Not ready for summer to be over just yet? Hop a quick, direct flight to the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where you can get some final wear out of those sleeveless tees and cargo shorts. Charleston, deemed by some as the Cultural Capital of the South, is nestled on its Atlantic peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and boasts a lesbian index of 113, meaning that the number of female same-sex unmarried households is 13% over the national average (ePodunk.com). With its unrivaled mixture of rich, Colonial history, decadent shopping, delectable seafood, and those lovely southern belles, Charleston offers your next vacation a big-city feel in a charming small town.
Get out your walking shoes, girls, because the one-way, cobblestone streets that make up most of downtown Charleston are best experienced on foot. You’ll be pleased to discern a little familiarity in the layout of the land: Charleston’s downtown streets have been constructed in a grid, much like most of Manhattan, so finding your way from shops to historic homes to bars won’t be too difficult—unless you start at the bars. Take a leisurely stroll along The Battery, located at the southern tip of Charleston’s peninsula. This promenade, where artillery was stored during the Civil War, offers fantastic views of Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. For more history while you walk, contact Charleston historian Harlan Greene (email@example.com), a Lambda-award–winning novelist and licensed tour guide offering walking tours with a focus on the LGBT history of Charleston.
Arrange to have any tour start or end at the Old City Market (Market St. btwn Meeting and East Bay), a public, open-air market where locals sell art, jewelry, clothing and furnishings. This unique market is one of the best places to find Gullah women weaving their famous sweetgrass baskets. To learn more about the Gullah community, direct descendants of black immigrants from the West African coast, native South Carolinian Alphonso Brown provides Gullah Tours (843-763-7551, gullahtours.com).
Head to King Street for some of the best shopping south of the Mason-Dixon line. With retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, and Saks Fifth Avenue, you’ll feel right at home. Among the hosts of exclusive boutiques, antique and specialty shops lining this popular strip, outdoorsy girls won’t want to miss Half-Moon Outfitters (280 King St, halfmoonoutfitters.com). Half-Moon originated in Charleston in 1993 and is now a popular chain providing equipment for adventure and travel.
What’s a visit to the Southeastern seaboard without some fresh seafood? COAST (39 D John St, 843-722-8838) is a local favorite that boasts live music and “Charleston’s freshest seafood” in a casual, beach-themed atmosphere. Another local hotspot is Vickery’s Bar & Grill (15 Beaufain St, 803-577-5300, vickerysbarandgrill.com), which serves up Cuban-American cuisine and is also a great place to relax on the patio with a beer. Gay-owned and -operated Fig (232 Meeting St, 843-805-5900, eatatfig.com) offers a varying menu of southern gourmet and seafood dishes in a friendly bistro atmosphere. For fine dining, get dolled up and head over to East Bay Street, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of upscale eateries to choose from. Vegetarian palates will be more than satisfied at Saffron Bakery and Café (333 E Bay St, 843-722-5588), a great lunch spot serving some of Charleston’s best Mediterranean fare.
Whether vacationing with your partner or flying solo, Charleston’s nightlife offers something for every woman. Dudley’s (42 Ann St, 843-577-6779), located just north of the Visitor’s Center, is a friendly neighborhood bar that plays to a younger gay crowd on Wednesday nights, when the DJ mixes up Karaoke with high-energy dance tunes. A little off the beaten path (i.e., you may need a car to get there), De’ja Vu ii (4628 Spruill Ave, N Charleston, 843-554-5959, dejavuii.com) is Charleston’s only lesbian-owned and -operated club, and owners Rita and Laura know how to bring in the ladies. They offer cheap wings, $10 buckets of beer, and $3 drinks every Thursday night. Charleston may not be Manhattan, but you gotta give her credit for trying at Club Pantheon (28 Ann St, 843-577-CLUB, clubpantheon.com). With two resident DJs spinning dance remixes to top 40, a cabaret of drag queens appearing every Friday and Sunday night, and some of the hottest chicks grinding on the enormous dance floor or lounging coyly on the sofas that line the walls, Club Pantheon will have you turning the beat around all night.
When you’re finally ready to call it a night, make your home away from home at the Charlotte Street Cottage (32 Charlotte St, 843-577-3944, charlestoncottage.com), a unique historic guest house providing all the private amenities one could ask for. Great for a big family or group of friends, the Cottage is a 200-year-old guesthouse on a quiet, residential street located in downtown Charleston. For something a little smaller, Market Street Inn (48 N Market St, 843-723-2177, marketinn.com) is the perfect place to rest your head. In the heart of downtown, this Art Deco, five-room inn overlooks the City Market and is steps away from dining, shopping and bars. Owners Jim Bouldin and Diane Ogorzaly are eager to share their excitement and love for Charleston with all of their guests.
For more information on Charleston, SC, visit charlestoncvb.com.
