Travel Thursday

Travel Thursday: The Ultimate Guide to an Unexpected San Francisco

The continental United States is full of endless backdrops that beg for exploration. While it may take a lifetime to discover the deserts, forests, and beaches around the nation, it is the largest metropolitan cities that you have to get to as soon as you can.

San Francisco, the biggest and baddest on the West Coast, is a must-experience destination that has been one of the key players in California history. From its majestic Golden Gate and Bay bridges, to the richness found in Chinatown and around its diverse neighborhoods, San Francisco is the city that will make you feel like you are in a different place with each corner you turn.

All that aside, for gay travel, SF is one of the gay capitals of the world and if you haven’t already visited—what are you waiting for?! You won’t just find rainbow flags and good times in the city’s Castro district—you will be welcomed by friendly faces and inclusivity everywhere you go. It’s as if the whole city is pulsating “We’re here, we’re queer!”

It’s the place I go to when I’m sick of Southern California and want to feel like I am not in California. I know that sounds weird, but that’s totally the feeling SF gives you. The bay area, and Northern California in general, comes with different sensibilities. So if you go there, know you aren’t in typical California—and don’t you dare call it ‘San Fran’ or ‘Frisco’—they’ll make you into clam chowder!

I recently got back from a weekend trip to San Francisco, which is only about a one hour plane ride away for me (or a 6-7 hour car ride give or take potty breaks and Instagramable pit stops). Having been to SF before, this trip to ‘The City’ was to discover the unexpected elements that make San Francisco truly unique.

We arrived on a midday Alaska Airlines flight. Just when we had gotten comfy in our seats--we were there! We didn't even get to finish our inflight movie! One of the nice things about flying from Southern California rather than enduring the hours of traffic up the 5 Freeway.

When I travel, I almost never rest so it was a jam packed trip for me and my boys as soon as we landed at the SFO airport.

Here’s a list of what you may want to explore to get a taste for the unexpected San Francisco:


EXPERIENCEThe Castro

Arguably the most colorful neighborhood in San Francisco is the Castro. From afar you can see a larger-than-life rainbow flag welcome visitors as if saying “Yasss Queens!” as it waves. Everyday, the Castro’s queer identity is a tourist attraction. The beauty found in the Castro is in the subtleties. While the entire city of San Francisco is on the progressive spectrum, the Castro feels like a world of its own, inviting members of the LGBTQ community and their allies to experience a slice of life.

While I venture out to the Castro each time I’m in San Francisco, it is impossible to write up this travel piece without mentioning the importance of this neighborhood in the LGBTQ history of our nation. Take yourself to the Castro and visit places like Twin Peaks Tavern, the historic Castro Theatre, Harvey Milk Plaza, The Café, and Dolores Park to absorb the energy of the Castro.


EXPERIENCE - Tenderloin Neighborhood

Considered to be the toughest neighborhood in San Francisco—and maybe the US—the Tenderloin is a culturally diverse and rich downtown neighborhood that makes up approximately 50 blocks. The neighborhood dates back as far as the gold rush period of San Francisco and served as one of the premiere hotspots for nightlife early in SF’s development. The term ‘tenderloin’ comes from various theories: a fine or fancy cut of meat—the ‘soft underbelly’ of vice—or the wedge shape that the neighborhood makes up.

Many travelers to San Francisco are afraid to venture out into the Tenderloin because most of its streets are inhabited by transients. Behind all of this, is a part of the city that has a lot to offer, if you just go past the surface while you admire the vibrant murals that tell the narratives of the people who have left a mark on the Tenderloin.

In the Tenderloin exists a non-profit Community Benefit District (CBD) that is dedicated to improving the quality of life in this neighborhood. 

According to the TLCBD website:

The Tenderloin District is home to many residencies, small businesses, hotels, schools, nonprofits, parks, theaters, restaurants, United Nations Plaza and much more. The Tenderloin has continuously been a vanguard of social change and deserves to be recognized as such. It is a neighborhood whose history is as uniquely diverse as its people.

On a walking tour of the Tenderloin, I encountered some incredible urban spaces that make the already colorful neighborhood truly shine:

826 Valencia – dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their writing skills and helping teachers get their students excited about writing.

Fleet Wood – A gallery and boutique that features locally made art, clothing, home goods and more!

Tenderloin Museum – A full space that celebrates the Tenderloin neighborhood and sheds a light on the most misunderstood neighborhood in San Francisco. Currently, the Tenderloin Museum is producing a play about the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot which was the first recorded militant uprising by the queer community against police in US history. The play will run from February 22-March 17, 2018 at the New Village Café.

