The North Shore
When the shore of Giche Gumee brims with heaving ice during the winter, the jewels that nature lovers know as the North Shore's state parks sparkle with an irresistible beauty. North-bound travelers will find a newly expanded Hwy. 61 makes for a quick trip to Gooseberry Falls and points beyond.
The picturesque falls at Gooseberry split into thousands of shivering rivulets in the winter snow, and the new granite-and-timbers visitors center is worth a visit even if you've been to the falls before. The low tourist traffic during the winter months almost ensures that you'll be able to enjoy the scene in relative solitude.
Beyond, however, lies a skier's paradise, and the cabins and inns around Lutsen and Tofte clog with cross-country and downhill types alike during the winter months. Make reservations early if you plan to stay in the cabins at Solbakken Resort (218-663-7566) or at the modern Bluefin Bay (800-258-3346). Eagle Ridge (800-360-7666), nestled in the bosom of the Lutsen Mountains ski area, is the area's newest lodging option, and a passel of shops have sprung up in nearby Tofte. Warm up with a bowl of spicy soup at the Coho Cafe (Hwy. 61), and then browse for knickknacks next door at the Water's Edge Trading Co. The dining room at the oh-so-Nordic Lutsen Resort (800-258-8736) is a great place to snarf a breakfast of pancakes while looking out over an ice-encrusted Lake Superior.
A 20-minute drive up the shore brings travelers to Grand Marais, where a growing community of artists have helped make Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery (115 W. Wisconsin) a success year-round. For a view of the best sculpture nature has to offer, walk the blasted quay that protects the harbor.
To watch the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, held Jan. 11 - 16, head for Duluth. The starting line for the 500-mile race from Duluth to Grand Portage and back attracts a colorful crowd. Volunteers can sometimes pay a small fee to ride the sleds for the first leg of the trip -- they serve as ballast for overeager dogs. -- Joel Hoekstra
If you're a hearty soul who enjoys winter alfresco, pack the flannel shirts, jackboots, and heavy-duty skiwear, and head to the border in northern Wisconsin.
Just east of Ashland, about four and a half hours from the Twin Cities, you'll find one of the best-kept secrets of Midwest downhill skiing: Whitecap Mountains. Indianhead, Powderhorn, and Blackjack ski areas in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan may be the most popular destinations in the area, but Whitecap, off Hwy. 77 in northern Wisconsin, offers some of the best and least-crowded skiing in the Midwest. Here you'll find a sprawling variety of runs (35 in all, mostly named after mountains in the Alps), lots of fresh snow, and short lift lines. Be sure to head down Garmisch or Zermatt runs to Ye Olde Wine Hut, an authentic one-room log cabin with wood-burning stove -- once a gambling spot for lumberjacks -- where you can warm up with hot wine or cider.
The Whitecap resort (800-933-SNOW) offers package rates and reasonable prices on their ski-in/ski-out condos, chalets, and hotel rooms. In the last five years, the resort has added a pool, restaurant, bar, and bakery. A Holiday Inn (715-561-3030) and Day's Inn (715-561-3500) are located in Hurley (the largest nearby town -- 20 minutes east of Whitecap).
To pack a lumberjack's lunch for a day on the slopes, pick up some traditional Cornish pasties at Randall's Bakery at the junction of Hwys. 51 and 77 in Hurley or at Joe's Pasty Shop on Aurora Street in Ironwood (twin town to Hurley). To dine out in Hurley, the locals favor the Liberty Bell Chalet, where the Caesar salad is highly recommended along with the signature Italian cuisine. For drinks and Mexican food, the Branding Iron on Hwy. 77 (Silver Street in Hurley) serves margaritas that will knock you on your ass faster than the Dragon's Back trail at Whitecap.
For those with special skiing talents or who want to see the nearby sights, Copper Peak, the largest ski jump in North America, towers above the earth in Ironwood. The Olympic-bound can catch some serious flight time off this 469-foot slide: 500 airborne feet if you're good ... and gutsy (the record holds at 512). For those who prefer to keep their skis firmly planted on level ground, hundreds of cross-country trails wind through the area.
