a great city and is surprisingly gay-friendly. It’s the New West. You can’t beat the spring weather. You may want to even move here.

Bill Malcolm has lived in Phoenix once but currently resides in Indianapolis. His syndicated LGBTQ value travel column runs in publications from Charlotte to Los Angeles. He focuses on affordable vacations which utilize pubic transit and he tries to go where the locals go. He does travel writing as a hobby although he thanks Visit Phoenix for their travel tips and recommendations.

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Travel

Hot fun in the desert sun: Your Palm Springs guide

Hiking, dining, bar hopping, and more await

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There are plenty of hiking options for visitors to Palm Springs. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Palm Springs is a favorite destination of mine. I have lots of friends there and there is always something new to do. This trip was no exception. Hiking in two new natural areas. A cabaret shows at Oscar’s. Swimming with the USMS Masters at the Palm Springs Swim Center. A bagel at Townie Bagels and a baguette at Peninsula Pastries. And a cocktail at PSP Air Bar were among the highlights.

WHAT TO DO

Enjoy the Villagefest Thursday night downtown. They block off the street, and it becomes a huge farmers market and art show.

Hit the PS Air Bar for an airline themed evening. They have piano bar Sunday nights in the front. Shop at the Revivals store in the same complex.

Hike in the new Prescott Preserve, formerly a golf course.

Take a hike at the South Lykken Trailhead in Oswit Canyon. Enjoy the cacti and wildflowers. We saw 3 big horn sheep in the meadow. Check out the Oswit Land Trust website for more information.

Go shopping on Sunny Dunes just off South Palm Canyon drive where you will find vintage stores, the Tool Shed leather bar, the new Club 541, antique stores, and a cactus and succulent gift shop (as well as Townie Bagels). Then walk or bike along the new trail along the river just south of Sunny Dunes Road. They even have the plants marked. All are steps from the Motel 6 Downtown.

NIGHTLIFE

Catch a show or go to the Sunday T Dance at Oscar’s. They also have a drag brunch both Saturday and Sunday called “The Bitchiest Brunch.” I saw the fabulous trio, Brandon, and James with Effie, on a Thursday night.

Toucans Tiki Lounge has a popular drag show Monday night. Pick up some new underwear or adult novelty items at the Not So Innocent store next door, 200 N. Palm Canyon.

The Tool Shed at 600 E. Sunny Dunes has a Sunday beer bust and BBQ. They also have an underwear night on Thursdays.

Hunters Palm Springs on Arenas Road has a fun happy hour. (This is the same owner as the one in Wilton Manors, Fla.) You will find 10 other bars nearby.

Fasten your seat belts for the Karaoke Thursday night at PSP Air Bar. The airline themed speakeasy is inside Bouschet. Sit in an old first class American Airlines seat (or an old coach Southwest Airlines seat) while the captain pours you a drink at the PS Air Bar. Then enjoy a show at the Revolution Stage Company next door.

WHERE TO EAT

Grab your morning bagel and coffee at Townie Bagels at 650 East Sunny Dunes. Get there early or expect a line. They open at 6:30 a.m. They are at 650 E. Sunny Dunes Road and have a cult following.

Enjoy a café Americano and pastry at Ristretto For Coffee Lovers (500 S. Palm Canyon Drive).

Enjoy a French baguette or pastry at Peninsula Pastries, 611 S. Palm Canyon in the Sun Plaza. They are only open Thursday to Sunday starting at 8:30 a.m. Get there early to avoid the line. All baked goods use French flour. Like Townie Bagels, they are quite popular. Next door is the Palm Greens Café for a healthy lunch.

Nature’s Health Food and Café (555 Sunrise Way) has fresh juices like carrot juice and vegetarian items like the eggplant wrap. You can sit outside on their patio with your to-go food.

Pick up fruit, yogurt or a pre-made sandwich at Grocery Outlet, Bargain Market in downtown Palm Springs.

GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND

I took United through Denver on the way out and through their Houston hub on the way back. United had the best fare and best departure times so I chose them despite my disdain for their policy charging for carry on for basic economy passengers. I had Economy Plus so I got a no charge carry on.

Palm Springs has a cute, small airport with a huge outdoor area. It’s the nicest airport I have ever been to. However, pack something to eat as they have few food options at the moment.

Hop on the #2 SunLine Bus across the street from the airport to go downtown. It’s a two block walk and costs $1. Rental car not needed if you stay downtown. (The lines for the rental cars can be long and they are packed with fees and surcharges.) I used Uber when not taking the SunLine. (SunLine.org)

Leave your bike helmet at home. The city does not have a shared bike system and is not pedestrian friendly outside of the downtown area despite being flat and having a warm climate.

WHERE TO (AND NOT TO) STAY

I stayed at the very handy and very affordable Motel 6 Downtown, 600 S. Palm Canyon. It is across the street from the Sun Plaza, which consists of many shops and restaurant, is a short walk to the bars on Arenas Road, is around the corner from Townie Bagels and the Tool Shed Bar, and more. Rooms are cleaned daily without asking – unheard of with most motels and hotels. The internet is good. No annoying resort fees. Free coffee every morning at 6 a.m. Get a quiet room on the third floor facing east.

