Every now and then I visit a destination I know absolutely nothing about. That happened a few years ago when I visited Oklahoma City and I fell in love with OKC. This time around, that destination was Coastal Mississippi, more specifically Biloxi, Gulfport, and Ocean Springs. In fact, the only thing I knew about the Biloxi was the hotel I stayed at, Beau Rivage. I knew it was owned by MGM Resorts, but that was about it. The rest of the trip was going to be a surprise.
For this particular trip, I wanted to focus on health and wellness and luckily, Beau Rivage’s most recent renovation included two floors full of Stay Well rooms as well as an updated spa. My gulf view room came complete with an aromatherapy machine, ultra high-end linens, a memory foam mattress, and pillows as well as a vitamin C dispenser hooked up to my shower. I had never seen one of those before, so I had to ask what it was.
After an early check in, I departed for Ocean Springs, a quaint town just east of Beau Rivage. My first stop was a place called Shearwater Pottery. Apparently, it is very well known to everyone but me. After posting pictures on social media, I received numerous comments from friends wanting to visit. Shearwater Pottery was founded in 1928 by Peter Anderson and from the 1920s through the present day, Shearwater Pottery has produced art pottery, utilitarian ware, figurines, decorative tiles, and other pottery pieces.
I had the opportunity to meet with Margie Ashley, the daughter of Peter Anderson who told me about her family’s legacy in Ocean Springs. At that time, Coastal Mississippi was known for fishing and not so much for the arts, so her family was viewed as outcasts but the community. Margie told me people used to called them the “crazy Andersons.” But they eventually had the last laugh as the family name has become as much of Coastal Mississippi culture as seafood gumbo.
A few minutes up the road from Shearwater Pottery is the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Walter was the brother of Peter Anderson and equally as talented, creating thousands of works throughout his lifetime. Many of Walter Anderson’s paintings, drawings, murals, block prints, sculpture, carvings, and writings are on display at the museum.
The pièce de résistance is the Community Center, which is the site of Walter Anderson’s monumental 3,000 square foot mural, which depicts the historic discovery of the Mississippi Coast and its diverse climates. The city commissioned Walter Anderson in 1950 for a fee of $1.00 and the project took 16 months to complete.
For dinner, head to Vestige, a farm-to-table restaurant in Ocean Springs helmed by head chefs Alex Perry and his wife, Kumi Omori who were recently nominated for a James Beard Award. Vestige offers a pre-fixed menu which changes on a regular basis and contains only the freshest local ingredients. And if it’s not local, they fly it in from its land of origin to insure its freshness. We began our meal with sashimi of Hamachi complete with a foie gras emulsion, rose, purple sweet potato and magnolia flower kombucha veil. Yes, that was one dish and just an appetizer, but probably my favorite item on the menu.
After 3 more courses which consisted of a piece of perfectly cooked fish to charcoal grilled wagyu beef, the meal comes to an end with a delectable strawberry Bavarian, with cacao mint genoise, whipped match, grapefruit lemon curd and pecan ginger shortbread. This wasn’t just a meal; it was an experience worthy of a James Beard nomination and definitely the award for Best Chef: South.
You’ll need the rest of the night to recover from a food coma, so head back to Beau Rivage for some much-needed rest or hit the casino if your heart desires.
Head out the next morning to the recently opened Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, about 15 minutes west of Biloxi. The state-of-the-art facility is home to a variety of sea life and is one of the crown jewels of the area.
I can never see enough animals, so next on the agenda was the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies located at Ocean Adventures Marine Park. Guests can come up close and personal with stingrays, sea lions and dolphins. I had the opportunity to interact with a beautiful male dolphin, getting to rub his belly, give him commands and feed him some delicious fish. For my, I mean his hard work, I got a kiss from one of my favorite animals.
