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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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Travel

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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Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #4

Turtles, iguanas and birds abound

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Celebrity Flora

After Floreana Island we continued our tour of the Galápagos with stops first on Isabela Island, and then then the next day we continued to spend some time on a different part of Isabela Island, and then went on to Fernadina Island. Then Friday it was South Plaza and Santa Cruz Islands.

Each day there continued to be morning and afternoon excursions off the Flora. Some involved walking, and some were taking a tender around the Island. The first day on Isabela Island we had the option of a long walk and a short tender ride, or just a tender ride in the morning. They warned everyone it was a very rocky trail. I passed on that, and took the tender ride where we saw some amazing sights. Turtles in the water, hundreds of Iguanas on the rocks, and loads of birds of all kinds. Then it was back to the Flora for lunch and relaxing. We had a great lunch outside on Deck 7 in the Ocean Grill and Bar.  In the afternoon we were given the option of a short walk and swim, or just a short walk. Basically, the same thing. It only mattered as to what time you got on the tender to head back to the ship.  I took the short walk and saw tortoises up close, more Iguanas, various birds, including flamingos. We are seeing many of the same animals on most of the Island walks, but there always seems to be a new one, something a little different, and it has been so much fun. I have some great pictures. 

Then it was time for the cocktail of the day; a Margarita, served in the Discovery Lounge on Deck 4. That is the place where we get briefings from naturalists each day, and the place we meet to leave for our excursions. Dinner was at the Seaside restaurant, the indoor dining room, also on deck 4.  Then a lazy evening. They did show a movie in the Discovery Lounge, Life on Fire, about the active volcanos in the Galapagos. There are still five alone on Isabela Island.  It was Valentines Day and to celebrate the pastry chef baked heart shaped cookies. They were really good. I know because I tasted one of each kind. While I haven’t been blown away by the food in general, I think the Executive chef is maybe trying too hard to be different; the pastry and dessert chefs have done a yeoman’s job. Could just be I like sugar.

The next day’s morning options were either a short or long walk, and I did the short one. In the afternoon there was only one option, a tender ride. Then back to the ship for another cocktail of the day. This one called the Yellow Warbler, served again in the Discovery Lounge.  Before dinner there were some games, including a trivia challenge. Then dinner outside in the Ocean Grill and Bar. To eat dinner outside you needed to make a reservation and Mike and Scott did that and ten of us ate together. The evening ended with the option of another movie; Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. There are TVs in the suites with a number of options, and if you are into the news like I am, they had the usual Celebrity channels available; FOX, MSNBC, and the BBC.

Friday dawned clear and the options were a short or long walk. This was to be a dry landing which meant you could step onto shore without getting your shoes wet. But it was not an easy walk as you were on some volcanic rock, and uneven paths. I decided to take a sea day, and stayed on the ship. I used the time to do some writing, including starting this blog, interviewing the Captain, and to relax with some friends who decided to do the same. We had lunch in the indoor dining room where they served a meal which they called Asian inspired. Some sushi and other dishes. The afternoon choices for those who wanted to head out were; a long fast-paced fitness walk, or a short walk. We did pass Daphne Major Island, and a naturalist told us about it. We could see it from our balconies on the Port side, or from deck 7 or 8. I headed to deck 7.

Then for those of us traveling with Scott and Dustin of My Lux Cruise, we got a reminder of our transatlantic cruises. They hosted a 6:15pm cocktail party in their suite. They do this regularly on the longer cruises. They had a great spread and a bartender. It was fun. Then the crew of the Flora wanted to pretend they were a bigger ship, and announced a ‘silent disco’ party in the Discovery Lounge at 9:00pm.  I was surprised at the silent disco as it didn’t seem to fit the Galapagos. But to be fair, there were many who did enjoy it. 

Now our last full day in the Galapagos will be tomorrow, Saturday, and it will be different. I will share that in my final blog, so hope you will keep reading them.

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D.C. Travel and Adventure Show to highlight LGBTQ travel

Event to take place at Walter E. Washington Convention Center this weekend

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A sunset in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

This weekend D.C. welcomes travel enthusiasts and adventure seekers looking to find their next destination. The ticketed event is open to travel professionals and consumers alike. It’s the first time the event comes to the nation’s capital.

One may wonder why LGBTQ travelers need a pavilion of their own. Ed Salvato, a consultant for the organization hosting the event, is a travel professional who is an educator in tourism, hospitality and marketing at New York University recently spoke with the Washington Blade. 

“Vendors, suppliers, destinations, marketing companies, airline marketing companies, etc. when they think of travelers the image that probably comes to mind is heterosexual couples. Maybe 1.5 kids,” Salvato said. “Most likely able-bodied, and maybe white.”

Gay travelers, however, may feel compelled to ask, “Will I be comfortable with my same-sex partner at your resort, destination, venue? Or “I’m traveling with my same-sex Latino partner and he’s a little younger, and will he be welcome at your resort?”

