Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley (visitnapavalley.com) is by no means all about wine. You'll also find soothing spas, smartly furnished B&Bs, scenic opportunities for hiking and biking, and some of the country's most celebrated restaurants. This sunny, temperate valley bracketed by rugged ridgelines is a gorgeous place to spend a honeymoon. (Of course, having an appreciation for world-class wines doesn't hurt!)
Just 50 miles north of San Francisco, Napa also lies 15 miles east of Sonoma. Collectively, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys have become favorite destinations among LGBT travelers for everything from spa- and epicurean-themed getaways to destination weddings. And they’re close enough in proximity that you can spend time in both during your honeymoon.
Highway 29 runs north through Napa Valley, starting in Napa itself, then linking the charming towns of Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga. These communities abound with prominent wineries, stylishly rustic restaurants and romantic country inns. You can drive the entire 30-mile valley in an afternoon, but it's best to set out early for tastings—and lunch—at wineries along the way.
A scenic alternate route, the Silverado Trail is a winding road through the foothills, passing a number of fine wineries and avoiding much of the traffic along well-traveled Highway 29. Another way to explore the region is the Napa Valley Wine Train (1275 McKinstry St, Napa, 707-253-2111, winetrain.com), which offers rides from Napa to St. Helena in 1952 dome trains, classic 1915-17 Pullmans, and in summer, open-air railcars. These round-trip excursions take about three hours and include first-rate food and wine. For a fabulously fun LGBT wine tour, book with Absolutely Fabulous Tours (707-320-8043,absolutelyfabuloustours.com), offering daily excursions for Napa Valley wine-tasting.
Napa has a walkable downtown with boutiques, specialty food stores, tasting rooms, bars, cafes, restaurants and the historic Napa Valley Opera House (1030 Main St, Napa, 707-226-7372, nvoh.org). Much of the action is along Main and First Streets, which intersect near Napa Creek and its attractively landscaped waterfront. A 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook downtown Napa in 2014, causing extensive damage, but most businesses have since reopened. Still, as some are still making repairs, it’s best to call ahead to confirm hours.
Beyond downtown, there are a couple of notable arts-related attractions, including di Rosa (5200 Carneros Hwy, Napa, 707-226-5991, dirosaart.org), a dramatic lakeside art museum and wildlife preserve on 200 acres of carefully tended grounds. Visit the indoor galleries, wander the sculpture meadow, and tour the 125-year-old house on this former winery and estate. Also worth a visit is the Hess Collection (4411 Redwood Rd, Napa, 707-255-1144,hesscollection.com), an assemblage of contemporary art at Hess Winery where you can taste the acclaimed Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
For fresh air and exercise to offset all that fine wine, head to Skyline Wilderness Park (2201 Imola Ave, Napa, 707-252-0481, skylinepark.org), a breathtaking 850-acre wilderness. You’ll find 25 miles of trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding, and when the weather’s clear, you can see as far west as San Francisco Bay.
Beyond Napa, each valley town has a wealth of wineries; at last count, there were more than 450! Wine-touring, the region’s most popular activity, can involve anything from dropping by a single tasting room to planning every day around stops at different wineries. Among the favorites is Castello di Amorosa (4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, 707-967-6272, castellodiamorosa.com), an impressive 121,000-square-foot castle. Rutherford Hill Winery (200 Rutherford Hill Rd, Rutherford, 707-963-1871, rutherfordhill.com) occupies a handsome barnlike building; bring a lunch to enjoy an alfresco meal at the Olive Grove Picnic Area, just up the lane from the sumptuous wine country resort, Auberge du Soleil (180 Rutherford Hill Rd, Rutherford, 707-963-1211,aubergedusoleil.com). In Napa, Stag’s Leap (6150 Silverado Trail, Napa, 800-395-2441, stagsleap.com) boasts a beautiful patio and gardens, and it’s renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon. If you prefer bubbly, Domaine Chandon (1 California Dr, Yountville, 707-944-8844, chandon.com) is one of Napa Valley’s preeminent destinations for crisp, sparkling wines.
