BAR HARBOR, ME
It’s all about ME. Maine, that is. The state they call “Vacationland” extends a welcome mat to outdoorsy types looking for a rugged challenge during the day and a luxury lobster dinner in the evening. This high-contrast lifestyle is best experienced in the salty seaside resort called Bar Harbor, the largest town on Mount Desert Island, about three hours’ drive up the coast from Portland. It’s a picture-perfect synthesis of every New England nautical motif custom-made for adventurers. Stroll down Main Street and you’ll pass young families outfitted in preppy summer togs, shops selling lobster-shaped doorknockers and scrimshaw jewelry, and cafes decorated with fishing nets and glass floats. Along the wharf, fancy restaurants display lobster buoys and chefs pull up the day’s catch from the boats, which is soon to be plated with drawn butter or Newburg sauce.
Just five minutes from town, the summer bustle recedes, replaced by quiet pine forests, granite bluffs, thundering surf and transparent glacial ponds. The primeval beauty of Acadia National Park (nps.gov/acad) strikes visitors—2,431,052 last year—with awe. A well-kept network of carriage trails and the main Park Loop Road let cyclists, hikers and motorists see the park’s natural highlights. Don’t miss the short drive or strenuous bike ride to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard, affording 360-degree views of the island and Frenchman Bay. Scores of outfitters in Bar Harbor offer sea kayak adventures, whale watching tours, cruises around the island’s seven lighthouses, guided hikes, fishing trips, carriage rides and bike rentals in and around Acadia. In the peak summer months, avoid traffic by cruising Acadia on the Island Explorer (exploreacadia.com), a free, propane-powered public bus system covering every major destination on Mount Desert Island. All of the routes start or end at Bar Harbor’s Village Green.
Acadia’s wild spirit invites cyclists, hikers and paddlers to push themselves to their limits. At dusk, most rustic types return to the comfort of Bar Harbor’s Victorian-style inns for a hot bath and a little R&R. The Coach Stop Inn (715 State Hwy 3, coachstopinn.com), a former sailors’ tavern built in 1804, is the oldest hotel on the island and located about five miles from Bar Harbor’s busy downtown. (Historical buildings are unexpectedly rare in Bar Harbor. An enormous fire devastated the most of the town’s elegant Victorian mansions in 1947, leaving only a handful of older structures standing.) The five rooms sport a mix of antique and modern furnishings that blend seamlessly with the original wide-plank floors and ceiling beams. Come morning, innkeeper Deborah Stahlman cooks an ample three-course breakfast that may have Maine blueberry-stuffed French toast or eggs Napoleon as its centerpiece.
In the heart of genteel Agamont Park, the Bar Harbor Inn (Newport Dr, barharborinn.com) has unimpeded views of the lobster boats bobbing in sapphire-blue Frenchman Bay. The perfectly-located hotel perches on a lush knoll above the harbor, which connects to the scenic Shore Path along the rocky shoreline. The Main Inn, dating from the late 1800s, offers Edwardian-styled rooms with gas fireplaces. A newer wing, the Oceanfront Lodge, offers balconies and sea views; the third section, the Newport Building, appeals to budget-conscious travelers who like a taste of the high life. The onsite Reading Room restaurant is one of Bar Harbor’s best, serving haute classics like Maine lobster pie with sherry cream and grilled Black Angus filet mignon.
If you belong to the class of travelers who would rather spend her budget on adventure instead of accommodation, the Quality Inn (40 Kebo St, barharborqualityinn.com) is a perfectly adequate base camp. The cost-conscious rooms are huddled in a grove of trees for a sense of privacy in a quiet location just a few minutes from downtown. Grab a bag lunch from the cute country diner across the parking lot before heading out to Acadia.
You won’t be able to avoid tucking into a shore dinner—lobster, boiled red potatoes, corn on the cob, steamed clams or mussels, and buckets of melted butter—while you’re in Maine. West Street Café (76 West St, weststreetcafe.com) earns raves for its early-bird dinner menu, stocked with lobster and seafood dishes for lower prices. After 6pm, go all out for the decadent lobster roll, shore dinner with blueberry pie included, or surf n’ turf. 2 Cats (130 Cottage St, 2catsbarharbor.com) is the locals’ go-to early-morning hangout, and will be yours unless you’re allergic to George and Baby, the resident felines. Carbo-load freely on the colossal homemade biscuits, strawberry butter, smoked trout omelets and vegetarian platters. You can’t miss 2 Cats—there’s an array of rainbow-hued Adirondack chairs out front. When you’re ready for a sweet snack, select a cone at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (7 Firefly Ln, mdiic.com), voted one of the best ice cream shops in the country. Taste for yourself—rotating flavors include Maine sea salt caramel, Nutella, Vietnamese coffee and many more. Dive in! —KL
ASBURY PARK, NJ
The Jersey Shore is open for business, despite the destruction from Hurricane Sandy last year. While some seaside towns are still recovering from the storm, Asbury Park is poised to welcome thousands of beachgoers to its golden sands and lively boardwalk come summer. Because it’s less than 90 minutes from Manhattan by car and easily accessible by New Jersey Transit, Asbury Park has grown into the unofficial alternative to Fire Island for NYC’s lesbian vacationers.
