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25 Seaside Escapes

25 Seaside Escapes

Sand season is almost here -- get thee to a beach!

Halifax, Nova ScotiaSituated on one of the world?s largest natural harbors, Nova Scotia?s bustling capital packs a lot into its small footprint: dining, culture, nightlife, and easily accessible nature. Craggy cliffs and lighthouses recall New England; meadows and stone walls evoke rural Britain.

Off the beaten tourist path, it?s also an inexpensive honeymoon option. When the sun goes down and the summer?s eve kicks in, head for the North End, Halifax?s emerging gay village, stopping at Company House (2202 Gottingen St.; 902-404-3050) for live acoustic rock music and Menz (2182 Gottingen St.; 902-446-6969), a friendly watering hole despite its tragic name.

Tel Aviv, IsraelConsidering that it's barely 60 years old, Israel has become quite gay quite quickly, and nowhere more so than in Tel Aviv, its boy- and Bauhaus-filled commercial, cultural and culinary capital. This sunny seaside town, with its Miami-esque Mediterranean promenade and easygoing caf? culture, is packed with the kind of "we're here, we're queer" vibe more typically found in Sydney and San Francisco than in one of the most conservative regions in the world.

The Melody Hotel, just a five-minute walk from the unofficial "gay" beach, belongs to the chair of Israel?s well-recommended Atlas hotels: modern, sparse and sporting the motto "WORK + PLAY", it?s a great base to explore Tel Aviv?s northern end ? or get work done. Or both. The hotel provides free use of beach bikes with which to cruise this bike-friendly city, and pedaling to the other end of town, or even historic Jaffa, is an easy ride.

Los Cabos MexicoOur south-of-the-border neighbor may have its problems, but marriage ain't one. Its sun-spackled resorts and archaeological ruins aren't bad either.Las Ventanas (Carretera Transpeninsular Km. 19.5, San Jose Del Cabo; + 52-624-144-2800; from $815) with sloping white adobe walls, raked sand gardens, and giant, shadow-casting agaves accentuate give the resort a Zen-like ambience. A "Department of Romance" will arrange dinner and a movie for two on the beach or help plan your wedding.

The MaldivesA nation of 26 atolls and almost 2,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, The Maldives is a secluded tropical island with gay-friendly luxury resorts. For a romantic and iydillic gerawat the "Sonevas" resorts are two of the most gorgeous on the island. Managed by the Six Senses, a luxury resort company committed to sustainability, organic culture and green living. While they are by no means inexpensive, Six Senses is a responsible and committed to giving back the communities they work with.

CuraçaoOne of the Caribbean?s most popular gay destinations, Cura?ao is not only tolerant, but actively embraces gay and lesbian travelers with a gay tourism website, GayCuracao.com and scheduled parties throughout the year. Two gay-owned properties -- theHotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino and theLodge Kura Hulanda & Beach Club -- are sophisticated choices to stay, whether you?re seeking city sleeps or beachy retreat.

The Pacific Coast Highway, CaliforniaAnother amazing roadtrip follows the coastline just south ofSan Francisco, one of California's most enchanting stretches, brimming with natural beauty and eclectic attractions, all kissed by the waves of the mighty Pacific. Cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1), scoot southward from San Francisco about 40 miles and let the seaside spirit wash over you with a quick early morning stop at San Gregorio Private Beach, the oldest nude beach in the U.S.

A little further down the coast you will find Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (400 Beach Street, 831-423-5590), one of the West Coast's last major seaside amusement parks, now more than a century old. Cap off the day with what many consider the PCH pièce de résistance, the cliffily magnificent Big Sur.

Check in to Post Ranch Inn (47900 Highway 1, 888-524-4787), a hundred-acre former working ranch that's now one of the world's most acclaimed luxe resorts with bungalows that precariously hug the hillside. Needless to say, the views are something to dream about.

