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Exclusive | Beach getaways: Gay summer resorts

Exclusive | Beach getaways: Gay summer resorts

As the mercury climbs, thoughts turn to cooling sea breezes, refreshing beachside beverages, and steamy nightlife. Every year, gay and lesbian vacationers travel in droves to a handful of gay-popular destinations around the country for a little fun and frolicking in the sun.

We've got the scoop on a trio of oh-so-gay resort getaways: long-running staple Provincetown, Mass., still romantic, entertaining, and relaxing after all these years; Saugatuck/Douglas, Mich., twin towns on the shores of Lake Michigan that serve as a haven for gay travelers; and Ogunquit, Maine, a tucked-away beauty on the Atlantic. So pack your Speedo, sunblock and shades and hit the beach!

It's hard not to love Provincetown, or P-town -- as anyone who has been there calls it. Nowhere else on earth will you find so many gay women and men, crossing all age, economic, body, social and (to a lesser extent) racial strata having such a good time all summer long. Its proximity to Boston makes it particularly popular with Beantown denizens and other New Englanders, but visitors come from all over the world. The town has a distinctly New England feel, enhanced by fresh ocean breezes and Cape Cod architecture. Life here is kind of wholesome for a big gay resort -- bars close early, there's not a big drug scene and few (if any) of the guesthouses offer the sexual-playground atmosphere common in Palm Springs and Key West.

In the summer, P-town is busy all week long, but especially on the weekends. Although lots of straight tourists come to town for the day, you'll never feel uncomfortable holding your lover's hand at Herring Cove, the gay beach (see below) or on Commercial Street, the main drag. Day trippers disappear with the last ferry out of town, leaving a gay majority at night.

The social schedule here runs like clockwork in the summer: The whole town seems to come together for T-dance at the Boatslip every afternoon from 3:30-6:30 p.m., migrate to after-T at The Pied 6:30-9 p.m., dispersing for dinner afterward. Those who aren't ready for bed when the bars and clubs close at 1 a.m. head to Spiritus Pizza. The fun ritual is easy to repeat daily, but it's not essential to enjoying this definitively gay destination. There's a real gay community without feeling like a ghetto; instead, it feels like the best of New England -- quaint, charming, friendly and fun.

When and how to go
Although P-town is becoming a year-round resort, the town is busiest during the summer. Carnival (Provincetown Business Guild: 800-637-8696;; Aug. 16-22) is one of P-town's busiest weeks.

You can drive from Boston by taking the Southeast Expressway (I-93) south to Route 3 and then to Route 6, but beware the police in Eastham and Truro, who have nothing better to do than stop cars for minor offenses. Driving time from Boston is about two and a half hours, five from New York (barring bad traffic -- Route 6 can be painstakingly slow, and there's no alternative).

You can take a ferry from Boston on Bay State Cruises (617-748-1428;, which offers the regular, three-hour ferry and the newer, high-speed Provincetown Express Catamaran ferry (which takes 90 minutes; reservations highly recommended) that departs three times daily late June through early October. Our favorite -- and the quickest -- way to Provincetown is via Cape Air (800-352-0714; from Boston.

Dubbed the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," the diminutive twin towns of Saugatuck and Douglas are a gay-friendly haven on the languid shores of Lake Michigan. These resort towns boast all the quaintness and lack of pretense of small-town America -- along with a surprising diversity and tolerance, a thriving artistic community and a very visible gay presence. Saugatuck attracts mainly those from nearby Chicago, though you'll see visitors from throughout the Midwest.

Dunes Resort (333 Blue Star Hwy; 616-857-1401;; $30-245) is Saugatuck's (and purportedly the Midwest's) largest gay and lesbian resort. The motel rooms have a clean, modern look with a Pottery Barn aesthetic; rustic one-bedroom cottages are also available. The resort's entertainment complex is the epicenter (if not the entirety) of gay life in Saugatuck, with live performers, tea dances and karaoke throughout the season. The pool and adjacent bar are the center of activity on balmy summer days. Lesbian-owned Newnham SunCatcher Inn (131 Griffith St; 269-857-4249 or 800-587-4249;; $85-145) is a quaint country home offering five rooms (three with private bath) and a two-suite cottage. The inn is a short drive from the beach, but you may not pull yourself away from the heated pool or six-person hot tub. The Suncatcher attracts a mixed (but predominately gay) clientele.

Across the bridge in Douglas, the grand Victorian Kirby House Bed & Breakfast (294 W. Center St; 800-521-6473;,; $115-175) has eight guest rooms, three of which sport fireplaces. Rooms are done in classic country B&B style, with antique furnishings and chintz interiors. Each room is named after a great woman from history (i.e., Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette). Co-proprietor (and gourmet chef) Ray Riker's famous breakfasts are included with accommodation.
For those seeking a more natural (or au naturel, as the case may be) getaway, Campit (P.O. Box 444, Douglas, Mich. 49408; 269-543-4335 or 877-CAMPIT-1;,; campsites: $10-20 plus $6 electricity, RV sites $48-55) offers 67 RV sites and four campgrounds (two coed, one men-only, one women-only) on 23 wooded acres. The Bunkhouse B&B ($85-125) is a full-service B&B offering five private rooms, most with private baths. Fresh-baked pastries and local fruits are served daily in this air-conditioned lodge with fireplace and a rustic ambience. A collection of vintage rental trailers ($60-75) is also available for overnight stays. Campit is pet-friendly, but you must register your dog with the campground upon arrival. Membership is required ($10 one-time trial, $10-75 per season).

Lay of the land
The gay contingent usually heads for the beach before noon. Follow the signs to Oval Beach and head to the north end of the parking lot after you've paid for parking. Those who like dunes or sunbathing au naturel should pay to access the private beach, just north of the public beach. Visitors may also catch the historic chain-drawn ferry and cross the river for a short hike to the foot of Mount Baldhead. Climb the stairs, then take one of several nature trails to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Ogunquit is the Indian word for "beautiful place by the sea," and it lives up to its name in every way. Three miles of beautiful, wide, white-sand beach are the lure for visitors, a majority of whom come from New England and the province of Québec. By day, the beach is gay-popular, but many visitors also indulge in coastal Maine's numerous activities, from hiking and fishing to outlet shopping and antiquing. Ogunquit's other attractions include the Marginal Way, a one-mile-long walking path with breathtaking views of the beach and sea, and Perkins Cove, a touristed but charming area filled with quaint old buildings, unique boutiques of the soap-and-candle variety and several excellent restaurants.

The gay scene begins on the gay section of the beach, migrates to Front Porch for après-sun drinks, then converges on one of Ogunquit's few nightspots. Maine Street (195 Main St; 207-646-5101; is a large, open dance club-video bar with early-evening shows and entertainment; the gay-friendly pub at the Old Village Inn (250 Main St; 207-646-7088) is a long-standing favorite of the local gay and lesbian crowd.

When and how to go
Ogunquit is the quintessential seasonal resort -- its permanent population of 1,000 swells to 45,000 visitors per day in summer. The time to visit is during the precious few warm months between Memorial Day and October. Ogunquit is less than a one-hour drive south from Portland and only an hour and a half from Boston. By car, Ogunquit can be reached on Interstate 95 (Maine Turnpike). From Portland, take the Wells exit and drive south on Route 1. From Boston, take the York exit and go north on Route 1. Verify beforehand that your lodging choice can provide or suggest parking arrangements for you, as parking during high season can be as challenging as in the biggest cities. Note that a few of the inns are not within walking distance of the beach or town center. For those who prefer to fly, Airtrans Airways, Continental, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, Northwest and US Airways all fly to Portland International Jetport.

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