Our Writer Had A Gay Ol' Time In Venice Beach


The alternate title for this piece would be "Travel Thursday: A Midwesterner's Guide To A Place He Feels Inferior To In Every Way But Still Braves Because It's Simply Sublime." While glossy, shimmery, shiny Los Angeles continues to make me feel like a potato, the sights, sounds, smells, and borderline frenetic energy that permeates the city makes it impossible to not feel alive when visiting.  

On my most recent trip I was actually pummeled by a rare L.A. rainstorm, but was still the happiest potato around, and I want to spread the good word for anyone considering taking a trip Los Angeles, and for the sake of this post, Venice Beach specifically. My husband and I stayed in Venice Beach and found the area to be a city within a city - an enclave with just the right balance of action and opportunities for reprieve. 



Venice Beach is an area of Los Angeles with a rich history, vintage curiosities, and gorgeous beaches. We settled on staying in Venice Beach for its fifteen-minute driving distance from the airport without traffic (a distance unfathomable to Chicagoans,) immediate proximity to beaches, and stunning Airbnb options available for a more palatable price tag than the houses in nearby hotspot Santa Monica. Navigating to other Los Angeles neighborhoods from Venice Beach is easy, but we decided to mainly explore this fascinating area.



So it’s raining in LA

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A millionaire named Abbot Kinney founded (yes, we're taking it back, but I swear it's interesting) Venice Beach - originally called the "Venice of America" - in 1905 as an oasis of culture and sophistication. His goal of replicating the splendor of Venice, Italy was foiled once the area was incorporated into Los Angeles County in the 20's and oil tycoons ravaged the land adjacent to the beach - turning Venice Beach into an unsightly oilfield. 



This led to the destruction of a lagoon as well as the Abbot Kinney Pier that once featured carnival rides and a circus. A commenter on LAist even recalls having to scrape the tar off her feet after exiting the ocean in the 60's. Yikes.



But Venice's most famous sight - the man-made canals - remain to this day, and a stroll around them while visiting is a must. Here you can peek into unique houses in a neighborhood that feels like it belongs somewhere between Epcot and Architectural Digest. Check out a guide for traversing the canals here



Venice Beach has been in the midst of gentrification for quite some time, and a walk, bike ride, or electric scooter ride along the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk will allow you to take in the old and the new. We stayed in the southern part of the area on 27th Street, and by following the Boardwalk north, you'll see quirky yet mammoth-priced houses abutting the path make way for the endless kitschy shops and throngs of people that many associate with the area.



I want palm trees in Chicago

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If showing off your hard work at the gym at the infamous Muscle Beach isn't your thing, I recommend you take in the action happening at the nearby skate park. These skaters come to impress, and you half expect Travis from Clueless to show up. 

Located directly between the skate park and the ocean is a designated gay section of Venice Beach made perfectly clear with its rainbow flag lifeguard stand. As you guys know I don't get to have fun, but if I was a swiper, I'd have swiped. And no visit would be complete without every Instagram user's Venice Beach pièce de résistance - the "Venice" sign hanging over Windward Avenue. This is a modern-day replica of the one originally installed by Kinney in 1905, showing that the visionary was truly ahead of his time. Readying the world for Instagram perfection over a century ago. 

Of course, all of this isn't even to mention the bazillion other activities to do while in Los Angeles, but for this Midwestern potato, Venice Beach offered more than enough to make me feel like I had a truly unique weekend getaway. Abbot Kinney's master plan may have been thwarted, but he at least made one gay writer's weekend.   


Travel Thursday: My Big Gay Trip To Tokyo


When you contemplate what kind of culture Japan is at its heart, it can be rather awe-inspiring and almost shocking to witness gaggles of gays fawn over each other in fruitful attempts to copulate at the various LGBT nightclubs in Tokyo.

Upon entering the appropriately-called ‘gay district’ of Tokyo, I immediately perceived a sense of familiarity – like I had been there before. That’s because this gayborhood of bars reminded me exactly of the collection of LGBT bars back home, which were approximately 6,296 miles away from my then current position.