In fact, from Memorial Day to Labor Day this Shore town morphs into a virtual microcosm of the West Village, with NYC’s top lesbian promoters decamping to the beach to produce special weekends packed with pool parties, barbecues on the beach and babes in bikinis.
The summer kicked off with Jersey Pride (jerseypride.org), the statewide LGBT celebration fittingly set at Jersey’s queerest town, in early June. The calendar is packed with enough circuit weekends to make braving the Turnpike traffic worth it.
Diva on the Shore (divaontheshore.com) marks its tenth anniversary and fifth year at Asbury Park. Promoter Angelique Irizarry designs a four-day extravaganza centered around a Diva Dodgeball tournament between rival all-girl teams on the beach. Kicking off with a meet n’ greet party on Friday, July 12, the weekend really starts with the dodgeball match the following morning. The players, decked out in uniforms emblazoned with the logos of their lesbian-scene sponsors, take this battle seriously. After the winners have been crowned, the weekend’s signature White Party creates a heavenly atmosphere at the Berkeley Hotel’s Kingsley Ballroom—white attire is a must! A tea-time cocktail party concludes Diva on the Shore on Sunday afternoon, July 14, giving sunbaked and potentially hungover divas a few hours to get home before the week begins.
But wait! Don’t unpack your sunscreen yet: the following weekend brings Sand Blast (sandblastweekend.com), “three hot days and nights on the Jersey Shore.” This co-ed LGBT bash draws the biggest DJs from up and down the east coast. While you’ll see a superabundance of shirtless guys at the main parties, don’t despair: a killer lineup of women’s events, plus co-ed daytime activities like beach yoga and surfing lessons, will keep you occupied. The Lost at Sea Friday kickoff party is the girls’ go-to on Friday night, followed by the Siren of the Sea: Women’s Pool Party on Saturday afternoon. Both feature tunes by DJ Susan Levine. That night, Wet: The All-Girl Dance Party at the Ocean sees DJ Stacy behind the decks and hundreds of women dancing on the beach, under a canopy of stars. Finally, wind down with a mellow Women’s Brunch on at McLoone’s on Sunday morning and the last women’s event of the weekend, the Surfer Girl Chill Out party. In between boozathons, you can work off the calories cruising the gifts and housewares along Cookman Avenue, downward-dogging in early-morning yoga classes, or biking around town with OutCycling (outcycling.org), an LGBT bike club.
The grand Berkeley Hotel (1401 Ocean Ave, berekeleyhotelnj.com) is the host for both Diva on the Shore and Sand Blast, and an elegant getaway from the city any day of the summer. The 1930s-era oceanfront hotel recently underwent a renovation that introduced mod-ish décor in the rooms, an outdoor tiki bar, and an oversized outdoor pool with private cabanas. The onsite Dauphin Grille (dauphingrille.com) serves fine nautical fare like lobster tacos with avocado vegetable slaw, or pistachio-crusted sea scallops with a cranberry and thyme risotto.
If you prefer quieter accommodations that are still within walking distance to the downtown hubbub, make the Asbury Beach Ocean Inn your base of operations. The quaint 1890s bed-and-breakfast is done up in wind-washed pastels and sailing themes in the five comfortable suites; the dining area contrasts the beachy look with deep red and Asian motifs. Enjoy a gourmet breakfast prepared by innkeeper Chip Burroughs, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef in the dining room or the pleasant landscaped garden in back. As an extra perk, the Asbury Beach Ocean Inn provides complimentary beach passes and free cruiser bikes for exploring the town on your own.
