King of the hill

Rock-Beach-ed
Breathtaking seaside Monterey, Calif., is much more than its aquarium

NICK VIVION | Contributing Travel Writer
gaytravel.com

 

As I lay there all tied up in knots, with my right leg piercing the air near my ear, all I could think about was sea otters. Never mind the fact that my rational mind was screaming, “Your leg does not belong near your ear!” My creative mind was off with the sea otters, frolicking, swimming backwards, fetching shiny ornaments for a reward of an abalone liberated from its pesky shell.

This made me laugh, although my masseuse, targeting my tension with a force not unlike a sea otter slamming a rock on fresh food, hardly notices. I’m blissed out at the Spa on the Plaza in Monterey, Calif., and my wandering mind is exploring my earlier visit to the expansive Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Aquarium is by far the biggest draw for travelers to Monterey County, as it is consistently rated the No. 1 aquarium in the U.S., and occasionally even the world. The tanks are full of shimmering fish, giant octopi, and furry sea otters, not to mention a healthy share of rambunctious children mammals. The aquarium’s popularity is also a bit of a curse, because the first thing that people say when you mention Monterey is usually, “Oh, that’s where the aquarium is!”

Lucky for us all, Monterey County has heaps more going on to whet the traveling whistle. So much so, in fact, that it keeps me coming back at least once a year.

The huge county of Monterey — one-and-and-half times the size of Delaware — sits two hours south of San Francisco, occupying a 100-mile swath of Pacific Ocean beauty and inland fertility. Its magnificence has made it world famous, and it’s hard to think of a chunk of earth that inspires more awe, respect and superlatives from most who pass through it.

There are no gay bars here, no clubs — no nightlife to speak of. This is a romantic place, where you come and frolic amidst the backdrop of natural grandeur. Kayaking, diving, horseback riding, biking, fishing and sailing provide a direct channel to beauty at every angle.

I started off my whirlwind tour of solo romancin’ with a sunset hike in Point Lobos State Reserve, also known as the crown jewel of the state parks. This is only one of a baker’s dozen of sickeningly gorgeous hikes nearby.

For the committed hiker, the Ventana Wilderness behind Big Sur is chock-full of remote camp sites. Day hikes range from the easy Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which takes you to the spectacular waterfall dropping from cliffs into the water, to the robust Ollason Peak in Toro Park, where you gain 1,800 feet of elevation. Other trails include the Pinnacle National Monument, 20 miles of beach trails at Andrew Molera State Park, and, perhaps the best kept secret of the area, the steepest coastal canyon in the continental U.S. that features abandoned limestone kilns at Limekiln State Park.

As the sun was setting, I set up my tripod and captured the sun dropping beyond Seal Cove, where seals were enjoying the last drops of sunshine. Briny patterns had been blasted into the rocks by the sea spray, and birds were gently riding thermals overhead. Robert Louis Stevenson was struck with the idea for Treasure Island while hiking in this very same spot.

The glamour of Pebble Beach is one of the primary features of Monterey County, with it’s exacting fairways, crashing waves, and bazillion- dollar homes that loom over the greens. There is also the Concours d’Elegance, where high-end car collectors from all over the world descend on Pebble Beach like bears to Sidr honey.

The elegance of the architecture in Pebble Beach trickles out to many corners of coastal Monterey, enticing movie stars, musicians and billionaire moguls to settle here. Clint Eastwood is the most infamous resident of the area, having served as mayor of Carmel in the late 1980s. Rupert Murdoch, Doris Day and countless others in the vaunted upper crust have purchased homes here.

Of course, this means that this can quickly become an expensive vacation as Michelin-rated restaurants and $500-per-night hotels have sprung up to cater to this wealthy clientele. Check out the plush L’Auberge in Carmel, and be sure to melt with a massage at one of the world-class spas like Accista Spa or the Spa on the Plaza.

One especially fruity note came in my glass — Monterey is known for its outstanding wines, especially chardonnay and pinots noir. The county produces more grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined, and that many grapes from the Central Coast go into Napa/Sonoma-branded wines. The soil has stellar mineral content, which makes for uniquely robust wines.

Monterey is one of those special places that is widely popular and accessible to many, while maintaining that rare ability to make someone feel like they are the only person in the whole wide world that knows about it.

Oops. Secret’s out now.

…………………………

7 steps for staying fit on the road

All of us have priorities when we travel. For gay men, staying healthy while relaxing and over-eating in local cuisines is often high up on the list.  Unfortunately, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Here are a few tricks for keeping that beach body even when temptations abound.

