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Saugatuck-Douglas is open and better than ever

Artsy Midwest resort area has something for everyone

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Saugatuck, gay news, Washington Blade
A scene from Laketown Beach near Saugatuck, Mich. (Photo courtesy Bill Malcolm)

The Midwest’s gay resort area, Saugatuck-Douglas, Mich., is open and better than ever. The sandy beaches, two gay resorts, sand dunes, and blueberries beckon the LGBTQ traveler. The Southwest Michigan area is easily accessible by car from many cities and flying into Grand Rapids is another option.

Safety is a priority in the area and COVID-19 protection plans are in place and include: employees wearing masks at bars, restaurants, and stores; restaurants have spaced out tables and are operating at reduced capacity; the number of campsites has been reduced at CampIt; reduced capacity and spread out bar area at the Dunes Resort; masks are required to enter grocery stores; and more. Check state websites for the latest travel restrictions before booking any trips.

The area features two great LGBTQ resorts. The Dunes Resort features many lodging options (motel, cabins, and more), a pool with bar (never a cover or admission fee), a great indoor bar, two dance floors, and more. It is the Midwest’s largest gay resort.

Weekly events include piano bar Monday, karaoke on Thursdays, go-go boys from Perfect 10 Men Fridays, and a T-dance (with barbeque) Sunday afternoons. The Dunes Divas also appear with shows on the Tea Deck weekend nights. There is something special going on every weekend including:
Aug. 13-16 White Party Weekend
Aug. 20-23 Furball Weekend
Aug. 27-30 End of Summer Blues

Book your stay or get more information at dunesresort.com. They also handle bookings for the Northern Lights condominiums across the street.

Value-oriented travelers will especially like the camping and other options like small cabins and a bunkhouse over at Camp It Resort, Saugatuck’s outdoor resort in Fennville just south of Saugatuck. They have a great pool scene, too. Upcoming events include:
Aug. 14-16 Wild West weekend
Aug. 21-23 Mardi Gras (complete with parade)—this is always a sell out
Aug. 28-30 Wine and dine weekend

D.C. DJ Steve Henderson spins the tunes by the pool. The resort has been going strong since 1982. I love that you can camp for just $20 a night on the weekends. It’s a friendly crowd and they even have a food truck (opening soon) for those that don’t like to cook.

Book your stay and get more information at campitresort.com or call 269-543-4435.

Make your first stop beautiful Oval Beach on Lake Michigan. One of the best shorelines around. However, they do charge $10 until 8 p.m. so save money and just go for the sunset. Other beaches (which are free) include the Laketown Beach and West Side County Park. My favorite is the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve, which features great hiking and a wonderful (and free beach) less affected by this year’s high Lake Michigan water levels.

Take a hike to the beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. You walk though a beech/maple forest to the dunes and then down to the beach, although the high water levels leave little beach left right now. The non-resident fee is $9. The huge forest covered dunes are amazing.

Explore the arts community in downtown Saugatuck with its shops and restaurants. Uncommon Ground is the LGBTQ oriented coffee shop. It is a very walkable small town. Rent a bike at Big Lake Outfitters and ride on the new Blue Star bike and hike trail.

Pick or just buy the local grown blueberries at Blue Star farms. The peaches grown in the area are also very good. Go wine tasting at the Fenn Valley Vineyards.

There is so much to do in this beautiful area on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The What Not in Fennville is open at 50 percent capacity. The salmon, perch, and taco salad are all excellent plus it is very LGBTQ friendly. You will find the restaurant just south of Douglas on Blue Star Highway.

Enjoy fresh made juices, sandwiches, and salads with local ingredients at The Farmhouse Deli (100 Blue Star Highway). Try the carrot or beet juice blends.

Have a slice of pizza or homemade sandwich at Lakeshore Convenience, 655 Blue Star Highway.

Grab a coffee drink at Uncommon Coffee in Saugatuck. It’s the LGBTQ friendly hang out in town with micro roasted coffee beans to take home.

You will not run out of things to do in the Saugatuck area. However, hurry, the season ends just after Labor Day.

For more information, visit Saugatuck.com, dunesresort.com, or campit.com.

Bill Malcolm is America’s only syndicated LGBTQ value travel columnist. He is based in Indianapolis.