Onsen – A Japanese inspired bath and restaurant that serves up new American cuisine and sake tastings in the front and a luxurious, relaxing sanctuary of a bath in the back. You would never expect to find this place nestled deep in the Tenderloin, but if you do, take the time to enjoy the spa or any variety of their services. The restaurant is adorned with 1,000 paper cranes that were hand folded by the owners!

Esan – a modern twist on authentic Thai cuisine that took years of preparation between Chefs Tom Silagorn and Chanon Hutasingh. The chic urban restaurant feels upscale, but serves a down-to-earth experience with modern touches.

There was so much to experience on this tour of the Tenderloin, but you will have to discover it in greater detail!


STAYHilton San Francisco Union Square

I am one to use Airbnb or Misterb&b, if not—I try to find an affordable hotel that really immerses me into the travel destination. This time around, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square was the best option for many reasons. It’s in a great location, central to everything! It has great food right in the hotel! And the VIEWS from our room and from the hotel’s Cityscape are one of a kind!

Cityscape - If you’re looking for the most picture perfect sights of the city, look no further than Citscape at the Hilton! It’s the only 360 degree view of San Francisco and their drink selection is one of the best! My favorite was their spicy paloma. When you visit Cityscape you’ll order a drink, but get drunk off the views!

Urban Tavern – One the first floor of the Hilton you will find Urban Tavern which is definitely not your typical hotel restaurant. This metropolitan gastro pub has a full bar with over 50 wines and local brews to go with their diverse menu which includes Pork Belly & WaffleCharred Spanish Octopus , 8-hour Bolognese, and Roasted Jidori "Peking" Chicken—are you drooling yet?! And when you’re too drunk and full to walk, your room is just an elevator ride away!

The Hilton also has Poached, a daily breakfast buffet—or should I say “FEAST”? where you will find an international selection for breakfast or brunch. Whether you’re an early riser like me or you want to sleep in and cuddle with your pillow a little longer, Poached will fill your belly and warm your heart with its made-to-order omelets, dim sum, yogurt bar, salad bar, griddle selections and more! I guess that’s why I gain so much weight during travel.


EXPERIENCEAunt Charlie’s Lounge

If you’re looking for an authentic San Francisco night out with the gays, look no further than Aunt Charlie’s Lounge. No need to head to the Castro to visit Aunt Charlie—this legendary hole-in-the-wall is located in the Tenderloin—which I’ve already told you lots about! On the weekends, Aunt Charlie’s features the Hot Boxxx Girls, a drag show that celebrates life and fills up the tiny dive bar. Locals and out-of-towners alike flock to Aunt Charlie’s to experience the drag sensations that are these hard working ladies. When I learned that Aunt Charlie’s is dubbed ‘the oldest drag bar in San Francisco’ we had to check it out. The oldest because it is still standing and because the drag queens are also still standing. One of them said they were 71, Yaaaaaasss Grandma! Werk!

We didn’t have a reservation, but were lucky enough to grab some seats at the bar right in front of their iconic neon sign. So make a reservation if you want a confirmed place to sit! If not, you’ll be stuck in the back with the rest of the bar flies, but a nice night nonetheless. At the end of the night, the queens are nice enough to let you take photos with them, but be a good guest and tip the ladies—let’s keep historic places like Aunt Charlie’s alive for gay-nerations to come!


EXPERIENCESFMOMA

Whether you’ve visited San Francisco before or have never been, SFMOMA is a MUST-SEE/DO stop on any trip to the bay area. After a three-year closure, SFMOMA is back with an expansion that offers 7 floors of gallery space in a 10-story new building designed by Snøhetta.

Here you will find everything from photography to painting to sculpture and performance art. Upon our visit to the SFMOMA we discovered some Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Walker Evans, and giant spiders by Louise Bourgeois! You can run through the exhibits quickly if you are strapped for time, but believe me, you will need at least half a day to be able to peruse the exhibit spaces. Oh, and pictures are okay as long as there is no flash! Get your Instagram and Snapchat ready!


TASTE - Kin Khao

Located right by Union Square at Parc 55, this Thai restaurant will disarm you from the moment you walk in. Kin Khao, which translates to ‘eat rice’, has 1 Michelin star and has been regarded for its simple aesthetic, but flavors that pack a punch! This place is great for groups or one-on-one dinners. We tried an array of appetizers which they call ‘Bites’:

Nam Tok Beans (V) - Iacopi Farm cranberry beans tossed Isaan-style with lime, chili, rice powder, light soy, shallots, scallions, mint, cilantro

Yum Som-O (V) - Winter Citrus, cucumbers, peanuts, herbs, toasted coconut, shallots, puya chili, white soy+lime vinaigrette

Mushroom Hor Mok Terrine (GF) - Curry mousse in-a-jar with mushrooms, crisp rice cakes

Khao Kan Jin (GF) - Pim's favorite street food from Chiang Mai. Banana leaf-wrapped steamed pork+rice+blood sausage, served with garlic chips, fried shallots, raw shallots, cilantro, lime

Everything was mouth-watering and overflowing with flavor. But my favorite item at Kin Khao was their Pretty Hot Wings (GF) - Nam Pla fish sauce+garlic marinade, tamarind+Sriracha glaze

Quite possibly the best wings I have EVER had! You have to try these—but if you don’t eat spicy, beware!! You can’t miss Kin Khao on your next trip to SF!