On the way back to your hotel, stop by Coastal Roast Coffee for an afternoon pick me up before dinner. I wasn’t sure what to expect at White Pillars. The bar was set really high at Vestige the night before, but I was in for another treat. We began our meal with a bowl of Oyster & Artichoke soup. I was a bit hesitant to order this at first as I didn’t want to begin my meal with something heavy, but when it arrived, it turned out to be one of the best soups I’ve had in a long time. It was light and fragrant, consisting of Gulf oysters, fennel, and oyster mushrooms in a coconut milk broth. When dining near the coast, why not try the Gulf Seafood Tower, two tiers of fresh oysters, mahi crudo, smoked fish dip and amberjack ceviche.
And those were just the starters. For my main course, I ordered the Duck Ramen prepared with a confit duck leg, collards, togarashi, duck cracklins, and the traditional soft-boiled egg. In fact, the egg was the only thing traditional about the dish, which was rich and delicious. The duck was cooked to perfection and the broth was fantastic.
The area is home to two LGBTQ bars, Sipp’s in Gulfport, and Just Us Lounge, located within walking distance of Beau Rivage. The crowd at Just Us was a melting pot of the area’s LGBTQ community, extremely diverse and welcoming. One thing to note is that smoking is still legal inside bars, so if that bothers you, there is a large outdoor space available.
I know I said I wanted to focus on health and wellness during this trip, but I seemed to have detoured from my mission somewhere in Ocean Springs. One can’t resist the food in Coastal Mississippi, so screw the diet for one more day and head to The Roasted Bean located in the lobby of Beau Rivage and ask for an order of beignets. These are not listed anywhere in plain site and are the best kept secret of the hotel. I received a tip from the captain of the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, which I went on the morning prior. The powdered sugar pastries where the best I’ve ever had. Light, airy, and simply delicious. They couldn’t have been that many calories, right?
End your stay in Coastal Mississippi with a relaxing CBD massage at the The Spa at Beau Rivage. The 80-minute massage uses CBD body oils as well as a Moor Mud treatment to soothe tired muscles and back pain. Playing with dolphins, eating oysters, and savoring beignets all weekend was quite stressful. If you are looking for a relaxed seaside vacation, put Coastal Mississippi on your radar. There are many unique experiences that will make your stay truly memorable. Visit coastalmississippi.com for more information about the destination.
Orlando has always been a place close to my heart. Back in 2002, I attended graduate school there as well as worked in the music industry for a company that launched the careers of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, O-Town and other stars. I even managed a boy band of my own around that time. Needless to say, I really enjoyed living in Orlando. It was also the place where I finally admitted to myself that I was gay, although I didn’t officially come out to my family until a few years later.
When I heard U.S. Travel’s IPW convention was going to take place in Orlando this year, I knew I had to go.
I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, which is perfectly situated within minutes of Walt Disney World parks and just a short drive from Universal Studios. The property is massive and contains a separate fitness building, resort-style pool with bar and live music as well as a convention area.
Epcot was always my favorite park to visit as a child, so I was excited to learn that one of the main events for the conference would take place there. We got to experience the park without the crowds, which was quite pleasant, especially when it came to the newer rides Frozen Ever After and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Seeing the iconic globe lit up at night is as magical now as it was when I was a younger.
Ironically, the conference coincided with One Magical Weekend, so I also had the opportunity to visit two LGBTQ parties while there, the first being the annual Red party at House of Blues and the second being OMW’s Therapy pool party at Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort. People from around the country travel to Orlando for this event, so I ran into many friends during that weekend, some of which I hadn’t seen in years.
My visit wasn’t all fun and games though. I think we all remember where we were when we heard the news of the Pulse massacre back on June 12, 2016. A few years ago, the owner of the club opened an interim memorial with a goal of raising the funds to open a permanent space which would pay homage to the forty-nine beautiful souls lost that day. Located at the site of the original club, the current memorial contains an offering wall where visitors can leave flowers or mementos.
There are three viewing areas of the building. Visitors will be able to see the waterfall at the entrance of the club, a wall of the building where the forty-nine names are inscribed, as well as the area where people were rescued by from the restrooms by first responders.
The memorial also has a Ribbon Wall of Photographs, filled with pictures of the community and the world’s response of love and support and artifacts collected from the Orange County History Center. It’s a very emotional experience but one you need to do if you’re ever in the area.