Be one of the first summer visitors to taste-test the reopened Kissing Booth restaurant (516 Summerfield Ave, asburykissingbooth.com), a longtime fixture in Asbury Park that closed last year after losses due to Hurricane Sandy. Now under new local ownership, the homey café features the beloved menu of pancakes, omelets and other comfort-food staples, plus a menu for vegetarians. On the boardwalk, the menu is deliciously simple at Mogo (Boardwalk and 1st Ave, eatmogo.com). Spicy Korean tacos come in only five variations—pork, beef, chicken, shrimp and tofu—but pack an appetizing punch. Watermark (800 Ocean Ave, watermarkap.com) provides an elegant counterpoint with a sophisticated menu of specialty cocktails and eclectic entrees like guava-chili pork ribs and spicy seared ahi tuna. –KL
Is there a better remedy for sweaty city summer heat than a feast of chilled seafood, straight from the source?
Whether you’re a Julia Roberts fan or just love a crustacean smothered in butter, you’ll find Mystic, Conn. a slice of small town heaven. A three-hour jaunt from New York City brings you into the winsome and family-friendly hamlet on Long Island Sound. With feasting, swimming, sailing and museum-going, there are a remarkably high number of activities offered by a town populated by just over 4,000 New Englanders.
By the time roll into town, you will undoubtedly be hungry—that’s your excuse for wolfing the eponymous meal at Mystic Pizza (56 W Main St, mysticpizza.com). Small-town kitsch reigns supreme as movie stills of Julia Roberts and Lili Taylor plaster the walls and several obscurely placed TV screens loop the 1988 classic. Chomp into a gooey “slice of heaven,” wash it down with a beer and invest in a t-shirt to wear with your legwarmers at aerobics class.
There’s more to Mystic than Hollywood memories. Lauded as the nation’s leading maritime museum, Mystic Seaport (75 Greenmanville Ave, mysticseaport.org) is an adventure for historians, romantics, aspiring pirates, wenches and fisherwomen of all ages. Cruise through a recreated 19th-century port and drink in a historical re-enactment before you check out the exhibits and galleries of nautical curiosities. Hop aboard a historic vessel and learn the ropes on the open water of Long Island Sound. Seasoned skippers should pack up some provisions from the Mystic Denison Farmer’s Market (Sundays only, 120 Pequotsepus Rd, facebook.com/denisonfarmmarket), rent a boat and pilot it themselves. For the astrologically-inspired tourist (and being the stand-up lesbian that you are, you probably know at least three), Mystic Seaport’s Treworgy Planetarium teaches aspiring astronomers about celestial navigation using the stars, planets and heavenly bodies.
If you’re in the mood to get your hands dirty, stop by the bodega to pick up some beer on your way to Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (117 Pearl St, abbotts-lobster.com). Line up for a lobster, corn on the cob and bag of chips and dig in at a picnic table on the dock under the sun. Only open on weekends, this place is a Mystic institution and cannot be missed. A word to the wise: they provide a bib for a reason. Wear it.
Mystic hosts kid- and adult-friendly festivals throughout the summer. A few highlights: On June 15-16, the Summer Food and Wine Festival at Stonington Vineyards (523 Taugwonk Rd, stoningtonvineyards.com) offers live music, gourmet food truck treats and wine tastings from vintners around Mystic. Bring your darling, best pals or the entire family (kids are welcome and those under 18 earn free admission).
Blues lovers will flock to Mystic for the last weekend of June for the first annual Mystic Blues Festival (mysticbluesfestival.com). Jam out to well-known national and local acts at small venues throughout town. There is also an educational component for kids aspiring to learn to play the blues. Keep that blanket and beach chair handy for family-friendly movies every Tuesday night from July 9-August 20 at Misquamicut Beach, just over the border in Rhode Island (westerlychamber.com)
All this activity will undoubtedly work up your appetite for briny bites. The Oyster Club Restaurant (13 Water St, oysterclubct.com) is a ‘farm and sea to table’ restaurant with a young, friendly staff and delicious menu and raw bar that changes daily. The restaurant spans three shabby-chic rooms that feel as though you’re in the spiffiest repurposed barn on the East Coast.
The Ancient Mariner is a family (and Family)-friendly, nautically themed resto-bar that keeps locals and tourists fat and happy. From Wednesday through Sunday nights, the bar boasts some of Mystic’s greatest musical talents to keep you tapping your feet as you sip on a cocktail and slip back an oyster. It is also worth mentioning that at the time this writer ate and drank there, many of the servers sported asymmetrical haircuts and tapered jeans with their shirts tucked in and buttoned up.