Brighton Beach, EnglandThis Victorian seaside town is a salty seaside city bursting at the seams with creative queer energy, fish 'n' chip baskets, and carnival rides. "The steampunk movement seems like it grew here," explains Molly Landreth, the Seattle based photographer behind A Portrait of Queer Life in Brighton. "Brighton developed the largest LGBTQ population in all of England as a result of the sailors who docked there during the war. It?s small enough that I walked to every one of my shoots (with the exception of the Pride day campground at Devils Dyke Farm -- I kid you not) and friendly enough that I left with new friends and more than a few beers on the house."

Kalani Oceanside Retreat, HawaiiUnplug, unwind, and connect with the LGBT spirit of aloha at the remote 120-acre back-to-nature Kalani Oceanside Retreat, snuggled between the state?s largest tropical conservation area and the Pacific Ocean on the isolated southeast coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Earth, air, water, and fire (in the form of a volcano) are all represented here. What you won?t find are TVs, phones, or even reliable cell coverage. Doff your clothes, do some yoga, and rediscover each other instead. Choose from rustic jungle-inspired rooms or simple camping sites. (12-6860 Kalapana-Kapoho Beach Rd., Pahoa; 800-800-6886; Kalani.com; from $40)

Stockholm ArchipelagoMost Stockholmers claim their own personal island as a summer getaway (don?t think about going in winter, when the water freezes and the islands can become impassable), but the best approach for first-timers is to sample an island smörgåsbord. You can easily island hop by ferry and water taxi -- the islands closest to Stockholm offer the richest variety. In fact, the sheer range of the islands? cultural attractions and natural landscapes -- from green pastures to sandy coves and thick forests -- make the archipelago a Swedish microcosm.

Start inVaxholm, a one-hour ferry ride from Stockholm. Make a pit stop at theVaxholm Fortress, a hulking stone castle, and then stroll past the pastel-colored cottages that line the water. Finish up inGrinda, one of the most beautiful islands. You can walk across its doll-sized expanse, through green meadows to rocky outcrops, in 30 minutes, and this is the place to plan an overnight.

San Diego, CaliforniaSan Diego is SoCal at its best -- palm-lined streets, border-town vibrancy, 70 miles of beaches, and ultra-fresh seafood (hello, fish tacos!), as well as a highly integrated gay community with several out city officials. For a power lunch redefined hit upC Level at Island Prime (880 Harbor Island Dr.; 619-298-6802). With killer waterside views being only but a tease compared to lesbian chef Deborah Scott's nut-crusted brie, fiery skirt steak salad, and lobster truffle mac 'n' cheese.

Cape Town, South AfricaHaving stepped out of its apartheid closet into the constitutionally protected light of day a mere 14 years ago, gay life in Cape Town is booming. And like many teenagers, it?s bold, bawdy, conflicted, and in a constant state of reinvention. Stunning physical beauty abuts gritty urbanism, a contrast that makes the city both laid-back and neurotic. For a completely out-adventurous expedition book a shark diving experience with Mike "Sharkman" Rutzen in the Indian Ocean?s "shark alley" near Gansbaai -- an easy day trip away -- one of the world?s only legal dive operations. If being submerged in frigid, blood-filled water while great white sharks circle your boat doesn?t sound like a bonding experience, you need to set your romantic sights higher. SharkDivingUnlimited.com

Santa Barbara, CaliforniaThis is your TGIF solution from LA: hop in your car, preferably something zippy with a roof that retracts, and head up toSanta Barbara, just over ninety minutes away and unfairly blessed with dreamy coastal scenery, a lively food and wine scene, and activities enough for both sybarite and sportsman. Oh, and attractive UCSB boys to boot. It?s called the American Riviera for a reason. Wine lovers will appreciate the local pours on offer at many neighborhood watering holes, and the truly grape-crazed should visit the tasting rooms on Santa Barbara?s Urban Wine Trail. These outposts of local wineries, mostly clustered within walking distance of each other off South State Street, let you sample a variety of vintages without the need for a designated driver.