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4 fabulous brunch options in Palm Springs

Good food, plentiful cocktails, and high style to start the day

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King's Highway (Photo by Lance Gerber)

Brunch — that all-day weekend affair — is where days can begin, and end. In a town that already wakes up early, brunch has a special place among meals. With the cooler weather, there’s no better time to head to Palm Springs for a taste of the brunch festivities it has to offer. Below, four distinctive – and distinct – brunch options.

Jake’s: Helmed by industry veterans (and gay men) Chris Malm and Bruce Bloch, Jake’s is an institution, as much a destination as it is a spot for locals. The goal of Jake’s, says Malm, is to make it “a hip, fun dinner party with good friends.” 

At brunch time, plan to spend some time with other new besties, Mary and Rita. Jake’s offers one of the most extensive and diverse brunch cocktail lists in Palm Springs: 10 Bloody Marys, six mimosas, six margaritas, seven “refreshers,” several other cocktails, and of course, rosé. It’s no surprise that the bartender has collected awards. 

The shaded, cozy patio is also a hit. Lined with soaring, 20-foot Ficus trees, locals refer to it as “The Ivy” of Palm Springs. In the winter, there’s space for heaters; summertime brings in misters. 

As for the dishes, it’s the crab cake benedict that repeat customers dive in for. There’s also a tempura softshell crab BLT that’s a menu mainstay. Malm points out that the tater tots, infused with truffle, “are incredibly popular.”

Finally, if you’re especially lucky, you’ll meet Jackson: a West Highland Terrier who serves as mascot (though he won’t serve your mimosa). 

Oscar’s: Located in the heart of Palm Springs, Oscar’s is the town’s epicenter for full-octane energy. While the party rarely stops at Oscar’s, Sunday brunch turns it up to an 11. 

The restaurant didn’t hold back by christening its Sunday event as the “Bitchiest Brunch.” It doesn’t hold back. The show’s drag queen star is Anita Rose; she’s supported by a rotating cast, bringing distinctive attitude and style to brunch. Soon after pandemic restrictions were lifted, Oscar’s restarted the brunch party, taking advantage of one of its biggest selling points: a patio that can seat up to 120. 

Dan Gore, the owner and a gay man, said that the restaurant quickly outgrew one showtime. They quickly added a second. There’s now a full three seatings (9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.); two outside and one inside. 

One of the reasons that this brunch has been wildly popular is that Oscar’s can draw “different kinds of families and feel welcome and accepted. It’s not just entertainment by fabulous performers, but also a loving, safe space. It’s an all-ages event.”

Of course, Oscar’s serves bottomless mimosas; there are also super-size (16-ounce) Bloody Marys.

To dine, it’s a classic egg-focused menu, with omelets and eggs Benedicts. Pancakes, French toast, breakfast tacos, and bagels and lox round out the menu.

After brunch concludes, adult diners tend to hang out for another of Oscar’s mainstays: afternoon tea dance.

Parker: As quintessential Palm Springs as it gets: Parker is an upscale resort designed by Jonathan Adler. Its restaurant, Norma’s, distills that chic styling into brunch. Norma’s serves breakfast all day and all night, but brunch is the time to see and be seen. The extensive patio and wraparound orange banquette allow for both people-watching and nature-watching. Inside, white stone and wooden accents keep things cool.

A Parker representative notes that “the concept of breakfast at Norma’s can be a no-holds-barred extravaganza of decadent proportions,” something that certainly extends to brunch time. 

Diners can start off minimalist with an egg white omelet – or go maximalist with the “zillion dollar lobster frittata,” on which diners can toss an ounce of Sevruga caviar. There’s a slew of traditional carb-heavy diner items, like blueberry pancakes and chocolate French toast. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options abound. 

In terms of cocktails, there’s a short list of classics (Bloody Mary, mimosa), plus French and Californian roses, as well as glasses (or bottles) of Dom Perignon and Veuve. 

King’s Highway: Infused with the desert spirit, King’s Highway brings chic to cactus country. Snug inside the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, King’s is a roadside diner with retro nods (it used to be a Denny’s) and handsome saddle leather banquettes. Khuong Phan, food & beverage communications director at the hotel, notes that “we’ve kept that same diner vibe and spirit… but we’ve completely made it Southern California contemporary.”

