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January 2010 Email this to a friend

San Diego

By Scott Brassart

Nobiz, San Diego Area

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded San Diego article click DailyXtraTravel

San Diego's reputation is that of a conservative military town. In recent years, though, that has changed significantly. The city now has a large and rapidly growing gay population that thrives in the live-and-let-live atmosphere.
The gay community in San Diego is ethnically diverse and includes many military and retired military people. The crowd skews slightly younger than other California gay strongholds such as San Francisco, Palm Springs and Laguna.
The biggest draw in San Diego isn't the large gay community or the city's laid-back attitude, though. It's the area's natural beauty. With over 300 days of sunshine each year, the weather is nearly perfect no matter when you visit. The city's 70 miles of coastline provide both breathtaking scenery and spectacular beaches -- including gay-friendly, clothing-optional Black's Beach. San Diego also offers great dining, fantastic shopping, top-tier cultural attractions and terrific nightlife.

Getting Here
Business travelers surveyed by Conde Nast recently rated San Diego International Airport as one of their favorite airports -- the fourth consecutive year San Diego International Airport has placed in the top 10. The airport is serviced by 13 airlines with direct flights to hundreds of cities worldwide. Eight different shuttle services offer transportation from the airport to your destination in town, or you can take a cab. Public transportation to and from the airport is limited and not recommended.

Getting Around
San Diego's attractions are spread out, and you don't want to rely on public transportation. If you plan to sightsee, you should rent a car. If you're planning to spend most of your time in or near the gay-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, you can probably get away with cabs. Gay nightlife is not concentrated in a small area, so if you're planning to bar-hop you should either designate a driver or take a taxi.

Nearly all of San Diego's 100 neighborhoods are at least gay-friendly, though Hillcrest and Hillcrest-adjacent neighborhoods have the highest concentration of gay residents and gay nightlife.

Hillcrest: Hillcrest is the traditional center of gay life in San Diego. The area is home to the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and gay events and activities throughout the year, including the annual pride day celebration in July and Mardi Gras in February. Located next to Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park, Hillcrest offers gay and gay-friendly accommodations, restaurants, shopping, culture, cruising and lots and lots of nightlife.

North Park: Just east of Hillcrest, North Park is a charming, eclectic neighborhood with a mix of coffeehouses, cafes and shopping. The neighborhood is home to San Diego's Lyric Opera and "Ray at Night," a monthly art walk that takes place on the second Saturday of each month. North Park also has several gay bars and clubs.

University Heights: Just north of Hillcrest, University Heights is a mostly residential area with a large gay population. The wood-frame bungalows date back to the first half of the 20th century. The commercial section runs along Park Boulevard, with a trendy mix of restaurants and shops as well as the nation's third-oldest LGBT performance space, Diversionary Theatre.

Downtown San Diego: More gay-friendly than gay, downtown San Diego is home to the historic Gaslamp Quarter, the revitalized East Village and Little Italy. There are tons of hotels and restaurants in the area, and plenty of shopping.

Gay media
The Gay and Lesbian Times is San Diego's gay magazine, presenting local and national news, arts and entertainment, and information on nightclubs and local events. Uptown News is a gay-friendly newspaper focusing on Hillcrest, North Park, University Heights and other nearby neighborhoods. The Reader is a hip, gay-friendly magazine covering all things cool in San Diego.

Pride day
San Diego Pride is a two-day festival each July. San Diego Pride is among the world's largest pride events, drawing over 150,000 visitors to Hillcrest and Balboa Park. The main draw is Saturday's mile-long Gay Pride Parade, but there are literally dozens of other events and parties to keep you entertained. If you plan to visit over Pride weekend, make your reservations well in advance and expect to pay higher-than-normal hotel rates.

Another great gay celebration is Hillcrest's annual Mardi Gras party. Food, booze, live entertainment, scantily clad men and rainbow-colored beads flood the gay district each February.

The San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center is located at 3909 Centre Street in the Hillcrest neighborhood. The center offers a wide variety of services to the gay community, and stopping in for a quick visit is a great way to familiarize yourself with what the city has to offer.

in focus
Forbidden love. A scene from Diversionary Theatre's production of Bent, part of its season of gay-themed plays.

