More than big Stetsons and 72-ounce steaks, Texas is a large, diverse and mythic state that ranks third in the United States in the number of same-sex couples, behind California and New York. It ranks first in the number of same-sex households with children.
What better way to explore the Lone Star State’s cultural, architectural and culinary offerings than a road trip between three of its most engaging cities: Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, each with sizeable LGBT communities. Travelling Interstate 35, the three-city jaunt is easily absorbed in a one-week circle tour.
Distance & Driving times
Dallas to Austin: 3 hours; 315km
Austin to San Antonio: 1 hour, 20 minutes; 128km
Dallas is the third largest city in Texas (population 1.3 million) and boasts the sixth largest LGBT population in the US. This erudite metropolis, underwritten by oil money and characterized by innovation, is adjacent to the city of Fort Worth, which leans toward macho cowboys and beef cattle. Check in at the gay-friendly Hotel ZaZa. This four-floor luxury boutique hotel in Dallas’s fashionable Uptown neighbourhood is a funky mix of Mediterranean elegance and urban chic (doubles start at $329), and ZaZa’s outdoor pool is the place to people-watch over cocktails.
Ride the reconditioned, 100-year-old streetcars (free) on McKinney Avenue straight to the Arts District, the largest concentrated urban-arts locale in the US. Nosh at Stampede 66, a McKinney Avenue lunch spot run by chef Stephan Pyles. Dine on modern Texas cuisine, featuring delicious barbecue, while surrounded by Texas kitsch. It’s a 10-minute walk to the West End historic district and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (Nov 22, 2013, was the 50th anniversary of assassination of JFK.)
The Oak Lawn neighbourhood has been the epicentre of gay Dallas for more than 30 years. The Cedar Springs strip is stacked with gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses — restaurants, cafés and specialty stores — all within two blocks. Infamous LGBT bars and dance-till-dawn nightclubs include JR’s (established in 1980), Sue Ellen’s (1987) and the newer kid on the block, the 2230-square-metre Station 4, where Cher recently headlined.
If you can still hear the thump of bass speakers, sleep in. Take lunch down on McKinney Avenue at Fearing’s, at the Ritz-Carlton. Kentucky-born Dean Fearing — “the father of Southwestern cuisine” — arrived in Dallas as a young chef in the late 1970s to find French the dominant cuisine. Fearing’s describes its food as “elevated American cuisine — bold flavours, no borders” and has received enough national accolades to pack this spacious restaurant, frequented on weekdays by lunching socialites and visiting dealmakers.
For shopping, gravitate north of the Oaklawn and Uptown neighbourhoods to the swanky Highland Park Village. Opened in 1931, the village is a designated National Historic Landmark and the nation’s first shopping centre.
Wind down your day with dinner at Oak. This hip resto, influenced by the Design District vibe, offers a nouvelle cuisine menu concocted from local ingredients. Smooth electronic beats and multimedia imagery create a relaxed dining tone.
Drive 315 kilometres southwest on the I-35 to Austin (population 850,000). You’ll pass Waco, infamous for cult leader David Koresh’s compound and the Dr Pepper Museum.
The state capital, Austin bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World and has an ambitious lineup of events throughout the year, from the SXSW film and music festival in March to the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October. This hipster-filled burg keeps live music clubs hopping the rest of the year. Austin doesn’t have a gay village; LGBT residents and businesses are spread throughout the city.
Stay at the gay-owned Hotel San Jose (rooms $145–550). This 40-room property, built in 1936 as an ultramodern motor court, is located just south of downtown in the South Congress neighbourhood.
For lunch and some healthy eye-candy, drive to Whole Earth Foods’ Lamar store, the flagship property for this Austin-based organic success story. At 7400 square metres, this upscale organic food warehouse has a fabulous prepared-foods section that is a combination of deli, ethnic restaurant, neighbourhood diner, Parisian café, barbecue shack, seafood bar, raw bar, taco bar, salad bar, sandwich bar, olive bar and wine bar.