EXPERIENCE – Alcatraz Cruises “Behind-the-Scenes”

If you’re anything of a history buff or a sucker for places with great backstories, you have to explore Alcatraz. Nevermind that Alcatraz is one of the key tourist locations for San Francisco, Alcatraz is a token of California history that is full of mysteries being unlocked every single day. An island off the San Francisco mainland, also known as ‘The Rock’, Alcatraz was once a world-famous federal penitentiary that held prisoners from around the U.S. who had a knack for escaping or were high risk. The prison was active from 1934-1963, being home to some of the most notorious prisoners including the legendary Al Capone. Prior to being a prison, Alcatraz was the site for the first American lighthouse on the West Coast and was a huge harbor defense fort during the Civil War—even though no one ever invaded!

Today, the island is a registered National Park that welcomes over 1.7 million visitors per year!

 

 

If you have never been to Alcatraz, or even if you have, I recommend you exploring the ‘behind-the-scenes’ areas of Alcatraz as this is a new attraction on The Rock and will give you some interesting perspective that is definitely unexpected. The tour begins with the Alcatraz Cruise which departs from Pier 33 at specific times (check your reservations!)

BE AWARE: this tour lasts approximately 4.5 hours, ventures into tight and dark spaces, and sells weeks (or months) in advance.

On this ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ tour we went deeper into the prison’s history and were taken into what is known as the ‘Citadel’ which served as a solitary confinement cells where prisoners stayed for weeks in darkness and with little food. The space below is limited and we entered a few at a time with hard hats, but the energy in the Citadel was strong as we got up close and personal with markings and messages prisoners left behind—all without touching anything of course! Shout out to Ranger Wendy for a great tour!


EXPERIENCE PIER 39

One of the hottest places to be in San Francisco is PIER 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. This destination for tourists is what I would consider a one-stop shop for entertainment! I have visited PIER 39 before, but never had learned so much as I did this trip.

With 100+ restaurantsshops and attractions, plus special events, live daily entertainment and more, you’ll never need something to do, but figuring out exactly what to do with your time at PIER 39 may take a while.

Sea Lions - A favorite of many visitors to PIER 39 are the sea lions that arrived to the area in January 1990. What started as a group of 10-50 sea lions has now turned into upwards of 900 sea lions which attract millions every year. They are adorable and will make you jealous of their leisurely lives! You will find the sea lions year-around at PIER 39’s K-Dock.

 

 

Fog Harbor Fish House – PIER 39 has a vast number of places to chow down while you are enjoying your day, but Fog Harbor Fish House is a spot I had never tried and definitely didn’t expect. Fog Harbor is a family owned and operated restaurant that will give you the quintessential San Francisco waterfront experience. The restaurant’s dining room looks out upon the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge while you enjoy their huge menu of 100% sustainable seafood.

This place is awesome! It was packed on a Saturday night, but with reason—the food is incredible! There was some things on the menu that I wasn’t prepared for—but when I tried them I died, came back for another taste, then died again—at the end of the story I survived, but took the leftovers back to my hotel.

When you get there, you have to order the following:

Blue Cheese Garlic Bread - Fresh sourdough, topped with garlic, Pt. Reyes blue cheese and herbs

Red Chili Garlic Shrimp (GF) - Red chili paste, onions, peppers and garlic

Crispy Calamari - Fried jalapenos and onions, served with lemon aioli

Crab Cakes - Two crab cakes, citrus beurre blanc, mango relish

Lobster Mac & CheeseDo I even have to describe this one?!

Yes, I tried all of that and let me tell you, you haven’t had garlic bread until you’ve had blue cheese garlic bread!

I couldn’t eat anymore, but if I could, I would have definitely tried their clam chowder, which San Francisco is known for. It must be good if all this other stuff was delicious!

Oh, and I had the Perfect Hibiscus Margarita - El Charro Reposado, Patron Citronge, hibiscus syrup, fresh lime and agave served up and topped with Patron Citronge foam

Okay, maybe I had two of those—some would say tipsy, I would say happy.