Beware of junk fees like resort fees at other Palm Springs hotels. Most hotels in Palm Springs now have them and they are only disclosed on third party booking sites at the end of the reservation process making the room rate look lower than it actually is.

Often, they are lumped under “taxes and fees” to make you think the government requires them. My favorite (not) was the mandatory “community impact fee” at the Hotel Zoso. It is for a mandatory contribution to a charity.

Happily, I have yet to see hotels add a “pillow fee” or “key fee.”

Palm Springs has many lodging options including VRBO and specialty resorts. Men will like the new Twin Palms Resort as well as their sister property, The Descanso Resort. Both are excellent. Service is top notch. Lunch catered everyday. And more.

MORE INFORMATION

GED is the local magazine. RAGE Monthly out of San Diego also covers PS as does the Los Angeles Blade.

The weekly is the Coachella Valley Independent, which covers upcoming events, restaurants, hikes, local politics and more.

Palm Springs also has a gay radio station. Pick up a copy of their KGay desert Guide or view them at kgaypalmsprings.com (106.5 on the FM dial).

You won’t run out of fun things to do in Palm Springs and summer is their value season.

There is nowhere else where you can enjoy the desert sun surrounded to the west and north by snow capped mountains. And you won’t find a gayer city anywhere.

Bill Malcolm is an award-winning travel writer. His syndicated travel column in run by select LGBTQ publications throughout North America. You can find him on Facebook and read his columns at the travel blog section of the IGLTA website. He received no compensation of any kind for this column.

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Gay hotel company brings luxury to Puerto Vallarta

Tryst Puerto Vallarta to open this spring

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Tryst Puerto Vallarta (Photo courtesy of Tristan Schukraft)

The Tryst Puerto Vallarta begins welcoming discerning gay guests this spring, just in time for the Mexican resort city’s Pride celebrations. 

The 55-room resort includes a penthouse suite featuring two terraces, three large suites with expansive living areas and terraces and several junior suites with unique features. A highly anticipated rooftop pool with a bar area and restaurant offering fine Mexican cuisine are just some of the highlights. 

“You can stay here and never leave the resort,” said Tristan Schukraft, the driving force behind Tryst Hotels, and self-described CEO of “everything gay.”

While he started out in his career working in the early days of electronic ticketing, Schukraft may be more known for his work with MISTR, a popular online source for PrEP. He also recently entered into an agreement to purchase the Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif.

With Tryst he promises “it’s a fun, exciting atmosphere.” 

“The idea is not just the guests are coming to the resort, but locals,” said Schukraft. “So, when you stay here it’s the way to mingle with the local gay community.”

To welcome and include both guests and locals, the resort will host drag brunches in the hotel restaurant. Weekend parties featuring DJs on the eighth floor pool and bar area also seeks to make this not just a place to stay, but one to celebrate with the community.

Schukraft hopes visitors will get to know guests or locals poolside, or in the restaurant, and make lifelong friendships. 

Or perhaps find a bit of romance: After all the hotel is set in the famed Zona Romántica.  

“Tryst Hotels are not merely luxury destinations; they are a celebration of gay culture, where every guest is embraced,” said Schukraft. “Our mission is to create spaces where luxury and identity flourish without compromise.”

Tryst Hotels CEO Tristan Schukraft. (Photo courtesy of Tristan Schukraft)

The D.C. Travel and Adventure Show took place last month in D.C., and LGBTQ-specific travel was among the topics the convention highlighted. The Washington Blade in its preview of the expo noted LGBTQ travelers may book a resort or vacation that promises “everyone is welcome,” but upon arrival feel uncomfortable by reactions of staff or other guests due to expressing their identity as queer people. 

Schukraft has experienced this. 

“I was at a hetero-friendly hotel Miami, but it was also marketed to gay men,” he explained. “So, you have two guys kissing at the pool and you have a straight couple looking over and wondering are they staying at a gay hotel. It’s sort of an awkward occurrence.” 

Everyone, therefore, is welcome at Tryst resorts, but it is not being marketed outside of the community. 

“My boyfriends and I have even experienced side-eye glances for our choice of swimwear,” Schukraft said. “You won’t find that at Tryst Hotels.”

Speaking of attire: Many luxury guesthouses, inns and hotels catering to gay men offer clothing-optional zones for guests. It’s an allure for some travelers. 

But, not at Tryst.

“Don’t get me wrong, clothing optional resorts are fun, but that’s not our concept. Our concept is a luxurious, inclusive resort,” Schukraft said with a touch of elan apropos for the “CEO of everything gay.” “Of course wear your thongs [and] Speedos.”

Tryst Puerto Vallarta and Tryst San Juan in Puerto Rico, which is slated to open in 2025, are being marketed as gay-owned, gay-focused resorts with luxurious offerings and amenities. Many resorts known to epitomize luxury may be seen as slightly conservative or “stuffy.” 

