Originally published in Lavender Magazine, August 2020
No matter if your 2020 dream vacation was happening by plane, train, or automobile—chances are COVID-19 has altered or canceled those plans.
Despite COVID, LGBTQ-friendly destinations around the country are still open for business. If you’re comfortable traveling now, this fall is a perfect time to go, as tourism numbers are down and you won’t have to battle crowds. These destinations will happily welcome you whenever you’re ready to travel again.
I have had the pleasure of visiting some of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in the United States. Here are three spots I hope every queer person has the chance to visit in their lifetime.
East Coast: Provincetown, MA
Located on the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown, Massachusetts, commonly known as Ptown, has served as an escape for those in the LGBTQ community for generations.
During Ptown’s most popular themed week, Carnival, the town of 3,000 residents swells up to 70,000 people. From women of color to bears, Ptown hosts a celebration for nearly everyone.
COVID-19 has taken its toll on Ptown. Tony Fuccillo, the Director of Tourism for the Town of Provincetown, told me that most events are canceled through the end of 2020. There’s a different feel because the nightlife isn’t what it once was. However, Fuccillo added that it hasn’t stopped people from visiting. Ptown offers plenty of outdoor activities, which many consider safer than indoor activities (while following proper social distancing guidelines) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LGBTQ-owned Art’s Dune Tours has offered guided excursions of the Cape Cod National Seashore for nearly 75 years. This year, You will be in an SUV with a tour guide who points out the untouched beauty of the land, which was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The sunset dune tour includes a 60-minute car ride and your chance to watch sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. They can also serve you an oceanfront dinner for an additional cost. It was the most rewarding part of my May 2017 trip.
Ptown also offers kayak and paddle board rentals, along with whale watching tours.
Fall, in particular between Labor Day and Halloween, is a great time to visit, as hotel room prices drop considerably from the main tourist season. Plus, it’s still warm. Your priority for booking a Ptown vacation is finding a place to sleep. Ptown is not home to any chain hotels, or “formula businesses” as they’re legally referred to, and instead is populated with smaller bed and breakfasts.
Find my 10 tips on planning a perfect Ptown vacation here.
Recently, scouts from the television show American Horror Story were in Ptown to scout sites for an upcoming season. Fuccillo wasn’t able to confirm if the show will actually film in Provincetown on schedule next spring, but don’t be surprised if you see Ptown as the backdrop for the beloved drama.
West Coast: Palm Springs, CA
Out west, Palm Springs is known as one of the best LGBTQ destinations in the world.
Located two hours east of Los Angeles and two hours northeast of San Diego, Palm Springs boasts 14 resorts exclusively for the gay community, including many clothing-optional options.
My January 2017 trip to Palm Springs marked my first time staying at a clothing-optional resort, and I didn’t know what to expect. Or see. But to be completely honest, the clothing-optional part wasn’t a big deal. Guys are welcoming, no matter your body type. What those resorts offer is a great opportunity for you to meet other travelers. When booking your stay, check with hotel owners to see if they will host an afternoon happy hour. Many serve up complimentary drinks. Similar to Provincetown, Palm Springs bans chain businesses in certain parts of the city. The result gives small businesses the opportunity to thrive.
Click here to check out reviews of Palm Springs gay resorts I visited during my trip.
Non-chain, LGBTQ-owned Townie Bagels, is a spot I have recommended to many people who have made the trip to Palm Springs. Owner Andy Wysocki wanted to bake bread for fun. After completing coursework at the San Francisco Baking Institute, he would bring his creations to the Sunday morning coffee group he attended with his husband, Bill. That evolved to selling baked goods at farmer’s markets and then opening a restaurant at the southern end of Palm Springs in 2015. You’ll see Bill handling front-of-house duties while Andy bakes bagels, “less-gluten” crackers (made with almond flour), scones, and baguettes in the back.
Do not pass up on the Palm Springs Air Museum. Located on the tarmac of the Palm Springs Airport, the Museum has an array of planes flown in World War II, including two featured in the movie, “Pearl Harbor”. The museum is staffed with veterans who volunteer their time to graciously share their stories and vast knowledge. For me, it was an incredible way to witness that era of American history. Many of the airplanes are outside, which makes it a good activity to take on during COVID. Tripadvisor ranks the Palm Springs Air Museum as the number one attraction in the city.
The main Palm Springs tourist season runs late-January through April. Be aware that the desert gets very hot during the summer months; July’s average high temperature is 108 degrees. Their visitor’s bureau, Visit Palm Springs, tells me that the summer months typically draw a wide array of European visitors who seek out the heat.
The annual Palm Springs’ White Party, which is considered by many to be the largest gay dance music festival in the nation, is rescheduled to take place October 30 to November 2, 2020.
Closer to home: Door County, WI
Located about one hour northeast of Green Bay and a total of five hours from Minneapolis, Door County, Wisconsin is the authority in hospitality and a haven for those looking to escape. Due to its geography, you can watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan, and that evening after a quick car ride, you’ll see the sunset over Green Bay.
The city of Sturgeon Bay serves as the front door to Door County. To get from Sturgeon Bay to the county’s northern tip, you will drive for nearly an hour. You will definitely need a car, as ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft aren’t available and you won’t see people hailing taxis.
LGBTQ-owned Chanticleer Guest House hosted me for an August 2018 visit. Owners Darrin and Byron pour their hearts into the bed and breakfast, cooking for guests and delivering food and beverages to rooms in the morning. They updated the main house, built in 1916, along with a barn, which both have suites.
During a typical travel season, Door County officials recommend you book a B&B for the summer season six to eight months in advance.
In Ellison Bay, make a reservation at Wickman House for dinner. They adapted to COVID guidelines by offering outdoor seating and a “summer of BBQ” themed menu with nightly specials. The restaurant is open “almost year-round”. Door County is famous for its cherries, and a visit to White Gull Inn in Fish Creek is a must for their cherry-stuffed French toast with a cream cheese filling. Thanks to this menu item, the restaurant won Good Morning America’s Best Breakfast Challenge in 2010.
If you’re looking to get beyond Door County, you can take the brand new Washington Island Ferry, which was christened in June 2020. She has the capacity to hold up to 28 vehicles and 150 passengers. Washington Island offers beautiful outdoor scenery and is worth visiting if your trip to the area is more than three or four days.
Considering the amount of driving around the county you will do once you’re there, you will want to spend at least three days in Door County. Head here for guides on what to do in Door County over a long weekend, and guides for those who are able to spend more time away from home.
Due to COVID-19, it’s highly recommended you check with businesses on hours and guidelines while planning your next trip.