The Catskills, NY
“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain—the day and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and succession and the perpetual presence of the infinite sky.” John Burroughs may as well have been describing autumn when he wrote this famous passage about the Catskills, a region located just 90 miles north of New York City. Country villages, Dutch houses and brilliant fall foliage dotted across untamed mountain scenery make this a great romantic getaway for couples or a solo escape for single girls looking for quietude and natural beauty rather than a place to scope out the singles scene.
As soon as you set foot into gay-owned Ecce Bed and Breakfast (19 Silverfish Rd, Barryville, NY, 845-557-8562, eccebedandbreakfast.com), the stress and strain of the city peels away. “Ecce” is Latin for “behold,” and there couldn’t be a more fitting way to describe this profoundly beautiful retreat on 60 acres along Route 97, perched 300 feet above the Delaware River. Operators Kurt Kreider and Alan Rosenblatt encourage guests to feel right at home with a cocktail hour every day at 5pm. If you’re after large comfortable suites, panoramic views, a wood-burning fireplace and homemade breakfasts, Ecce is the place to put your feet up. For a spiritual getaway, travel a few miles up the road to Reflections Bed and Breakfast and Center for Creative Therapies and the Arts (1107 Plank Rd, Forestburgh, NY, 845-796-2554, reflectionsccta.com), where you can unwind in one of their four bedrooms with tranquil views of the lake and forest. The Center offers therapeutic and artistic workshops such as creativity classes; music, imagery and relaxation; and herbal and essential oil classes. Also enjoy swimming, fishing, and a stroll through the organic garden or walking trail right outside your door. Veggie girls will savor a stay at the Golden Guernsey (31 Mitchell Pond East, Cochecton, NY, 845-932-7994, thegoldenguernsey.com), a quaint vegetarian barn and breakfast named for the Golden Guernsey cows roaming across the street.
While the cows are nice, that’s not why most of us will make the trip to the Catskills this year. So what is the reason? Foliage, foliage, foliage! Join other avid leaf peepers during the last two weeks of September, when this area explodes into a vibrant sea of red, yellow and orange. For foliage information, including regions and dates, call the New York State Division of Tourism (800-CALL-NYS). One of the best ways to view this natural spectacle is with your hiking boots and walking stick. For information on trails, maps, and gear, take a drive up to the Catskill Hiking Shack (169 Sullivan St, Wurtsboro, NY, 845-888-HIKE, catskillhikes.com), where owners Susan and John will steer you in the right direction. Or, give those feet a break from beating the pavement of Manhattan with a nice drive on the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway (NYS Rte 97, Narrowsburg, NY, 845-252-3022, upperdelawarescenicbyway.org). This national byway combines intriguing elements of archeology, nature and history on its winding roads. The Delaware also happens to be one of New York’s most popular spots for canoeing, kayaking and thrilling whitewater rafting. Lander’s River Trips offers raft rental through October (800-252-3925, landersrivertrips.com).
For restaurants as diverse as the changing leaves, the Catskills is never lacking. Explore more of the region and experience culinary perfection at the same time. The 1906 Restaurant & Steak House (41 Lower Main St, Callicoon, NY, 845-887-1906, 1906restaurant.com) offers quaint, fine dining in a casually elegant atmosphere. American cuisine reigns supreme at this romantic country find tucked away in the Delaware River Valley. Carnivores will delight in the assortment of rare meats, including ostrich and venison. If you’re looking to take it down a couple of notches, drive over to Eldred Preserve (1040 Rte 55, Eldred, NY, 845-557- 8316, eldredpreserve.com), where not only can you eat fish, but you can catch them too! In addition to fishing for bass, catfish and trout (including a separate catch-and-release fly fishing pond where lessons are available) the restaurant at this premier fishing resort offers fresh trout served up 12 different ways.
While most do come to the Catskills to muse at the glorious frondescence, on Sep 3, the region plays host to both residents and tourists who will gather in celebration of family. The Day to Be Gay Foundation (dtbfoundation.org), formed in June 2004, is the nonprofit organizer of the annual Day to Be Gay in the Catskills Festival (daytobegay.org), promoting harmony among the local community and supporting the philanthropic efforts of the gay and lesbian population in the Catskills, Hudson Valley and Pocono regions. The festival features music, spoken word, and other entertainment. If you find yourself in Jeffersonville or Monticello, get a head start on the festivities by tuning into local Kathy Rieser’s radio show, Out Loud & Queer, every Friday evening (10pm on WJFF 90.5 in Jeffersonville and 94.5 FM in Monticello, wjffradio.org/programs/olq/olq.html).