Vancouver, CanadaThe fresh breeze from the ocean serves as Vancouver's own air-conditioning and prevents it from ever getting really hot or humid. Don?t missWreck Beach, perched on the tip ofPoint Grey, looking out over the Burrard Inlet to theNorth Shore Mountains. Wreck is a taxi ride to the west of the city, at the foot of the cliffs that surround theUniversity of British Columbia. The gay beach basks at the famous clothing-optional beach?s south end. Naked vendors ply the beach offering water, beer, sandwiches, and a surprising array of narcotics. Ask any student how to get to the access paths that lead down to the water.

Condado Resort, Puerto RicoClose your eyes. Imagine the roar of surf on the beach beneath your window. Feel the kiss of warm ocean breeze on your skin. Taste the crystals of salt from the mist on your lips. That tropical paradise, that ideal beach is at your fingertips, and you don?t even have to hunt down that pesky passport. Get thee to San Juan, Puerto Rico, stat. Book yourself a room at the San Juan Marriott Resort in Condado. And make sure it?s on the ocean side, natch.

Little Palm Island, FloridaFor gay travelers, Key West once reigned as the gay vacation mecca, so much so that other resorts are often called "The Key West of the North" or "The Key West of The West" to proclaim their gayness. Near the Florida Keys' southernmost point and reachable only by seaplane or boat, remote Little Palm Island Resort is a world of isolation and beauty comparable only to the far reaches of Oceania. Void of digital distractions and children, the back-to-basics island is all about nature, you, your partner, and the luxe Robinson Crusoe props found in and around its thatched-roof bungalows. Liberating outdoor showers, seductive canopy beds, and private oceanfront verandas are built around a placid ecological playground of mangroves, wild Key deer, Zen gardens, and orchids. (28500 Overseas Hwy., Little Torch Key; 800-343-8567; LittlePalmIsland.com; from $690).

Puerto Vallarta, MexicoIf variety is the spice of life, gay Vallarta is simmering with new flavors -- and not just at Playa Los Muertos, the gay beach. Casa Cupula, the decidedly upscale, boutique gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta, has opened its new restaurant Taste to the public. Perched on a secluded hillside, overlooking the Bay of Banderas, Taste is all about options, serving a sampling of Mexican, American, Asian and South American cuisine, available in both entrée and tapas (or "taste") sized portions, served in the newly redesigned intimate dining room or under the sunshine/moonlight on the adjoining terrace. With options including Shrimp Stuffed Ancho Peppers, Lamb Lollipops, Chicken Curry Samosas and Traditional Peruvian Ceviche, "you can Taste your way around the world."

Martha?s Vineyard, MassachusettsOften overlooked by gay travelers in their haste to get to nearby Provincetown, this 100-square-mile island is just 45 minutes from the mainland via a ferry that runs year-round from Woods Hole, Mass. The isle has long been a haven for discerning travelers like the Clintons, Carly Simon, Spike Lee, and Sharon Stone. The 15-roomLambert's Cove Inn in West Tisbury is a luxurious boutique hideaway. This sophisticated gay-owned property boasts Thyme's eucalyptus-scented amenities, 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton linens, and feather beds. And the inn's 70-seat restaurant features an outstanding contemporary American menu.

Miami Beach, FloridaMiami's mystique has hypnotized the world since the art deco movement made its way to the subtropics in the 1930s. A paragon of fashion, glamour, and evolving avant-garde, Miami presented a worldly style unknown to most parts of the United States in tandem with a fledgling progressive beach culture. From the hype of "streamline moderne" to the trends of the present day, the Miami the world reveres in fact stands as a two-square-mile section of a small island known as Miami Beach.

The brand-spanking-new Edgewater Hotel (opened Feb 2011) occupies a fantastic spot right across the street from Miami?s South Beach, at Ocean and 14th. That means it?s far enough from the bustle just down the street as to be quiet, but close enough that you can put on your flip-flops for a jaunt into the action.

Bali, Indonesia Apart from the party-hearty beach scene of Kuta, Hindu-flavored Bali is an amazingly serene isle, rich in dense rainforest, active volcanoes, deep river gorges, arts and crafts villages, and ancient temples waiting to be explored. The mountainous far west of this approximately 2,000-square-mile island is little developed and mostly given over to national park land.

