Gay people are known to take fun very seriously, and it’s a reputation that is well-earned.
Renowned gay destinations like Fire Island, Provincetown, and Palm Springs are known as much for their gay-friendly atmospheres as they are for their non-stop party-hearty ethos, complete with overpriced cocktails, overserved revelers, and pop divas playing full-blast on a mega sound system..
And while free-flowing cocktails and throbbing dance music can get you into a carefree vacation mindset, they can just as easily lead to hangovers, headaches, and crowds that leave you more stressed than you were before you left home.
Fortunately, it is possible to find a gay-friendly spot for your vacation that is low on hype but high on fun. Here are a few tips for planning a fun getaway that won’t leave your ears ringing and your liver suffering.
Look Between the Coasts
For many people, a vacation just isn’t a vacation without sand in your toes and the sun on your face. But having a great time at the beach doesn’t necessarily mean having to flock to the more popular (and crowded) oceanside destinations.
The Great Lakes are an excellent untapped resource for gay vacationers that offer beautiful beaches, often at a fraction of the cost of their coastal counterparts. Door County, Wisconsin boasts several quaint gay-friendly bed and breakfasts near the idyllic beaches on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay. Wisconsinites are known for their friendliness and love of beer (try the New Glarus Spotted Cow, which is only available in Wisconsin!) but the atmosphere of Door County’s pubs and restaurants is much more low-key than you’d expect from your typical gay bar.
Another gay-friendly treasure on Lake Michigan is Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan. Often called “The Provincetown of the Midwest,” Saugatuck has all the charm of its Massachusetts namesake at a more relaxed pace and with a lower “attitude” quotient. Home to many quirky galleries, restaurants, and shops, Saugatuck is also home to Lake Michigan’s world-renowned Oval Beach, perfect for a lazy afternoon of sunbathing.
Think “Arty” Not “Party”
A great way to have a gay-cation that is stimulating without falling into the trappings of heavy partying is to look for locales that are rich in culture or arts.
For travelers looking for a truly unique gay destination, the artist community in Marfa, Texas provides an unforgettable off-the-beaten-path vacation. Marfa is a sleepy desert village that is home to a community of friendly, eccentric artists who produce world-class, cutting-edge work. Among its attractions are the “Prada Marfa” permanent art installation that mimics a Prada Boutique meant to eventually crumble to dust, and the mysterious “Marfa Lights” which can be seen flashing on the horizon on summer evenings.
For those seeking a milder climate and more traditional offerings, look to our Northern neighbors’ Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Held in the Canadian city of Stratford, this annual theater festival offers everything from traditional Elizabethan drama to glittering musical productions. Between shows, you can take in the views along the city’s Avon river, home to a flock of swans who swim along its banks in the summer months.
Keep it Campy
Camping is a great way to avoid the irritations and distractions that can ruin an otherwise pleasant getaway. Coming “home” to your tent, a roaring fire, and a cold beverage from your cooler is a perfect antidote to any stressful day.
Rehoboth Beach in Delaware is a fantastic family-friendly gay beach destination home to over 200 LGBT-owned businesses. It’s also only a 15-minute drive from a gorgeous campground at Delaware Seashore State Park, which features its own options for hiking, swimming, and full-service camping amenities.
For those who’d like to strike a balance between a traditional party-heavy gay vacation and time to recover from the excitement, both Fire Island and Provincetown have often-overlooked campgrounds that can provide a much-needed respite from the hubbub of the bustling bar and club scene. You’ll also be saving a good deal of money that can go towards a night out at the bar or a meal at one of these gay mecca’s more upscale locales.
BYOG (Bring Your Own Gays)
Perhaps the simplest strategy to having a vacation that is not totally obnoxious is to curate the gay population yourself! After all, any vacation destination can become a gay destination if you bring your own crowd. Consider teaming up with your gay friends, couples, or families and chipping in on renting a cabin, an RV, or a hotel suite.
Even if it’s in a location that is not known for having a thriving gay community, spending time with a small group of people you already know is a great way to deepen existing friendships and share the costs of a vacation. Plus, you’ll be making your own community stronger by creating memories and forging bonds with people who already exist in your daily life.
Gay enclaves have become some of the best party destinations in the world, and we should be proud of the fact that we, as a community, really know how to throw a good fiesta.
But for those of us who need a break from the brouhaha of a traditional gay vacation, there are as many ways to enjoy gay travel as there are gay people on earth.
Cave Point County Park, Door County, cc.
Water and Covered Dune, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, cc.
Rehoboth Beach, cc.
Marfa, TX, cc.
JAY DERATANY is a travel blogger who wears several other hats – he’s also an attorney, film producer, screen writer and LGBT rights activist.