Beveled mirrors slope above the bar for some surreptitious people-watching; the outdoor patio is just as welcoming, situated as it is next to the popular pool.

Beyond coffee and pastries, substantive and diner-forward entrees include Belgian waffles, bagel sandwiches, and biscuits and gravy built on pork sausage. East Coast visitors will feel comfortable with the salmon lox plate; locals dig in to the homey and filling King’s Highway Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and sausage. Additional salads, sandwiches, and burgers are available after 11 a.m. 

To drink, detoxers may wish to choose the Sunrise (orange, coconut water, lemon, ginger, turmeric). The date shake is concocted with local dates, plus oat milk and vanilla ice cream. Naturally, there’s a Bloody Mary, using housemade mix. Another tropical-style drink is the Pina Antigua: pineapple rum, rye, and creme de banana. A popular local bottle shop, Dead or Alive, curates the wine list.

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LGBTQ travelers show how to explore safely this fall

More destinations enacting COVID safety protocols

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla. is among our top picks for winter travel. (Blade file photo by Yariel Valdés)

Just when we thought it was safe to hit the road, we were walloped by the Delta variant, the latest plot twist in the 18-month-and-counting pandemic story. The surprising data that fully vaccinated people could transmit the virus came shockingly from Provincetown with a 90% vaccination rate. Ptown quickly tightened restrictions requiring masking at all indoor locations and proof of vaccine at all entertainment venues — interventions that worked. As of press time, the positivity rate there is much lower than much of the rest of the U.S. and it remains one of our top recommendations this fall and beyond. Ptown demonstrated a successful response — stressing safety yet continuing to deliver a deeply satisfying experience.

Read on for our favorite queer-friendly destinations striving to create a safe space for you and strategies for navigating the increasingly complex world of pandemic travel. Safe, beautiful and fun LGBTQ-friendly destinations, experiences and accommodations beckon whether you seek to recharge your batteries, deplete them or a little of both. 

Queer and safe destinations

• Provincetown, Mass. is our very own home beyond the rainbow as suggested by this year’s Carnival theme. Book far ahead for popular weeks (July 4; Bear Week; and Carnival) but we recommend visiting outside of the most popular times for a less frantic more enjoyable stay. There are diverse LGBTQ-oriented events almost every weekend through New Year’s Eve. Information: Provincetown Business Guild and Provincetown for Women.

• Fort Lauderdale and Miami remain the beating heart of LGBTQ-friendly Florida despite the barbaric state-level response causing the Sunshine State to be among the worst hit in the U.S. by the pandemic. Fort Lauderdale has been world renowned for its authentic and inclusive vibe for all visitors since 1996. More than 1,000 local businesses have taken the Safe & Clean Pledge. Likewise, Miami has implemented the Greater Miami Travel Guidelines and Destination Pledge accessible from the destination’s homepage outlining how safety measures are being implemented throughout the community.

• Puerto Rico is the undisputed LGBTQ capital of the Caribbean enticing visitors with reliably warm, sunny weather and a sincere outreach to queer travelers. Despite unfortunate, highly publicized attacks on local transgender people, Puerto Rico boasts a visible and vibrant trans community, and nightlife options that specifically cater to queer and non-binary folx. This helps create a safer and more comfortable environment than other warm-weather destinations in the Caribbean or Mexico, which lack venues for a trans community that mostly lives in hiding. Information: Discover Puerto Rico.

• Philadelphia makes for a fun urban getaway. Once the kids are back in school and the lines at the Liberty Bell disappear, you’ll find a warm, walkable and LGBTQ-welcoming city. Find LGBTQ restaurants, safe nightlife, engaging events and recommendations galore at Visit Philly. Pro tip: Try to schedule a half day at the Barnes Foundation art collection. 

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wait, what? Yep, this charming midwestern town is our top unexpected recommendation. You’ll find historic cultural venues, a walkable entertainment district with plenty of topnotch live music and theatrical performances, a delectable culinary scene and a truly warm welcome. Find trip-planning recommendations at the destination’s website.