Snowmobiling is perhaps the most popular winter sport in this logging and mining region. So don't be surprised if you end up in a minor traffic jam of snowmobiles on the streets of Hurley. And dress warm, it will be cold. -- Kathy P. Anderson
Northfield and Southern Minnesota
True antique bargains aren't to be found in Stillwater anymore. Instead, head south to Jordan, New Prague, and Northfield to find that silver tea set or that stained-glass gem. A half-hour into Scott County, tiny Jordan isn't more than a few blocks long. But Gramma's Attic, LB Antiques, Cabin Creek, and Waterstreet Antiques along Jordan's main drag are worth browsing on a Saturday afternoon. Further south in New Prague, stop in at Schumacher's Hotel (212 W. Main; 758-2133) for a full meal, or snack on kolachies at the local bakery. Word has it they're better than in nearby Montgomery, a town that celebrates its pastries every summer with a Kolachy Days festival.
Take Hwy. 19 east through charming, rolling countryside to Northfield. Home of St. Olaf and Carleton colleges, there's an air of eternal youth and vigor among the local residents. Dodge joggers as you shop Division Street, stopping in at the Rare Pair for Birkenstocks and clothes, the Blue Marble for "earth-friendly" gifts, and the Cocoa Bean for chocolate-covered pretzels. Overnight visitors can lodge at the cozy Archer House (212 Division; 507-645-5661), which overlooks the Cannon River, or at the nearby Country Inn (300 Hwy. 3 N.; 507-645-2286). Jacobsen's Department Store (419 Division), the all-purpose clothier that faces the Quality Bakery, still sells suspenders and bowties in almost every color.
Cross-country skiers can schuss through the Carleton College Arboretum, a few blocks up Division from the Archer House, or the Cannon Valley Regional Wilderness Park, located just off Hwy. 3 on the way to Faribault. Ceramic lovers shouldn't miss the Charles Halling Pottery Studio (11967 Gates), located on back roads south of town, and antique aficionados can check out Remember When Antiques (418 Division) and Seven Gables Books and Antiques (313 Washington). It's worth getting up early for the caramel rolls at the Ole Store Cafe (1011 St. Olaf Ave.), and the quiche at Treats Ltd. (214 Division) is equally scrumptious. -- Joel Hoekstra
First-time visitors to Omaha expect it to be flat, barren, and uninhabited. Surprise! There are hills, trees, and people! While not exactly cosmopolitan, Omaha has its charms, even for the queer crowd.
Any trip to Omaha should start at the Old Market. Warehouses and storefronts, some dating from the late 1800s, have been converted into quirky shops, pubs, and exhibition spaces. The heart of the market is Howard Street between 10th and 11th Streets. Here you'll find V. Mertz (1022 Howard), the best restaurant in town. Although your first instinct may not be to order seafood in Nebraska, ask what's being sautéed before you make up your mind.
Also unexpected in Omaha is a truly great queer bar. The Max (1417 Jackson) proves that a fun place to meet people doesn't have to come with danger around every corner. This kinder, gentler entertainment complex -- the crowd is mixed, but mostly men -- features a large dance floor, several intimate cocktail bars, a patio bar, and just enough attitude to keep it interesting.
If you love the night life, then you'll want to stay downtown, and the Embassy Suites Downtown (555 S. 10th St.; 402-346-9000) is the stylish way to go. For those with more modest needs and budgets, a quick drive west on I-80 will get you to the Best Western Omaha Inn (4706 S. 108th St.; 402-339-7400). It only feels like the suburbs, though -- Omaha doesn't have any 'burbs.