For more information on the Catskills, NY, visit outinthecatskills.com.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Sidewalk bistros, spectacular architecture, towering Châteaus and 400-year-old stone streets set in narrow alleys—surely this romantic picture cannot exist outside of France. Oh but it does, and you can get there on half the cash and in less than half the flight time (Air Canada and Continental Airlines both offer direct flights to Quebec City from most major New York airports)! Beat the thousands of tourists that take over during winter for Carnival, and visit Quebec City in the Fall, when you can bear witness to an explosion of colors blanketing the Laurentian Mountains that tower over the region. Quebec City is the second-oldest existing European settlement in Canada and the capital of the province of Quebec. Situated on two steep bluffs along the Saint Lawrence River, the city is divided into Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and Haute-Ville (Upper Town), which includes the Vieux-Québec (Old City), surrounded by a fortified wall that is the last of its kind in North America. Parlaiz-vous Francois? If not, never fear, for unlike their French-speaking counterparts in Europe, most Quebecois know at least a little bit of English and are much friendlier to those with non-native tongues. They also know how to treat their queers; in July 2005, the Civil Marriage Act legalized same-sex marriage across Canada.
Quebec City’s candid acceptance makes finding a welcoming hotel or bed and breakfast a cinch. Auberge Saint-Antoine (10 rue Saint-Antoine, 418-692-5007, ext 120, saintantoine.com) provides stylish rooms and suites with stunning views of the Saint Lawrence River. The reception desk to this architectural and archaeological wonder is located in a maritime warehouse in the Vieux-Port (Old-Port), a short walk from museums, galleries, and shopping. Looking for something a little more intimate? Both Le 727 Maison de Chambres (727 D’Aiguillon, 866-523-7705) and Manoir de la Terrasse et Beau Site (4-6 rue LaPorte, 418-694-1592) offer charming and cozy accommodations in an unpretentious, hospitable atmosphere. Le 727 is a gay-owned and -operated townhouse boasting exposed brick walls, and Manoir is a historic, seven-room, three-story house built in 1899.
Much like Charleston, Quebec’s entrenched history and distinctive culture are best experienced from the comfort of your walking shoes. The licensed guides at Tours Voir Québec (12 rue Sainte-Anne, 418-694-2001) specialize in historical walking tours of Old Quebec City, where the winding streets, architecture and calèches (horse-drawn carriages) are sure to ignite a little romance. If you would rather be your own guide, make sure to hit Upper Town’s the Citadel, Chateau Frontenac (billed as the most photographed hotel in the world), Plains of Abraham and the Quebec Parliament, built between 1877 and 1886. And don’t miss Lower Town’s Naval Museum of Quebec, the Old Port of Quebec and Place-Royal, the plaza that marks the first permanent settlement in New France. In contrast to its old world history, you’ll find a progressive atmosphere just outside of the Old City wall; Quebec City’s Rue Saint-Jean offers a few blocks of gay heaven, including specialty shops, gay-friendly restaurants and nightlife. This area heats up during Fierté Québec, Quebec City’s annual gay pride festival held September 1st through 3rd (alternartquebec.org).
While scoping out le jolie filles (the cute chicks) and browsing the shops along Rue Saint-Jean, pop into Boutique Canadeau (1124 rue Saint-Jean, canadeau.com), where you can pick up souvenirs such as Inuit (Canadian Eskimo) art, collector’s knives, and jewelry. Artsy types may want to wander over to Lower Town’s Quartier du Petit-Champlain, a popular destination to spot local arts and crafts, galleries and boutiques, just around the corner from Place-Royal.
Oblige your appetite for art and romance at creative Restaurant Le Marie-Clarisse (12 rue du Petit-Champlain, 418-692-0857). Located at the foot of Escalier Casse-Cou (staircase) in a 325 year-old house, Marie-Clarisse specializes in an assortment of fresh daily seafood, including lobster, salmon, cod, swordfish, and ray. For the utmost in authentic Quebec cuisine, Aux Anciens Canadiens (34 rue Saint-Louis, 418-692-1627, auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca) will satisfy a burgeoning appetite with traditional meat pies and duck. Built in 1677, the waitstaff are appropriately attired in Old Quebec City costume. While cruising the gay village on Saint-Jean, vegetarian ladies won’t want to miss the small chain, Le Commensal (800 rue Saint-Jean and other locations), a popular trendy establishment with vegan options as well. Of course no visit to Quebec would be complete without tantalizing your taste buds with their delicious crepes. Check out local favorite, Le Casse-Crêpe Breton (1136 rue Saint-Jean, 418-692-0438) for breakfast, lunch, or a quick dinner.
After refueling on Saint-Jean, get ready for some French-style carousing at nearby Le Drague (815 rue Saint-Augustin, 418-649-7212, ledrague.com). This bustling, multi-level club plays host to a mixed gay crowd seven nights a week with eccentric drag shows, karaoke, and imaginative DJs spinning house and techno in the downstairs disco. Laid-back party girls may be more interested in sampling L’Amour Sorcier (789 côte Sainte-Genevieve, 418-523-3395), where the mostly lesbian crowd can enjoy the outdoors (during the warmer nights in September) on the terrace. This relaxed atmosphere caters to blues, Jazz, and classic rock.
For more information on Quebec City, visit quebecregion.com.