If you’re around midweek, check out Austin’s weekly bike social, Queer Ride. You can rent a bike, see the sights and meet some locals. Participants meet up at the state capitol building Wednesdays at 7pm.
The warehouse district downtown contains a number of mixed gay and lesbian bars, including perennial favourite Oil Can Harry’s and, next door, the upscale Rain. Other gay bars and clubs are dotted around Austin.
Grab breakfast tacos and coffee at Jo’s in the Hotel San Jose parking lot and perch on the patio to check out lively South Austin starting its day. Once you’re fuelled up and ready, head out to explore Austin’s unique independent scene. Local institutions include Book People (bookpeople.com) and Waterloo Records (waterloorecords.com), both on Lamar Boulevard.
Venture along South Congress to hit art galleries like Yard Dog or Guaro’s Taco Bar for more fuel and a cold cerveza. A block north is the Continental Club, Austin’s longest-running live music venue (since 1957).
For dinner or just a blood-sugar boost, line up at Torchy’s Tacos (torchystacos.com), which boasts 10 locations in the city, including one just west of the Hotel San Jose. Austin’s eclectic taquiera began as “great street food” prepared by Mike Rypka, a former executive chef. These fusion tacos are now legendary and come with playful monikers like Trailer Park, Brush Fire and Dirty Sanchez.
An hour and a half (128 kilometres) to the southwest is San Antonio (population 1.4 million), the second largest city in Texas, after Houston. Home to the Alamo, the River Walk and buzzing street and sidewalk cleaners, “Alamo City” is a riparian Disneyland with a suburban Six Flags theme park favoured by families and convention bookers. It’s not as blended as Austin, but like all large cities it has an LGBT scene.
Stay at the gay-friendly and central Emily Morgan Hotel, housed in a former hospital. It’s also the official hotel of the Alamo, just across the street. For a more intimate stay, try the gay-friendly A Yellow Rose B&B in the historic King William neighbourhood.
Take lunch downtown at Schilo’s Delicatessen, near the River Walk. This local institution has served up authentic German cuisine (once the dominant culture) since 1917. Enjoy a Reuben sandwich with homemade hot mustard, accompanied by Schilo’s famous homemade root beer.
Visitors to San Antonio can navigate the famous River Walk on foot or by boat. This eight-kilometre network of walkways situated along the banks of the San Antonio River — one level beneath downtown — is home to bars, shops and restaurants. The Rio San Antonio’s riverboat tour offers unique views of the downtown architecture, led by gregarious, Panama-hat-attired pilot/guides.
Go clubbing at Bonham Exchange, just one of several clubs in San Antonio’s gaybourhood, known as The Strip. This landmark gay-lesbian club features five dancefloors and Texas-style theme nights, all just blocks from the Alamo.
After breakfast, check out the diverse artisanal shops in La Villita Historic Arts Village, tucked away beside the river.
“Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own private history based on, but not limited by, facts,” wrote John Steinbeck wrote in his American travelogue Travels with Charley. This private history is most apparent with a tour of the Alamo: a downtown shrine to anglo-Texan independence in a city that’s 60-percent Hispanic.
Take lunch at the gay-owned WD Deli, near the San Antonio Zoo, and try their house specialties: spinach chicken salad and tortilla soup.
Trek a short distance north of downtown to shop at Zebraz’s only retail location. This online success story began in 1995 when gay, lesbian and adult merchandise was shipped from a 930-square-metre warehouse. Now Zebraz is the world’s largest gay and lesbian online department store.
See the River Walk at night with dinner at Boudro’s Texas Bistro, where the menu pulls from the Texas plains (blackened prime rib) and the nearby Gulf (smoked shrimp enchiladas). Boudro’s is a romantic place to be in the evening, and in non-summer months, diners often don wool New Mexican ponchos as the temperature drops along the canal-like San Antonio River.
Time to hit Interstate 35 for the drive back to Dallas.