Weekend in Toronto: A gay guide to exploring Toronto

In September I visited Toronto, Canada for the very first time. I didn’t know what to expect before I landed there, but as it turns out, the city is much more exciting than I could’ve imagined. There were three highlights during my short weekend in Toronto that stood out: the nightlife, the food, and the Queen Street West neighborhood.

toronto gay guide

Nightlife in Toronto

Toronto is one of Canada’s most happening cities for gay nightlife. I didn’t realize it until I saw it for myself, but Toronto is VERY gay. The streets of Church and Wellesly are the main LGBT hotspots—the “gayborhood.” I visited one of the popular martini bars (and clubs) on Church Street late on a Friday night. It was jam-packed full of sexy Canadians (are there any other kind?) and even when the music stopped at last call, it took a while for everyone to scatter. But on a cool September evening (morning?), most people were just milling about on the streets. Church Street seems to attract every type of fetish bar imaginable in addition to your regular, run-of-the-mill gay clubs. My night, as usual, ended at a cheap pizzeria with some guy writing down the phone number for an after hours drink service.

The city serves up more than just gay nightlife, though. Trendy cocktail bars and posh nightclubs are scattered across the city. My Saturday night in Toronto included the semi-exclusive Black Hoof oyster & cocktail bar, a sort-of tapas bar serving pub food all night called 416 Snack Bar, and a hidden speakeasy near Chinatown.

toronto travel

Queen Street West

Queen Street West is undoubtedly one of the most hip and trendy areas in Toronto. It’s a rather long street which is home to many art galleries, cafes, bakeries and restaurants. The street ends at Ossington Street which is equally trendy, but features less frilly cupcake shops. There’s also the Trinity Bellwoods Park which is a popular spot for summertime festivals and get-togethers. Keeping with the area’s traditionally bohemian atmosphere, Toronto’s Graffiti Alley (just off QSW) is the city’s only public space where graffiti is legal.


Toronto is as much a nightlife destination as it is a foodie heaven. With gourmet chefs and local hotspots, the culinary scene in Toronto is always growing. I visited the locally owned Cheesewerks—a restaurant focusing solely on one item: grilled cheese. Each sandwich could also be created as a mac & cheese dish, or you can order other cheese-related foods—all made from 100% Canadian products!

Being a rather trendy city, Toronto is also home to many of the popular food trends today—everything from cupcakes & macarons to food trucks. For a cupcake, try the red velvet one at Dlish Cupcakes—it’s a popular one among locals. For more ethnic cuisines, try one of the city’s three Chinatowns. Or, head for Kensington market where you can get everything from grilled cheese to churros.

Any weekend in Toronto is bound to be exciting. Check seetorontonow.com for current LGBT travel listings or other things happening in Toronto. For more of my personal travel tips, check out my Hipster Guide to Toronto.

Weekend in Cleveland

While visiting family in Ohio this summer, I took a slight detour and opted to visit Cleveland for a few nights. With the help and support of Cleveland Tourism, I was able to enjoy a quick trip to the Cleve. Here’s a brief photo tour of my weekend in Cleveland!

I started my short stay in Cleveland with a late-afternoon aperitivo at the Ritz-Carlton. Happy hour included some delicious appetizers but the real highlight was the cocktail menu. The Cleveland Ritz offers “Rocktails” — cocktails inspired by hit songs from each year the hotel doors have been open. I, of course, went with the Lady Gaga cocktail!

During the cocktail happy hour, I also learned a bit more about the Gay Games which will take place in Cleveland in 2014. I couldn’t believe that Cleveland beat out other USA cities such as Boston. This was my first hint that Cleveland might be more hip than it seems.

Since I was already going strong on the drinking, I kept it going the rest of the night. I took a brief tour through Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood which is the Williamsburg-equivalent. Lots of yuppie professionals, artists and hipsters. A short drive from Tremont is the Ohio City district—where all the beer bars are. I visited the newest one on the block: Nano Brew. I was intrigued by their very hipster logo!

The next morning, after a very hearty breakfast at Latitude 41, I decided to put on my tourist shoes. The first stop, the West Side Market, is one of Cleveland’s National Historic Landmarks. But it’s probably most famous for its pierogi and falafel stands! Priorities.

After my walk through the Ohio City district, I went straight for Cleveland’s most popular tourist destination: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I didn’t expect to like the museum as much as I did—they literally have everything inside from glittery jackets to listening stations. And even Elvis Presley’s old car.

Getting a bit restless on my weekend tour through Cleveland, I left the museum after a few hours and wandered around the downtown area. It was a pretty quiet city for a weekday afternoon, but there was plenty of public art. And even a food truck festival.

Eventually I made my way to the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum is one of the only museums in the USA to offer free admission to its permanent collection, so I wandered through the air-conditioned building for a while. Spotted a few Warhols before leaving.