Overlooking the marina, Mystic River and quaintest stretch of Mystic’s downtown, The Whaler’s Inn (20 E Main St, whalersinn mystic.com) invites summer guests with brightly lit rooms and hot, homemade cookies at reception. Make use of the inn’s free-rental fat-tire bikes and go for a cruise about town and down the river before you snuggle in to their country-style suites for a good night’s rest. It’s hard to imagine wanting to stay anywhere else. –JF
REHOBOTH BEACH, DE
The unofficial gay and lesbian summer beach resort of the Mid-Atlantic states, charming Rehoboth Beach is situated along a sweeping, sandy stretch of the Delaware shore that’s within a three-hour drive of Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Over the past decade, many of the town’s guest houses, shops and restaurants have received stylish makeovers, and this once low-key, middle-class town has developed a see-and-be-seen cachet that extends well beyond nearby cities. Nowadays, Rehoboth (beach-fun.com for general tourism info; camprehoboth.com for details on the LGBT scene) teems with gay-owned or -oriented businesses.
Rehoboth is so gay, it boasts not one, but two gay beaches. The mainly gay male “Poodle Beach” runs from about St. Lawrence to Penn Streets, at the southern tip of the honky-tonk boardwalk. Women sunbathe here to some extent, but the unofficial lesbian beach is north of downtown at Cape Henlopen State Park (a.k.a. North Shores, about a 20-to-30-minute walk or 10-minute drive via Ocean Drive).
Beyond sunbathing, a popular daytime diversion is shopping. Rehoboth Avenue, the main drag, has plenty of fun retail as well as a few galleries. A block over, Baltimore Avenue is the hub of the town’s gay scene, home to boutiques, home-furnishing emporia and the small but well-stocked Proud Bookstore, which carries LGBT books and gifts. Delaware has no sales tax, and out on Route 1 you’ll discover a bounty of outlet shopping centers. Back in town, take a break from browsing to grab a delicious lunch (maybe the best chicken salad sandwich you’ll ever taste) at Lori’s Café (lorisoyveycafe.com), or enjoy a snack or a latte at the Coffee Mill (coffeemillrehoboth.com), a cheerful coffeehouse.
Rehoboth has an excellent dining scene, and several trendy newcomers seem to open each season. On the high end, the Blue Moon (bluemoonrehoboth.com), site of the gay bar of the same name, turns out high-caliber contemporary American fare, like Maine lobster spaghetti and stout-brined Berkshire pork chops. Down the street, Aqua Grill (aquagrillrehoboth.com) serves eclectic and reasonably priced international grub like Thai-mango-chutney burgers, coconut shrimp and pot stickers. At night it morphs into a gay video bar. In the same neighborhood, Mixx (mixxrehoboth.com) is another high-energy, stylish restaurant and bar with a strong LGBT following and a see-and-be-seen cocktail hour.
Other notables include the Seafood Shack (seafoodshackrehoboth.com), which serves tasty fried-oyster po’boys, tender crab cakes and live entertainment; Dos Locos (doslocos.com) for Mexican nosh; and Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats (dogfish.com) is one of the most esteemed craft breweries in the country—it’s a fun place to sample a flight of unusual beers (Chicory Stout, Positive Contact Wit-style beer, Chateau Jiahu—which is brewed with rice from an ancient Chinese recipe). Early in the evening, a lot of lesbians and gay guys head to the Frogg Pond (thefroggpond.com) tavern for karaoke and conversation.
Rehoboth has no shortage of appealing, atmospheric accommodations. Gay-owned Rehoboth Guest House (rehobothguesthouse.com), which is two blocks from the beach and steps from Baltimore Avenue nightlife and dining, is a vintage three-story inn with clean, basic rooms, a friendly and helpful innkeeper and some of the best summer rates in town. The simplest rooms, which share a bathroom, start at just $120 midweek in high-season, which is a bargain considering the location, lovely grounds and sun decks.
Other good bets include the Silver Lake Guest House (silverlakeguesthouse.com), a large and luxurious gay-owned property with great views of the lake after which it’s named; and century-old At Melissa’s B&B (atmelissas.com), an inviting six-room inn in a leafy residential neighborhood close to the beach and restaurants.
Perhaps no property in town draws more praise for its colorful personality (and high camp factor) than the lesbian-owned Bewitched and Bedazzled B&B (bewitchedbnb.com), a decadent 13-room property that consists of two neighboring houses. One is playfully furnished as a tribute to the '60s TV classic Bewitched, and the other pays tribute to the glamour of Hollywood, with dozens of autographed photos of movie stars.
If you're partial to larger, more anonymous mainstream properties, Rehoboth has several chain hotels, including Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Comfort Inn out on Route 1. But to fully experience the bustle and charm of this increasingly hip and trendy gay getaway, try to book a room in town and spend as much time as possible wandering the boardwalk, beach, and quiet residential streets, places where the authentic Rehoboth springs vibrantly to life. –AC