A few miles away is the new Hall at the Yard development, an upscale food hall venue. One of the highlights is a restaurant called The Chef & I, which is owned by my friends Erica and Chris Rains from Nashville. Every time I visited their restaurant, I knew I was about to experience something special. The Chef & I is one of my favorite restaurants in Nashville and I’m sure it will be a hit with the Orlando community. The restaurant throws a delicious brunch, featuring menu items like Duck and Waffles, Brined and Smoked Salmon Benedict as well as their Hot Salt Chicken.
People often forget that Orlando isn’t just theme parks. There are many beautiful towns in the metro area that are worth visiting. Antique collectors will really enjoy the charm of Mount Dora, while Dr. Phillips has emerged as a culinary epicenter boasting a variety of fine dining restaurants.
However, my favorite neighborhood to visit is Winter Park and more specifically, Park Avenue. The cobblestone street is lined with wonderful boutiques, outdoor cafes and is adjacent to Rollins College, my alma matter. Located in Winter Park, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Museum’s Tiffany collection includes jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows and lamps, and the chapel interior the artist designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Orlando is known for having a wonderful LGBTQ scene. One of my preferred low-key places to enjoy a cocktail is Savoy, located just north of downtown. Every time I visit, I usually end up there with friends. Some other popular spots include Stonewall Bar Orlando and Southern Nights.
Orlando Pride is also one of the largest pride events in the state. This October, Coming Out With Pride will take place on Saturday, October 15 at Lake Eola Park in downtown, and will be surrounded by a host of other events throughout the week leading up to the festival. While downtown, try to catch a show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The sparkly new building hosts a variety of touring Broadway shows as well as performances from major artists in addition to Orlando’s many local performing arts organizations.
The next time you visit Orlando, I would encourage you to venture outside of the amusement park areas to get to experience the city. I met so many wonderful people when I lived there, so I would love for you to get to know the locals the way I did.
For years I have heard about Salt Lake City’s thriving LGBTQ community, but I had yet to experience it firsthand. The Advocate even called Salt Lake City, one of the ten ‘Queerest Cities in America.’ Recently, I had an opportunity to travel to the Beehive State with my good friend and internationally known EDM musician Joey Suarez, where we had a chance to revel in the city’s attractions and culinary scene and see what all the hype was about.
Our homebase for the visit was the fabulous Hotel Monaco, part of the Kimpton collection of hotels. Kimpton is well-known for being one of the most LGBTQ-friendly chains in the country, so I knew we were in good hands. The property features a welcoming lobby, fitness center, two culinary options: Bambara and The Vault and is within walking distance to almost every attraction in the city.
Begin your first day in Salt Lake City with a trip to Eva's Bakery, a wonderful little establishment offering freshly baked goods and a variety of homemade breakfast items. I decided to try their Roasted Beet & Avocado Toast which was served with potatoes and organic greens. This was a perfect option for those who enjoy a savory breakfast item over something sweet, although Eva’s definitely has a nice selection of sweet treats to choose from if you prefer.
Just a short drive away from downtown is the Natural History Museum of Utah. The beautifully designed building blends in perfectly with the natural surroundings of the mountains and contains quite the selection of dinosaur fossils and gemstones, most of which were discovered locally. The museum boasts an extensive paleontology program and possesses nearly 30,000 specimens in their collection.
Next, swing by Tracy Aviary, one of only two free standing aviaries in the country and say hello to Andy, the Andean condor as well as the Chilean flamingos. The aviary also offers unique experiences which guests can participate in to get up close and personal with some of their feathered attractions. Don’t forget to stop by the South American Pavilion featuring 30 South American birds nestled amongst lush plants in a unique indoor-outdoor exhibit.
Salt Lake City’s international culinary scene is something the city is proud of and one of its shining stars is a Japanese restaurant called Takashi. Joey and I ordered four dishes to share, and each was prepared to perfection. Our favorites included the Magic Dragon roll as well as the Tiger’s Roll featuring tiger shrimp tempura with spiced crab, kaiware sprouts, unagi and avocado, topped with eel sauce and sesame seeds.