I was surprised to learn so much more about PIER 39 as well. They have some great attractions coming up like The Plunge a new ride that will drop strapped in riders from dozens of feet in the air, but not before giving them a 360 degree aerial view of PIER 39 and beyond! Also coming up is new The Flyer opening later this year that will take riders on a journey through San Francisco using a giant movie screen.


TASTE/EXPERIENCEHornblower Brunch Cruise

An incredible end to our trip to San Francisco was the Hornblower Brunch Cruise. Who doesn’t love brunch?! Now add cruising around the San Francisco Bay and passing the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz and where have you been all my life Hornblower?! The Hornblower Brunch Cruise is the best way to tour the bay, take the best photos, and get drunk off your ass with bottomless champagne and a buffet that will make you loosen the button on your pants. On the morning of our cruise it was chilly, so check the forecast and dress appropriately. Although, it’s San Francisco and you should always layer, just in case.

The buffet had a huge variety of salads and breakfast items and a full dessert section with waffles, cakes, fruit and I’m done. A pianist plays throughout the entire cruise and throws out interesting facts about San Francisco as you enjoy some good times with the ones you’re with. Throughout the two-hour cruise you are free to wander about the ship and go up to the second and third decks to be one with the waves and the seagulls.

The Hornblower Brunch Cruise is perfect for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, bachelor/ette parties, etc. The sweetest part about our cruise is when we were about to dock, the pianist played “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and couples from all walks of life stepped onto the dance floor and punctuated the beautiful afternoon with love.


For more information on the adventures that await in San Francisco, visit sftravel.com or check them out on Facebook or Twitter! #sftravel

Until next time, San Francisco!

Travel Thursday: Traveling In Gay Europe - Say Hello To Munich

Welcome to the second installment of Instinct’s three-part gay travel series looking at a trio of Europe’s most charming locations. Yesterday we gave you a glimpse into gay Vienna, and tomorrow we take you to historical Cologne. But today let’s visit the capital of Bavaria: Munich.

English-speaking residents have a nickname for this city: Toytown (apparently due to its great quality of life, which I can vouch for). I first visited in 2007 and fell in love, with both the city and a resident. Jochen and I were drinking beer at an outdoor community table, at a café that no longer exists, when I addressed the waitress as fraülein. Major faux pas. He leaned over to educate me. “We don’t use that word anymore,” he said. “It’s considered sexist.” Always one for political correctness paired with an accent, a long distance romance lasting a year-plus was born.

Die Deutsche Eiche (“the German oak”) is home to a restaurant, hotel and sauna all in one. A former epicenter of gay culture for decades, glass-enclosed wall displays present a brief history lesson evidenced by photos and video of German drag queens fighting for social change. Continue to the back and either check into your room or hit a buzzer to be let into the sauna, a massive four-story facility complete with locker rooms, showers, mazes, cubicles, movie theatre, Jacuzzi, saunas and steam room. The hotel has been renovated and the rooms are very comfortable (if expensive) with tasteful wood floors, double-paned windows, new beds and modern bath fixtures. I prefer rooms in the back, away from the street, for their peaceful urban garden setting.

The restaurant’s charm makes you feel you are in the Bavarian countryside. The food is fair, the service professional, and the draft beer delicious. Jochen, now 46, and I remain friends after all these years and we met for dinner. Besides being a landscape architect, he is also a talented water colorist and has been married for six years to a Frenchman who works for Cartier. When asked about Munich’s current gay culture he said, “I’m not sure that there is one anymore. I think there are these places called ‘subs.’”

Indeed, we walked along Müllerstrasse, once the gay boulevard of Munich. Stopping in front of a sterile-looking building, on the street level was a bar/cafe doing its best not to look like a gay community center. A green neon sign flashed “Sub,” as in subculture. Roughly twenty people under 35, men and women, chatted, drank and played pool. Continuing down Müllerstrasse I saw former LGBT clubs – including one I once saw filled with soap suds for an all-night sex party – now gone, either empty or now simply mainstream businesses.

Having been to Germany so many times now, I’ve seen Munich change. Gärtnerplatz, once the LGBT Ground Zero is now a fashionable neighborhood notable for its roundabout mini-park, historic theatre, trendy eateries and moms pushing strollers. You may also spot German soccer superstars and celebrities lunching at the charming Café Cotidiano, though it helps to have a national with you to appreciate the honor.

