by Brian Moniz

Summer is just around the corner, and with many of us at the gym trying to get into our summer bodies, or working overtime to save for a nice vacation, we at Matthews Place wanted to share with you our picks of some great LGBT-friendly travel destinations in the United States for those of you who want to go somewhere fun, but don’t want to break your bank accounts.

Everyone knows that major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York have much to offer in terms of nightlife and activities, but we wanted to spotlight some very fun, under-the-radar alternatives to the usual expensive and often overcrowded big cities. For the wilderness-lovers, to the sunbathers, to the nightlife junkies, here’s a list of some great gay-friendly hot spots worth glancing over this summer:

  1. Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska is often thought of as the state with no people in it that’s freezing cold 365 days a year, however, the summer months in Anchorage can offer up some warm weather and beautiful scenery. Over the past several years, Anchorage has become a better-known destination for its plentiful camping options. With a vast number of trails, lakes, glaciers, and mountains to choose from, even the most experienced hikers and campers will find something challenging and fun to do. For fans of wildlife, Anchorage offers plenty of sightseeing tours from watching bears hunting for salmon in the rivers, to wild bison roaming in the mountains, to bald eagles hovering over the edges of the coasts, to moose wandering through the forests.

Best to visit Anchorage in the summer months of June and July, as the warm weather disappears early in August. After a long day of hiking, end the night at any of Anchorage’s lively gay bars. Mad Myrna’s, The Raven, and Darwin’s Theory are three very popular gay-friendly spots, all within blocks from each other, that offer everything from live music and dancing, to karaoke and pool tables, perfect for winding down on a couch with a nice cocktail.

2. Seattle, Washington

Okay, so making the long journey north to Alaska isn’t your thing, but you still want to go somewhere scenic and outdoorsy, then Seattle is your place to be. With just as much beautiful landscape to see as Anchorage, Seattle also has the charm of being a big city without feeling like one. Most businesses here are local, “Mom-and-Pop” shops and restaurants that offer a more “homey”, small-town atmosphere than most big cities do. Step onto a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and cruise over the crystal-blue water of the Pudget-Sound while admiring the gorgeous views of green mountains as far as the eye can see. Look south to Portland and spot Mount Rainier in the distance between the two major cities. If you love water and the beach, make the short drive to West Seattle, and hit up Alki Beach with the rest of the locals taking advantage of the sun; or head east and enjoy a relaxing time swimming at gay-friendly Madison Beach. Head downtown to the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market and observe over one-hundred vendors selling everything from food to clothing to artwork. From there you can visit the original Starbucks and add your own piece of gum to the famous Wall of Gum.

Seattle’s seafood is among the best in the world, most of it tasting as though it was caught that morning (probably because it was); and the same can be said for its Asian cuisine. Seattle has a great Asian cultural influence with many ramen, Chinese and sushi restaurants to choose from on any given block.

No matter what you do in Seattle, save at least one day to explore Capitol Hill, Seattle’s answer to San Francisco’s Castro district. Here you will find everything to do from eating great food to discovering great coffee at any one of the hundreds of local coffee shops. Capitol Hill has some of the best gay bars in America, with friendly locals flocking there every weekend to dance, drink, and socialize. Nothing beats a night in Seattle pre-gaming with extremely strong, cheap drinks at Diesel, busting a move on the dance floor at Queer/Bar, and finally winding the night down around the fire pit at the best outdoor gay bar in the city, Pony.

3. New Orleans, Louisiana

Maybe on a vacation this year, you don’t want to get away from the big city? You don’t want to keep it quiet and simple? You want to feel alive and festive and make the most of your nights out? Look no further than New Orleans. Think of Las Vegas without the overpriced food and insanely expensive shows. The Big Easy is home to some of the best restaurants, bars, and nightlife in the world. There’s nothing like biting into a fried piece of alligator or catfish with a bowl of shrimp and boar-sausage gumbo on the side; or enjoying some fresh powdered sugar beignets at Café Du Monde. In New Orleans, you can find almost anything to eat, and we mean anything, and you will want to try it all, just don’t forget to bring your Pepto Bismol!

Casually walk down Bourbon Street and discover all the flashy, vibrant bars and clubs packed into just a few blocks. Sit down and enjoy a live jazz show, then grab a couple drinks and take them with you to the streets while you explore where to venture off to next. New Orleans, like Las Vegas, is one of a handful of cities in America where it is legal to have open alcohol outside. Visit Audubon Park and see the iconic Tree of Life. Take a stroll down Magazine Street and see the house where the witches studied in American Horror Story: Coven; Hop on a ferry down the Mississippi River, explore the World War II museum, or sign up for a Voodoo tour and see the many haunted buildings and cemeteries of the Big Easy.

