Go Westside, young WeHo’er, to the sands of Santa Monica and Venice
Yes, most LGBT travelers know West Hollywood is the focal point of gay and lesbian life in the greater Los Angeles area. Granted: WeHo offers great clubs, restaurants and boutiques, making it a bona fide queer mecca.
But what’s the one thing you won’t find in this metropolitan gayborhood? Surf and sand. If you’re gonna be on the coast, you wanna be on the coast. So if you’re not interested in going on an expedition through the concrete jungle, head west to Santa Monica. Very fab, very gay.
Santa Monica, about 10 miles west of WeHo, is known for its laid-back atmosphere, world-class hotels and beautiful beaches. What gay tourists might not realize is that there are several activities geared toward LGBT travelers. (If 10 miles doesn’t sound that far, keep in mind: This is the gridlock capital of the world. A straight shot down Santa Monica Boulevard could take you an hour.)
First and foremost is getting accommodations: Finding a great hotel located close to the beach is a necessity (otherwise, why not just stay inland?). The Loews Santa Monica is a luxurious, gay-friendly property that even hosts same-sex commitment ceremonies on-site.
After you’ve checked in, strip down, throw on your bathing trunks and head to the beach. Less than two miles from SM, you’ll find the most well-known gay beach in the Los Angeles area, Will Rogers Beach in Pacific
Palisades. Admittedly, Will Rogers is a little disappointing compared to Black’s in San Diego and other gay beaches. It’s a small, nondescript area but fine if you want to get a tan or play a game of volleyball with some bronzed hotties.
Getting to the beach can be a pain if you’re driving, so your best bet is to rent a bike from one of the beachfront shops and get a little exercise before you tan. When you’re tired of hanging out in the sand, take part in an outdoor yoga class. The point is to take advantage of the sunshine — the biggest draw for out-of-towners.
Feeling a bit peckish after a long day lounging in the sun? Head to Ocean Street, Third Street Promenade or Mid-City for a fantastic meal. Whether you’re looking for a great steakhouse, sushi or amazing Thai, there’s a venue for every taste and preference. Seafood lovers will definitely want to experience The Lobster located next to the iconic Santa Monica Pier. The surf and turf is just as incredible as the view.
As far as tourist traps go, the Santa Monica Pier is pretty fabulous. Once you get past the gaudiness of the amusement park, you’ll find that the Heal the Bay Aquarium is phenomenal and the street performers are a sight each visitor must experience at least once. What sets the Pier apart from other over-the-top iconic landmarks is the breathtaking view of the ocean.
Gay nightlife in the Santa Monica area is more low-key than WeHo, and you might consider a short trip into neighboring Venice. The city is a haven for artists, surfers and anyone who enjoys the wafting scent of marijuana on every corner. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is the heart and soul of the Venice community, lined with coffee shops, eclectic boutiques and restaurants serving exotic cuisine. This is also where you’ll find the area’s only gay bar, Rooster Fish.
For more than three decades, Rooster Fish has been the only game in town for the gay and lesbian Westside. When you first walk in, you feel like you’re in a straight college bar, not a beach city gay bar. It’s a small venue with two rooms but it’s a popular spot that attracts a wide variety of patrons — straight and gay, male and female — and a great happy hour. There’s also an outdoor patio barbecue each Sunday.
If you’re in the Venice area at the beginning of the month, be sure to check out First Friday. This is an incredible event where a slew of restaurants, galleries and boutiques stay open late, allowing locals and tourists to meet shop owners in a festive setting.
Santa Monica, Venice and the rest of the communities located on the Westside of Los Angeles offer gay visitors a vibe that can’t be found in any other area. This beachfront area attracts Hollywood celebrities, college students, artists, executives and musicians. Whether you live in Minneapolis or Downtown Los Angeles, you instantly feel like you’re on vacation when you arrive in town.
So what’s the most important thing each and every visitor must do in Santa Monica, gay or straight? Nothing! Whether you’re hanging out on the beach, lounging by a hotel pool or sipping espresso on a café patio, take time to rest, relax and soak up the sun. Just make sure you tweet lots of pictures to make your friends jealous.
— Jon Fairbanks
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.