Travel » Features

Gay Beach Getaways

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday May 29, 2012

This article is from the September 2012 issue of EDGE Digital Magazine.

Everyone needs some R&R. Summer is right around the corner and brings with it the perfect time for LGBT travelers on both coasts to leave the stress and strain of the city behind and hit the beach, pitch a tent or watch the whales. Whether for a week, a weekend or just a day, here are some wonderful gay-friendly cities that spring to life during the summer months and that welcome gay and lesbian tourists. These spots will offer you a chance to play, party or just relax.

East Coast

If you're looking at the East Coast, welcoming beach resorts are as plentiful in any direction. Those near New York City can trek to the gay oasis of Fire Island off the coast of Long Island, or hop a train to Asbury Park, New Jersey. Those from farther down the Mid-Atlantic area can get their kicks at the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Up north, there's no place that compares to Cape Cod's gay jewel, Provincetown. So grab your beach towel and make a reservation for some hot, gay fun in the sun!

Fire Island, New York

For New York’s gay men and lesbians, summer means one thing: It’s time to pack up your swim trunks and flip-flops and jump on the Long Island Railroad to Fire Island. This predominantly gay-populated island is accessible via ferries that traditionally take women to Cherry Grove, and men to Fire Island Pines, although both towns are equally welcoming.

Whether you pay thousands of dollars for a summer share or just head down for a day of gay fun in the sun, you won’t be disappointed. Fire Island is a Mecca for gay revelers, featuring unspoiled wildlife like the ubiquitous deer that battle gay men for their place in the dunes.

A common sight in Fire Island is weekenders rolling their belongings down the boardwalk to their share houses in little red wagons. The island has no paved roads and allows no passenger cars, adding to its rustic charm.

Despite the tragic fire in the Pines’ harbor, which burned down the main disco, the Pavilion, and the bar the Sip ’n’ Twirl, the Ice Palace and Grove Hotel in Cherry Grove both opened on April 27 with a full schedule of events, including the Miss Fire Island contest. Other summer highlights include the annual Fourth of July "Invasion of the Pines," when drag queens take the ferry in full makeup to reenact the 1976 banning of drag queens from a local restaurant.

If you decide to stay and don’t have a summer share (which, ironically, renters are usually forbidden to "share" with visitors), book a room early at the Grove Hotel. Economy rooms range anywhere from $40 to 400 daily, with higher prices during summer weekends. According to operations manager Wendy Lewis, the 50-year-old hotel offers about 65 rooms, the largest pool on the entire island, and many other amenities, including day pool passes and bag checks.

"We have free entertainment just about every night in the summer, a huge disco, a Tiki bar, the Island Breeze restaurant that offers discounts for guests, and a store, pizza place, and ice cream shop on the property," said Lewis. "We attract a mixed clientele, and although many summer weekends are already sold out, during the week, we almost always have rooms. People also take advantage of day passes to the pool and showers, and we hold their bags while they go out at night."

There is also the Botel in the Pines. And then there is the Belvedere, a men-only rococo mansion that sprawls along Great South Bay in Cherry Grove. The rooms vary according to size, but staying there is an unforgettable experience.

Provincetown, Massachusetts

When it comes to gay summer getaways, nothing quite trumps the reinvigorating freedom imparted by an idyllic sojourn to beautiful Provincetown, Massachusetts. Feel all of your cares slip away with the tide from the moment you board Bay State Cruise Company’s Fast Ferry for the 90-minute trip from Boston to Ptown.

Make your reservations early at one of the island’s historic B&B’s, or stay at the famed hotel, Crown & Anchor, which features daily pool parties, a beautiful view of Fisherman’s Wharf, and nightly entertainment. This summer the entertainment includes Dina Martina, Illusions Drag Revue, Kate Clinton, Jessica Kirson, and more.

Once you settle in, take a stroll down the main drag, Commercial Street, for a little sightseeing. Check out the picturesque fishing boats in the harbor, and discover the secret treasures at the Whydah Pirate Museum, located just past the whale-watching fleet on Macmillan Pier. Nature lovers (and lesbians) will want to snag tickets for the three-hour cruise over to Stellwagen Bank, a natural feeding ground for the humpback and right whales that populate the area. You’re virtually guaranteed to see a wide array of whales, dolphins, and seals.

Meander with the gay and tourist crowds while browsing the area’s numerous boutiques and fine art galleries. Peruse a wide range of hits from gay and local authors at indie bookstore Now Voyager, just across the street from the newly remodeled public library.

Be sure to stop for a beer and a game of pool at Governor Bradford Inn, and head across the street to the famed Lobster Pot for a classic seafood dinner. Or go a bit upscale and head to the East End of town for dinner at The Mews or the Waterford Inn and Café. The new owner, Al, takes great pride in his upscale menu, which will particularly appeal to foodies. From the lavender/maple salad dressing to the steak ala Oscar, expertly grilled and topped with lump crabmeat, the chef displays his obvious flair for flavor pairings.

Other local hotspots include the A House and the ladies bar, Vixen. No matter where you spend your evening, count on meeting up with other revelers for a late-night slice at Spiritus Pizza, the town’s unofficial after-hours spot. Soak up the extra booze and hit the sack, letting the soft slap of the incoming tide lull you to sleep.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

For those living in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or Baltimore, summer demands a weekend trek to Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach. Past years have seen an increase in New York visitors, who gladly suffer the three-hour drive in exchange for a more low-key, unspoiled, welcoming destination.

Summertime finds this tiny seaside town split between gay and lesbian beachcombers and friendly families. All share the beach amicably, although gay men tend to sun in Poodle Beach, while lesbians make their camp (literally) in Cape Henlopen’s nature reserves.

Rehoboth Beach offers a wide range of accommodations, with more than 40 charming "painted lady" B&B’s, large beachfront hotels like The Sirocco, ramshackle low-budget inland motels, and major hotel chains.

It is possible to make the trek from New York entirely via public transportation (a bus to Atlantic City, the ferry from Cape May, and a jitney to the beach), but this route can try your patience. And while you don’t need a car to get around town, visitors who want to indulge in the water parks, putt-putt golf, or outlet shopping on the Coastal Highway will need wheels.

Although the bulk of your day should rightly be spent sunning on the beaches, Rehoboth Beach offers a traditional boardwalk experience, complete with carnival rides, games, old-time photo shops, salt-water taffy, soft-serve, and waffle fry stands.

Come sunset, everyone heads to the local watering hole, the Frogg Pond, to compare tans and throw back a few beers, often to the acoustic sounds of a lesbian with a guitar. Karaoke lovers favor the Purple Parrot, and gay men head to the Aqua Grill for "fiery fairy wings" and cosmos.

After you’ve tied one on, grab dinner at one of the local eateries, including Cloud 9, Iguana Grill, The Cultured Pearl, or Blue Moon. Don’t expect gourmet fare, and you won’t be disappointed; the food here is not pretentious, mostly limited to fresh seafood and Tex-Mex.

The summer schedule offers some highlights, including an impressive Fourth of July fireworks display on the beach, with a band playing on the newly constructed bandstand. Later that evening, gay men congregate at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center for the annual Love Ball, now in its 18th year. Tickets available at

Asbury Park, New Jersey

This New Jersey seaside town is famed for being the early stomping grounds of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, but in the past 10 years, gay gentrification has turned it into an LGBT getaway conveniently located less than two hours from the Big Apple. Lesbian surfers can be seen all summer long, lined up for the break.

Guests can stay at the upscale Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, the Asbury Ocean Beach Inn, or smaller digs like Karen’s B&B or Mikell’s Big House. Once you get settled, head over to the 5th Avenue Beach, just south of the Convention Hall, where gays congregate to sun and play volleyball. If you’re feeling adventurous, Gunnison Beach in Sandy Hook, about a 20-minute drive away, offers a clothing optional environment.

The "City by the Sea" celebrates its 21st Gay Pride this year, held on the first Sunday of June, with three days of events culminating in a Pride parade up from City Hall that wends its way to the Pride festival in Bradley Park. On July 20, Sand Blast Weekend offers parties all weekend, including a bar night, volleyball tournament, huge cocktail dance party at the Convention Hall, beach yoga, brunch, art crawls, tea dances, the Siren of the Sea Women’s Pool Party and the big Sand Blast Beach Party.

While there is always the famed Stone Pony (where The Boss was discovered) for live music, gay and lesbian visitors flock to Paradise, Swell, or Georgie’s Bar for drinks and lively conversation. Paradise, at the Empress hotel, is known for its hot ’80s bar and Tiki Bar, and Georgie’s is known as the Queer Cheers of Asbury Park.

Antique lovers can stroll down Cookman Avenue to check out the wares, or stop into the Silverball Pinball Museum. The beach offers the usual array of mini golf, walking tours, and spas; drive one town over to Deal and Allenhurst for a tour of the grand mansions. Whether you’re interested in getting a tan or shopping for antiques, there’s something for everyone at gay Asbury Park!

The West Coast

The West Coast is home to some of the nations most exciting and LGBT-friendly cities. All year-round travelers gamble in Vegas, tan in San Diego, get in touch with their history in San Francisco, and shop at the farmers’ markets in Seattle. Getting to the coast is easy and finding the gayborhood is never difficult. Everyone knows L.A.’s WeHo, San Diego’s Hillcrest and San Francisco’s fabled Castro.

OK for the visitor from afar: But what about the people who already live here? Where do they go when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and visit the off the beaten path summer vacation destinations? The answer is simple: All around the beautiful Pacific Coast. America’s West Coast is awash with islands, culture, and charm. Here are a few that are especially gorgeous, LGBT-friendly, established, and perfect for short jaunts.

Victoria Island, British Columbia

Picturesque. Calm. Serene. If your answer is "Yes" to all of the above then Victoria Island is for you. In just under three hours aboard the Victoria Clipper, a passenger-only ferry service with year-round daily departures to Victoria, British Columbia, from a pier in Downtown Seattle, you’re able to take a quick-trip or an extended weekend trip to one of the most luxurious, yet welcoming islands in the Pacific Northwest. From Afternoon Tea at a century-old hotel to drinking a pint in one of Old Victoria’s pubs, there’s a little something for everyone. Victoria is situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

Established in the late Eighteenth Century by British settlers, the city maintains its rich sense of history and culture, showcasing beautiful Victorian architecture, tree-lined streets and old British charm. Surrounded by natural beauty and offering several great sightseeing opportunities year-round, it has become one of the premier tourist spots in the Pacific Northwest. The island may be small but you can bet it is jam packed with things to do. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for unique shopping, dining and live entertainment all around town.

Port Ludlow, Washington

Beautiful Port Ludlow lies just a ferry ride and scenic drive from Seattle and just minutes from historic Port Townsend. Watch the world change in less than 30 minutes! The $12 ferry service includes both pedestrian and vehicle passengers. In one half-hour, you are on the water’s edge of Ludlow Bay, featuring breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains, Port Ludlow Marina in Puget Sound, and are surrounded by lush, tree-lined rolling hills. Kayaking, hiking trails that lead to lakes and waterfalls, and relaxing resorts all beckon.

You’ll find restaurants that serve Pacific Northwest seafood and weather that is the most beautiful (and least rainfall) of all the San Juan Islands. Whale watching excursions and a wild game reserve are all within reach. The best part? Catch the ferry in the morning, explore all day, and arrive back in Seattle just in time for Happy Hour at one of the many gay bars on Capitol Hill, Seattle’s gayborhood.

Catalina Island, Los Angeles County

Situated just 22 miles south-southwest of Los Angeles, Catalina Island is a quick-trip paradise. The weather is always good and Avalon, Catalina Island’s main town, is only one square mile in size, so everything is within easy walking distance. Life slows down as walking is the preferred mode of transportation. Escape the rat race of L.A. for the snail’s pace of island life.

You can scuba dive, go snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking or fishing. There’s nightlife and entertainment; scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and plenty of dining options. For those who prefer to do nothing but relax on the beach, you can be on Catalina Island in as little as 15 minutes (via helicopter) or one hour by boat from the mainland.

Portland, Oregon

Oregon’s largest city, Portland, is a wonderful day trip for Northern California vacationers and those looking to drive down from Seattle. There’s a robust LGBT community with plenty of entertainment offered from gay-owned and operated restaurants, bars, clubs, and more. In Portland, you’ll find an award-winning airport, efficient light rail system, pedestrian-friendly city blocks and miles and miles of bike paths - all of which make getting around town a real pleasure. We’ve never paid more than $10 for a taxi ride to any destination in Downtown Portland. From hiking to high-end shopping, this eclectic city has you covered. Also, Portland is one of the most beautiful large cities in the country, if not the world. There’s a reason why they call it "the city of roses."

Napa Valley, California

What self-respecting gay man doesn’t like wine? We love the stuff and some of the best is bottled in this famous wine-growing region. The truth is, everyone feels the same about Napa so it should come as no surprise that it has become one of the premier travel destinations in the world. Whether you are driving or taking the train via Amtrak from the north or south, you’ll bask in the breathtaking views: rolling hills planted with vineyards, beautiful sunsets and near-perfect weather. Napa Valley is a collection of towns, each offering its own style and appearance. Whether you are wine tasting, dining at renown restaurants, pampering yourself with a mud bath, or just enjoying your stay at quaint bed & breakfasts, hotels or resorts, Napa Valley is your spot of heaven on earth.


Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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