It’s late July and that means you’re running out of time to plan a summer vacation — but the time is perfect to plan a fall getaway. Here are three LGBTQ-friendly options to consider with abundant nightlife, culinary delights, and cultural attractions.
Chicago makes for a perfect fall vacation. Festivals, biking along the lake or walking the Kathy Osterman (Hollywood) Beach (the queer beach) in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood are all great options. The gayborhood, Boystown has been re-christened as “Northalsted” to promote inclusion. You will find most of the bars and gay businesses on Halsted Street.
I always stay at the Hotel Versey (644 W. Diversey Parkway) near the Diversey Brown Line (at the intersection of Clark/Broadway/Diversey) just south of the gayborhood. The rooms are also full of murals featuring local attractions and parking is just $20 for your entire stay at the garage next door (Century Shopping Center), which also features a LA Fitness free to use for hotel guests. Book directly at HotelVersey.com to save. Weekday rates are reasonable and the weekend rates are also better than anything you will find downtown. Plus, you can walk to the bars or just enjoy the many nearby shops and restaurants. There is even a Trader Joe’s across the street and just west of there is the new Dom’s Kitchen and Market (2730 N. Halstead St.).
Just steps away from the hotel is my favorite Italian restaurant, which will sell you a slice of their amazing pizza, Renaldi’s Pizza (2827 N. Broadway) is a local favorite. Try the Spingione Sausage Pizza.
Farther up Broadway you will find Unabridged Books (3521 N. Broadway), one of the last remaining independent bookstores that features a wide array of LGBTQ titles. They have been around since 1980 and are still going strong. Broadway features loads of independent shops and restaurants and is a fun way to spend the day. Don’t miss Cram Fashion at 3331 N. Broadway. Grab a salad or enjoy a glass of wine at Mariano’s.
Bring your appetite for the new nearby Dom’s Kitchen and Market (2730 N. Halsted Street) where every kind of food is available freshly prepared. If you need anything, you will find the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 2844 N. Broadway. Next door to the Hotel Versey you will find Stan’s Donuts, a local favorite that also has grilled cheese and cookies.
Other hotel options in the neighborhood include the Best Western Hawthorn Terrace and The Willows.
All are just steps to the Lakeshore Path, which runs along nearby Lake Michigan.
Bargain hunters will also love the Heart of Chicago Motel near the Andersonville neighborhood farther north and features free parking.
Hop on the L or the CTA bus for a trip to the Loop to experience the incredible Chicago architecture.
Walk along the new Riverwalk and then head up Michigan Avenue, which features the best shopping in the Midwest.
Enjoy the buildings. My favorite is the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River. Even the new buildings are stunning. Chicago does have the best architecture of any city on the planet.
Millennium Park in the loop is a must. The Shedd Aquarium is also recommended. Navy Pier has a Ferris wheel.
For nightlife, make your first stop to Sidetracks (3349 N. Halsted), America’s biggest and oldest video bar.
The famous Sunday afternoon showtunes now happen on Mondays and Fridays as well. Don’t miss the rooftop bar. There is something going on every night. You can’t beat this mega video bar institution.
Many other LGBTQ bars are nearby. The North End at 3733 N. Halsted is a sports bar. The Lucky Horsehoe features adult entertainment. Charlie’s is a western themed bar. Just north of Andersonville, you will find Touche and Jackhammer on North Clark, which are popular with the leather crowd.
Chicago is a major hub for all transportation types with both O’Hare and Midway Airports as options. Southwest has a hub in Midway Airport. Hop on the Orange Line for a quick ride in.
For more information, visit GrabChicago.com (or pick up a copy). GRAB Magazine is Chicago’s only remaining in print LGBTQ magazine. Check the maps at the back of the magazine on where to find the bars, restaurants, and other LGBTQ businesses. The Chicago Reader is the biweekly alternative publication.
You will be amazed at everything Chicago has to offer. It is the Paris of the Midwest and arguably one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world. Just ask lesbian Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.
#2: PALM SPRINGS
There’s always something new to give you another reason to visit Palm Springs besides the great winter weather. My most recent visit included a stop at the hottest new restaurant in town, Bar Cecil, a stop at the aviation themed speakeasy Air Bar at Bouschet, and a trip up the tram for a hike in the San Jacinto mountains.
Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto and enjoy a hike (or snow shoeing) in the alpine meadows. The 10-minute trip on the world’s largest rotating tram car takes just 10 minutes to ascend 8,500 feet from the base of Chino Canyon to the top of Mount San Jacinto where breathtaking views and pristine alpine wilderness await. Take a short hike in the Long Valley or visit the Winter Adventure Center. Details at pstramway.com. Other ideas:
• Hike on the North Lykken Trail at the end of Ramon Road. Bring plenty of sunscreen and water.
• Explore the new Heritage Galleries and Antique District in Uptown.
• Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the world’s largest collection of flyable World War 2 aircraft.
• Check out the new city park downtown and the oversize statute of Marilyn Monroe.
Arenas Road downtown features most of the bars. Enjoy happy hour at Quads. The new speakeasy, AirBar, is a must. Enjoy cocktails while you sit on First Class seats from Northwest Orient or enjoy coach seating on what appears to be old Southwest Airlines seats (complete with seat belts) served by a bartender dressed like a pilot. This aviation themed bar is inside Bouschet. Don’t miss the wine tastings, the Saturday night flight, and the Sunday disco and boozy Bruch. However, unlike airline travel, lunch and dinner are served (or available for purchase). Details at pspairbar.com.