Cape Disappointment, WashingtonPerfect for a road trip, the Pacific Northwest's stunning natural attractions have been joined by a few unnatural ones, now that "vampire tourism" has breathed new life into the Olympic Peninsula's timber towns, courtesy of the Twilight movies. Drive north fromPortland toCannon Beach, famed for 235-foot sea monolith, Haystack Rock. Leave the crowds, chowder halls, and t-shirt stores behind and continue north toGearhart, the quiet upscale beach town where Gus Van Sant has a salty second home.

A few more minutes drive up and you?ll be at Cape Disappointment State Park on 28-mile-long Long Beach Peninsula, famed for its boardwalk, beach, lighthouses, and berry production. Drive until twilight and overnight at gay-friendly Kalaloch Lodge (157151 Hwy. 101, 866-525-2562), a National Park lodge set between two rain forests.

Sihanoukville, CambodiaThe awe-inspiring 12th-century ruins ofAngkor Wat, constructed as the Khmer Empire's vision of heaven on earth, is Cambodia's must-see attraction. But after the history lessons, settle into Sihanoukville for some R&R the popular southern resort town on the Bay of Thailand has beautiful beaches and a low-key gay scene -- if you know where to look.Ochhueteal Beach andSerendipity Beach comprise a 1.2-mile stretch of white sand lined with funky little beach bars and restaurants. Grab a beach bed or chair and enjoy a coconut shake while boy watching. Many of the little beach shacks serve food also.

ArubaAruba, which virtually guarantees great weather, sits outside the hurricane belt and boasts a pretty consistent year-round average temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit. With these balmy temps, visitors get to practice beach tennis, which is a wildly popular sport in Aruba. The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino -- with 411 guestrooms, the most spacious on the island -- recently joined the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), the leading global organization dedicated to connecting businesses and consumers in the LGBT tourism industry. With its Dutch origins Aruba boasts a more live-and-let-live attitude then some other less tolerant islands in the Caribbean.

Morea, TahitiThe island of Moorea, Tahiti is absolutely stunning; white sand beaches, lagoons, lush interior -- the whole kit and caboodle of luxury escapism with a cool anthropological past to boot. Still technically part ofFrench Polynesia, although with growing autonomy, Tahiti also benefits from the LGBT-positive legal reforms in effect inFrance and theEuropean Union. Check out Tahiti Tourism?s official gay website to locate a travel agent either nearby or with the GLBT specialty, both searchable from the travel agent link from the homepage.

Waikiki, Hawaii Hawaii, the "birthplace of surfing" and more specifically, Waikiki on the island of Oahu, is a new surfer?s best bet. It has the perfect sized waves to start you out standing on your board, and with the largest LGBT population in the islands and gay bars within walking distance from the beach, there's bound to be a fellow queer wave rider scattered among the surf. With its stylish Jetsons-meets?beach house decor, theEdition is the perfect place to crash after riding the waves with your brahs all day.

A highlight: the Private Sunset Beach and Bar, where you can tap your inner Christopher Atkins in your own secret "Blue Lagoon" with a circular wading pool replete with sand, lounge chairs, and hammocks, lit by candlelight. On-site Japanese restaurant Morimoto, and the new club Crazybox, prove that tropical paradise and slick city are not mutually exclusive.

San Juan, Puerto RicoPuerto Rico may be extremely casual during the day, but all year-round everyone dresses to the nines by night. Pack with that in mind and leave your passport behind if you are a U.S. citizen, as the island is a domestic flight requiring merely a driver's license. All the single-lane, cobblestone streets of the island?s capital, San Juan, are lined with brightly painted houses sporting balconies and covered with flowering vines and potted plants.

The entire city exudes timeless warmth, combing Old World charm with the comforts found in the continental U.S. Dinner at the trendy Budathai restaurant is a tasty example of the magic that happens when Latin and Caribbean spices are added to Asian-fusion cuisine. Famous for their dim sum, order a little of everything. The seared foie gras with pistachio brioche and the soy-glazed salmon with coconut hash are particularly delicious.
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