?With an appealing scatter of low-key gay bars, stylish accommodations and visible queer quotient that local lore and gossip says tops 50%, Galveston is for those ready to graduate from Key West?s party scene and gravitate to this more grown-up stretch of the Gulf, 60 miles southwest of Houston, Texas. Although is has fewer rainbow flags than the Conch Republic, the two cruise ports share the same charmingly laidback, liberal demeanor -- and brightly colored Victorian architecture.
Known as the "Wall Street of the South" in the 1850s, the town contained wealth of bankers? homes, from Federal to Folk Victorian and Greek Revival to Gothic, particularly in the antique store? and art gallery?dotted Post Office district and the restaurant-packed Strand. Although the barrier island is 32 miles long, the best bits are contained within an easily strollable square mile downtown. The Mermaid & the Dolphin Resort (from $129) - the Texas State Governor?s summer mansion until 1876 -- remains the finest island address. Functioning as the Texas State Governor?s summer mansion until 1876, it?s a stately spot with an onsite spa and pool, popular with both gay and straight couples.
Tucked away from the tourist tread in the East End Historic District, the Mosquito Café offers tacos, pastas, and eclectic salads (such as rare ahi tuna with angel hair pasta, pickled ginger, and field greens) in a restored 1870 building. Galveston?s main gay action happens at the lively Pink Dolphin, the island?s answer to Key West?s Bourbon St. Pub. Events such as Kamikaze Karaoke on Friday up the tempo from laid-back lounge to crammed cruise spot. Other island attractions include the Victorian Seawall Promenade, 242-acre Moody Gardens, and, if you?re feeling butch, the hands-on Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum.
>BEST BEACH Stewart Beach during the annual Splash party (May 6). As an offshoot of Houston?s Pride celebrations, skimpily dressed gay men from Texas and Louisiana displace the families who usually frequent the pavilion, volleyball courts, and carefully combed white sands of this tropical, pet-friendly swimming beach.