Summer has arrived, and with it a bountiful number of opportunities to get out of Atlanta during the sweltering, 90-degree plus days ahead. While New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are always some of the top destinations, many Georgians like to kick off their summer with a trip to the Florida panhandle for Memorial Day weekend. While Destin, Florida, is popular with the family set, Pensacola kicks off the summer with one of the biggest beach parties—many beach parties to be exact—of the summer.
There’s also the hottest lesbian party, billed as “Sexacola,” put on annually at Captain Fun’s Beach Club by the owners of Atlanta’s My Sister’s Room. This year’s headliner for the weekend party is Uh Huh Her on Saturday, with the popular White Party on Sunday hosted by Sarah Bettencourt and Whitney Mixter.
There are numerous other parties during the Memorial Day weekend with events throughout the city’s gay bars and clubs. Emerald City bills itself as the largest gay dance club on the Gulf Coast, and General Manager Ted McCrary says that Pensacola will be awash with people looking for a good time in and around the city.
“Memorial Day is our weekend of the year, “ McCrary says. “We have people driving in from as far as Texas, Tennessee, Georgia—it’s a big weekend.”
Long known for its history of conservative politics, Florida bills itself “family friendly.” But Pensacola is a dot of blue sea in the middle of the red state and the beach parties last all summer.
“Because we’re a beach town we have a pretty consistent flow of people coming in for a week or a weekend. Most people come here for the beach. There are very few places in the country where you have that white sugar sand beach, and we have it here,” McCrary says. “Pensacola is like an oasis in (the Panhandle), there’s a large gay population, and most people feel very comfortable here… most gay people find coming to Pensacola very relaxing. From my talking to customers they don’t find Pensacola uncomfortable like they sometimes do other towns in the Panhandle.”
KEY WEST (AND NAKED BOYS) Further down the Florida Gulf Coast lies an archipelago of small islands that terminates in Stock Island, home to a friendly little town with a history of inclusiveness that goes back to before gay rights were cool. In the ’80s, Key West launched a flippant secession protest once authorities started searching inbound cars for drugs and illegal immigrants. Matt Hon, event coordinator for the Key West Business Guild, says the island’s dedication to self-determination remains.
“That’s another reason to come to Key West—naked boys. Key West has not changed one bit on acceptance of the LGBT community, and public nudity,” Hon says. “On my way to work today I saw a boy riding a skateboard in his boxers. Key West is a place where if you want to be with someone of the same gender, that’s fine, if you don’t want to wear a lot of clothes, that’s fine.”
Key West boasts three clothing-optional resorts: New Orleans House, Equator and Island House; and one of the more unique Pride celebrations in the country, held June 11-15.
“Typically Key West Pride fills up the hotel rooms, and we expect 7,500 to 10,000 visitors,” Han says. That number might not sound like a lot, but there are only about 23,000 full-time residents on the island.
“There are basically people hanging from the rafters on Key West, which is kind of awesome. What’s cool about Key West is we’re basically small town, and our Pride has a small-town feeling. Duval Street will line up with not only a lot of tourists, but a lot of locals, who will come out with their entire families, and everyone is supportive, and everyone has a good time.”
Key West also has separate weekends targeted at lesbians and gays, with Womenfest Sept. 4—7 and Tropic Heat set for Aug.14—17.
“Womenfest is geared towards women, not necessarily all lesbian women, or biological women, it consists of pool parties, home parties, home tours … this year we will also have Hunter Valentine down to for a concert,” Hon says.
LGBTS LOVE P-TOWN For those wanting a different take on a small town beach community, Provincetown, a tiny Massachusetts beach village tucked away on the tail end of the peninsula protecting Cape Cod Bay, has long been a destination for LGBT travelers attracted to the small town with a “Hamptons” feeling to it. Thomas Masters is the house manager of Crew Quarters, an all-male guest house in the heart of Provincetown’s small downtown that caters exclusively to gay travelers.
“All the beaches are national parks and so the beaches are protected, and there are hundreds of restaurants and bars you can walk to,” Masters says. “The way I describe it is that it’s very much like Michael Cunningham’s novel ‘Land’s End.’”
Eric Hoop, director of social media for Crew Quarters, says Provincetown offers a mix of small-town charm with an illustrious pedigree. “This is where the Kennedys vacation, and if it’s good enough for Jackie O, it’s good enough for us,” Hoop says. “There’s also the social aspects of the town that people are attracted to, like going to Spiritus Pizza at night. Our bars shut down at 1 a.m. and so a lot of people will head to our restaurants and it’s a very nice social scene.”
The entire town is involved in the open atmosphere as a series of themed weeks during the summer, including Bear Week in July, a super-hero themed Carnival Week in June, Tennessee Williams festival in March and Fantasia Fair, a week-long transgender festival in October.
WEST COAST CHARMS
With one of the largest gay populations of any city in America, Seattle has become a growing destination for gay vacationers since Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. Rachael Brister, deputy director of the Greater Seattle Business Association, the city’s LGBT chamber of com- merce, says that 20 percent of the same-sex marriages performed in Seattle were from out-of-state couples.
“We have this program where if you don’t know anyone locally you can call my office and get witnesses for the marriage permit,” Brister says. “We have volunteers who will come out and witness your marriage. I’ve personally witnessed five marriages since it was legalized in 2013.”
Marriage is just one potential draw for travelers, many of whom visit for the mild weather and to go to Capitol Hill, the city’s historically gay-friendly district.
“Weatherwise, Seattle in the summer, there is nothing like it. It’s sunny, very pleasant and we also have a lot of outdoor events,” Brister says.
Seattle’s Pride is one of the largest outdoor events and starts during the last week of June with a transgender Pride event and climaxes in a massive outdoor festival at Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair and iconic Space Needle.
Seattle is host to a number of picturesque and historic attractions, but Brister says to skip the “original” Starbucks in Pike Place Market. “The thing is it’s not the original Starbucks, and it’s just like every other Starbucks,” she says. “The thing is Starbucks has built some other locations in town with really beautiful architecture, and it’s the same coffee you get at Pike Place Market.”
The city offers walking tours, LGBT film festivals, and a thriving foodie scene, but one of the attractions Brister recommends isn’t in Seattle, but under it. “One of my favorite things, and it’s not necessarily a gay thing, is the Seattle Underground tour,” she says. “Seattle was basically built twice, and they rebuilt the waterfront and there are all these tunnels you can access that used to be above ground, it’s really interesting.”
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Seattle Pride. Seattle celebrates Pride with numerous events throughout the month of June, including a Trans March, a Dyke March and a Family Pride Day. The month concludes on June 29 with a huge festival and parade. Celebrity grand marshal for this year’s parade is George Takei.