For some fun entertainment, head to Why Kiki, a tiki bar themed venue just a few blocks from the hotel which recently started weekend Drag Lunch – no, not exactly brunch, as some performances occur after standard brunch hours. The intimate venue is a wonderful place to catch a performance by one of Salt Lake’s fabulous drag performers, while sipping a delicious tropical cocktail.
Adventure seekers can go on a hike along one of the city’s numerous trails. On one crisp morning, we headed to a trail nicknamed “The Living Room” due to the rock formation at the top of the mountain that resembles a couch, or so I’ve been told. We made it about three-fourths the way to the top before we had to stop from exhaustion due to the altitude. Yes, I’ll blame the altitude. Don’t despair, there are many picturesque vantage points along the way to capture that perfect Instagram photo.
For dinner, head to Manoli’s, a tapas style Greek restaurant which offers a variety of traditional dishes as well as some modern twists of Greek specialties. While Joey dined on a sumptuous lamb burger, I tried the Garides, which were grilled shrimp cooked in a Greek coffee BBQ sauce served over seared polenta. We decided to share an order of Spanakopita which is a savory phyllo filled pastry stuffed with feta and spinach and served with an artichoke cream sauce. I love Spanakopita and Manoli’s didn’t disappoint. However, the best part of the meal was the cinnamon ice cream, which was probably one of my favorite ice cream dishes ever!
When I lived in Nashville, I published an LGBTQ magazine called UNITE and one of our issue’s featured country music superstar Eric Church on the cover. He is country music’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, so much in fact, one of his biggest hit songs is titled “Springsteen.” We had the opportunity to attend the Eric Church concert at the Vivint Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. While it would have been fun to experience a basketball game, hearing 15,000 people sing Church’s hit songs was quite memorable.
After the concert, it was time to explore Salt Lake’s nightlife. Located on Harvey Milk Boulevard is Milk+, a swanky new LGBTQ club that would rival that of most major cities. Milk+ offers a huge dancefloor, stage, patio, and table seating to enjoy cocktail or food. The eye candy was abundant, and the bar staff was quite friendly. All the entertainment occurs in one large open room so the venue mixes between drag and dancing most of the evening.
Another bar worth visiting is The Sun Trapp, which is within walking distance of Hotel Monaco. With limited time, it was impossible to visit all the nightlife establishments, but I think I got a good taste of what Salt Lake City had to offer. I began to see why the city was voted one of the most queer-friendly cities in the country.
On my recent visit to The Palm Beaches, I wanted to explore parts of the region I hadn’t had the chance to visit when I lived in the area a little of a decade ago. Palm Beach County encompassed dozens of cities and towns, each with its own unique charm and attractions. While most people think of Florida’s beaches as the main attraction in the Sunshine State, Palm Beach County stretches all the way to the Everglades in the west and has developed into one of the top agri-tourism destinations in the country.
I began my trip in Delray Beach, the town I used to live in. One of Delray Beach’s hidden gems is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Guests get to experience authentic Japanese culture and stroll through acres of lush trails transporting them to a different land. I didn’t even feel as if I was in Florida as I spent time at the reflection pond, the bamboo forest, or the old museum. While in Delray Beach, head to the Pineapple Grove arts district, a stretch of downtown devoted to art galleries, cafes, and boutiques. Swing by City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue for lunch and try order the Lobster Roll. You will not be disappointed.
From Delray Beach, head north on I-95 – or jump on the Tri-Rail to West Palm Beach and visit the Norton Museum of Art. During my visit, the museum was exhibiting Origin Stories: Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora, a collection that confronts the intertwined relationship between identity and colonialism in communities across the African continent. The museum also contains a permanent collection of Asian and European artwork.
After the museum, take a walk along Clamatis street, the dining and entertainment hub of West Palm Beach or journey over to Palm Beach Island, where the world’s wealthiest people go to play during the winter months. Mansions and sprawling estates surround the island which includes many historic properties including the Flagler Museum, The Breakers and Mar-a-Lago, which was originally built for cereal company heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.