I’m from Chicago, the home of the famed (or infamous) Boystown. So therefore I’m very accustomed to living out my full gay life between two informal geographical boundaries that overlap with more officially-recognized neighborhoods. In this case, that being Lakeview East.

Another reason why this place felt so familiar to me was the true sense of community and pride that you can feel the moment you arrive. It’s so palpable and tangible that I could’ve poured it into my cocktail that night and consumed it like the perpetually-thirsty bear cub that I am. Like Boystown, there is a genuine sense of love, understanding, kindness, communication, and openness that you simply cannot resist within the similarly informal geographical boundaries that create the gay district of Tokyo.

One particular club, Dragon MEN, located in downtown Shinjuku, is a foreigner-friendly gay bar with kindly staff, moderately-priced drinks, and it was one of my favorite hotspots to visit during my adventures in Japan last year. It could’ve easily existed in Boystown itself or any other gay-friendly neighborhood. You had beautiful, beat-for-the-gods, Drag Queens dancing and lip-syncing for your life, his life, her life, all of our lives. There were, of course, the less-than-friendly ‘cliquey’ gays that were in the corner, judging you, and you had the uber-friendly hosts that were just so happy to greet you inside. Plus, as a bonus, all the handsome locals and expats love to meet and greet fish-out-of-water foreigners such as myself.

Dragon MEN is the definitely the popular bar. It seemed, at all times, the busiest with guests lined outside the club trying to get in. It does offer a lot of room to move around, dance, cruise, or sit down and just have an alcohol to yourself. For me, as I said, it was my favorite place to visit because I continuously met extremely nice people who offered to buy me drinks, donate cigarettes upon request, or exchange kind words of mere flirts with me. In fact, I made a great friend there who I still occasionally talk to on Facebook. I also hooked up with a gentleman from Paraguay there. It was a good night, overall. I expanded my ethnic horizons that day.

My next evening in the gay district did not involve the loud speakers and overly-enthusiastic dancegoers because eventually that can lose its appeal after awhile. So, I meandered on over to Bridge, which is a more atmospheric gay bar on Ni-chome and it’s reserved for those of us who want to enjoy a softer, less in-your-face gay experience whilst journeying through the dicks of Tokyo. Inside, you can relax and have thoughtful conversations while sipping on Sake. It’s a more ‘chill’ environment, so to speak. Ironically, I didn’t really talk to as many people as I did at Dragon MEN. Those I did speak to were again very outgoing and social, which speaks volumes when you consider again what country you’re visiting. There was no hooking up that night. Jesus wept.

Gold Finger is also another foreigner-friendly bar, but (and you guessed it), it’s definitely your go-to Karaoke bar. In Japan, Karaoke is a big cultural staple and you’ll find plenty of it wherever you end up. In the gay district, to find the best Karaoke bar is to find Gold Finger and it’s also the best lesbian bar as well, offering Saturdays as their women-only nights. Absolutely no men are allowed inside at all. And it’s home to a totally mixed grabbag of different genetic party favors. I met men and women from London, Uruguay, Switzerland, Florida – all manner of places. And even though I sang Staying Alive by the Bee Gees in English at a Japanese Karaoke bar, I still received much fanfare and applause from the audience. But that’s probably because everybody was either too drunk to care or just making fun of me. It didn’t matter. I still had a blast. What also made this experience such a highlight was watching people from places all around the world singing pop songs in their native languages. I felt cultured as fuck.

I could continue to shamelessly plug all these amazing bars that I visited, but that’s not really the point of why I’m writing this Thursday Travel blog. As familiar as the gay district of Tokyo is to me, at the same time, it’s different and inspiring for it’s own merits.  

Japan is a reserved country. As congested as the train stations of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are, you don’t hear too much talking. In fact, if it weren’t for the purposeful feet of those walking to their respective train platforms or the trains themselves, I’m convinced the stations would be nearly soundless. While walking up and down the busy streets of Akihabara, the electric town, I didn’t really see people inside or outside of stores talking to each other. And that’s because the people of Japan are quiet, shy, introverted, independent, and very solitary. They do communicate, but it’s very implied. Subtle hand gestures and facial expressions suggest enough meaning to one another to avoid any further vocalizations or even possible confrontations.