While getting to New Orleans isn’t that expensive, the food and drinks here have the potential to drain your wallet. Most of New Orleans’ economy comes from tourists and the food/alcohol, so prices for a fun cocktail could go for anywhere from $10-$25 (many creative cocktails come in a souvenir mug or wacky bottle of some kind that is included with the drink purchase). However, if you keep it simple with either beer or normal cocktails, the prices shouldn’t be very expensive.

4. Honolulu, Hawaii

Many travel agencies list Miami, Florida as one of the top five most desirable vacation destinations for summer 2018, what they don’t tell you, however, is that Miami is one of the most expensive cities in the country. A tourist could easily spend over $100 in a day, and that’s if they’re pinching pennies. Meals can go for $40 a person, with $15 mimosas, $25 cocktails on the beach, and gas prices for the rental car to get from beach to beach can be brutal. Even the most popular nightclubs, from famous mainstream DJ dance lounges to upscale lively gay bars, charge massive cover fees up to, and including, $100 just to get in, not to mention more of those $20-$30 cocktails. Why spend half a year’s salary (it’ll feel that way) on a week in Miami when you could spend a fraction of that on a beautiful week in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Honolulu is next to Waikiki, home to Diamond Head Lighthouse Beach, the (un)official nude beach of the Honolulu area, and Queen’s Surf Beach, with the bluest waters and gorgeous views of the city landscape. Queen’s Surf Beach is where to go if you want to tan under the hot sun while admiring the beautiful surfers, or get in a few paddle-boarding lessons, yourself. After a day at the beach, relax at any of the city’s hip, fun gay bars; most notably Bacchus Waikiki, where friendly locals mingle with tourists over some of the freshest fruity and tropical cocktails. Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand is a typical music-videos-on-the-wall gay bar that’s just a stone’s-throw away from the beaches, and a great spot to relax in the shade between tanning sessions with hot bartenders and gays from all over. One of the most well-known gay bars in the area would have to be Scarlet, which hosts everything from Drag Shows to dancing and live DJ’s; but if relaxing in a less noisy, crowded bar is your style, then check out In Between, a hidden gem to locals that has it all from daily drinks specials to fun karaoke without the crazy chaos of tourists, cover fees and lines out the door.

5. Sonoma/Napa, California

Looking for a vacation this year to a beautiful place that’s outdoorsy, but don’t like hiking or camping? Look no further than Sonoma and Napa, California. Being less than a half hour a part, both Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley hosts some of the most gorgeous and breathtaking wineries in the country. Each city has everything a wine-lover could dream of, from horseback-riding through vineyards, to scenic walks through the hills and over the valleys, to hot air balloon excursions, to some of the most delicious and sophisticated restaurants with the finest foods imaginable. Sonoma and Napa are perfect for those of us who want to get away from the bells and whistles of a big city, while enjoying the finer things in life and not caring too much over price. However, if money is a concern, Sonoma offers almost the exact same activities, beautiful wineries, and hotels as Napa, at about 40% cheaper prices. Napa is much more sophisticated and modern, while Sonoma is more rustic and has that sense of character you’d find in places that have been kept up-to-date without losing their antique charm.

Once in the Sonoma or Napa areas, you could also use your rental car to take a short day-trip to Guerneville and go kayaking or inner-tubing down the Russian River, or head south and spend the day in San Francisco and hang out at the legendary Castro District, arguably the most famous gayborhood in the world. While a week in Sonoma or Napa could end up being a little pricey, it will nevertheless be worth the views, experiences, and memories if you enjoy wine-country and appreciate a great glass of wine.

Vacationing to fun, popular gay-friendly areas like Provincetown, Fire Island, or Palm Springs is always fun, but try giving one of these other cities a chance. You’ll find that a great vacation doesn’t have to set you back thousands of dollars, and you’ll see that there are so many hidden gems to discover all over the country if you just give them a chance.

Honorable Mentions:

Denver, Colorado — Great for outdoor activities, scenic views, and beer/brewery lovers.

Portland, Maine — A safe, family-friendly area for Foodies, especially lobster roll and seafood-lovers.

Nashville, Tennessee — For live music/concert lovers and fans of everything Country; vibrant nightlife.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida — For those of you who still want to see Miami, just go to Fort Lauderdale instead. Has everything Miami has, but for half the price, and just a short drive to Miami Beach.

Have a place in mind you think we should look at when considering where to vacation? Let us know in the comments section below! Happy traveling!

About the Author:

Brian Moniz is a 29-year-old man from San Jose, Calif. He studied filmmaking and writing at San Jose State University from 2010–2013 and got his bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film. Throughout his high school and college years, he worked as a music and movie journalist and critic. Having only recently come out of the closet himself in 2014, Brian enjoys writing about LGBTQ issues. His only regret when it comes to his sexuality is that he didn’t come out sooner. Read more by Brian here.