It may still feel chilly in many parts of North America, but spring is rapidly approaching, and with it, the opportunity to venture out on a memorable vacation. The term “spring break,” of course, may bring to mind hordes of rowdy college students landing en masse at overcrowded beaches, but the concept of celebrating the new season with a rejuvenating getaway is something that people of every age can enjoy. Here are a few top spring travel destinations for LGBT voyagers.
1. Fort Lauderdale
With no fewer than 17 gay guesthouses, 37 kilometres of beaches and the famed Wilton Manors gaybourhood, Fort Lauderdale attracts some 1.2 million LGBT visitors every year, according to local tourism statistics. Spring is an ideal time to visit, when the swimming pools fill with bobbing tourists and businesses open their doors and windows to let the warm breezes flow. A naturally popular spot when the weather heats up is the gay beach at Sebastian Street. The nearby Royal Palms Resort & Spa is a festive place every Sunday, when the weekly poolside tea dance packs in revellers from 2 to 6pm.
Wilton Manors is home base for the city’s best gay nightlife, as well as interesting dining and shopping options. Stop by the Village Pub, one of the newest bars on the scene, or sip a signature cocktail at Infinity Lounge as a start to your bar hopping. Hungry LGBT vacationers often stop at Rosie’s Bar & Grill, a fun place for drinks, lunch and dinner, with indoor and outdoor seating and jovial waiters (who, I’ve found, when my partner and I have taken our niece and nephew there for lunch, are really wonderful with children).
Spring events in Fort Lauderdale include BeachBear Weekend, which will bring hundreds of furry friends to host hotel Courtyard Fort Lauderdale from May 7 to 12. Official carrier Delta Air Lines is offering discounted airfares via the event site.
More info: sunny.org
2. Palm Springs
This sun-soaked desert paradise has been attracting vacationers since long before the Rat Pack first landed here. Major spring events include Club Skirts’ “The Dinah,” which takes place April 2 to 6 and is billed as the largest lesbian event in the world. Dance nights, comedy shows, pool parties and a film festival are just a few of the activities on offer during this massive gathering. Starting on April 25, the White Party takes centre stage for four days of fun, with pool parties, an underwear party and what is described as the largest outdoor tea-dance in the world.
Regardless of when you go, you’ll have no trouble finding lots of gay hotels, ranging from elegant and stylish to clothing-optional and sexually charged. Among the best choices are The Willows, a historic small luxury hotel, and the hip, mixed Ace Hotel & Swim Club. The clothing-optional Chaps Inn is advertised as the only resort in Palm Springs that caters solely to the leather and bear communities, while hotels that cater specifically to female vacationers include Casitas Laquita and Queen of Hearts.
More info: visitpalmsprings.com
3. Puerto Rico
What is possibly the gayest island in the Caribbean is a great place to welcome spring, with an ever-changing array of gay nightlife, gay-friendly hotels and an always-popular gay beach in the capital city of San Juan. For the most convenient location, base yourself in the Condado neighbourhood, where the wide, sandy beach attracts sun lovers of all types. The gayest stretch of sand is in front of Oceano, a stylish, gay-owned bar and restaurant that serves great food and, at night, becomes a cool place to see and be seen. Also near the gay beach is Splash, a small but pleasant gay bar with indoor and outdoor seating. Most of San Juan’s gay nightlife, however, is in a neighbourhood called Santurce, a few minutes away by car. Check out Circo for the best dancing.
Gay-friendly hotels include the Caribe Hilton, which was one of the first resort-style hotels to open here in the mid-20th-century; San Juan Water Beach Club, a sleek and contemporary boutique hotel in the Isla Verde district; and Numero Uno Guest House, a small but lovely property set in the quieter Ocean Park neighbourhood. Pride in San Juan takes place on June 1, with a small but festive parade down the main strip in Condado, followed by a festival with live music and drag performers at a local park.
More info: seepuertorico.com
4. Puerto Vallarta
Mexico’s long-standing favourite among gay vacationers from Canada and the USA, Puerto Vallarta, is known for its lovely bay and wide array of gay hotels and nightlife. As temperatures rise in March, the waters become more welcoming for sun worshippers in the aptly named Zona Romántica.
Gay bars in Puerto Vallarta are easy to find, since they tend to be clustered in the same neighbourhood, but first-timers will have no problem getting acclimated, thanks to gay bar-hopping tours offered by Gay Vallarta Bar Hopping. Also popular is the Wet and Wild Cruise, a five-and-a-half-hour gay party cruise that takes place several times a week. You can even explore nature with a gay group in Puerto Vallarta, thanks to Go Gay! Jungle Adventures, which hosts tours that include canopy zip-line adventures, tequila tasting and meals with authentic Mexican cuisine.
Puerto Vallarta’s annual Vallarta Pride event will take place May 22 to 26 this year, expanding what had been a three-day weekend event to a five-day celebration, with musical performances, beach parties, fashion shows, nightclub events and even a mass commitment ceremony for same-sex couples. Business types looking for a write-off, take note: Puerto Vallarta is also hosting the International LGBT Business Expo, a travel business conference and consumer expo, from June 12 to 14.
More info: visitpuertovallarta.com
5. Russian River Valley, California
Conveniently close to San Francisco yet a world away, the Russian River Valley is also conveniently close to California’s wine country. Gay life is centred largely on the town of Guerneville, a peaceful, casual place with a decidedly progressive vibe.
There is really only one independent gay bar in town here — the Rainbow Cattle Company — but the handful of LGBT hotels are an integral part of the social scene and nightlife in Guerneville. Among the liveliest is the R3, formerly known as the Triple R, a 21-and-older resort-style hotel with a lively pool area, restaurant, bar and live entertainment that includes an Easter bonnet contest in April, Women’s Weekend May 16 to 18 and comedy nights on May 17 and 24. Vacationers seeking a quieter ambiance should consider the Highlands Resort, an attractive hotel with individual cabins set on a wooded, hilltop property. The pool here is clothing-optional, but the mood overall is quieter (and you can still visit R3 for drinks and events without being a guest).
More info: gayrussianriver.com