Creating a theatrical diversion
One of the country's oldest gay and lesbian theater companies, the Diversionary Theatre produces edgy dramas, goofy comedies and playful musicals with gay themes. If you live in a town lacking in gay culture, you'll definitely want to catch one of their cutting-edge shows.
The company was founded in 1986 with a production of a show about the AIDS crisis called Artists Involved in Death and Survival. In the early '90s the theater began producing short seasons of shows. Recently those seasons were expanded to include year-round offerings.
Dan Kirsch, executive and artistic director of Diversionary Theatre, says the six major productions presented each year keep the company busy. This season's shows include Twist, Bent, The New Century, The Marriage Bed, Moscow and Speech and Debate.
In between, Kirsch says, the company stages special events. Last year the theater commissioned a pair of world-premiere productions. It also sponsored Dance Theatre, a four-night event during which choreographers used movement to interpret one of the theater's prior plays.
"We also commissioned Dear Harvey, about Harvey Milk, in honor of the 30th anniversary of his passing," says Kirsch. "We commissioned a playwright to interview people who knew him, and we were able to tell stories that had never been heard before, even though the film Milk had just come out. That's about his life, and these were very personal stories from his colleagues and friends."
Since Dear Harvey premiered, it has had subsequent productions in San Diego, Sacramento and Los Angeles. It's also being considered for the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival.
"It really has legs," says Kirsch.
As interesting as Diversionary Theatre's special events are, the real attractions are the main stage productions.
"In February we're doing the West Coast premiere of The Marriage Bed, a new play written by a playwright in London when Great Britain got marriage rights," Kirsch says. "So it's very topical. After that is Speech and Debate. It's about teenagers in high school and a sex scandal."
Diversionary Theatre is located at 4545 Park Boulevard in the University Heights neighborhood. For more information call 619-220-0097.

Top experiences
Cruising Balboa Park: San Diego's most interesting attraction is 1200-acre Balboa Park. Home to 15 museums, indoor and outdoor theatres, beautiful gardens, a sports complex and the renowned San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park is as much a cultural center as a park. Theater buffs may want to catch a performance at the Old Globe, a replica of its 16th-century London namesake.

Fun at Black's Beach: Located beneath the 300-foot-high cliffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve, clothing-optional Black's Beach is one of the finest gay beaches in the world. Gay beachgoers can enjoy the ocean, the sun and beautiful bodies. From downtown, take I-5 North to exit 28B, then head west on La Jolla Village Drive. Turn left on Torrey Pines Scenic Drive and follow that to the end, driving onto the dirt road and following it north to the parking lot.
The Blacks Beach clothing-optional advocacy group has a newsy general public website for information.

Hitting the beaches: The boardwalk running between Mission Beach and Pacific Beach is a great place to check out the local talent. Surfers and college boys abound. (Pick-up volleyball games at Balboa Park are also rife with eye-candy.) Coronado Beach offers miles of white sand, with one interesting little extra -- it serves as the official training ground for the local US Navy Seals.

Seeing the Del: The Hotel Del Coronado is one of the nation's grandest and most recognizable hotels. Hotel Del, as it is commonly called, sits along the beach on Coronado Island across the bay from downtown San Diego. The hotel opened in 1888 and has hosted countless dignitaries over the years. The brilliant Billy Wilder film Some Like it Hot, starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, was filmed here.

Bars & clubs San Diego

Bacchus House (3054 University Ave) dance club, after-hours dancing until 4am, live DJs, music videos, excellent beer and liquor selection. Sunday Fiesta Domingo shows; big steamy Wednesday Latin dance party Musica y Pasion Latina with female impersonations and go-go boys. Also Sunday bear nights, special parties, porn stars, and Imperial Court events.

Near the big University Heights sign Bourbon Street (4612 Park) has a brick open-air courtyard bar, a live entertainment bar, and a games room with pool tables. Music videos and gay TV favorites play and there are almost always plenty of handsome men around.