Tomorrow’s destination: Cologne (via train from Munich: 5-6 hours)

If You Go – Munich

GETTING THERE

Munich Airport is served by all major airlines, with nonstop flights from a number of U.S. cities. You can also travel by train when already in Europe.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Cocoon Sendlinger Tor, Lindwurmstraße 35; +49 89 59993907; cocoon-hotels.de/?lang=en

Hotel Deutsche Eiche, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Hotel

WHERE TO EAT

Deutsche Eiche, traditional Bavarian cuisine; Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Restaurant

Restaurant Cotidiano, fashionable atmosphere, fresh pastries and teas; Gärtnerplatz 6; +49 (0) 89 2420786-10

WHAT TO DO

Gärtnerplatz, charming circular park and neighborhood in the middle of the city, former center of LGBT Munich; muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120320.htmlDeutsche Eiche Sauna, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Bathhouse

Sub, Müllerstr. 14; +49 0 89 8563464-00; subonline.org/english/

Munich Gay Oktoberfest, annual beer-loving event for LGBTs. Plan ahead! gaytravel4u.com/event/munich-gay-oktoberfest/

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Travel Thursday: London, England - From Cursed Children to Gay Heavens

“Why did you come to London, England?”

A year ago, I decided to buy tickets to see the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was both because of my being a major Harry Potter fan and also because right before that I had just had my first trip abroad. After realizing just how accessible the rest of the world really was, I was ready to explore it again.

And finally, earlier this month, the time to see the United Kingdom had come.


The Boroughs

First off, the boroughs of London, like any other city, are very different in feel to one another. These are the understandings I got from each section.

  • Waterloo is understood as a section with not much to offer due to it being by a major public transportation area, but it surprisingly has several restaurants and stores to choose from.
  • Kensington had a very polished look to it due to being the home of several museums and universities. In fact, at one point I got lost while looking for a place to eat and I walked by several expensive looking apartment buildings and windows revealing lectures in session.
  • Southwark is home to several restaurants and stores. This is due to it being very packed with foot traffic thanks to sights like the London Bridge, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and the Borough Markets.
  • Soho is the kind of East Village and Broadway mix of London. In it, you can find stores, restaurants, West End play productions, and many gay bars/clubs.

The Museums

Once again, there are many MANY museums in London (most of which are free), but I’ll give you a run down of the ones I visited.

  • The V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum displays millions of decorative arts and designs for everyone to come see for free. This includes French clothing from Napoleon’s era to Roman sculptures, metalworking structures, and even David Bowey albums.

And, this museum is huge! I planned to spend 2.5 hours exploring it all but spent that much time just exploring the first floor.

  • The Natural Science Museum

While the V&A is full of beautiful and compelling works of design, the Natural History Museum is full of fun and scientific objects. This museum has a lot of fun interactive galleries about varying topics like the science of earthquakes, planetary science, dinosaurs, gems and stones, and much more.

Possibly my favorite section of the museums was the Japanese store model that you got to stand in as it went through an earthquake.

  • The British Museum

The British Museum is a classic history museum with galleries covering many cultures and time spans like Ancient Egypt and Nubia, ancient and modern Japan, Greek pottery and sculptures, and more. You get the idea.

Careful though, while a lot of this museum is free, some of its sections are pay for only.

  • The National Gallery

While the British Museum is an enlarged version of the classic history museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are large versions of the classic art museums.

Not only are the rooms large and spacious but many of the artwork displayed in said rooms are several feet tall!

  • The Photographers’ Gallery

While the National Gallery and British Museum are large and spacious, the photographers’ gallery is small and intimate.

That said, the two showing exhibitions were both interesting to me. When I was there, the exhibitions focused on photos from the first performance of 4 Saints in 3 Acts (a Gertrude Stein opera that was not only the first opera on Broadway but was also performed by an entirely black cast), and an exhibition of director Wim Weners’ personal polariods.

The gallery is free for all until noon and those two exhibitions will be running until February 2018, so check it out.

  • The Globe Theatre

Then, we have Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which, while also being a fully functioning theatre, also works as a gallery and tour spot.

I spent a good 3 hours there looking through the gallery that talked not only about the rebuilt theatre but about England and the Bankside/Southwark area during Shakespeare’s time.

In addition, I was blessed by an informed and passionate tour guide who led us all over the wet (it was raining) Globe theatre and filled us in on its history.

  • Warner Bros./Harry Potter Studio Tour

Lastly, this tour wasn’t quite a museum in name but it works just like one. If you are a Harry Potter fan and in the London area, you should check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

It was just another brilliant money move from JK Rowling and Warner Bros. to make the old filming studio where the movies were made into a tour spot. The location now acts like a museum where several people pay a good amount (about 40-something pounds or approximately 50-something dollars) to stand where they (the cast and crew) once stood.