 And there’s nothing wrong with this at all. There’s a quiet dignity of the people of Japan and it’s highly respectable and warrants merit. But when you witness two gays inside of a dark nightclub desperately lusting after each other in a culture, in a country, that otherwise isn’t very vocal, isn’t very communicative, isn’t very confrontational, isn’t always that sexual, and whose people mostly keep to themselves, it can be very illuminating and downright inspiring to know that the same sense of pride and love that encompasses the LGBT community, one that I’ve always felt in Boystown, can be felt, heard, tasted, smelled, and seen even in the quietest, most solitary of all peoples and cultures. Such as the beautiful Japan.

There's More To Mexico Than Beaches & Tequila. Here's Our Time In The Amazing State Of Guanajuato.

Many times when you hear people vacationing in Mexico, the cities of Puerto Vallarta and Cancun seem to be the ones named.  The Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean do call travelers to Mexico, but there's another region of Mexico that was calling us to visit. 

We recently traveled to the state of Guanajuato in Mexico for a friend’s destination wedding. While many people may imagine of sandy beaches or redwood forests when they think of the ideal destination weddings, Guanajuato, one of the most historic regions in Mexico, was one trip we simply could not miss.


Located in the Central region of Mexico, Guanajuato has always been on our bucket list of places to visit because of the richness in culture and history that we knew we would find. It offers incredible architecture, beautiful art, food that even now our mouths waters for, and so much to experience for the traveler who is looking for the authentic Mexican experience in a surreal and magical destination.


There was so much to see, do, eat, drink, and enjoy in Guanajuato that it is so hard to share it all. Although we were there with a larger group, we (my partner and I) had already put together an itinerary of things we had to hit on our journey. Not included everything here, we’ve given the MUST SEE/DO locations that will make your trip to Guanajuato a fulfilling one.


Upon arriving to Guanajuato’s capital city, Guanajuato, we were immediately taken aback by the immense colors of homes sitting atop the hills of the town that grew larger as we approached. We drove into the city’s center via Guanajuato’s calles subterráneas (underground streets) that weave in and out of each other and magically transport you through its arteries of passage from one side of the city and opens into the heart of the city’s plaza. Like nothing we had ever seen before, these catacomb-style streets are one of the city’s most iconic sites and are nothing short of an eerie scene from a horror movie. But they’re amazing!

We checked into the Hotel Edelmira Boutique a beautiful hotel situated in Guanajuato’s main plaza that dates back to the nineteenth century. Our group enjoyed the historic architecture mixed with modernity of the hotel’s indoor pool, exposed brick, and incredible sites overlooking Guanajuato’s grandeur.

El Pípila

Located atop a hill overlooking the breathtaking site of all of Guanajuato, this giant statue of a miner who was one of the first heroes in the struggle for Independence. Standing at the foot of this statue really lets one take in the essence of Guanajuato with its rainbow of homes, churches, and tiny roads.

El Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley)

Without a doubt Guanajuato tapped into our romantic side with its illustrious alleys and colorful streets. But quite possibly the most famous and legendary street in all of Mexico is a tiny alley where two buildings are just less than 5 feet apart from one another. Legend has it that two unfortunate lovers shared a romance that ended in death at the alley. Kissing on the third step of the callejón promises to bring a couple 15 more years of happiness and love. So of course…we had to!

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Mummy Museum of Guanajuato)

This oddity is one of the trip stops that is most popular on any visit to Guanajuato. As we entered this museum, we were immediately overcome by a morbid curiosity turned churning feeling in our stomachs. The dozens of bodies that are now preserved in the museum tell a historic tale of Guanajuato’s government and struggles with class. Spanning over 150 years since the first mummified body was extracted from the Santa Paula Pantheon, this museum will leave you wincing even though you won’t be able to look away.

Museo Casa Diego Rivera

For the art-lovers out there, the home of Mexican painter Diego Rivera is located not far from Guanajuato’s central plaza. We toured Rivera’s childhood home and experienced lots of his early works that were undoubtedly inspired by his hometown.

