Summer Getaways: Weekends in New England

Enjoy a few days off in Nantucket, Ogunquit and Newport this season.

NANTUCKET, MASSACHUSETTS

Historical and hip, this island gives vacationers a shot of nautical New England—plus phenomenal farm-to-table restaurants that might put Brooklyn’s foodie scene to shame

It’s got beautiful beaches, quirky shops and cafes, adorable B&Bs, and a gay-friendly attitude, but we’re not talking about Provincetown. Nantucket, Massachusetts is an under-appreciated gay summer getaway that offers all the culture and relaxation you need. You won’t find discos pumping house music or streets draped in rainbow flags, but you will encounter friendly locals, a sophisticated dining scene, and as much New England charm as you can handle.

This boomerang-shaped island, 26 miles southwest of Cape Cod, once belonged to the Wampanoag Indians. It was only in the 17th century that British colonists ventured across shallow Nantucket sound, hoping to create a sheep-herding community. It didn’t end well—there wasn’t enough fresh water for wool mills—so the resourceful Quakers tried whaling. Today, you’ll find whales on souvenir t-shirts, whales topping flagpoles and weathervanes, bakeries carrying whale-shaped cookies, whale plaques above cottage doors, and so on.

Nantucketers extend a genuinely warm welcome to visitors—and when they find out you’re from the New York area, they’ll immediately reveal their connection to NYC. The tight relationship with Gotham must be influencing Nantucket’s food scene. The caliber of farm-to-table restaurants is off the charts; seasonal menus capitalize on island-grown produce from family farms, and the chefs are world-class. Smorgasburg, eat your heart out!

On my long-weekend stay, I sampled a different restaurant for each breakfast and dinner. (I didn’t bother with lunch—the breakfast portions were that big.) My visit coincided with the seasonal opening of Galley Beach (54 Jefferson Ave, 508-228-9641, galleybeach.net), a local favorite about two miles north of town on a white-sand beach. Galley Beach hosted the island’s first same-sex wedding after Massachusetts legalized marriage equality in 2004, and continues to be a popular spot for celebrations.

On the opening night menu, new American starters and entrées featured fresh regional ingredients. My North Atlantic halibut lay upon a bed of cherrystone clams in chorizo-lemon broth. A superb interpretation of Caesar salad tossed gem lettuce and tender kale with fresh anchovies and creamy garlic dressing. I’m still swooning over the rhubarb financier with rhubarb sauce, garnished with fresh strawberries, basil, and crumbled pink-peppercorn meringue!  

The weathered shingles adorning Dune (20 Broad St, 508-228-5550, dunenantucket.com) hide a modern interior decorated in beachy neutral tones and metal sconces. The intimate dining room includes a petite bar and banquettes for perusing the menu. Rhubarb appeared again (I admit I’m obsessed) in a minty mignonette accompanying local Wellfleet oysters on the half-shell. Spring vegetables like asparagus and peas were tucked into my rich risotto, which was arranged in layers interspersed with parmesan rounds. Dune also offers a lunch menu with toothsome sandwiches, salads and seafood entrées.

American Seasons (80 Center St, 508-228-7111, americanseasons.com) specializes in regional meats, seafood and produce, prepared with a minimum of fuss to let rustic flavors shine. Chef Michael LaScola has a talent for joining opposing tastes like sweet and bitter into harmonious union. A Faroe Island salmon entrée, for example, featured a seared filet perched on spring greens, surrounded by fuchsia-hued dabs of red onion crème fraiche and smoked potatoes. Now celebrating its 25th year, the place remains casual and homey, with tables topped by game boards and walls adorned with harvest scenes.

Breakfast is a social occasion on Nantucket, the hour when neighbors run into each other and catch up on the news. For the ideal introduction to the island’s traditional food, order the Nantucket Breakfast at Center Street Bistro (29 Centre St, 508-228-8470, nantucketbistro.com), a beloved mom-and-pop café. Buttery scrambled eggs, a huge fresh-blueberry flapjack, crispy bacon and mashed-potato cake would have kept intrepid sea captains stuffed for hours. The hash browns and three-egg omelets are heavenly at Black-Eyed Susan’s (10 India St, 508-325-0308, black-eyedsusans.com), a tiny café with a classic diner setup. Arrive early to avoid a wait.