The tour is decked out with character costumes, information videos from cast and crew, and the original sets like the Gryffindor dorm room (sadly not the Slytherin dorm [Slytherin for life]), the Great Hall, and even the Forbidden Forest. Plus, plenty of moving machines like the spiders, the Weasley’s car, Buckbeak, and even broomsticks, keep the magic alive.

I think this tour is worth the ticket. Though, buy it ahead of time if you’re in a big group (and maybe a few weeks to a month ahead if you’re traveling alone like me).


The Entertainment

  • Cursed Child

As I said, the whole reason that I came to London was because I had Cursed Child tickets, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint.

While the writing won’t emotionally move you deeply, the script did triumph in giving the production ample room to explore and be creative with how to put magic on the stage.

The play was fun and exciting to watch, especially when (slight spoiler) a dementor came flying towards the audience. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, I highly recommend you go see Cursed Child in London (or maybe in New York City or Sydney when they get their own productions).

  • Romantics Anonymous

The indoor theatre at the Globe is very small and intimate. It’s shaped like a U with the stage being a square starting halfway inside that U and ending against the wall of the two prongs. I, unfortunately, ended up with possibly the worse seat in the house. I was against the wall on the right prong of the U, so half of the night I watched the actor’s sides or backs.

That said, I still absolutely enjoyed the musical Romantics Anonymous, which is about a girl in France who wants to make chocolate but has social anxiety. Through circumstances, she ends up working at a chocolate factory for a man who also has social anxiety. The two then sing and cook their way into each other’s hearts.

As romantic (and some would say disgusting) as that synopsis makes the musical out to be, it’s also a very hilarious story with a talented ensemble where everyone, but the two leads, plays a track of multiple characters. I highly recommend you see this show if you’re in the London area sometime before January.


The Food

Of course, there is lots of great food to eat in the city of London. You could either stop at popular markets like the Borough Market or the Camden market, you could research and plan for a place to each, or you can just walk around the city and stop at whatever place gets your interest.

If you want to know what kinds of food London’s serving up, I’ll leave pictures of some of the food I ate as well as the restaurant names and links to their websites.

Viet Pho in Soho

La Roma Bella in Soho

MotherMash in Soho

Balans Soho Society Cafe  (you guessed it) in Soho

Applebees Fish in Southwark

Masters Superfish in Waterloo


The Gay Spots

Lastly, we come to the gay spots. To save you time, I’ll briefly describe what the gay places that I visited are here, but if you want to read a more in-depth description of what my time was like at each place you can read that over at my GayPopBuzz article.

  • G-A-Y Bar/Late

It seems that there is a company that owns a group of bars and clubs in London’s Soho borough and they’ve tagged on the “G-A-Y” label on those spots. Each spot has a slightly different feel and serves a different purpose towards the kind of night you‘re looking to have.

G-A-Y Bar is the early night bar that you can hang out at with friends for drinks and dance. But, while G-A-Y Bar closes at midnight, G-A-Y Late stays open until 3 am. This club serves as a nice spot for dancing and enjoying the company of others while still being a relatively intimate setting (until possibly closer to closing time).

  • Heaven

Then we have Heaven which is within the G-A-Y label but also appears as an entirely different venue on its own. The space in heaven is pretty big with two large dance areas (one with two floors) and several bar areas.

This is one of those gay clubs that’s so popular that it no longer belongs to just gay men. While straight people are found in all three spots, this one feels the most like a club with a gay twist and not a “gay club.”

That said, this happens to be my favorite spot out of the all the gay spots I visited and I highly recommend you check it out if you visit London. Just expect a long wait if you’re getting in on a Saturday night (I waited an hour).

  • Pleasuredrome

Now, this last entry is for the mature audience out there. Younger readers be warned. You won’t (or shouldn’t) get in.

Pleasuredrome is a gay bathhouse with a mixed reputation. Some say it used to be great and isn’t any more while others say it’s at a “good enough” phase. I went in and thought it fit that latter description.

There’s nothing amazing about this bathhouse but it seemed relatively clean (despite a slight B.O. smell), the staff were either courteous or just working in the background, and the other men were alright (mostly of 30+ ages but there were a few men in their 20s when I went there).


Journey's End

I had a wonderful time in London. I could write so much more about my eight days in the UK and there's even plenty that I missed out on.

That said, if you’re looking for a fun time, good food, hot guys and interesting stuff to see, London is a great city to explore.

I’ll have to visit again, even if it’s just to revisit said hot guys.

Travel Thursday: Palm Springs, Your Next Romantic Getaway

After what felt as an eternity of planning a wedding with my partner, we finally were able to celebrate our marriage with our closest friends and family in what felt like the autumn day. We worked round the clock, down to the last detail, to make sure our guests felt the personal touches for them in gratitude for sharing in our special day. But as the weeks prior to our big day loomed over us we realized that we had forgotten one HUGE detail—we hadn’t even thought about any type of honeymoon.