Eat & Drink

Food and drink was plentiful so to recount my gastronomical escapades would be eternal. But we will share one or two spots per destination where you can feed your taste buds and wet your whistle.

La Clave Azul – Here we found some of the greatest mezcal we have tasted outside of the state of Oaxaca. This hidden gem in Guanajuato is at the end of an alley that becomes a three-story cantina decorated by eclectic artifacts and memorabilia. We drank here until the wee hours of the morning and even closed down the bar ... right before wandering off to the Callejón del Beso.

Enchiladas Mineras (miner enchiladas) – This street food will make you utterly happy! After a long day of touring (or a night of drinking) this twist on regular enchiladas is something typical of Guanajuato and whose name comes from the many silver mines located in the state. Enchiladas smothered in sauce, queso fresco, potatoes, carrots and served with a side of equally delicious chicken. You are bound to find these anywhere while you are in Guanajuato—but the best places are called fondas, which is a restaurant right out of people’s homes. Don’t be afraid! This is some of the best food around and at a very small fraction of what you would pay at a regular restaurant. If you can get some recommendations from locals or your hotel, take them up on their suggestions. You’ll be dreaming about those enchiladas for months to come.

Dolores Hidalgo

On a day trip toward San Miguel de Allende, we stopped at the town of Dolores Hidalgo which is known to be the town where the battle for Mexican independence was born. Here is where the famous Mexican cry for independence was first shouted by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla—a shout that is often heard in regional music from Mexico.

Tumba de José Alfredo Jimenez (Resting Place of José Alfredo Jimenez)

Prior to reaching the town’s plaza, we arrived at resting place of José Alfredo Jimenez, the godfather of Mariachi music. Hundreds of people gathered near the colorful sarape mosaic to pay their respects to the man who gave birth to a Mexico’s most popular genre of music. Believe us, it’s like what Graceland is for Elvis fans.

Plaza Principal – Jardín del Grande Hidalgo (Main Plaza)

Dolores Hidalgo is one of Mexico’s primary producers of ceramics, which we saw in every single storefront.

Eat & Drink

Nieves (Ice Cream) – Anywhere around the main plaza in Dolores Hidalgo you will find these vendedores de nieves (ice cream vendors) where you will have your pick some obscure ice cream flavors, such as butter, cactus, beer, tequila, avocado, shrimp cocktail and more--this definitely is not your typical Baskin Robbins. This is the livelihood of these vendors and they take pride in making visitors smile. Take advantage of the endless samples they provide and try yours in a cup or in a cone.

San Miguel de Allende

A great appeal to traveling to Guanajuato for me was the possibility of visiting San Miguel de Allende. This colonial-era city is known for its vibrant cobblestoned plaza, baroque Spanish architecture, colorful artwork, lush parks and some of the finest dining in Mexico. in 2017, San Miguel de Allende was voted the Best City in the World by Travel + Leisure. But before all the hype, this city had been on our bucket list because of the bohemian lifestyle that ex-patriots find endearing. Many foreigners travel to San Miguel de Allende and decide never to leave because they fall in love with the city’s charm. While there are many foreigners inhabiting San Miguel de Allende and essentially gentrifying neighborhoods and businesses, one needs to venture out into the city to see the magic and witness the surrealism of the architecture.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

This hauntingly stunning baroque-style cathedral is the focal point of San Miguel de Allende as it broods before the city’s central plaza. The pink hues church’s towers are iconic around the world. A must see stop on a trip to San Miguel de Allende, this church dates back to the late 19th century. Whether from afar or close up, the neo-gothic parroquia makes for a perfect backdrop for your travel photo album or Instagram (no filters needed – cuz if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it!)

Biblioteca Pública (Public Library)

None of our trips feel complete without visiting at least ONE library—what can we say? One of is a librarian and it’s a librarian’s dream! After walking around for over an hour hitting itinerary spots, we couldn’t help making a B-line for the Biblioteca Pública. The library is located at the converted 18th Century Convent of Santa Ana (even cooler!) and has incredible reading rooms with murals touching every inch of the ceilings. The library has a café and bookstore and serves as a community center for the foreigners who have become residents of San Miguel de Allende. The library was started in 1954 by a Canadian, Helen Wale, who wanted to bring books and literacy to the children of San Miguel de Allende…and over six decades later one of us got to geek out in all its glory.