Queer cruises and land vacations

Cruises are coming back, and it may be surprising to hear that they are probably the safest vacation you can take. According to Randle Roper, CEO at VACAYA, an LGBT+ vacation company, “With cruise lines soon to mandate that all guests and crew members must be vaccinated, cruise ships will be among the very safest locations on the planet – with the entire population vaccinated. Making sensible choices like masking and social distancing while ashore, cruisers can avoid infection altogether.” Resort vacations are also safe with similar universal vaccinations and plenty of room for guests to spread out. Remember with no children during LGBTQ weeks at mainstream resorts, they offer much more space per adult guest. VACAYA’s big 2021 fall events include an all-inclusive Mexico resort vacation (Oct. 30-Nov. 6) and a New Orleans Cruise (Nov. 14-22). In 2022, there are only two trips that still have rooms available: the Caribbean Cruise (Jan. 10-17) and the all-inclusive Costa Rica Resort (June 5-12). Information and booking at MyVACAYA.com.

Not only will queer tour companies get you there and back safely, but “they also can ensure your money is being spent with other welcoming, progressive and even queer businesses and individuals around the world,” according to Robert Sharp, founder of Out Adventures. “This is even more important,” he continues, “when planning travel to countries that are known to be less than queer welcoming.” Visit their site to read about their New Year’s Eve trips to Thailand and Cuba and in 2022, their Iceland winter trip, and four back-to-back Croatia small group cruises, which are starting to sell out.

R Family Vacations is one of our top recommendations for planning an incredibly fun and satisfying tour or cruise (big ship and river cruises) in the company of other queer travelers and allies. You don’t even have to have children to join their trips. In 2022, R Family offers land tours in Thailand and Ireland; an LGBTQ group on board a cruise in Alaska; and a magical all-queer full-ship-charter Uniworld river cruise in Northern Italy among other trips. Information: R Family Vacation, rfamilyvacations.com.

Even in this uncertain time, you can enjoy enriching and joyful travel opportunities in LGBTQ-friendly environments in a way that maximizes safety and minimizes risk. You just have to plan a little more. We highly recommend using an LGBTQ expert travel adviser who keeps up to date on LGBTQ-friendly tour, cruise, and safari providers, as well as destinations and hotels and that understand innately the needs and concerns of LGBTQ travelers. They dedicate themselves to both LGBTQ travel safety and keeping up with the latest, ever-shifting pandemic-era guidance, health protocols, openings, and closings. They know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to their global connections, they can often score VIP upgrades for you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. They are also your most important advocate when trips are cancelled or rescheduled. Best of all clients use travel advisers, like our top picks here, for no additional fees:

Kelli Carpenter, who also co-owns R Family Vacations; [email protected]

Jonathan Alder, Travelstore USA; [email protected]; and 

Sandie Anders; Bursch Travel; [email protected]

Giuseppe Giulio; Gay Friendly Italy; [email protected]

We’ve heard far too many stories of queer guests receiving a frosty welcome (or worse) when checking into a hotel or AirBnB. These are our top choices for LGBTQ-friendly resources for accommodations where you can truly relax and be your authentic selves:

MisterBnB includes one million LGBTQ-friendly listings in 200 countries and is primarily geared towards gay men.

FabStayz proudly offers accommodations inclusive of all the letters of our ever-growing acronym.

Orbitz Pride lists LGBTQ-friendly accommodations; and

Booking.com is rolling out an LGBTQ certification program, including live training and ancillary materials, for their hotel partners over the next year. Look for the “Proud Hospitality” label on listings. 

NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing specialist. This article is courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association.

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Saugatuck/Douglas is the art coast of Michigan

Beaches and peaches abound in this LGBTQ-friendly escape

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The Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers breathtaking scenery. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

The Saugatuck-Douglas villages in Southwest Michigan are the only LGBTQ-focused vacation areas between Provincetown and the Russian River in California. Nestled with sandy beaches along Lake Michigan (and fresh, shark-free waters), the area is not only an artist colony but now features a plethora of wineries and microbreweries and is a fruit basket (blueberries, peaches, apples, and more are all grown here). With two LGBTQ+ resorts (Dunes Resort and CampIt), there is something for everyone and for every budget. Don’t forget to take home some blueberries and peaches.

WHAT TO DO

Oval Beach in Saugatuck is an award winner. The sunsets are incredible. You can hike for miles in the nearby dunes or walk along the beach. You can also climb to the top of nearby Mount Baldhead, a high sand dune on the west side of the river. 

