I'm a great fan of this website and have always read the useful traveling guides that you provide. I had a question - Me and my boyfriend are planning to travel for the first time ever alone. I'm 25 and he's 24, and we both are from a very strict religious family background so are very discreet and straight acting. In fact, he's getting married this summer and might be moving on with his life. We both have been saving money to go to some gay resort where we can be as open as possible.
After searching for weeks and doing my research online. The two places that I ended up deciding on are Los Angeles, where we can visit West Hollywood and maybe Palm Springs, or Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Since we both are very discreet, we want our trip to be very open and gay-friendly - just to live and act gay for a couple of days, get drunk, and enjoy being openly gay, as no one knows us there. I just wanted to get some input or maybe advice on which would be a better place in terms of being openly gay. Any help would be appreciated. I am leaving end of this month, and the trip is only for 5 days.
Thanks a lot,
Discreet Guy, Canada
Answer: Hi there,
Well, the good news is that you pretty much picked the two places in nation, if not the world, that best lend themselves to a gay vacation of relaxing, reveling, and being open about who you are. Both Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs are rife with gay, clothing-optional resorts, and they both have relatively similar seasonality (most popular fall through spring, and quite hot and less crowded in summer, especially Palm Springs). If you're going by the end of May, you'll likely be blessed with nice weather in either Florida or Southern California.
There are some key differences between the two destinations, however. Palm Springs is a relatively small city (about 45,000), and it's a desert climate. There's good shopping and dining, and many of the gay resorts are situated together in the Warm Springs neighborhood, creating a bit of a party vibe. Although there are things to see and do in the area, it's just as much a place to hang out with your boyfriend and lounge by the pool and have fun (with or without fellow guests - these resorts get pretty cruisy and wild, especially at night). There is gay nightlife in Palm Springs, but it's rather low-keyed, and serious gay-bar-goers tend to find it a bit limited.
West Hollywood is right in the heart of metro Los Angeles and has all the obvious big-city draws of a world-class metropolis, including lots of gay clubs, restaurants, and shops along the main drag, Santa Monica Boulevard. However, there's only one Palm Springs-style gay resort (the San Vicente Inn). The rest of the accommodations in West Hollywood, while absolutely gay-friendly, are mainstream establishments. So if you're staying at one of these places, you can't just lie around the pool without your suit on (well, without causing quite a stir!).
If you have just five days, a great option might be spending half your nights in West Hollywood, to partake of all the excitement of Los Angeles, and then the other nights in Palm Springs, holed up at a gay resort and relaxing.
Fort Lauderdale is a larger city than Palm Springs (about 150,000, with a much larger metro population) and it also has a neighborhood (near the beach) with a number of gay, clothing-optional resorts near one another. The nice about this area is that you're steps from the city's beautiful beachfront. Fort Lauderdale also has a fun little gay district, Wilton Manors that's a short drive inland and feels like a miniature West Hollywood - gay bars, shops, and restaurants abound here. In this sense, Fort Lauderdale offers both the laid-back resort experience, combined with a more cosmopolitan side.
Furthermore, Miami - with its uber-trendy South Beach scene and glitzy shopping and dining - is less than an hour's drive south of Fort Lauderdale, so you can easily get your big-city fix with an afternoon or evening excursion. If you go with the Florida option, you could probably just spend all five days in Fort Lauderdale and use it as a base for exploring the area.
In summary, you really won't go wrong with either South Florida or Southern California, in terms of planning a fun, slightly raucous, five-day gay getaway. In Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs/West Hollywood, you can absolutely be yourself, and you'll find plenty of fellow gay clubbers and sun-worshipers in both place. Some people favor Florida for the simple reason that they're more into the East Coast, tropical vibe, and others prefer California and its dry climate and more laid-back West Coast mentality.
If you're absolutely stuck in terms of deciding, consider that a Palm Springs and West Hollywood vacation is going to offer more varied and spectacular natural scenery (ocean and beaches around L.A., and stunning desert vistas and craggy mountains around Palm Springs) than South Florida, which is flat and somewhat built up.
Hope that helps, and that you and your boyfriend have a great time!