No visit to Omaha would be complete without a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo (3701 S. 10th St.). Ironically, the zoo is home to the world's largest indoor rain forest, located right here on the Great Plains. -- Eric Jensen
Madison is such a nice city that you fully expect the Stage Manager from Our Town to welcome you at its center. It's listed on just about every top 10 list -- from the Advocate to the Utne Reader -- of great places to live. And you won't find a city that is more gay-friendly in the Midwest. Queer civil rights are on the books at all levels of government, and Madison's openly lesbian state representative, Tammy Baldwin, is making a run for the U.S. Congress next year.
This city is made for walking, so pack your best boots. Start at the state capitol (tour info: 608-266-0382), located in the middle of the isthmus on which Madison was built. The new Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr.), located just to the east, was designed by native son Frank Lloyd Wright.
On the capitol's west side, stroll down State Street and check out the many bookstores, specialty shops, and restaurants. The best burger in town is at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry (116 N. Fairchild). At the end of State you'll reach the University of Wisconsin campus. Head towards Lake Mendota to the Memorial Union Terrace and see why it was recently rated by locals as the "best place to meet the same sex."
There are several places to stay downtown. Canterbury Inn perches above a cozy bookstore (315 W. Gorham, 608-258-8899). Inn on the Park Hotel (22 S. Carroll St., 608-257-8811) is right across from the capitol. After a disco nap, guys will want to head for Manoeuvres (150 S. Blair), and gals should take the short drive east to Geraldine's (3054 E. Washington). If you get lost, just ask for directions from that good-natured stage manager in the capitol square. -- Eric Jensen
Once known as the city with a river that caught fire, Cleveland has experienced an incredible comeback over the last 10 years. Native Clevelandites who have moved away return to the city and wander its streets in bewilderment. A converted waterfront and a spate of new construction have turned a former wasteland into a hot tourist spot.
The line between queer interest and general interest blurs in this new Cleveland. A walk through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1 Key Plaza) is a case in point. The spangled pizzazz of Little Richard and the early androgyny of David Bowie are chronicled alongside the glittery orbs of disco life. And whoever designed the Hall was not without some kind of queer sensibility. The purple sequined mini-car suspended from the ceiling at the entrance bespeaks the same world that spawned Priscilla.
Cleveland is home to a large and thriving queer community, one which supports 23 different bars and clubs. Of those 23, one (The Leather Stallion; 2205 St. Clair) is a men's leather bar, two are women-only, and the rest range from dance bars to pool halls. With so many to choose from, it is recommended that the savvy traveler explore the full listing by calling the 24-hour computer information line (216-781-6736) or by picking up a copy of the Gay People's Chronicle while in town.
Before heading to the bars, stop for something to eat at one of the numerous queer-owned and queer-friendly restaurants. Billy's Northcoast Café (W. 111th and Clifton) is known for its Sunday brunches and pasta dishes. The Harmony Bar and Grill (3359 Fulton) has a piano player on the weekends who takes requests and specializes in show tunes. For Twin Citians whose experience of ethnic food stops after lutefisk, Cleveland is the place to pig out. The Harmony offers an education for the palate: Try those pirogies!
While there's no shortage of hotels -- from the more expensive chains of the Sheraton and the Hilton to the suburban and ring-road mainstays of Motel 6 and the Red Roof Inn -- what Cleveland still lacks are B&Bs and more cozy hotels. There is, however, at least one gay-friendly pension: The Clifford House (216-589-9432). Located in the Ohio City area, this B&B shines in a neighborhood of beautiful, renovated Victorian homes.
A city of numerous theaters and an art museum that has been compared to the Met (The Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd.), Cleveland is a city bursting back into flower. The Lesbian/Gay Community Center of Greater Cleveland (216-522-1999) will point you towards the variety of events and communities that make up Cleveland queer life. By the time you leave, you too will be singing: "Cleveland Rocks!" -- Susan Raffo
Only six hours away (well, eight if you actually drive the speed limit), Chicago makes for a great gay weekend getaway.