Take a tour of the Kalamazoo River out to Lake Michigan on an authentic stern wheel paddleboat. I loved the sunset cruise. Snacks and drinks available (cash only). You will find them at 716 Water St. in Saugatuck (saugatuckboatcruises.com). Check out the new 1860s era fish shanty and Fish Market next door. It features posters telling about the colorful fishing history of Saugatuck. 

Take a hike to the beach at the Wau-Ke-Na Nature Preserve at 116th St. just south of West Side County Park. Further north you will find the historic Pier Cove Beach (2290 Lakeshore Dr., Fennville).

North of Saugatuck you can take a hike up the dunes and down at Laketown Beach. It’s free but parking is limited. 

Take a walk around historic downtown Douglass, which even has a park honoring the Dunes Resort founders who turned the area into an LGBTQ destination. Enjoy “Unmasked: Photographic Portraits After 2020” at the new Douglas Library. 

The Saugatuck Center for the Arts has shows all summer including “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” and “Just Too Big: Songs from Broadway Blockbusters.” Details and tickets at sc4a.org.

Pick blueberries at Blue Star Farms or just grab a pint to go. (bluestarblueberries.com)

Take a hike through the sand dunes and forest down to the beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. 

WHERE TO STAY 

The Dunes Resort in Douglas (333 Blue Star Highway) offers cabins and motel rooms that are affordable at the weekday special rate (Monday-Wednesday). Don’t miss the bar scene, the outdoor bar and dance floor, and the many special events. The T Dance on Sundays includes a barbeque. The pool scene includes cocktails and food to order as well as cabanas. It’s another must and is great for people watching.

Upcoming events include:

Aug. 6-8 Mardi Gras Weekend

Aug. 20-21 White Party Weekend

For more information, go to dunesresort.com.

Other nearby motels include The Blue Star Motel next to the Dunes or the AmericInn just down the road, both in Douglas. The Northern Lights Condos also are an option. 

Down in Fennville, stay at the Camp It Resort, located at 6635 118th Ave. in Fennville (campitresort.com). This Michigan LGBTQ resort welcomes everyone. They just had their first trans week. Camping, cabins, bunk house, and other lodging options make this a place your affordable option. The Biggie Food Truck is perfect for a meal or snack. The pool scene is a lot of fun and they often have shows. Set on 33 acres, there store has everything you need and is open late on weekends. They too have a lot going on this season including:

July 23-25 Christmas in July

Sept. 17-19 Wine and Dine Weekend includes a tour of nearby wineries

Oct. 8-10 includes a tour of 3 new nearby microbreweries

WHERE TO EAT

The new women-owned Guardian Brewery and restaurant has a great Sunday Brunch. Their micro brews are very good. They are just off exit 41 off I-196 in Saugatuck. 

The Farmhouse Deli (100 Blue Star Highway, Douglas) features farm to table deli sandwiches, soups, and fresh squeezed juices. They are at 100 Blue Star Highway in Douglas. Try the carrot blend, Zing, fresh juice creation.

The new Isabel’s Market and Eatery (across from the Dunes Resort at 310 Blue Star Highway) features local products and has an Italian theme. Try the pastrami sandwich. You can even take a cooking class. 

Don’t miss the pizza and subs at Lakeshore Convenience and Pizza, 155 Blue Star Highway in Douglas. 

The Uncommon Coffee Roasters in downtown Saugatuck is perfect for a coffee. Pick up some beans to go.

The What Not in Fennville is another local favorite. Don’t miss the fish fry on Fridays. 

GETTING THERE

The area is about two hours from Chicago and three hours from Detroit. You can also fly into Grand Rapids or take Amtrak to Holland. If you stay at the Dunes, you might be able to get away with no car. Otherwise you need one although they do have an on-demand bus and bike rentals in downtown Saugatuck. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION 

Stop by the Saugatuck Douglas Visitors Information Center in Douglas (95 Blue Star Highway) or visit their website, Saugatuck.com.

Bill Malcolm is the nation’s only LGBTQ+ value travel columnist. Based in Indianapolis, his columns have appeared in publications across the country. His opinions are his own. Special thanks to Oval Beach, the Saugatuck Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Douglas Dunes Resort, and Camp It Resort.

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