Plan ahead. When staying at a hotel, inquire ahead about its gym facilities. Ask about the equipment and browse pictures on the website; and inquire whether access to the gym is 24/7 and free to all guests or comes with an additional fee. A lot of hotels claim to have gyms, but actually offer little more than a glorified storage closet with a few barbells that look borrowed from the Flintstones. If staying at a house or other single-family property, search online for any nearby facilities. Call those and ask about short-term rates and make a game plan. Get your ducks in a row.

Remember that there’s no such thing as “vacation” calories. You’ve probably heard people try to justify an unhealthy meal by saying, “It’s OK — I’ m on vacation.” Bullshit. While there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, it’s important to remember the obvious: Your body doesn’t process food any differently when you’re on a vacation than it does while you’re at home. Calories are calories. And the more you travel, the more important this rule becomes.

Stay hydrated. It’s easy not to get your daily requirement of water while traveling — on the road, it’s much easier to opt for soft drinks, alcohol, etc. Make an effort to drink water. It provides a ton of great benefits including boosting your metabolism and curbing your appetite.

Use your feet. One of the best ways to explore a new city and get the most out of what it has to offer is on foot. That’s also great way to exercise.  Push yourself to walk instead of taking buses and cabs everywhere. It will help counteract some of those extra calories we tend to consume while traveling — and you’ll probably discover a few hidden gems along the way.

Be flexible. Exercise doesn’t need to be all-or-nothing. Maybe your typical gym routine at home is a 60-minute intense cardio burner, but you only have 30 minutes of free time each day. As Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work.” Do what you can with what you’ve got! A half hour of exercise is better than none.

Stock the mini-fridge. For the record, there is nothing “mini” about this bar’s caloric content. If possible, squeeze some of your own grocery items into the space between the candy bars, chips and booze. Stock up on fresh cut fruit, veggies and sandwiches. Making smart choices with the mini-fridge will help you cut down on killer restaurant meals.

Exercise in your room. If your accommodations don’t include a fitness facility — or if you’re not adventurous enough to use it — you can still get a great workout in the comfort of your room. Browse some aerobic videos on YouTube to get some cardio, and use your bodyweight as resistance for strength training. There are a million possibilities.
Being a frequent traveler doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your fitness program or a prescription for obesity. Keep your game face on and you’ll be pleased with the results: More energy, better sleep and increased immune system performance, just to name a few.

— Davey Wavey Jacques

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

An island calling

Faded but still fierce, Catalina oozes tropical romance just off SoCal’s coast

NICK VIVION  | Contributing Travel Writer
gaytravel.com

“Are there more resident bald eagles on the island or resident gays?” my traveling companion asks a gay resident of Catalina, who works for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which controls 88 percent of the land here.

“Definitely gays,” exclaims Shaun, the knowledgeable biologist tasked with removing invasive plant species on the island.

It’s a fair question. There are a whopping 22 bald eagles living on the island, and there can’t be too many gays on a spit of land only 55 miles around. Catalina Island isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a gay destination, but this unassuming vibe is one of its best traits. It’s a mixed crowd, allowing you to mold your experience.

Catalina-Island-Rainbow
RAINBOW’S END | Small and still elegant, Catalina Island is a haven for wildlife — and gay adventurers.

“I don’t think many gay people realize that other gays come to the island often. It is gay-friendly, relaxed and comfortable,” Shaun elaborates after the laughter simmers down.

Catalina was originally developed by the Banning Brothers during the period of prosperity in the late 19th century that brought the newly moneyed set to the island in droves, ready to party politely in their modest, fully-clothed bathing gear.

As Hollywood developed, so did interest in Catalina. It quickly became a glamorous getaway for the Tinseltown set, and its appeal was accelerated after chewing gum czar William Wrigley bought the island in 1919, bringing his Chicago Cubs here for spring training until the 1950s.

While the glamour has faded somewhat, Catalina’s historical tapestry has golden gay threads woven throughout, and the feeling permeates your stay on the island. And there’s still a fascinating history magnifying the romantic aura of the island. This place has a distinct whimsical appeal that combines with top class amenities and attractions to become a perfect gay getaway for those in Southern California and beyond.

Catalina Island has a growing and well-deserved reputation as an adventure destination. For those who crave an escape from the concrete gridlock of Southern California, there is not a single stoplight on the entire isle.

It has its modern perks. The Eco Zip Line is the newest activity on the island, and it’s pure joy. Strong winds on add a wholly unexpected dimension to the experience of flying down steel cables 300 feet above the Descanso Canyon floor.

The numerous outdoor experiences make for a soul rejuvenating weekend escape. In a two-day visit, we explored a botanical garden, avoided rattlesnakes as we hiked a portion of the 37.2 mile Trans-Catalina Trail, checked out one of three scenic and remote campgrounds, parasailed high above the ocean and went zip lining from mountain to sea.