Luxury promises not to come only in the form of superior bedding, bathrobes, slippers and skincare products, but also in the stunning interiors. 

The Puerto Vallarta property engaged the same studio known for their acclaimed work at the Four Seasons Tamarindo. Designers from Estudio Esterlina bring a refined mix of minimalism, modernism and Mexican. 

“Why can’t you have fun and luxury in the same space? Here, you let your hair down by the pool, enjoy a pool party, a fine Mexican meal in our full-service restaurant, a drag brunch on weekends and socialize with new friends all while feeling safe,” Schukraft said. “Our goal is to show luxury doesn’t have to mean stuffy.”

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Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #5

Darwin was right, it is an amazing place.

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Celebrity Flora

The last full day of our Galápagos cruise dawned bright, with clear skies. The weather would change during the day. After breakfast we boarded tenders and were told it would be a dry landing. That meant we didn’t have to get in the water to get off the tender. Instead, we got to a very nice dock on the Island of Santa Cruz, in the middle of a bustling town. We were informed by the naturalist with us the population of the Island was about 25,000. We then boarded a bus for the short ride to the Charles Darwin Station, Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. We were greeted by a life size seated statue of Darwin. It was really interesting and we got to see more giant tortoises, and baby ones as well. The Center was really close to town and they told us we had an hour to walk back to meet our bus for the next part of the day. I am sure the goal of the walk was to have us shop at the various stores along the way. Some were really nice, while some were typical tourist shops. While I rarely buy anything on my travels, as I have learned after many years, whatever I buy often ends up boxed up in a closet. But many did shop, and a couple of my traveling companions bought some really nice silver jewelry.

We had been told where to meet the group, which was back at the dock, for the second part of the day. We again got on busses, and headed to a tortoise preserve in the highlands. On the way we stopped for a Scalesia tree planting activity. It is a restoration project supported by Celebrity. We each got boots to put on, two baby trees, and a trowel. Then were led into the forest to plant our trees. On the way back to our bus, my group was stuck behind a giant tortoise, who was meandering along the same path we were taking. It was fun to watch him, until we could finally walk around him, and be on our way. 

Then back on the bus to the El Manzanillo Ranch and tortoise preserve. There are a lot of tortoises on Santa Cruz Island. At the ranch we had a great buffet lunch, and were treated to entertainment, a wonderful dance program by kids in a folk-dance group. They were fun to watch. The program for the day called for us to then take a walk through the preserve. But during lunch the rains began, and they came down in buckets. So many of us chose to pass on the walk, get back on the busses, and head to the dock in town. We had been told the tenders would be running regularly and that we had up to three hours to stay on the Island and shop. I don’t know anyone who did. It was still drizzling and we all decided to head back to the ship. We heard later from the final group that came back, those who chose to take the walk through the preserve, that they nearly got stuck on the farm. There was so much rain it was washing out roads, and they needed to bring out two by fours to get the bus, and the people, out of the mud. Thankfully they did finally get out of the mud, and back to the ship.

We had a nice relaxed evening on The Flora and were treated to a slide show of pictures, taken by the naturalists, of our group, which they shared with each of us the next morning. Sunday morning The Flora headed back to Baltra Island, and we headed to the airport. It was time to say goodbye to the wonderful crew of The Flora. Of course, Captain Patricio who I have written about. But then the ship wouldn’t be the same without John Flynn, Hotel Director. From the moment we stepped on board, John was everywhere on the ship. He was always smiling and ready to answer any question someone had. He clearly kept things running superbly. He is an amazing guy. Then Boris Peralta, a Maître D. He is a really nice guy and it was incredible how many of our names he remembered, always greeting me by name. He was smiling at 6:00 am when I went for coffee, and again at the door to the dining room for dinner. Then there was Guillermo, one of the dining room staff. He was charming and also was always smiling. Always ready to bring a coffee, or anything else you needed. As I mentioned in a previous blog, there were nine naturalists on the Flora. They were all great. One who stood out to me, and answered any question I would throw at him, was Sebastian.  Clearly the competence and professionalism of the crew on The Flora, made all the difference to our great week on the ship.  

At the airport we all checked in to our chartered flight back to Quito. But there, some of the group, were heading to Peru, and on to Machu Picchu, while many of us would spend another day, or two, in Quito, before heading home. Those of us in Quito had dinner in the hotel, courtesy of Celebrity, and then on Monday, a group of us headed to the botanical gardens. It was a really nice relaxed day. But for me it was an early night, as a group of us were going to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 3:00 am to head to the airport for our 6:00 am flight to Miami, and connection to DC. That will be a separate column as I got bumped from 1st class on the Miami to DC flight, and am still debating the issue with American Airlines. So far, I have spoken to four people and got four different reasons for being bumped. Not a great look for American. But that small issue, couldn’t stop me from thinking, all-in-all, it was an amazing eleven days in Quito and the Galápagos. I got to spend time with good friends, and meet some wonderful new ones.  I would recommend a trip to the Galápagos to anyone. Darwin was right, it is an amazing place.

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