Since New Yorkers are used to breakfast on the go, pick up croissants, muffins, pastries and coffee at Petticoat Row Bakery (35 Center St, 508-228-3700, petticoatrowbakery.com). Owner/ baker Tiina Polvere can tell you anything you need to know about Nantucket’s past and present, though she admits she’s a “wash-ashore” (a non-native) from New Jersey. Incidentally, Center Street was dubbed Petticoat Row in the 19th century, when the menfolk were off whaling, and women owned all the commercial businesses on the street.

In between meals, there’s a lot to see and do. The town is perfectly walkable, and smooth bike trails radiate out to the island’s smaller communities. If you want to sightsee but you’re not up for a 20-mile bike ride, Gail’s Tours    (nantucket.net/tours/gails) will show you the sights by minivan. Gail Nickerson Johnson, a sixth-generation Nantucketer, points out the town landmarks with details only a native can offer, then ventures out to Siasconset, or ‘Sconset, like the locals say. The charming village of one-story cottages in eastern Nantucket is perched precariously over the Atlantic bluffs. Nearby, Sankaty Lighthouse’s red tower is probably the most scenic spot on an island full of postcard shots.

Make the historic Periwinkle Bed and Breakfast (9 North Water St, 508-228-9267, theperiwinkle .com) your home base for exploring the town. The pale yellow inn, built in 1846, is just around the corner from the Nantucket Whaling Museum (13 Broad St, 508-228-1894, nha.org) and a few minutes’ walk from any restaurant or boutique in town. Proprietor Sara O’Reilly is a font of local knowledge, from the newest place to grab cocktails to the best breakfast bistro to which Hollywood A-listers are regulars on the island. The rooms are decorated with a mix of period furniture and tech amenities (mini-fridges, TV and wi-fi), plus antique four-poster beds with comfy mattresses. Sara offers fresh coffee, tea and a continental breakfast every morning, too.

The Steamship Authority (steamshipauthority .com) and Hy-Line Cruises (hylinecruises.com) operate passenger ferries from Hyannis, Mass. to Nantucket. Both offer year-round high-speed and traditional service. The high-speed ferry is your best bet; the trip takes just under an hour. The traditional “slow” ferry takes two hours and change, but the tickets are half as expensive as the high-speed option. For more vacation-planning, lodging and dining ideas, peruse the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce’s website at nantucketchamber.org. —Kat Long

OGUNQUIT, MAINE

The happening hamlet of Ogunquit has long been a staple for queer travelers—prized for its scenic location, beaches, culture and gay-friendliness

Maine doesn’t always leap to mind as a top destination for lesbian and gay travelers, but it is. Located just 66 miles north of Boston, scenic Ogunquit is the first city on the southern coast of the Pine Tree State. Surprisingly, driving there from New York City takes less than five hours, which is shorter than a drive to Cape Cod. With that kind of convenience, it’s no wonder why savvy, New England-bound LGBT travelers commandeered Ogunquit for their seaside escape decades ago.

The state of Maine certainly did its part to attract the queer crowd in a big way when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2012. Mainers ushered in marriage equality by popular vote on a historic night when similar ballot measures passed in Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

This was great news for Ogunquit, of course. After all, the Algonquin Indians didn’t name this town “Beautiful Place by the Sea” for nothing, and where there is romantic natural beauty, there will be weddings. In fact, the town’s 1.25-mile cliffside walking path, Marginal Way, has proven to be a hotspot for ringing wedding bells, with its picturesque ocean backdrop and proximity to reception venues lovingly infused with small-town charm. One of the most popular, Jonathan’s Ogunquit (92 Bourne Ln, 207-646-4777, jonathansogunquit.com), also makes a splash with live music and comedy shows from likes of Suede, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Sandra Bernhard, Tret Fure, Paula Poundstone and many more lesbian faves.