Dining options in Napa Valley are as plentiful as they are notable. One of the most famous restaurants in the nation (book far in advance!) is Thomas Keller’s peerless French Laundry (6640 Washington St, Yountville, 707-944-2380, frenchlaundry.com). Downtown Napa is also packed with superb eateries, including Carpe Diem (1001 2nd St, Napa, 707-224-0800, carpediemwinebar.com), an inviting wine bar with an eclectic menu of small plates. For a quick lunch, stop by Gott’s Roadside (644 1st St, Napa, 707-224-6900, gotts.com) for gourmet burgers and garlic fries. Need a cup of coffee? Head to Ritual Coffee (610 1st St, Napa, 707-253-1190, ritualroasters.com) for tasty, single-origin artisan-roasted brews.
A great base for exploring the region, Napa offers a mix of upscale resorts and artfully restored small inns. The luxurious Meritage Resort & Spa (875 Bordeaux Way, Napa, 707-251-1900, meritageresort.com) boasts a full-service spa, along with cushy rooms and spectacular views. An intimate B&B of note is the gay-owned Inn on First (1938 1st St, Napa, 707-253-1331, theinnonfirst.com), an Arts and Crafts-style mansion with 10 sophisticated rooms, marvelous gardens and sumputous breakfasts. Calistoga has several romantic, gay-owned inns, including The Chanric Inn (1805 Foothill Blvd, Calistoga, 707-942-4535, thechanric.com), with seven posh rooms, a landscaped pool area and a tranquil massage room. The gracious Chateau de Vie (3250 California 128, Calistoga, 707-942-6446, cdvnapavalley.com) overlooks gardens of lavender and roses and contains four opulent rooms with classy perks like L’Occitane bath products, iPod docks and Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown on vineyards surrounding the property. It’s an idyllic setting for your passionate honeymoon.
– Andrew Collins
As the setting of the queer-themed, neo-noir thriller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah can appear as in a dream: draped in fog, mist and Spanish moss. This historic southern seaport is romantic and elegant—ideal for a honeymoon escape. Savannah also happens to be one of America's most walkable and bike-friendly cities, organized around 21 lush, graceful squares where couples kiss, musicians play and locals catch up with each other as they walk their beloved pets.
To soak in the local color of Georgia's grand old city, begin with its five monumental squares lining Bull Street—Savannah's main drag—which are Johnson, Wright, Chippewa, Madison and Monterey. Here, as Forrest Gump said while waiting on a bench in Chippewa Square, "Life is like a box of chocolates.”
For a romantic promenade, take in the splendor of Monterey Square, widely considered Savannah's ultimate plaza, not only for its beauty and serenity—or for the Goddess of Liberty adorning its monument—but also for the imposing structures surrounding it. Mercer-Williams House (429 Bull St, 912-236-6352,mercerhouse.com) was once owned by songwriter’s Johnny Mercer’s great-grandfather; now a museum, it’s become famous as the crime scene in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Also in the square, Congregation Mickve Israel (20 E Gordon St, 912-233-1547, mickveisrael.org) is the only Gothic synagogue in the country. These buildings dominate the square, along with majestic old homes with ornate ironwork.
Savannah is surprisingly woman-centered for a city in the Deep South. Visit writer Flannery O'Connor's Childhood Home (207 E Charlton St, 912-233-6014,flanneryoconnorhome.org) or the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace (10 E Oglethorpe Ave, 912-233-4501, juliettegordonlowbirthplace.
Haunted houses and ghoulish tours are big in Savannah. Trolleys even do a “martini tour” of Bonaventure Cemetery. Here, as in New Orleans, you can take your alcoholic drink with you, as long as it's in a disposable cup. If that’s not romantic enough, a picnic among the live oaks, Spanish moss and springtime azaleas is sure to make for a memorable experience for you and your honey.
To experience the center of local life, wander to Forsyth Park (Drayton St, 912-651-6610, savannahga.gov) with its iconic fountain, probably the most peaceful corner of the city. If your time allows for only one museum, make it the SCAD Museum of Art (601 Turner Blvd, 912-525-7191, scadmoa.org), whose contemporary art exhibits can be innovative, inspiring, heart-wrenching—even spellbinding.