Halsted Street and Andersonville, on the north side, are the gay meccas, where there seems to be at least one gay-owned or gay-friendly shop, bar, or restaurant on every block. Full-on boys' bathhouses, such as Man's Country, still exist here. Girls can meet girls at the relatively new Girlbar (2625 N. Halsted) or the Closet (3325 N. Broadway). Sorry, the well-known Paris Dance closed in November. For a mixed crowd, the Red Dog (1958 W. North) features two floors of dancing. And don't go home early: Everything's open until 4 a.m.!
Sleep in and then get up and out: Shop Nike Town and Watertower Place or get a little culture at the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, and Shedd Aquarium.
For dinner, impress your date with the wine selection and Italian food at Scoosi! (410 W. Huron), part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain (which owns and runs Tucci Benucch at Mall of America). Or bring your own wine to Tomboy's (5402 N. Clark Street), an upscale, lesbian-owned, white-table-cloth bistro that serves potatoes sculpted into roses alongside your pasta or filet mignon.
If you have someone to finance your trip, stay at the posh Four Seasons Hotel (120 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-280-8800). If you're paying, there are plenty of chain hotels (Days Inn, et. al.) downtown or near O'Hare International (you can take the el-train into the Loop). Flights into downtown's Midway Airport, however, are dirt cheap at under $100. No matter how you travel to get there, once you're downtown, cab everywhere; parking costs will sticker-shock your Minneapolis mind. -- Lisa Needham
While Minnesota sweats through a botched winter of 40-plus-degree days, head north and west about 4,800 miles to experience Alaska. Yes, you heard right: Winter is prime time to visit Anchorage and its surroundings. February temps average 26 degrees, and there's at least seven hours of light every day.
In this land of pristine beauty and bounty, shelter doesn't come cheap, however. The Hotel Captain Cook is Anchorage's finest, but it bristles with tacky nautical memorabilia. Take a room at the Holiday Inn (800-465-4329) or Super 8 (800-800-8000) and plan to spend your time out and about.
Start with one of the two big winter events: either the Fur Rondy (Rendezvous), a town festival held during the second and third weekends of February, or the Iditarod, a 1,000-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome, which kicks off the first Saturday of March.
The city of Anchorage has an funky, adolescent feel to it -- growth has come in spurts and gone unchecked by zoning. The sole skyscraper, the Arco Building, and a hip, new mall are flanked by two-story shops and log cabins.
Friendly cafes line Fourth Street, where you'll find the Log Cabin Information Center (907-274-3531) at one end and the starting line for the Iditarod at the other, the span between them filled with emporiums selling scrimshaw, carved whale vertibrae, musk-ox fur hats, and Yukon gold jewelry. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art (907-343-4326) is amazing: Don't miss the century-old waterproof Inuit fishing suit made out of countless strips of tightly sewn fish gut.
If you want to blend, head over to the Land Rover dealer, plunk down your Visa Platinum and rent a 4-wheeler. Make sure the dealer throws in two sets of chains, and slap a rainbow flag in the shape of Alaska on the back window.
For nightlife, gay men belly up to the bar at the Raven (907-276-9672), while queer gals wait in line with hets to get into the packed Wave (907-561 9283), a lesbian bar popular with all kinds for its great dance mixes (read: Madonna). Identity (907-258-4777), the local queer switchboard, can provide further information on the local scene.
Feeling rugged? Drive an hour down the Glenn Highway to Hatcher Pass, home to the largest populations of moose, caribou, brown and black bear, wolves, and lynx in the area. There's great skiing too. Stay at the Hatcher Pass Lodge (907-745-5897). There, you can bone up on dog-mushing, telemarking, or avalanche rescue in lodge classes or just hit the slopes.
If you don't go to Hatcher pass, hop a bush plane to scenic Alyeska Resort (800-880-3880) or Riversong Lodge (907-274-2710) for the best eatin' in the state. For less populated recreating, call the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (907-762 2616), which provides information about cross-country skiing/snowshoeing trailheads. Don't forget survival gear and bear bells! -- Karen Harris
The first thing one notices when turning off Hwy. 6 into downtown Provincetown, besides the Pilgrim Monument standing vigil midtown, is the array of rainbow flags. They're everywhere. Flying atop inns and storefronts, and gracing the front lawns of the traditional "cracker box" New England homes.