The Brass Rail (3796 Fifth) has live music, urban and Latino dance music and cutting edge DJs. Not as gay as it used to be.

Caliph (3100 Fifth) an unpretentious, relaxed neighborhood piano and karaoke bar with outdoor patio, and good conversations.

Cheers (1839 Adams Ave) neighborhood bar for a straight and gay mix, with pool tables.

Flame (3780 Park) once thriving women's dance club, now mixed and without strong focus.

Open daily 2 pm to 2 am, Flicks (1017 University Ave) lively gay music video bar with something happening every night at the heart of Hillcrest.. Their website details events and tantalizes with a Boy Toy Gallery. Events include College Boy Nights plus karaoke, and returning in 2010: their famous Saturday night Wet Underwear Contest for cash prizes.

The Hole (2820 Lytton, Point Loma) old time vibe, friendly local's hangout, popular Sunday California Style Barbecues and beer bust.

Martini's (3940 Fourth) piano and cabaret lounge bar and restaurant.

Number One Fifth Ave (3845 Fifth) an "at home" atmosphere where you'll soon be chatting to the locals while enjoying something from their large selection of beers and cocktails. For more elbow room, they have a sheltered open-air back patio.

Numbers (3811 Park) early locals pub becomes dance club with two floors, playing Hip Hop, and Techno, strong urban and military vibe, go go boys Thursdays and Fridays, bears nights first Saturdays.

Pecs (2046 University Ave) neigborhood cruise bar with outdoor patio, mostly men, no sign on the door and a nothing fancy decor, just like gay bars of old.

Redwing (4012 30th St) bar and grill with good basic food, friendly charm, decent prices, outdoor patio, mixed crowd but more men than women.

Other dance options include Rich's (1051 University Ave) still popular after many years, with a Friday night gay dance that's a crush of bodies on the big central dance floor. Well-proportioned go-go dancers also work up a sweat. Thursdays are women's night, and many other special parties, including bears on 3rd Saturdays, fill their calendar.

The Levi-leather scene thrives at San Diego Eagle (3040 North Park Way) the city's leather, BDSM, and fetish cruise bar in North Park with St Andrews cross to play on. Most area BDSM leather/kink/fetish clubs call this home with regular events scheduled here. Friendly guys, digital jukebox and games that include dart and pinball machines.

Spin (2028 Hancock St), successor to old Club Montage, a big multi-level weekend dance venue, gayest on Saturdays, with pleasant rooftop patio bar.

SRO Lounge (1807 5th Ave) good place to start your night locals' neighborhood bar for everyone. Decent drinks , bar munchies, pool nights, women's nights, friendly vibe.

Universal Hillcrest (1202 University Ave) a new pace-setting omni-sexual lounge bar, with modern decor, innovative beats, and restaurant next door if you get hungry.

Urban Mo's Bar and Grill (308 University) restaurant and bar, big outdoor patio, young and sociable crowd and big servings of food. Kickers, in back, is home to Detour, long-popular Sunday t-dance after the champagne and bloody mary bar brunch. Thursday country-western nights, other dance nights alternating between Latin, hip-hop and high-energy.

Restaurants and cafes

Right next to Hillcrest Inn, Babycakes (3766 Fifth) has cozy couches, brick fireplace, delicious cupcakes, and Chocolate Decadence, stuffed croissants, quiche, chicken pies or fruit salads. There's outdoors seating front and back and they serve beer and wine too.

Baja Betty's (1421 University) south-of-the-border restaurant from the people at Urban Joes in Hillcrest.

Brian's American Eatery (1451 Washington), open 24 hours on weekends, has an old style friendly American diner ambience and breakfast anytime.

Near Numbers nightclub, Cafe on Park (3831 Park) has many brunch variations of eggs benedict and omelets, with some of the best potatoes anywhere, with big portions, plus bloody marys with a good kick. They also serve lunch and dinner if you still have room later.