“The idea you know that, if I send an email or ask that the response can come across as defensive, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here,’” explained Salvato.

Many community members may be familiar with this response. Many also may not have found the response to be true. A city or destination may come off as being liberal due to its politics. But what about that particular hotel you booked in the next town over?

“It should be, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here! What are your needs and concerns? What can we do to make you feel comfortable?’ That to me makes me want to visit the destination,” Salvato said.

The point of the pavilion can go larger than just LGBTQ individuals. It also reflects the diversity, equity and inclusion of other individuals.

Rio de Janeiro (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“In reality,” Salvato says, “everyone travels with unique characteristics, some hidden, some not so hidden. Two Black travelers, a traveler in a wheelchair, solo women. A family coming up to me and asking where they can go for a family reunion which includes a bi-racial lesbian couple. A grandmother wanting to send her son and his husband on safari, where will they be safe and welcome? That kind of thing.”

There is also the stereotype of the gay couple being rich, white, living in an elite neighborhood in a city, and traveling frequently.

“But that’s not really the case. We’ve got a lot of ‘Chuck and Bobs’ out there. Let’s say, Chuck is an accountant, Bob is a public school principal, they live in Jersey somewhere, almost all their neighbors are straight, they may have a child they adopted together. Where can they go as a family on their vacation and feel comfortable?”

The LGBTQ pavilion will be an inclusive space. But, of course, Salvato expects there’s going to be a touch of whimsy for which our community is known.

“At a recent event, we had three bears promoting an event in Fort Lauderdale. A really cool bear event.”

As Salvato earlier explained he once saw camels as part of a vendor display and photo opportunity, this reporter was confused.

Trained bears! Indoors?

“No. Members of the gay, male bear community.”

Madrid (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Félix Alcaraz Vellisca, the consul for Tourism Affairs with the Tourism Office of Spain, explained why the country is consistently ranked one of the best international destinations for LGBTQ tourists.

“Spain is already widely known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations on the planet, but it is important to continue communicating and explaining this to all our potential visitors. Spain is a very diverse and heterogeneous country but sometimes,” he explained. “LGBTQ travelers know only the most important spots. But we want to gradually publicize other destinations that may be interesting for LGBTQ travelers. In any case, we are happy to know the extremely positive perception that all LGBTQ travelers have of our country and the desire they have to visit us. And that’s why we will be at the D.C. Show, to help travelers to fulfill their wishes.”

Vellisca, and his organization, are also using this appearance at the pavilion to celebrate the 2026 Gay Games, which are being held in Valencia.

“The audience comes largely from the United States,” he said. “We also want to be there to communicate this event and provide information about it.”

Vellisca’s booth will also entice guests to come experience Spain through a raffle of Spanish gastronomy.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Of course, there are also destinations which are normally welcoming centers for the community. One state in particular which some LGBTQ travelers may be wary of heading due to some recent press: Florida, which has come under scrutiny due to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. 



Many would-be tourists have stated they wouldn’t spend their travel dollars in the Sunshine State. But that’s a blanket statement that will potentially harm gay-friendly destinations and gay-owned businesses. Towns like Wilton Manors, adjacent to Fort Lauderdale, and Key West come to mind known as they are for gay guest houses, nightclubs and dining options.

Michelle Pirre, who represents the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, will not be at the D.C. event but was at a recent New York event representing Florida’s West Coast.

“The NYC Travel Pavilion was amazing and well planned! While thousands came by our booth, we spoke directly to over 1,000 LGBTQ attendees with a genuine interest in our area,” she stated. 

Clearly she wants gay travelers to realize her destination is and continues to be welcoming. 

“We collected hundreds of names for our newsletters, distributed standard visitor guides, LGBTQ guides and so much more collateral from weddings to golf and arts and culture, we had very little leftover. Looking forward to next year,” she said.

Aaron Tabor and his husband David Ardelean, the first gay couple married in Everglades City, Fla., met in Wilton Manors. They found their way back to Tabor’s hometown located near Naples on the Florida Peninsula’s West Coast. They later became stewards of the Parkway Motel and Marina of Chokoloksee, as they are avid outdoorsmen, they were saddened to learn so many LGBTQ tourists were swearing off the Sunshine State due to the controversies coming from Tallahassee.

“Living authentically, we openly invite and affirm all of our guests regardless of their individualisms,” the couple shared. “Political theater can be dramatic sometimes, but this doesn’t need to stand in the way of the enriching travel experiences we offer guests as the gateway to the great southwestern Florida outdoors.”

Their motto is, “Fuss less, fish more!” to entice LGBTQ travelers to still come to Florida they hosted a booth at the New York show. For the D.C. event: Timothy Kelley, the Parkway Motel and Marina Manager will be on site at the booth to explain and engage visitors along with a $200 travel voucher sweepstakes along with some really cool swag give-aways. 

This is a ticketed event taking place on Feb. 24-25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. To learn more, visit TravelShows.com and look under “Shows” to book one or two day tickets to the event.

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