Where to hang your hats (or bridal veils)? Stay in a romantic 19th-century B&B, complete with four-poster bed and lavish bathroom, sumptuous southern breakfast and an evening wine and cheese reception. In this stylish setting, your honeymoon can be a fairy tale come true! Chief among these lodgings is the graceful Hamilton-Turner Inn (330 Abercorn St, 912-233-1833, hamilton-turnerinn.com), one of Savannah’s most celebrated homes. Nestled among the magnolias and live oak trees on Lafayette Square, in the heart of the historic district, this 1873 Second Empire mansion boasts 17 luxurious guest rooms, all thoughtfully appointed and handsomely decorated to create lasting memories. Unparalleled service, along with the gracious hospitality of innkeeper Susie Ridder, will make for an idyllic honeymoon, elopement, getaway…or tryst, why not! Prefer a hotel to a B&B? Book a room at the gay-friendly Hyatt Regency (2 W Bay St, 912-238-1234, savannah.hyatt.com) on the historic riverfront. Spacious guestrooms offer relaxing, pampering amenities—like a plush, pillow-top mattress and KenetMD bath products. You’ll also enjoy conveniences such as high-speed Wi-Fi, on-site restaurants, a 24-hour fitness center and an indoor pool.
Working up an appetite? Head to Angels BBQ (21 W Oglethorpe Ln, 912-495-0902, angels-bbq.com), located off Chippewa Square. Share the pulled pork and brisket, and don’t miss the finger-lickin' good barbecued bologna with peanuts and greens on the side—all signature dishes of this Memphis-style joint. For a fancier treat, dine at the classic Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St, 912-232-4286, plantersinnsavannah.com) where every room is lit by a fireplace and candlelight. Courteous service and an eclectic menu coexist here, along with the amorous ambiance. You may want to linger as you romance your new wife, before making a mad dash home or going out for a night on the town.
If you're not ready to rush back to your digs, take a stroll down cobblestone River Street, dominated by restaurants, shops and a bustling nightlife. If it's a gay haunt you seek, Club One Jefferson (1 Jefferson St, 912-232-0200, clubone-online.com) features Lady Chablis’ cabaret drag show twice nightly. Chuck’s Bar (305 W River St, 912-232-1005, no website), on the far west end of River Street, is also a place to party with local LGBT folk. As in other southern states, the bar scene is mostly men, and the action doesn’t get started until late. So you might want to party alone in your room, just the two of you.
When to go? The passion and joie de vivre that is Savannah is best felt in the springtime, when the azaleas, dogwoods and camellias are all—like you and your sweetheart—bursting in bloom!
– Nanette Shaw
Four centuries ago, sailors on transatlantic voyages stopped at the Azores to refuel and get some R&R before heading off to their destination. Now, honeymooners are rediscovering these islands’ bucolic scenery, romantic activities and unique character.
The Azores are probably Europe’s best-kept secret. The chain of nine islands lies in the middle of the Atlantic, 850 miles west of mainland Portugal. The mild Azorean climate is like that of southern Spain and Italy—but unlike those countries, the Azores are off the beaten path, which means fewer crowds, authentic experiences for honeymooners and more bang for your Euro.
An autonomous region of Portugal, the Azores maintain a distinct personality that combines Portuguese religious and cultural traditions with a modern European attitude. In 2010, Portugal became the eighth country to legalize gay marriage. The Azores’ first Pride celebration took place in 2012 with over 2,000 participants. Though the streets of Azorean towns are crammed with Catholic churches and frequent religious festivals, LGBT visitors are welcome. The tourism bureau is reaching out to our community at travel expos in NYC and elsewhere.
Getting to the Azores is surprisingly easy. SATA Internacional, the chief airline, has partnered with JetBlue to operate flights from Newark or JFK via Boston. From Boston, it’s a four-hour flight to the Azores’ international airport in Ponta Delgada, the capital city on the largest island, Sao Miguel.