Our year had already been packed with travel and huge projects, so we must have missed this one important aspect of the newlywed life. With the expenses that we made and the post-wedding fatigue, we weren’t ready to look for last minute flights that probably would have reached insane prices. So after a couple of days of coming down from our #Groom4Groom wedding bliss, we figured a quick road trip would be the best way to get away and explore as husband and husband.

For Orange County natives, a 2-4 hour road trip could take you anywhere, but naturally as the temperature was dropping and the summer pool hoppers were starting to disappear, Palm Springs (California’s gay Mecca) was the right place for our simple and sweet hubbymoon.

Nestled in the Coachella Valley between Los Angeles and San Diego, Palm Springs is a desert oasis known for its resorts, mid-century modern architecture, boutique shopping, hip and stylish hotels, spas, golf courses, and most importantly its vibrant gay lifestyle rich with nightlife and entertainment. We knew we were headed to a place where our agenda would be widely spread whether we wanted to lounge by the pool, have a drink at a bar, get a massage or dance the night away—we were looking forward to exploring the culture of Palm Springs since we had only ever scratched the surface of what this desert sanctuary has to offer.


STAYTortuga del Sol

We checked in to Tortuga del Sol, a quiet clothing optional gay men’s resort where we were welcomed by one of the resort’s owners, Robert. Robert made us feel right at home, showing us around the resort that was beautifully kept. We met Rick, Tortuga del Sol’s other owner and Robert’s partner later in the day and he was just as nice! The word Tortuga, meaning turtle in Spanish, comes from the couple’s love for turtles—which is apparent from the desert décor spread throughout the grounds. They even have a coy pond with several turtles for you to pet—if they let you! The 12-room resort was converted from a studio housing complex, but you’d never know it because it has been transformed into a serene location to relax poolside while enjoying breathtaking mountain views. Each room has its own full kitchen and dining area, which was ideal for us since we like to stock up on snacks. Our favorite part of Tortuga del Sol were their therapeutic cabanas which shaded us from the hot sun while allowing us to sip on our cocktails in between naps. So soothing! After dark, we took a dip in the hot tub and enjoyed the dimly lit cubes lining the resort’s pool.

 

 


EXPERIENCEOscar’s Cabaret

To kick off our hubbymoon weekend, we decided to go out for a romantic dinner that only Palm Springs could deliver. Oscar’s Cabaret is the longest running show in Palm Springs since The Follies. Every Friday night, Oscar’s Palm Springs presents a cabaret show hosted by the world famous James “Gypsy” Haake who has appeared in films and television for over 50 years. Gypsy takes guests on a journey through musical history, providing anecdotes that lead to performances by world-class celebrity female impersonators. On our particular night, we were entertained by Liza Minnelli, Gwen Stefani, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Judy Garland, Madonna, and Whitney Houston—all interwoven by Gypsy’s hilarious wit and commentary. The entire team at Oscar’s was welcoming and made us feel at home, especially the owner Dan, who greeted us at the host stand and even returned to chat with us throughout our evening.

 

 


EXPERIENCE - Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

One of the most incredible things we experienced while in Palm Springs was a trip to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—one of the most popular attractions in Palm Springs. Located right at the South entrance of the Palm Springs strip, we took a quick drive up the road from the city and to the foot of the San Joaquin Mountains. At the doors to the tramway, you could already feel that the temperature had slightly dropped. After getting our tickets, we waited outside gazing up at the trams make their way to and from the peak. Once we boarded, we took a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon, overlooking all of Palm Springs and past the white wind turbines that are iconic of the area. The 10-minute ride up 2,643 feet was spectacular. Upon arriving at the top, the temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees and we felt the nice autumn breeze. So if you go, don’t forget to bring a light sweater or jacket. There was an amazing change in scenery with miles of forest trees. We trekked down the pedestrian walkway and spent a few hours hiking the trails and stopping for photo ops.


TASTE - Peabody’s Café

Breakfast has always been our favorite meal of the day and when it comes to breakfast, we like to sit and enjoy some soul-filling food with a cup of coffee. Peabody’s Café was the answer. Located right on Palm Spring’s Palm Canyon Drive strip, Peabody’s is a staple for locals and travelers. It first began as a coffee house in 1992, but over the years has grown into a full restaurant and bar that specializes in simple American food. We loved it! We were pleasantly surprised to meet Peabody’s owner, Debbie, who greeted every customer and went from table to table to ensure everyone was enjoying their morning. She gave us some recommendations that we tried: Lox Benny (Benedict) and Cinnamon French Toast—amazing! While we waited for our breakfast we absorbed their huge cups of coffee and ordered one of their famous Bloody Marys. They have nine ingredients and they have coined them as “The Best Bloody Mary Ever!” Debbie shared with us her love for all things old Hollywood—a woman after my own heart! Old Hollywood glamour adorns the restaurant’s walls with photos of starlets that basically become an extra guest at your table. We were enamored by the café’s vintage appeal. We even discovered that Peabody’s offers karaoke on weekend nights! We are definitely looking forward to returning and trying one of their gigantic omelets and of course another Bloody Mary.