Good choices for lodging include the Hotel Zoso, the Holliday House, and The Rowan by Kimpton. The Margaritaville Resort reportedly has the largest pool. But check the resort fees before you book. They can be $47 a day. Another great option is the Santiago.
Ristretto is great for coffee and breakfast. Lulu’s downtown has great quesadillas. The trout at the Eight4Nine Restaurant is to die for. El Mirasol has great Mexican food. The new Bar Cecil (restaurant) is a must. If you cannot get reservations, arrive early and sit at the bar. Vegetarians and juice lovers will want to try Nature’s Health Food and Café.
As for getting there, beware of the new hassles of traveling. American cancelled my outbound flight (staffing shortage?) so I ended up on Southwest. You don’t need a car if you stay in one of the downtown hotels. Also, save by taking the SunLine Bus to your hotel using the stop just outside the airport. It is just $1.
The Film Festival runs Jan. 6-17 while the Modernism week starts in mid-February.
For more information go to the Visit Palm Springs website, visitGreaterPS.com.
You can also read or pick up a copy of GED Magazine (GEDMag.com), Rage Magazine, or the Coachella Valley Independent for a current list of happenings. The Desert Daily Guide is another great resource.
You won’t run out of new and fun things to do in this desert LGBTQ+ oasis, which is always re-inventing itself and always a delight to visit.
#3: SAN FRANCISCO
No sooner had I stepped off my Southwest Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) than I was in a LGBTQ history exhibit like no other.
The new Harvey Milk Terminal (aka Terminal One), which has been open less than a year at SFO, showcases the life of former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. Milk was an LGBTQ political trailblazer in so many respects. He was the first openly gay individual elected to office in California (in 1977) and served just 11 months before being murdered by another Supervisor, Dan White who also assassinated Mayor George Moscone. The amazing life of one of the nation’s first openly LGBTQ politicians is showcased in a half mile exhibit as you walk down the new terminal named in his honor. The terminal exhibit alone is worth a visit to the City by the Bay.
I always stay at Beck’s Motor Lodge near the Castro right on Market Street. Shops and restaurants are nearby and the rates are reasonable. It is also out of the touristy areas and in the heart of the gayborhood. They have free parking but you won’t need a car. Other options nearby include the Parker Guest House and The Willows.
A walk along Castro Street is another history lesson with famous LGBTQ folks embedded in gold sidewalk displays. Learn about the lives of LGBTQ legends, many from the Bay Area. The city was and is a magnet for LGBTQ folks and is still cutting edge today.
San Francisco safe outdoor hiking options abound. From my motel (Becks Motor Lodge) you can hike up to Buena Vista Park for great views of the Bay Area and Twin Peaks.
Then hike over to Corona Heights for more great views of the City by the Bay (with lunch at the Josesphine Café at the Randall Museum). A hike up to Twin Peaks is another option from the Castro.
A bit farther is the amazing Golden Gate Park and the beaches on the Pacific Ocean.
We took BART from 24th/Mission down to the Embarcadero. We stopped at Rincon Center with 1930 era murals of the history of California. Then we headed over to the Ferry Building for lunch and shopping.
Head over to the new rooftop gardens at the Salesforce Tower Transbay Transit Terminal, which features a display in the mile-long garden of the various types of ecosystems that thrive in the Mediterranean climate of this amazing state. Don’t miss the redwood garden.
A walk thought the Financial District up to Union Square is another must.
If you have a car, try Edgewood County Park on the Peninsula just down I-280 south of the City on the world’s most beautiful freeway (really).
The bars are open in the Castro Street neighborhood and include The Lookout (3600 16th St. at Market), which has a great deck overlooking the street scene.
Twin Peaks Tavern at Market and Castro (401 Castro) bills itself as the Gateway to the Castro and features Irish Coffee and drink specials. It also has outdoor seating and great views of the street action. Hi Tops at 2247 Market is another fun sports bar with outdoor seating.
Erics on Church Street (accessible via the J Church Metro Line) has great lunch specials. It is a Chinese restaurant with tasty home-cooked, healthful ingredients.
In nearby West Portal, enjoy Italian food at the amazing Spiazzo Restaurant. Try the salmon. (Catch the K or L line bus from the Castro.) West Portal also abounds with other options for dining.
Peet’s Coffee is across the street from Beck’s Motor Lodge is a great breakfast option for to go selections.
I took Southwest to SFO and flew back out of Oakland International Airport (OAK). Both are convenient options served by the BART transit system. Get a Clipper Card and you can also use it on the San Francisco bus system, Muni.
Check out the Bay Area Reporter (ebar.com or pick up a printed copy), which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Bay Times is the other local LGBTQ publication. Both are great sources for ideas on what to do while visiting and current updates on what is open and what is not.
Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBTQ value travel column runs in select LGBTQ publications around America.
Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #5
Darwin was right, it is an amazing place.
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.
Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #4
Turtles, iguanas and birds abound
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.
D.C. Travel and Adventure Show to highlight LGBTQ travel
Event to take place at Walter E. Washington Convention Center this weekend
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.
“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.”
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.
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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