There is also an incredible Marine Preserve called the Lover’s Cove, calm and ideal for snorkeling amongst the scintillating orange Garibaldi and spotted opaleyes. Several extensive wrecks are accessible for walk-in SCUBA diving on Casino Point, and you can tackle the challenging trails on mountain bike or by foot. Last but not least, exploring the island’s perimeter in an ocean kayak is an unparalleled way to get out onto the legendary crystal-clear waters along the Catalina Coast.

Catalina Island has been a romantic’s playground from the beginning of its development in the Gay Nineties. Dozens of movies have bestowed romantic allure, and the Four Preps’ 1958 hit song “26 Miles” extolled the virtues of its romantic side, which is now a perfect soundtrack to the quaint, timeless aesthetic on the island.

Development is strictly limited, so the architecture remains consistent. There is a 15-year waiting list for conventional cars on the island, so personalized golf carts dominate transportation. Walking’s not bad, either. Take a leisurely stroll from Avalon around the point past the stunning, 12-story Art Deco Casino, and onwards to the tidepools past Descanso Beach. Then end the night sitting by the blazing fire pit at the pleasantly updated Pavillion Hotel, sipping pinot noir and nibbling on goat cheese as the sun sets somewhere beyond the hills, and the clouds in Avalon harbor turn a fierce purple. Romance, indeed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

TRAVEL: San Francisco is Queertopia

The City by the Bay is a must visit for all gay Texans — World Series titles notwithstanding

NICK VIVION  | Special Contributor
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

San Francisco is regularly recognized as one of the world’s most visited cities, and equally as often is dubbed the most European city in America. The Bay Area boasts a live-and-let-live ethos that has attracted a population with equal parts creativity and quirk (it’s the fictional homes of Marvel’s X-Men and Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets).

It’s also just about the gayest city in the world, a veritable Capital of the Queers — some estimates put 30 percent of the population as LGBT-identified. And despite their baseball team trouncing the Rangers in last year’s World Series, it’s still a desirable travel destination for gay Texans.

The city has welcomed the weary, the weird and the wacky for more than a century. The first wave was during the Gold Rush of the 1800s. The prospectors had no prospects — and no women. So they made do, and are said to be the ones who invented the Hanky Code to organize their newfound homo desires.

Post-World War II, soldiers of both sexes began to carve a niche for themselves amidst the already-thriving gay scene. A spread in Life magazine in 1964 maliciously declared San Francisco the gay capital of the nation, but while the tone was accusatory, it had one unintended effect: Publicity.

OPEN UP THAT GOLDEN GATE | The famed bridge, opposite page, is the best-known image of San Francisco, but for gay travelers the Castro District is a must-see destination.

“Thousands of gay people poured into California now that they knew where to go,” says Kathy Amendola, owner of Cruisin’ the Castro, about the meteoric rise of gay San Francisco in the 1960s. “In 1967, the Summer of Love exploded in the Haight. There were so many tens of thousands of people in one place at one time on such a high level of consciousness [from LSD] that it shifted energy. San Francisco could not stop people from pouring in, from the gays to the hippies. It was supposed to be the utopia: free drugs, free food and free love. Who wouldn’t come here?”

But San Francisco is more than just a cliché of drugged-out hippies and handkerchiefed homos cruising the streets. It has an energy that you can savor, a magical serenity that makes molecules vibrate more vigorously. It’s exhilarating. San Francisco is freedom from judgment, a place where people are living their lives mindfully, yet without much regard to what people think.

“We recycle 77 percent of our garbage and food. We still have that sense of utopia,” says Amendola without the slightest hint of new-age pretense. She, like most San Franciscans, is serious about her community’s shared values.

Harvey Milk was known as the “Mayor of the Castro,” and is widely credited with bringing the gays to the district. He saw the Castro’s cheaper rent and better climate when he was living over the hill in Haight-Ashbury, and jumped at the chance to open a camera store right on Castro Street.

Today, the camera store sits empty awaiting the embattled move of the HRC Store. In its window is an image of a group of people outside the Castro Theatre waving a flag that says “Gay Revolution.” Above, from the second floor where Milk used to live, is a mural of Harvey looking down on the street. On his chest is painted one of his most potent phrases: “You gotta give ‘em hope.”

Visiting the Castro is a must for every gay visitor. It’s unlike any other remaining gayborhood in contemporary society — our Mecca, and not just because there are a lot of gay people there; it also breathes history.

Milk first spoke out at the corner of Market and Castro right underneath where the Pride flag now billows. Murals abound depicting the decimation of the AIDS crisis, and how the city’s gay population rallied, protested and fought incessantly to stem the tide of deaths.

The recent opening of the GLBT Historical Museum on 18th Street is a much-needed fulcrum of our collective queer identity. The handsome museum facilitates an understanding of our history as a group, and shows those younger folks like myself the oft-unbelievable realities of gay life in decades pat.