There are so many gay-owned and gay-welcoming businesses in Ogunquit, many travelers turn to the comprehensive website Gay Ogunquit (gayogunquit.com) as a tried-and-true, up-to-date resource. There, you’ll find a great local rundown of everything from galleries and sailing companies, to restaurants and spas—and plenty of wedding service info, like officiants and marriage-license FAQs. The website’s “Women” page lists upcoming events, services (need a dog walker?), and other ideas to make the most of this laid-back city of just 1,200 residents.

Ogunquit has no shortage of charming accommodations, and it’s safe to say you’ll find nary a one that isn’t happy to host lesbian and gay travelers. The gay-owned Ogunquit Beach Inn (67 School St, 207-646-1112, ogunquitbeachinn .com) is top among them, and is as perfect as a cozy New England getaway could be. Plus, owner Greg Testa, who’s run the inn with his partner Mike for 18 years, is himself a walking resource for all things gay in his hometown. Greg and Mike’s Sweet Pea Cottage pied-à-terre rental (ogunquitrentals.com) is another good option, especially for the more DIY (it has a kitchen and laundry) or extended-stay guests.

Ladies will be glad to hear that in addition to ever-friendly boy bars, lesbian tea dances and other events are always on the calendar, and summer proves to be a reliably fun season. Monthly parties get booties moving at local queer hotspot MaineStreet (195 Main St, 207-646-5101, mainestreetogunquit.com), led by DJ Jodi, who hosts Saturday early-evening parties. Check her calendar for upcoming dates: djjodi.com/ogunquit.

For a more low-key time, catch a show Thursday through Sunday at the Front Porch (9 Shore Rd, 207-646-4005, thefrontporch.com), the local piano bar and restaurant. You’ll also find evening cabaret most summer nights at the woman-owned Café Amore (209 Shore Rd, 207-646-6661, amorebreakfast.com), along with the yummy breakfasts it’s famous for. Also, drop by the woman-owned Backyard Café (Route 1, 207-251-4554, backyardogunquit.com) for your afternoon tea or coffee fix.

But, hey, this is Maine, and there will be lobster. So head to the real-deal Lobster Shack (110 Perkins Cove Rd, 207-646-2941, lobster-shack.com) in Perkins Cove (bring your camera!) for something truly delectable and authentic—as well as a tasty, gluten-free chowder. To hang with the locals, try the local diner Bessie’s (8 Shore Rd, 207-646-0888, bessies.us), where you can belly up to the bar and chat with lobstermen and lifeguards.

Ogunquit isn’t short on culture. Art galleries dot the town and complement the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (543 Shore Rd, 207-646-4909, ogunquitmuseum.org), which is a sight to behold in its own right, from its dramatic perch on the edge of Narrow Cove. For noteworthy theater, the famous Ogunquit Playhouse (10 Main St, 207-646-5511, ogunquit playhouse.org) stages original and revival plays and musicals, and has seen legends like Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead and Jessica Tandy and others perform.

A sail on the ocean is a wonderful way to join the area’s seafaring style, and Silverlinings Sailing (207-646-9800, silverliningsailing.com) is glad to show you some waves in an affordable way, with B.Y.O. cruises for around $40. Hiking, biking, golf, swimming and yoga are also hot tickets all summer long (and beyond), so bring your movement clothes and get ready to absorb the fresh ocean air and majestic New England scenery.

With its friendly hometown vibe, dreamy setting and thriving LGBT community, you may wonder why you haven’t discovered Ogunquit before. Pack your bags! There’s no time like the present. —Kelsy Chauvin

NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

Once a seasonal resort for Gilded Age tycoons, the seaside cliffs and cobblestone streets of Newport await your exploration

In all likelihood, when you think of Newport, images of mansions and yachts and Anderson Cooper's forebears start flooding your mind. That's not surprising. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America's wealthiest families (most famously, the Vanderbilts) summered along the Newport shoreline in colossal estates they called "cottages." Money was no object for these richest of the rich. They held lavish balls, banquets, luncheons, afternoon teas, garden parties and otherwise kept busy with a frenetic pace of overdressed activity. It was de rigueur for those born into high society.