Ponta Delgada serves as your starting point on Sao Miguel. Some travelers have said that Sao Miguel packs all of the Azores’ best natural beauty, adventures and history into one island, so if time is short, stay here.
The Sao Miguel Park Hotel (Rua Manuel Augusto Amaral, 9500-222 Ponta Delgada, 351-296-306-000, bensaude.pt), near the marina, provides ocean views from the balcony in each room, perfect for gazing into the sunset with your other half. If you seek a more intimate stay in a historic setting, try the Hotel do Colegio (Rua Carvalho Araújo 39, 9500-040 Ponta Delgada, 351-296-306-600, hoteldocolegio.arteh-hotels.
Azorean cuisine is rich in local ingredients—beef, seafood and pineapples are found on nearly every menu, and many restaurants are easy on the wallet. Sample fresh limpets on the half shell at Tasca (Rua Do Aljube 16, Ponta Delgada, 351-296-288-880), a cozy taverna on a side street. Locals and tourists recommend Sao Pedro (Largo Almirante Dunn 23A, 9500-092 Ponta Delgada, 351-296-281-600, restaurantesaopedro.com), which specializes in Portuguese dishes served in a nautically inspired interior.
About 28 miles east of Ponta Delgada, the town of Furnas boasts more than 30 different thermal springs used for therapeutic soaking since the 17th century. The luxurious Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho 5, 9675-061 Furnas, 351-296-549-090, bensaude.pt) puts guests in the heart of Terra Nostra Park, a leafy wonderland of exotic plants and a hot spring dyed red from traces of iron.
The island offers romantic to-dos for couples, from a stimulating hike on misty cliffs overlooking the ocean to a casual swim in a mineral pool. Thanks to its volcanic origin, Sao Miguel is blessed with an undulating landscape of verdant hills, crater lakes and hot springs. The top scenic walks include Ribeira Funda-Maia, a trail overlooking the north coast with rushing streams, waterfalls and windmills; and Praia-Lagoa do Fogo, offering a panorama of the south coast. Hike or drive to the Vista do Rei overlook for a spectacular view of the Blue and Green Lakes, a natural landmark. Experience one of the many thermal baths in and around Furnas, or drive to the extreme western end of Sao Miguel to visit Ferraria. This unusual thermal vent lies just under the ocean’s surface in a natural lagoon formed by volcanic rock. Go at low tide and feel the superheated spring water mix with colder seawater for an exhilarating swim. Stroll through the Antonio Borges Garden (Rua Antonio Borges, 9500-161 Ponta Delgada) and Jose do Canto Garden (Rua Jose do Canto 9, 9500-076 Ponta Delgada, jardimjosedocan to.com/en) for your botanical fix. Or spend an afternoon at the Terra Nostra Park (Rua Padre Jose Jacinto Botelho, 9675 Furnas,parqueterranostra.com) gazing at the seasonal blooms, lily ponds and ornamental fountains.
If time permits, check out Terceira, a smaller island just a 20-minute flight from Sao Miguel. Some say Terceira is the most romantic Azorean island; it’s certainly the most ancient. Angro do Heroismo, the capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with architecture from the 15th to 19th centuries. The Terceira Mar Hotel (Portoes de S. Pedro 1, 9700-097 Angra Do Heroismo, bensaude.pt) and the Angra Garden Hotel (Praça Velha, 9700-201 Angra do Heroísmo, 351-295-206-600, angragardenhotelazores.com) are both in the center of town, within walking distance of cafes, sights and activities.
Water sports, especially surfing and scuba diving, are big on Terceira. Baixa de Vila Nova offers world-class waves for experienced surfers, while Praia da Vaitoria, a sheltered reef break, is suitable for those with beginner-intermediate skills. For divers, hundreds of shipwrecks around the islands provide spots for viewing marine life. Check out the Cemiterio das Ancoras, an underwater graveyard of ship’s anchors, and the Lidador, a 19th century trans-Atlantic ship lying in shallow water in the Bay of Angra do Heroismo.
– Kat Long