Crest Cafe (425 Robinson Ave) hearty, healthy comfort food at affordable prices, handy to guests at Hillcrest Inn. Breakfasts with Mexican twist of Huevos Rancheros, burritos, quesadillas; plus benedicts, florentines, veggie messes, omelets, waffles, and hash among the many options.

Extraordinary Desserts (2929 Fifth Ave) gourmet restaurant best known for cakes, pastries and ice cream you'd expect to find in Paris, Vienna or Brussels. Also bruschetta, pate, panini, fontina, fine cheeses, and hot and cold beverages of all kinds. At their other location (1430 Union St) Sunday European Breakfast is now served with limited seatings 11am-2pm, reservations recommended.

Jimmy Carter's Cafe (3172 Fifth Ave) long-time gay favorite, now serving Mexican fare with big portions, friendly home-style ambience, near the Park Manor Hotel.

Lips (3036 El Cajon) is where elaborate drag diva shows come with dinner service.

Area cafes and coffeehouses include Living Room (5900 El Cajon Blvd) coffeehouse and bistro with good breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, coffee and tea specialties, iced drinks galore, and a big selection of tempting deserts; also with Wi-Fi.

Lestat's (3343 Adams) cafe with soups, sandwiches, quiche and salads , plus free wi-fi and live music, on Antique Row, in Normal Heights.

The Mission (2801 University Ave) cafe with simple, fresh, healthy and tasty food; whimsical and artful at affordable prices.

For more restaurant options click here .


A favorite Hillcrest meeting place for men anytime, Club San Diego (3955 Fourth) is a large multi-leveled complex with all the amenities: TV and porn lounges, private rooms, huge jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms and Jacuzzi water jets massage tired muscles. Their many cruisey alleys and corners offer more active recreation with a good-looking weekend crowd packing the place, so get there before midnight for one of 53 rooms. The party goes non-stop, all night.

Downtown, right on the trolley line, is Vulcan Steam And Sauna (805 West Cedar, at Pacific Coast Highway) is a superb facility with a secluded patio sun deck that draws a crowd, sauna, jacuzzi and private and community rooms (one a bunkroom, with a student/military feel). Open 24 hours every day, they have Monday and Wednesday bargain lockers, and guest memberships are available for those just passing through.


Hillcrest Inn (3754 Fifth) has 45 moderately priced units at the center of Hillcrest. They are pet-friendly and rooms have refrigerators and microwaves.

Park Manor Suites (525 Spruce) large, all-suite hotel in gay Hillcrest, with reasonable rates and free wi-fi. They have a popular kick-off to the gay weekend each Friday night for happy hour at the seventh-floor Top of the Park with great sunset views of San Diego's skyline, the harbor and Balboa Park. Inn at the Park, their restaurant at the 5th Avenue entrance, has continental cuisine and fun piano bar.

Kasa Korbett recently closed after many years of making gay visitors feel at home in San Diego.

For additional listings of area hotels and guesthouses, click here .

Media and resources

Gay papers such as the Gay and Lesbian Times, and
the San Diego edition of Bottom Line can be found in local bars or at
Obelisk (1029 University) gay and lesbian bookstore.

There's an online guide to Hillcrest at HillQuest.com,
and for great photos of gay San Diego nightlife see Sdpix.com.

Upcoming events

The Diversionary Theatre (4545 Park Boulevard #101) has stage productions of gay interest. For their upcoming season online, click above.

Film Out , the LGBT Film Festival, will delight gay cinema buffs with their wide international selection. Next scheduled for April 16-22, 2010.

Also, check out upcoming San Diego chapter Golden State Gay Rodeo events.

The San Diego Gay Men's Chorus sing out "for diversity and justice." See their website for upcoming performances.