Now, more than a century later, you can still catch a glimpse of that world. The stately mansions are still there. But the wealthy summer resort described in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is not the same Newport that exists today. It has evolved in many ways to attract tourists—and that includes LGBT tourists, of course. Peruse the website Newport Out (newportout.com) for the latest on gay and lesbian travel tips, accommodations and wedding services in the area.

Bear in mind that Newport is not on the beaten path of queerness, but luckily for us, there's a plethora of gay-friendly hotels, B&Bs, shops, restaurants and bars. There's also an abundance of museums, galleries and live music venues, as well as opportunities for hiking, biking, birdwatching, sailing and other outdoor activities. It's a really fun place.

If a resort-style hotel fits your budget, look no further than the LGBT-welcoming Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel & Spa (1 Goat Island, 401-851-1234, newport.hyatt.com) which features an on-site health spa, Stillwater, as well as two restaurants and a lobby bar. From the hotel, you can take a free shuttle to and from the center of town. If you'd rather walk, you're just 15 minutes away from Newport's charming cobblestone streets, picturesque harbor and waterfront dining.

Maybe you'd prefer a cozy yet sophisticated B&B experience. In that case, book a sumptuously appointed room at the gay-owned Architect's Inn (2 Sunnyside Pl, 401-845-2547, architectsinn.com), once the palatial 1870s home of Newport's premier architect, George C. Mason. Ask the helpful owners Nick and Brian for insider tips when planning your visit.  

For stunning views and breezy chillaxing, kick off your Newport trip with some coastal settings in nature. Easton's Beach is Newport's largest public ocean beach, a beautiful stretch of sand and surf that's perfect for a barefoot stroll with your honey. It's also home to a carousel for the kids and an outpost of the New England Aquarium.

If you've got some energy after a sunny day at the beach, the must-see Cliff Walk ascends a few miles above the waves, providing photo ops and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. It's a beautiful backdrop for stealing a romantic kiss, saying "I love you" to your new girlfriend, or even getting down on one knee to pop the question. (Since same-sex marriage became legal in Rhode Island last summer, you can have your wedding in Newport!) Then there's the not-to-be-missed Ocean Drive, a winding road that hugs the rocky shore and pounding surf; it's literally one of the best scenic coastal drives in America.

For a bit of retail therapy, check out Brick Market Place, one of Newport's best upscale shopping districts, situated between America's Cup and Thames Avenues. Then wet your whistle at Christie’s (351 Thames St, 401-847-5400, christiesofnewport.com) a chic watering hole serving delicious food and cocktails, and the host of Gossip Thursdays, Newport’s only LGBT night.

Hungry? Dining options in Newport do not fall short. Try the local favorite Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant (140 Thames St, 401-849-6334, brickalley.com) for classic American pub fare, or dress up a little for Black Pearl (Bannister's Wharf, 401-846-5264, blackpearlnewport.com), a stellar seafood joint right at the heart of the bustling waterfront.

No Newport visit would be complete without experiencing the Newport Mansion Tour (424 Bellevue Ave, 401-847-1000, newportmansions .org) which allows you to explore world-famous stately homes like the Breakers (formerly owned by the Vanderbilts), Rosecliff (designed by architect Stanford White) and the Elms (modeled on an 18th century French chateau for Edward Julius Berwind, a Philadelphia coal tycoon). The mansion tour is quinessential Newport and one of its most unforgettable attractions. See how the one percent of yesteryear lived! And bring a digital camera, unless your iPhone can truly capture the opulence.

All that and so much more make this historic, queer-friendly New England town a sought-after vacation destination.—Shannon Leigh O’Neil