As I stood in front of the picture of Leonard Matlovich on the cover of Time in September 1978, I nearly cried. I had never heard of him, nor had I ever noticed the large plaque commemorating him on the corner of 18th and Castro. He was discharged from the military for being gay, saying: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

My visit to the museum was the day before DADT was repealed; I had no idea we had been fighting for this long.
The queer experience is central to the San Francisco experience, as it is the city’s acceptance — not just tolerance — of queer people of all kinds that really makes it unique. This is not the “diversity” of New York, rather a whole-hearted commitment to queering the world.

Standing outside Hotel Abri near Union Square, hearing the buzz of four languages, it strikes me that there are so many microcosms in this city, neighborhoods so distinct they could be in separate cities or states. San Francisco, at its geographical core, is queer.

San Francisco gets under your skin, into your blood and hooks you for life. It will electrify you, and like your first true love, you will never be able to shake it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: GayTravel.com on Dallas

A few weeks back Arnold Wayne Jones told you about Nick Vivion (above), GayTravel.com’s new “Travel Guru” whose six-month tour began in Dallas. Well, here we have some of the results, as GayTravel.com has posted a series of Vivion’s videos from Big D on YouTube. Let us know what you think.

—  John Wright

Gay for pay

GayTravel.com kicked off its tour in Dallas with new queer travel guru Nick Vivion

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

ON THE ROAD  |  Nick Vivion spent family time in Dallas but never doin’ gay stuff.’ Now as the GayTravel.com guru, all he does is the gay stuff. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
ON THE ROAD | Nick Vivion spent family time in Dallas but never doin’ gay stuff.’ Now as the GayTravel.com guru, all he does is the gay stuff. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Nick Vivion’s grandparents were from Dallas, so he visited the city many times when he was younger. “But I’d never been here doing gay stuff,” he says.
That changed last week. In a big way.

It might not be MacArthur returning to the Philippines, but Vivion marched victorious to his old family haunts with great fanfare, as Dallas was the first stop on the GayTravel.com “Travel Guru” tour. And Vivion is the guru.

In some way, it’s a far cry from where the 27-year-old Seattle resident imagined he’d be back in college. He went to school hoping to become a movie director of features, “like Spielberg.” Then he discovered documentary filmmaking and his outlook changed. “There are so many good stories out there you don’t have to make up,” he says.

His interest in filmmaking, photography and travel led to a passion and his livelihood since graduation: Making travel videos for Lonely Planet and YouTube, where his videos scored more than a million hits.

“I’ve been traveling doing films for about four years,” he says. “It is my profession.”

So when he heard that GayTravel.com was holding a contest to find an ambassador to scour the globe coming up with unique stories about gay destinations, he threw his hat in the ring.

“This is not the first travel contest I’ve applied to — probably the 12th or 13th,” he says. But it did seem like a good fit: GayTravel.com wanted a gay guy to do gay city tours. Still, it did require a leap of faith.

“I had always been reluctant to be the gay host or the gay travel guy. Then Prop 8 happened and that changed my perspective a little bit. I saw that I have the ability to capture the essence of what it means to be gay, to get paid to do what I do and share the gay experience a little more.”

Vivion won the contest during a competition last month in Las Vegas, where finalists were told to make a good travel video within 36 hours of touring the city. His product, plus an interview that was included a pageant-y question-and-answer portion, cinched his victory.

Dallas had dibs to be the first city on the tour, and Vivion had hoped to be here for Pride, but the timing was too tight. Instead, he launched his tour last Thursday, spending five days exploring everything from the Strip to the State Fair.

“I had a lot of fun at Gay Bingo — it was a blast to be silly with Jenna Skyy,” he says. “I have a lot of respect for drag queens and what they do, and she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at being witty without being mean — very even-handed. And just to see the energy of so any people coming out for it, so many people to continue to support it was inspiring.”

Vivion admits he was a bit unprepared for the first leg of his trip — “It’s a blur” — but over the course of his six-month commitment as the guru, he hopes all the cities are as welcoming as Dallas proved to be.

“I’m hoping to kind of find good content about gay destinations. There will be plenty of nightlife coverage but I’m not trying to talk just about places to get drunk. In the end, it’s about inspiring people to travel. That’s what’s important to me.”

Vivion went from Dallas to Santa Fe with plans to spend Halloween in New Orleans. You can follow his tour — and see what he has to say about Dallas — at GayTravel.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

GayTravel.com Guru hits Dallas

Nick Vivion
Nick Vivion

Nick Vivion, who recently won the online contest to be the new GayTravel.com travel guru, brings his tour to Dallas this weekend. Look for him around town — calling numbers at Gay Bingo Saturday, attending Uptown Players’ Closer to Heaven Sunday — and tell him everything that makes Big D a great travel destination.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas