Winter 2007 | Cool Blue Islands in Seas of Red | Outtraveler

Winter 2007 | Cool Blue Islands in Seas of Red

With the majority of gay Americans living and vacationing in relatively liberal "blue" states, it's easy to forget that even in some of the nation's deepest oceans of conservatism, you can still find numerous islands of tolerance. In fact, some of the coolest little gay and lesbian vacation spots in the country are situated in otherwise redder-than-red states such as Utah, Alaska, Georgia, Arkansas, Wyoming, Virginia, and Texas. Not surprisingly, many of these idyllic retreats are educational, artistic, and political hubs -- the types of communities that draw educated, tolerant, and creative individuals from the surrounding state to their refuges of progressivism.

1. Athens, Ga.

Population: 103,000

Nearest Big City: Atlanta (70 miles)

Queer faves like R.E.M., Indigo Girls, and the B-52's have helped put this erudite college town (home to the University of Georgia) on the music map, and bustling Athens is a growing gay destination. According to the most recent census, the surrounding Atlanta metro area ranks among the top 25 U.S. population centers by percentage of LGBT households. Be sure to check out Boneshakers, one of the coolest little gay clubs in the South. The AtheFest music and arts festival is a huge draw in late June.

Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau

2. Charlottesville, VA.

Population: 42,000

Nearest Big City: Richmond (70 miles)

In a state that's passed some of the most gay-hostile legislation in America, it's refreshing to find a progressive, upbeat city like
"C-ville," part college town (home to the University of Virginia and its regal Jeffersonian architecture) and part cultural hub -- you can visit Jefferson's Monticello estate, tour a winery, and catch an outdoor opera performance all on the same day. The historic downtown pedestrian mall plays host to hip bistros and wine bars, plus a pair of lively gay nightclubs.

Charlottesville-Albermarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

3. Eureka Springs, Ark.

Population: 2,500

Nearest Big City: Tulsa, Okla. (150 miles)

Yup, it's true: This tiny town in the conservative Ozarks is home to one of the biggest statues of Christ as well as a world-famous Passion play production. Yet it happens to be a hugely popular gay weekend destination for urbanites from all around the region -- Little Rock, Tulsa, Kansas City, and Dallas. Strangely, everybody seems to get along just fine. Check out the dozen or so gay-owned B&Bs, a slew of offbeat art galleries, curative hot-spring spas, and acres of gorgeous hilly countryside. Just bring your own date -- this isn't exactly a nightlife haven.

Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce

4. Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Population: 8,800

Nearest Big City: Salt Lake City, Utah (300 miles)

How "blue" is Jackson Hole? It's the seat of the only county in Wyoming that John Kerry won in 2004, despite being the part-time home of Dick Cheney. But there's much, much more to love about this friendly yet chic pine-scented ski town on the edge of magnificent Grand Teton National Park (and not far from Yellowstone). Think luxe mountain resorts, stylish shops selling cowboy boots and rustic-chic furniture, and some of the best outdoor recreation in the country.

Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

5. Galveston, Texas

Population: 57,000. Nearest Big City: Houston (50 miles)

A seaside jewel on a slim barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston has quietly but assuredly developed gay cachet as a charming weekend hideaway. Historic Victorian hotels, gay B&Bs, and a few hopping gay bars complement 32 miles of golden-sand beaches (including a popular gay section). Quirky shopping and festive oyster bars beckon in the cobblestone Strand historic district. And don't miss "Beach Ball," Galveston's Memorial Day weekend gay circuit party blowout.

Galveston Convention & Visitors Bureau

6. Lawrence, Kan.

Population: 82,000

Nearest Big City: Kansas City (40 miles)

Here's another college town that stands out as a bastion of liberalism in a sea of conservatism. Indeed, the home of the University of Kansas falls within another of the top 25 U.S. metro areas in percentage of LGBT households. Hilly, tree-shaded downtown overflows with coffeehouses, vintage clothiers, and gay-friendly -- if not gay-exclusive -- nightspots. The university has some of the best museums in the state and a well attended Queers and Allies student group.

Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau

7. Park City, Utah

Population: 7,900

Nearest Big City: Salt Lake City (30 miles)

Nestled high in the Wasatch mountain range in one of the reddest of the red states, modish Park City boasts some of the finest (and sunniest) skiing in the world, not to mention dozens of gay-friendly accommodations, see-and-be-seen restaurants, and posh boutiques. You can plant your pole here during Utah Gay and Lesbian Ski Week in early January, or stop by the Queer Lounge during Park City's most famous event, the Sundance Film Festival, in late January.

Park City Visitor Information Center

8. Juneau, Alaska

Population: 31,000

Nearest Big City: Anchorage (600 miles, accessible by plane)

Sculpted by crystalline bays and crowned by snowcapped mountains, Alaska's bustling though diminutive state capital is home to a decidedly progressive, outdoorsy bunch. There are no roads in or out of town (planes and ships provide the only way here), and this insularity accounts for Juneau's close-knit personality. The city is home to the Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance and supports an LGBT Pride Chorus, a highly respected local theater withe a very queer following, and numerous gay-friendly inns and restaurants. And for wildlife viewing, you can't beat it.

Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau

9. Asheville, N.C.

Population: 72,000

Nearest Big City: Charlotte (130 miles)

What's the coolest thing about this funky, creative center of arts-and-crafts shops and architecturally stunning inns? The climate: North Carolina's verdant, gay-friendly gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains stays cool in summer and offers a bit of nearby skiing in winter. It's a popular vacation destination for gay residents of Atlanta and Charlotte, with groovy organic bakeries, eccentric cafes, and indie bookstores creating a distinctly liberal vibe. The city's castle -- like Biltmore Estate is a must-see attraction. Plan to visit in mid October for Asheville Pridefest.

Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

10. Sedona, Ariz.

Population: 11,000

Nearest Big City: Phoenix (120 miles)

Spooky spires and monolithic red rock formations rise high above the evergreens of stunning Sedona, a high-desert, New Age, outdoorsy mecca in north central Arizona (just two hours from Grand Canyon National Park). Hikers, mountain bikers, alternative-spirituality seekers, artists, and gays inhabit this upscale community known for its lavish, contemporary resorts and sybaritic spas. It's a favorite retreat for gay urban dwellers from Phoenix and Tucson.

Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce

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