There are many hotels located on Palm Beach, but they can get a bit pricey depending on the time of year you visit. A great option is the Hilton West Palm Beach, located across the street from Rosemary Square and within walking distance to many of the area’s main attractions. The luxurious property features a grand lobby, large fitness center and massive outdoor pool, perfect for a nice relaxing dip after a long day of sightseeing.
Grab dinner at Table 26, one of West Palm Beach’s most popular LGBTQ-owned restaurants. My guest and I began our meal with the Squash Blossoms and Burrata & Tomato salad, a simple yet delicious selection that is always a favorite of mine. For dinner, we wanted to order something a little on the lighter side, so we opted for the Zucchini pasta prepared with roasted heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, basil pesto and shaved parmesan. If you are in the mood to grab some cocktails, head to The Mad Hatter lounge located in Lake Worth, a town known for its thriving LGBTQ culture. Lake Worth is also home to Compass, the area’s LGBTQ community center.
After grabbing a morning coffee, head to Jupiter, about a 20-minute drive north from the hotel to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. The free attraction relies on donations to help maintain the property and support its animals. Last year alone, the sanctuary cared for over 6,000 animals who arrived to the facility, which was established to care for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals, while promoting wildlife and habitat conservation. All of the animals at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary are native to Florida.
While in Jupiter, head to Lucky Shuck for lunch and grab a table with a view of the intracoastal waterway. The restaurant offers wonderful service, fresh and simple food, and a relaxed island time environment. I decided to try the Ceviche Trio, prepared three different ways and was so surprised at the differences between each of the preparations. For dessert – yes, I had dessert for lunch – try the Key Lime pie served with a coconut meringue and passion fruit glaze. It was one of the most delicious items I had on my entire visit. After lunch, jump on the Love Street Outdoor Center PonTiki Cruise a few steps from the restaurant, for a 30-minute or hour-long cruise around Jupiter inlet before heading back to the Hilton for some R&R before dinner.
Although it is easy to navigate West Palm Beach via public transportation, I would recommend renting a car if you really want to explore the destination and some of its most popular attractions including McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary. The guided tours are so informative, and guests learn the stories of each animal and how they arrived at the Sanctuary. Whereas Busch Sanctuary only cares for animals local to the region, McCarthy’s is home to a variety of animals from all corners of the globe including Amur leopards, Bengal Tigers, lions and even a snow leopard. Many of these animals were illegally owned and taken in by the sanctuary as they can’t be allowed into the wild.
All of the animals are well cared for and were quite friendly and playful. The jaguar was purring during our entire visit and the beautiful white tiger was rubbing up against the encloser seeking some attention from us. In addition to big cats, the sanctuary also houses exotic birds, lemurs, and a feisty fox.
No trip to Palm Beach would be complete without a shopping spree or stroll along Worth Avenue. High-end boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Akris line the street. Even if you don’t want to shop, it is still a fun experience to window shop and watch the parade of exotic cars that drive up and down the avenue.
It takes a good week to explore the destination, especially if you want to visit numerous cities and attractions. One of my favorite times to visit Florida in general is the spring and fall, as the weather is divine.
Palm Springs is my happy place. The city and the surrounding area provide me with the perfect mix of relaxation and entertainment. Having been to Palm Springs numerous times prior to this visit, I wanted to partake in things that I have never tried before, most notably a full body massage at El Morocco Inn & Spa, but we will get to that later.
After checking in to Triangle Inn (pictured above), a lovely mid-century modern gay guesthouse located just one mile from the Arenas Road district, I decided to unwind from my flight and take it easy by the pool. I struck up a wonderful conversation with another guest from Los Angeles who was in town for the weekend. Apparently, Palm Springs is his happy place as well. Everyone I encountered at the clothing-optional resort was very friendly and eager to give advice on the hottest spots to visit during my stay.
I decided to head to Cathedral City for happy hour. Before Palm Springs became the gay mecca of today, Cathedral City was the epicenter of LGBTQ culture in the desert. The area is home to an array of nightlife establishments including The Barracks, AMP Sports Lounge and One Eleven Bar, a beautifully decorated space which on the evening of my visit was celebrating female voices of the 80s. I sipped a delicious Espresso Rum-tini while grooving to music from Whitney, Madonna and Tina.