Tijuana, Mexico

No need to drive from San Diego, American can park on their side, then walk across the border for a wild and all-night Mexican party. Once on the other side taxis are easy to find, and inexpensive for getting around town, but agree the price upfront and travel with companions when possible. The lower drinking age, and a greater tolerance south of the border for pleasures of the flesh, long ago made Tijuana a magnet for those to the north. Young military men in particular, but other Americans of all ages and orientations have been coming in droves, especially since the days of Prohibition in the US. But if all the sex and partying here remind you of Amsterdam, it's not true for drugs, even soft ones like Marijuana. Though prevalent, they're just as illegal in Mexico as up north. Attracting official attention can do more than ruin an evening, so follow the example of local friends you can trust.
For maps, bar lists, border crossing info and general updates see web-blogs BajaAdvisor.com, BajaGay.com, and BajaGay41

Bars & clubs Tijuana

Extasis / Fusion (Calle Larroque 213) an easy few minutes walk from the border gate, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays, with dancing, naked strippers, and sexual dark rooms, is the club most visited by, and best known to Americans. They combined recently with the club next door to add drag shows to the mix in a larger complex.

A new dance club All Access (Francisco Javier Mina 1616), full of youthful energy, has opened with stripper and drag shows, and some women's nights, some distance from other bars, near the IMAX dome of the Cecut Cultural Center, off Paseo de Los Heroes.

Going south from the border past Friendship Arch on Avenida Revolucion, four gay bars sit at the plaza on the south west side of Santiago Arguello.
El Ranchero (Plaza Santa Cecilia 769, on Arguello off Revolucion) is on two levels, popular with a good mix of both locals and Americans, where those of many ages and varied means hook up. It's "where languages and cultural differences are forgotten" as they say.
Villa Garcia (Plaza Santa Cecilia 751, on Arguella off Revolucion), next door, is a similar but smaller, edgier bar, drag-friendly, with shows.
DF (Plaza Santa Cecilia 1910) bar with older locals and young hustler machos.
At Hawaii (Plaza Santa Cecilia 768, Arguello near El Ranchero) male stripper shows are their specialty, and they have drag shows too. Dance all night and come by anytime -they're open 24 hours, 365 days a year. There's never a cover here and they have private rooms too.

Three gay bars on Revolucion north of Benito Juarez (also called Segunda, or 2nd), have less of a male sex focus, and include women, couples and straight friends among their patrons.
The most popular of these Camaleon aka Colibri (Calle 2/Calle Segundo, enter from Revolucion), is roomy, relaxed and friendly with shows. Others nearby are Closet popular with women, and Club 41.

At Zky Blue (Ave Francisco Madero 735) dance club, a block to the east, they have a varied mix of older and younger guys, but their popular dark room was closed at last report.
Directly across the street, Bobi's (Avenida Madero 518) attracts a mostly bear, masculine crowd, with 2-for-1 beers on Wednesdays.

Four more bars of interest, further down Revolucion, around 6th and 7th Streets, include Mike's (Revolucion 1220) one of the oldest gay bars in Tijuana, is gay from 10pm now, with strip and drag shows from midnight and dancing afterwards for a mixed straight women and gay men crowd.

The City (Avenida Revolucion at Calle 6ta) promises non-stop dancing and shows, go-go dancers, dark room, sex shop and a whole new concept for Tijuana after their March 2010 reopening. Check their websites for updates.

For some inexpensive, but reputable hotel options in the area of Tijuana's gay nightlife, click here.

Saunas Tijuana
A half dozen bathhouses dot the local landscrape, none entirely gay, and a lot less fancy than most such facilities in the US or Canada. Men who miss the old days of cruising "straight" guys might rise to the challenge. Follow your instincts, be discreet enough to avoid embarrassing anyone, and many are the pleasures to experience among Mexican men, when women aren't around.

Americans might feel most at home at Banos Vica (Blvd Gustavo D�az Ordaz 1535) to the south of the center near Mercado de Todos, clean but not too spiffy, with a piping hot steamroom. Sunday afternoons are especially busy. But then again, more people around can make the guys more cautious, so any day could be lucky. Opening times differ from what's typical up north, from 7am to 9pm.

The annual Tijuana Pride festivities typically take place third Saturdays of June, with a parade beginning on Second Street near Avenida de los Ninos at 5pm, ending at Plaza Santa Cecilia. Check local media closer to the event to confirm June 19, 2010. Lots of events follow in the bars.

Click on Tijuana & Baja California for more gay places south of the border in Ensenada and Mexicali.

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