You'll fall in love with Provincetown just 30 seconds of stepping onto Commercial Street, P-town's main drag. Even on winter days, Commercial Street draws a mixture of residents and tourists (yes, even straight visitors) wandering past gift shops, art galleries, cafes, and elegantly restored mansions with names like the Captain's House, the Sandpiper, and Lotus. It's a shopper's paradise. At night, when the tourist buses have departed, the clubs throb with nightlife, and Commercial becomes an ideal place for people-watching.
In the mood for a quieter setting? Try dinner at the Moors Restaurant (5 Bradford Ext.), which specializes in Portuguese cooking. Known for its seafood, the Moors offers a romantic, soft candlelight ambiance. Skip dessert and stroll back downtown for ice cream or java at Spiritus (190 Commercial).
Ampersand Guesthouse (6 Cottage St.; 508-487-0959), a large, white Greek Revival home in the west end of Provincetown, is a quiet gay-owned B&B filled with restored antiques, many original to the house. It's a quick walk from the front steps to the center of P-town, and Scutter (Ampersand's resident mascot terrier) greets visitors at the door as they come and go.
There's always something happening in Provincetown. During the winter months you can take advantage of lower "off-season" rates at the numerous B&Bs and sales at the shops. Pay tribute to the Pilgrims, who first landed at the tip of Cape Cod, with a climb to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, complete with stone gargoyles. There are art galleries galore along Commercial Street, and the Provincetown Art Association holds special exhibits near the end of January and February. "Close to Home," an AIDS fundraiser featuring local talent, is usually held during the first weekend of February.
But don't let the quaintness of this New England fishing village fool you -- Provincetown gushes with the friendliness and excitement of Castro Street and the tranquil beauty of the North Shore. It's gotta be the gayest place on earth. -- Todd Moe
Is it too soon to think about a fall vacation? Not if your destination is Albuquerque, N.M., and the annual International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, held during the first couple of weeks of October every year (info: 800-733-9918). The event is so popular that airline reservations into Albuquerque during the 10-day fiesta are hard to come by after late spring or early summer, so plan early, even for car-rental reservations. (Make no mistake: You'll need an automobile. Public transportation in Albuquerque is zilch, and the balloon field is about 20 minutes out of town on I-25.)
During the fest, nearly 1,000 balloons from all over the world descend (and ascend) on the area -- creating a scene that's much like the Minnesota State Fair sans butterheads and cow pies. The fiesta is cheap -- admission is around $5 a day -- and once you're inside the gates you'll find fabulous food booths, people-watching until your eyeballs ache, and balloon rides for about $100 an hour. The mass ascension of the balloons -- when hundreds lift off all at once -- occurs daily at 7 a.m., so when you find yourself wandering bleary-eyed around the field at 6:30, find the Canada food booth and order the crepes with maple syrup and good strong coffee. You'll be soothed and invigorated.
While you're there, you will want to take in Albuquerque proper -- especially the quaint, historic, and oh-so-artsy Old Town area -- as well as Santa Fe and environs. While in Old Town, eat at Julia's Kitchen (328 San Felipe NW), a hole-in-the-wall cafe run by two unflappable women that has magnificent, scandalously cheap Southwestern/Mexican food.
Santa Fe is an easy 90-minute drive north on I-25. Visiting the museums alone merits a couple of days, especially the new Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson), which opened in July (wear cushy shoes, however, because one annoying feature of the place is that it has no benches or other seating), and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (710 Camino Lejo). Buy a museum pass for $10, good for four days of unlimited visits to five different area museums.
The shopping in Santa Fe is intoxicating. When you need a break from it, find Tribes Coffee Shop (139 W. San Francisco), populated with handsome women in Teva sandals and pretty men with braided hair.
And when the urban scene gets boring, there's the countryside. You can't go wrong in a place that gives you pink and lavender sunsets every evening. -- Cynthia Scott
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