 

 


EXPERIENCE - Palm Springs Art Museum

To add a bit of culture to our hubbymoon, we ventured out to the Palm Springs Art Museum. Even before we parked, we were already appreciating the work of art that is the architecture and structure of the museum. An organic form and water installation welcome visitors up to mid-century modern building. Inside, the museum offers 28 galleries and two structure gardens. The museum has everything from photography, Mesoamerican, but if you’re a fan of contemporary art, the Palm Springs Art Museum will be a dream come true! A couple of our favorites were Robert Therrien’s No Title (stacked plates, butter) and Duane Hanson’s Old Couple on a Bench (which really freaked us out! Super life-like!) But the show that really drew us in was their visiting exhibition Kinesthesia: Latin American Art, 1954-1969. The works in this exhibition were surreal, touching every part of our senses and often making us feel like we were in another world because of the incredible use of light, movement and use of space. Kinesthesia is an in-depth examination of international Kinetic Art from the 1950s and 1960s that will leave you immersed in negative space and not wanting to come out.


STAY - The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows

We arrived at The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows for lunch and a spa treatment. The Avalon is a chic hotel that was giving us our porcelain-loving life! With white tones throughout the lobby and hotel corridors, this relaxing sanctuary was definitely a spot we will be returning to. It’s perfect for boutique hotel aficionados. The pools had a lively atmosphere that transported you into a spa-like oasis with vintage flair.

TASTE - Chi Chi @ The Avalon

While waiting for our spa treatments at Estrella, we sat poolside at Chi Chi, the fresh and clean restaurant inside The Avalon Hotel. Their menu is focused on wellness and has a nice list of items that are organic and have an authentic West Coast twist. From the menu we tried the poke and turkey burger which were both fresh substantial despite their refined plating. We also tried their Revive wellness drink which is a rich mixture of kale, mint, ginger, celery, apple, and turmeric—just what we needed before our moment of relaxation.

EXPERIENCE - Estrella Spa @ The Avalon

The Estrella Spa is hidden at the back of The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows where serenity meets the foot of the mountains. Before entering we were received by private hot tubs and cabanas where we lounged before entering. While we waited for our appointment, the spa offered us a glass of champagne while we decompressed in our fluffy white robes. My one-hour facial was glorious! If it’s possible to request an aesthetician, I recommend Lorena! She had the perfect touch and was careful in measuring how much or how little pressure I could handle. I also enjoyed our conversation during our session. She kept me relaxed and when she was done my face was glowing and I floated back to the showers. Definitely something you want to do when in Palm Springs to keep you mellowed out—especially if you’re there with your hubby.


TASTE - Watercress Vietnamese Bistro

If you’re as big a fan of Asian food as we are, you will LOVE Watercress Vietnamese Bistro. We caught this place in the heart of Downtown Palm Springs, in a spot that as lively as can be. The restaurant is primarily inviting because of the tropical atmosphere with green accents and water mist calling your name. When we walked in we were greeted by one of the co-owners, Dr. Phong Nguyen. He welcomed us and took us to one of the best tables in the patio—perfect for people watching while we sipped on our Vietnamese Mule (You have to try it!). We tried so much food here! From the Coconut Shrimp to the Brochette and Steamed Pork Belly Buns, the appetizers were mouthwatering. But the entrees were beyond words! We ordered the Yellow Curry, Watercress Beef Salad, Garlic Butter-Soy Shrimp and the Wok-fried Steak Cubes—Did I mention we love Asian food!? We will absolutely be returning to Watercress thanks to Dr. Nguyen and his incredible wait staff.


Our weekend hubbymoon came and went and we were amazed that we were able to get in some rest in-between our exploration itinerary. Our trip to Palm Springs proved to be an eye-opening experience, one that we shared for the first time as a married couple. We learned so much about this gay travel destination that we had never had time to learn. Maybe we were still on our wedding high, but we fell madly in love with Palm Springs—so much so that we think we may buy a home there in the future. For anyone who hasn’t been there, what are you waiting for?

For more information about Palm Springs, go to visitpalmsprings.com