For back-to-school month, we list 7 great college towns for gay travelers
ANDREW COLLINS | Contributing Writer
The next time you find yourself seeking a gay-friendly, reasonably priced, manageable vacation destination that would be ideal for a two- to three-day vacation, consider choosing one of the nation’s hip and vibrant college towns. These communities tend to offer plenty to see and do in terms of cultural attractions, cool dining and nightlife options. And many cities dominated by academic institutions tend to be overwhelming progressive and gay-friendly — easy places to feel comfortable walking arm-in-arm with a same-sex companion, or perhaps to meet new friends.
Here are 10 favorite towns and small cities around the United States where the collegiate vibe is strong, especially in autumn, with students back on campus (organized basically from east to west across the United States).
Burlington, Vt. (Vermont.org). The largest city in one of the top states in the country when it comes to gay rights and LGBT-welcoming attitudes, Burlington (pop. 43,000) is home to University of Vermont and claims the state’s most visible queer community. It’s just 90 minutes south of Montreal and enjoys a stunning setting, with Lake Champlain on one side and the rugged Green Mountains on the other. Visitors appreciate the vast opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, plus downtown’s network of red brick sidewalks, cozy coffeehouses, great music and bookstores, and cheap eateries.
Stay: Modern yet rustic Hotel Vermont (HotelVt.com) enjoys a handy downtown location overlooking Lake Champlain and, in the distance, New York’s Adirondack Mountains (try to reserve a room with this view). The décor in both guest room and public areas is artful and urbane, utilizing natural materials and earthy tones.
New Haven, Conn. (VisitNewHaven.com). This coastal Connecticut burg, just 90 minutes by train from New York City, enjoyed a dramatic renaissance over the past decade. New Haven (pop. 130,000) is a cultural powerhouse, with a rich history, dynamic and in some cases cutting-edge architecture, a critically acclaimed theater scene, and Yale University’s academic prestige. More recently, New Haven has seen an influx of fantastic restaurants, hip shopping and trendy nightspots, making this gay-friendly, well-educated city a highly appealing weekend retreat.
Stay: The comfy and contemporary New Haven Hotel (NewHavenHotel.com) has spacious rooms, a large fitness center and a great location within easy walking distance of gay bars, the city’s atmospheric Little Italy (be sure to dine at historic Frank Pepe’s pizzeria), the downtown Village Green and Yale’s stately Gothic-style campus.
Chapel Hill, N.C. (VisitChapelHill.org). An idyllic, quaint university town prized for its charming downtown, Chapel Hill buzzes with great dining and shopping. The fast-growing city has a population of 58,000, many of whom are students at the prestigious UNC Chapel Hill, which is notable for its many historic, attractive buildings. Spend time strolling through the hipster-favored West End, with its many inviting restaurants and shops. You’ll find gay bars in nearby Durham and Raleigh, cities also noted for their university scenes, which revolve respectively around Duke University and North Carolina State.
Stay: Upscale and boutique-y, the Franklin Hotel (FranklinHotelNC.com) is set along Chapel Hill’s liveliest thoroughfare and close to campus — rooms and suites are large and graciously furnished.
Boulder, Colo. (BoulderColoradoUSA.com). Attractive Boulder (population 98,000) lies just about an hour’s drive northwest of Denver and offers an enchanting, tree-shaded downtown loaded with cool shops and restaurants. A favorite place to live and visit among fans of outdoor recreation, eco-consciousness and alternative spiritualism, this gay-friendly town is a cycling, mountaineering and hiking mecca — it’s an ideal base for a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park and the even closer Eldora Ski Area. The University of Colorado Boulder accounts for the politically tolerant atmosphere and the strong appreciation residents have for the fine and performing arts. The city’s philharmonic orchestra is highly respected, and several music festivals draw thousands throughout the year.
Stay: The sleek, contemporary St. Julien Hotel & Spa (StJulien.com) is just a couple of blocks from the lively Pearl Street pedestrian mall, with its great shopping and café-hopping. Ask for a room with a mountain view, and consider treating yourself to the signature Canyon Rain soak, scrub and massage treatment in the hotel spa.
Berkeley, Calif. (VisitBerkeley.com). About a third of the 112,000 residents of Berkeley work for or attend U.C. Berkeley, whose reputation for liberal politics and academic excellent date back generations. This largely accounts for the heavy presence of lesbians (many of whom were among the pioneers of West Coast feminism) and gay men who have long resided here. Tourists sometimes overlook the city that’s just across the bay from San Francisco, but Berkeley has plenty going for it and is an excellent — and somewhat more affordable — option for lodging. There’s lots to do in this city that’s famous not only for its free-spirited attitudes but also for a beautiful botanical garden, the esteemed U.C. Berkeley Art Museum, and Shattuck Avenue’s “Gourmet Ghetto,” a neighborhood of superb restaurants and markets headlined by Alice Waters’ renowned Chez Panisse and the Cheese Board Collective, which is renowned for crispy-crust pizzas and olive focaccia. The city is also home to one of the oldest gay bars on the West Coast, the White Horse Bar.
Stay: The stylish and intimate Hotel Shattuck Plaza (HotelShattuckPlaza.com) has gorgeous rooms and close proximity to U.C. Berkeley campus and the stellar dining along Shattuck Avenue.
Eugene, Ore. (EugeneCascadesCoast.org). Home to the University of Oregon, this center for education, the arts and outdoors activities has a vibrant, politically active LGBT community. The Willamette River curves in a southeasterly direction through Eugene (pop. 160,000), fringed with bike trails and walkways and traversed by a couple of pedestrian bridges. Beyond hiking and biking, favorite activities include wine-touring in the surrounding Willamette Valley and exploring the locavore-driven dining, coffeehouse and brewpub scene downtown and, especially, in the up-and-coming Whiteaker neighborhood.
Stay: Steps from the indie shops and restaurants of Fifth Street Public Market, the hip and elegant Inn at the 5th (InnAt5th.com) has 70 rooms outfitted with gas fireplaces, cozy window seats, and high-tech amenities — on-site perks include a wine-tasting room and spa.
Bellingham, Wash. (Bellingham.org). The home of the pine-shaded, rolling campus of Western Washington University, outdoorsy and scenic Bellingham hugs the shoreline of Bellingham Bay, affording spectacular views of the nearby San Juan Islands. Just a 75-minute drive south of Vancouver and 90 minutes north of Seattle, this bustling city of about 80,000 has a lively downtown with craft breweries and artisan coffeehouses (the Woods Coffee, with a patio overlooking the water is an especially inviting hangout). In the historic Fairhaven section of town, you’ll find several blocks of quirky boutiques and cafes. This is a wonderful town if you’re a fan of hiking, biking and kayaking.
Stay: Perched on a bluff with commanding views of the waterfront and situated just a short walk from charming Fairhaven village, the casually elegant Chrysalis Inn and Spa (TheChrysalisInn.com) is a perfect roost for accessing Bellingham’s great outdoors or simply treating yourself to a cushy spa retreat.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 12, 2014.