By: Andrew Collins*/Special to TRT—
Four Unconventional Gay Seaside Getaways
Beach vacations come in many forms, especially in the context of gay and lesbian travel. Years ago, GLBT travelers seeking summer fun at the shore tended to focus on several tried-and-true resort communities, primarily Provincetown, Ogunquit, Rehoboth, Fire Island, Laguna Beach, Key West, and Saugatuck. Although all of these towns are as are still justly popular, with their lively gay beach bars and inviting accommodations, America has no shortage of quirky, scenic seaside communities with progressive bents and welcoming vibes.
Here are four great little coastal towns–two on the West Coast and two on the East Coast –you may not have thought much about, especially if you live outside the regions they’re in. Each has plenty going for it, from an abundance of romantic, gay-friendly inns to urbane restaurants to memorable cultural and recreational assets.
Camden and Rockland, Maine
To experience a less-developed, ruggedly scenic part of New England, make the two-hour drive north of Portland, Maine to visit the historic seaside communities along western Penobscot Bay, including Rockland and Camden (www.mainesmidcoast.com). Maine’s Mid-Coast is a place for quiet vacations, ideal if you’re a hiker, photographer, fishing enthusiast, or sailor. Camden is home to a fleet of Windjammer sailing ships, which can be booked not only on multiple-day excursions throughout the region but also for afternoon jaunts along Penobscot Bay.
The craggy 1,000-foot peaks of Camden Hills State Park delight outdoors enthusiasts – you can scamper along more than 20 miles of rugged nature and hiking trails through this unspoiled paradise – there’s also overnight camping. The formerly workaday town of Rockland has come into its own in recent years, with several outstanding restaurants and cafes – don’t miss In Good Company (www.ingoodcompanymaine.com), a dapper neighborhood wine bar with creative American cuisine, or Primo (www.primorestaurant.com), where James Beard award-winning chef Melissa Kelly turns out stunning farm-to-table Mediterranean-inspired fare. The key draw in Rockland is one of the country’s best small art museums, the Farnsworth, which focuses on noted regional artists of international acclaim, including Louise Nevelson, George Bellows, and the Wyeth, who are celebrated with their own wing.
Among recommended accommodations, Camden is home to the GLBT-owned Camden Harbour Inn (www.camdenharbourinn.com), which is situated across from a harbor and has 18 warmly appointed rooms and suites, plus a terrific restaurant. In Rockland, the gay-owned LimeRock Inn (www.limerockinn.com) is a handsome painted-lady Victorian B&Bs whose rooms are outfitted with all the perks you’d expect of a modern hotel. A lavish breakfast is included in the rates, and downtown restaurants are within easy walking distance.
You may not think of Alaska when you’re planning a beach vacation, but the offbeat fishing town of Homer (www.homeralaska.com) is an endearingly funky and gay-friendly coastal getaway popular both with residents and visitors to the Last Frontier. On the Kenai Peninsula and reached from Anchorage either by a stunning 220-mile drive or an easy 40-minute flight, the town is situated at the mouth of Kachemak Bay and affords dramatic views of the glacier-capped Kenai Mountains.
You can stroll among the cool coffeehouses and seafood restaurants along Homer Spit, which pokes out into the bay – good bets include Captain Patties Fish House, which serves delicious crab cakes and a nice selection of Alaska microbrew beers, and Coal Town Coffee & Tea. A must-see here is the fascinating Alaska Islands & Oceans Visitor Center, but also note Homer’s many outdoorsy activities, from sea kayaking to road-biking to wildlife- and whale-watching tours.
For a splurge, consider taking a water-taxi across Kachamak Bay to spend a couple of nights at the secluded and rustic-elegant Tutka Bay Lodge, which overlooks a crystalline fjord and has its own cooking school run by talented chef-owner Kirsten Dixon. Back in Homer, charming, gay-friendly accommodations include Brigitte’s Bavarian B&B (www.akms.com/brigitte), on a bluff outside town, and the Bay Avenue B&B (www.bayavebb.com), a modern house with plenty of big windows and great views over the bay.
In Homer’s funky village center, notable dining options abound – be sure to check out colorfully decorated Mermaid Bistro (www.mermaidbistro.com), which serves out-of-this-world salads, sandwiches, and pizzas with an emphasis on organic ingredients; colorful Café Cups (www.cafecupsofhomer.com), where you can feast on platters of tiger prawns with honey-habanero sauce, and charbroiled filet mignon; and adorable Two Sisters Bakery, which is known for seafood chowder, creative salads, and delectable baked goods. There’s not a ton of nightlife in these parts, but offbeat Alice’s Champagne Palace (www.aliceschampagnepalace.com) is a fun spot for live music, cold beer, and juicy burgers.
Among the many jewels of the rugged California coastline, the beautiful little town of Mendocino (visitmendocino.com) stands out for its rugged sea cliffs, charming New England–inspired cottages, and serene seclusion. The town is just 150 miles up the coast from San Francisco, and 80 miles via the lovely Anderson Valley from the heart of the Sonoma Wine Country.
This cliff-top community is in the heart of a region where loggers, tourists, winegrowers, writers, farmers, hippies, yuppies, and fishermen all more or less coexist harmoniously. And while it’s not really a gay mecca, it does have a strong following among same-sex couples who appreciate the low-keyed vibe and alluring setting.
The most intriguing activities in coastal Mendocino County usually involve one kind of touring or another. You can rent mountain bikes, kayaks, or canoes and explore the region’s rivers or country lanes. And you can hike along oceanfront bluffs that loom high over the frothy Pacific surf and watch whales during the spring and fall migrations. A great place for this is Mendocino Headlands State Park, an easy walk from downtown. Just north of Mendocino, the once-prosaic lumber town of Fort Bragg has lately gentrified with hip coffeehouses and fun restaurants–it’s also home to such attractions as the 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and the historic 21-mile Skunk Train scenic excursion railroad, which passes through soaring redwood groves.
You can also go wine-touring in the adjacent Anderson Valley, whose cool climate is particularly suitable for turning out stellar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Mendocino County Wine (www.mendowine.com) has information on tastings at dozens of vineyards open to the public. The region has no shortage of stellar restaurants. Occupying a dark, wood-paneled room with big windows overlooking colorful gardens, 955 Ukiah (www.955restaurant.com) serves sophisticated California-style cuisine. Also outstanding, the unassuming Moosse Café (themoosse.com), which is warmed by a fireplace, offers exceptional mod-American fare and laid-back yet efficient service, and the MacCallum House (www.maccallumhouse.com) – also a nice place to stay – serves some of the most accomplished regional American cuisine on the Northern California coast.
Mendocino and nearby villages have a bounty of gay-friendly inns and B&Bs, with an emphasis on unpretentious, rustic luxury. The J.D. House (www.jdhouse.com) is a lovely eight-room B&B surrounded by fragrant gardens, and with an invitingly simple and fresh country-chic aesthetic. Innkeepers Andrew Hindman and Damien Wood also run two sister inns, the Packard House and Blue Door Inn. A stylish “eco-resort” with one of the country’s most acclaimed vegan restaurants (Ravens’), the Stanford Inn by the Sea (www.stanfordinn.com) has a breathtaking location overlooking Mendocino Bay.
A short drive south of town near verdant Van Damme State Park, the gay-owned Glendeven Inn (www.glendeven.com) looks like a Maine farmhouse and is surrounded by lush gardens and dewy meadows. Most of the rooms here have private decks overlooking the ocean and are warmed by fireplaces, and the on-site wine bar is a wonderful dining option. Another highlight is the gay-owned boutique resort Stevenswood (www.stevenswood.com), which is nestled among tall trees and open meadows and has 10 rooms decorated in a light and airy contemporary style. A big draw here is the serene full-service spa. Also nearby is the the 65-room Little River Inn (www.littleriverinn.com), a rambling and comfy hideaway with a friendly staff and charming rooms—it’s perfect for a romantic getaway—room all face the ocean, and some with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Every bit as quirky, laid-back, and personable as historic Savannah, which lies just a 20-minute drive inland, Tybee Island (www.visittybee.com) is one of Georgia’s famed barrier islands, an idyllic locale for beach-bumming, fishing, or boating. In May 2013, this colorful beachside community hosted its first Tybee Gay Days (www.gaysavannah.com/tybee-gay-days), a weekend of parties and events that organizers plan an annual gathering.
You’ll find plenty of condo and cottage rentals on this compact island, making it a popular destination for extended stays with groups of friends. One very good options is the LGBT-friendly Beachside Colony Resort (www.beachsidecolony.com), which has upscale one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos set among eight different buildings and adjoins the terrific, lesbian-owned restaurant and bar, Marlin Monroe’s Surfside Grill (www.marlinmonroessurfsidegrill.com). Here you can feast on tasty seafood and minty mojitos while relaxing on the deck overlooking the sea. Also check out the sister restaurant, Fannies on the Beach (www.fanniesonthebeach.com), which is steps from the island’s colorful pier and pavilion. And off U.S. 80 as you enter the island, lively Coco’s Sunset Grille (www.cocostybee.com) has occasional gay parties and is another sure bet for delicious seafood.
The fact that Tybee is so close to Savannah (www.visitsavannah.com) makes it a great option if you’re keen on a vacation that mixes beach relaxation with touring historic homes, tony galleries, and upscale Southern restaurants – and, of course, you can always overnight in Savannah and visit Tybee as a day-trip. Charming properties like the snazzy yet historic Mansion on Forsyth Park (www.mansiononforsythpark.com); the stylish and art-filled Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront (www.bohemianhotelsavannah.com), and the sleek Andaz Savannah (www.savannah.andaz.hyatt.com) are all favorites with gay travelers, and Club One (clubone-online.com) is a hot spot for dancing and drag shows, it being the home nightclub of Lady Chablis, of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame.
*Andrew Collins is the editor in chief of the GLBT travel magazines OutAloha and OutCity, and he covers gay travel for the website www.GayTravel.About.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.