La Esquina: Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano (The Corner: Museum of Popular Mexican Toys)

Located on a converted building on a corner (for which it gets its name) is a museum dedicated to the traditional toys of Mexico. From masks from the turn of the century to the modern-day curiosities, La Esquina provides a historical and beautifully artistic look at the craft of toy-making. Each gallery space is setup to feature toys by theme which include toys around the regions of Mexico, friendship, play kitchens, playing house, fairs and carnivals and more. This was a quick stop on our trip to San Miguel de Allende, but we both quickly reverted to 8-year-old versions of ourselves when we saw the life-sized luchadores (wrestlers) taking up a corner of the museum. La Esquina is just another aspect of the whimsy that you will find in San Miguel de Allende.

Eat & Drink

San Agustín Chocolates & Churros (Do we need to translate this one?!) – If you’re looking to fill that sweet tooth, this café specializes in churros and other confections. It’s a great sign when you see a long line out the door—don’t run away! It's worth the 10-15 minute wait. When you’re ready to order, we suggest you try their combination order and try a churro filled with chocolate, cajeta (caramel), or condensed milk. You’ll thank us later!


After a full week of incredible adventures exploring the romance, mystery, magic and surrealism of Guanajuato, we arrived in the city of León, the state’s largest city. León, whose name means ‘Lion’, is the the most populous city in the state as well as the state’s (and possibly the country’s) largest producer of leather goods. This leg of the trip to León resulted in a different experience. We checked into the Hotel NH Collection León Expo, a recently constructed, modern hotel full of amenities that our group really enjoyed—including breakfast every morning, a spa, and a pool that we're sure we would have enjoyed had it been completed. While we had spent a great deal of time exploring rural and traditional areas of the state of Guanajuato, León provided a more urban, bustling, and thriving city.

Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms)

Like many of the plazas you will find around Mexican towns, the Plaza de Armas in León is the watering hole experience. Couples, families, and people of all ages gather to enjoy ice cream, food, and entertainment. The Plaza de Armas is located right before Municipal Presidency Hall of León, where outside of its front doors clown performers entertain children and laughter ensues in the afternoons.

Arco Triunfal de la Calzada de los Héroes (Triumphant Arch of the Heroes)

Constructed in 1883, this arch symbolizes the pride of the people of León. It is dedicated to the heroes of the Mexican independence. Atop the arch is the statue of a mighty lion which welcomes all who visit the arch to the zona centro, the city’s downtown area. The arch, reminiscent of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is a focal point of the city and the most visited location in León. Fountains and a tree-lined promenade make for memorable pictures and Instagram posts.

Zona Piel (Leather Zone)

No, it’s not what you think! While León is the highest producer of leather items in Mexico, you won’t find EVERYTHING leather there—but you can find just about everything. From shoes to wallets to bags to hats and jackets—everything is crafted in the state of Guanajuato and is way more affordable than anything in the states. We spent an afternoon browsing around shops and ended up picking up some gifts—haggling is pretty fun!

Eat & Drink

Panteón Taurino (Taurus Cemetery) - If you eat ANYWHERE in the city of León you have to try Panteón Taurino. This restaurant resembles a bull ring where the images of deceased bullfighters decorate the walls, bullfighting is on the televisions, and the tables are tombstones with the names of bullfighters. While you wait for your beer or parrillada (personal barbecue) you will witness the servers jump on the bar and simulate a bullfight that commands audience applause and participation. This restaurant is a staple in the city of León and located just outside of the zona centro.

Like we mentioned—there is so much we could have included here about travel to Guanajuato, but from what we have shared are some of our favorite moments and places from this trip. The greatest thing about this trip, however, was that we went with a group of people who were easy going, fun, and up for exploring. We met some great people on this trip that we would like to travel with again. Without those memories, Guanajuato would have not been the same. So find yourself a group of friends who are up for some city exploration and take yourselves to the city of magic, legends, and mummies and we dare you to not fall in love.