The time change was hitting me hard, so I decided to retire early to my room at Triangle Inn and when I say room, I mean something closer to a 1-bedroom apartment. The suite contained a full living room, dining room and kitchen, in addition to a king size bed and large walk-in shower.
Triangle Inn usually offers a continental breakfast to guests but current COVID restrictions didn’t allow them to provide that during my stay, so I grabbed breakfast the next morning at a cute LGBTQ-owned restaurant called Sunshine Café. I don’t normally eat a heavy breakfast but when I saw the Banana Nut Pancakes on the menu, I knew I had to at least give them a try. The extra calories were definitely worth it.
Today was my Zen day in the desert and I heard about this wonderful shop creating organic skin care products called The Body Deli. The business uses raw and organic superfoods to create their products which range from facial moisturizers and scrubs to hair shampoo and conditioner. I sampled a few products while there and you can actually smell the freshness of the foods they use to create the products. The store offers a variety of travel-size skincare kits that are perfect for those out-of-towners looking to bring home some product.
My next destination was El Morocco Inn & Spa, located in the town of Desert Hot Springs, known for the mineral properties in its water. I decided to indulge myself with a two-hour Moroccan Mystical Ritual, which begins with dry brushing to stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory system and provide exfoliation. My body was then covered in organic Rhassoul clay from the Atlas Mountains. As I lay on the massage table, the clay began to harden, and I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon. At times it was a bit uncomfortable, but I knew the end result would be wonderful. I was then asked to jump in the shower to rinse the clay off my body before the Moroccan Rain massage began. This is a process of using a raindrop technique to apply seven different essential oils along the spine, which all aid in detoxification.
Feeling refreshed, I was ready to enjoy a night on the town. I met up with my friend Brad Fuhr who publishes the Gay Desert Guide, a one-stop-spot for everything you need to know about LGBTQ culture and nightlife in the Palm Springs area. We
enjoyed dinner at Trio, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I began my meal with the Roasted Beat Salad and then ordered the fish special, while Brad went for the Pesto Crusted King Salmon served over squash and angel hair pasta. Consistency is key and you can never go wrong with a meal at Trio.
No visit to Palm Springs would be complete without partying on Arenas Road, the LGBTQ cultural and nightlife hub of the city. Coincidentally, the owner of Hunter’s was in town (there is also a Hunter’s in Wilton Manors, Florida). Mark Hunter and I had met briefly in Florida many years ago and spent the evening reconnecting. We had such a good time chatting that before I knew it, midnight had rolled around, and it was time for bed. I know what you’re thinking, midnight is early, but I was still suffering from jet lag and had a full schedule of activities to get to the following day.
I woke up early to visit multiple public art exhibitions around the downtown area. The days were really starting to heat up and it topped 100 degrees the day prior, so I wanted to get to the art before the heat became unbearable. There are many art displays and murals around the Palm Springs Art Museum that are worth checking out.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday evening, there is no better place to be than Oscar’s for their world-famous T-Dance. The iconic party takes place every Sunday from 4-8pm and recently began again after almost a year-long hiatus. I was told people from around the world visit Palm Springs specifically to attend T-Dance at Oscar’s.
Of course, dancing will make you hungry, so for your final meal in the desert, head to Roly China Fusion, a multi-level space which also hosts a weekly Drag Brunch on Sunday. While there, you must try the Lobster Dumplings, which are served in a delicious truffle butter broth with shitake mushrooms and napa cabbage. It was one of the best dishes I’ve had in Palm Springs.
Palm Springs Pride Festival is scheduled to take place this year on November 6-7. After a year off, I’m sure it will be a very festive occasion. Start making plans early as reservations at Palm Springs’ numerous guest houses tend to sell out during this time. If you have never been to Palm Springs, I’m sure you’ll find it to be your happy place too. To learn more, visit www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com and to book your Palm Springs gaycation, visit www.Orbitz.com/pride.