The museum is in the popular University Circle—not far from the city’s “cultural gardens.” The park has different monuments and areas celebrating Cleveland’s ethnic diversity. I spotted a lot of Eastern European ethnicities, which probably explains why I had so many pierogies.

Continuing my quest for ethnic food in Cleveland, I decided to try a quintessentially American delicacy—the grilled cheese sandwich. In Cleveland, the Melt Bar & Grilled offers way too many varieties of the American classic to count (mine had pierogies on it, obviously). It’s an insanely popular restaurant and bar. The food was pretty good but it was over the top and incredibly unhealthy.

I ended my weekend in Cleveland with a visit to one of the city’s gay bars: Twist Social Club. It was nothing special, and kind of dead for 11pm. But I’m told it’s most more popular on other nights. Still, it was a slightly older crowd, but their outdoor patio would’ve been much more comfortable on warm summer nights.

Healthy living (and eating!) at the Westin Grand in Munich

This week I had the chance to experience a new initiative by Westin hotels: New Balance Gear Lending. The promotion lets hotel guests rent workout clothing during their stay. You can rent running clothes and shoes saving you the luggage space when you pack. I thought it was a great idea, and it allowed me to go for a run in Munich without having to pack running shoes. That’s valuable packing space I saved!

The gear lending is part of a wider initiative for healthier hotel stays for Starwood Hotels guests—everything from making exercise easier to nutritious foods. The SuperFoodsRx menu recently launched by Starwood puts much healthier ingredients in their restaurants and on their menu. I tried their breakfast menu which included fresh fruit and smoothies.

The apple and carrot juice smoothie was far and away the tastiest.

healthy sandwiches

Lunch from the Westin hotel restaurant included several large sushi platters, a spicy shrimp curry and other snack foods. Everything tasted so fresh!

My lunch with the Starwood hotel staff was a great way to learn about their healthier style of hotels. Part of my winter resolution this year was to exercise more and eat healthier. That’s so far been a challenge while traveling, but with more and more hotels embracing the health trend, it’ll certainly get easier!

Do you find it hard to stay healthy when staying in hotels? 

Gay Travel to New Zealand: Attitudes to Gay People and Culture

West Coast New Zealand 1

This is a guest interview with 30Traveler, a 30-something New Zealander who writes an anonymous travel blog. She has lived in New Zealand, Brighton (UK) and New York, is bisexual, and has been in a same-sex relationship for the last 12 years.

Q: This week the current New Zealand Prime Minister John Key used the term “gay red shirt” to insult someone. Is that attitude common in New Zealand?

A little bit. New Zealanders are usually polite publicly but sometimes can be prone to making stereotyped comments with their friends. People would usually only say this kind of thing in their own homes. Of course a lot of New Zealanders have positive attitudes too – there has been a “Gay Red Shirt Day” meme going around New Zealanders on Facebook. A segment of NZ do other stereotyping behind closed doors too e.g., people sometimes make stereotyped comments about our indigenous culture like “Maori rugby players are dumber than white rugby players.” Our Prime Minister isn’t usually gaffe prone, but he did also call David Beckham dumb this week.

Institutional discrimination is rare. We have civil unions, and New Zealand has a long history of civil rights e.g., we were the first country in the world to give women the vote in 1893.

West Coast New Zealand 2
Q: What experiences have you had traveling in New Zealand with a same-sex partner?

Generally positive. Gay and lesbian travelers don’t need to hesitate about booking one bed rooms or being open about their relationship with people they meet.

In an article on my own blog I wrote about how accommodation providers sometimes like to delude themselves by referring to my partner and I as mother and daughter (we have an age gap but not big enough to be mother and daughter!)

Occasionally my partner and I get attention from what we’d call “yobbos” or “bogans.” When we’re out having our evening walk together, young guys sometimes yell “lesbians” out the window of their cars and throw eggs. This happens around once a month. We’re not the only targets of the eggs though.

Q: Can you tell us about any queer-run tourism in New Zealand?

A few examples. There is a lesbian owned winery (they offer tastings) about an hour’s drive from Queenstown (http://desertheart.co.nz). A lovely lesbian couple also run a backpackers in Queenstown (http://www.aspenlodge.co.nz/). There is also lesbian-run Criffel Peak View B&B in Wanaka (http://www.criffelpeakview.co.nz/)

Q: For people who might be considering extended travel to New Zealand, what’s it like as a place to live for gay people?

Pretty good. As I said previously, institutional discrimination is rare, so it’s fine to mention your partner if you’re applying for a job in New Zealand etc (Unlike if you’re applying for a job in Singapore).

People will generally invite you and your partner to things, just as they would invite someone’s opposite sex partner. (In NZ, lots of unmarried opposite sex couples use the term partner too).

Culturally, New Zealanders are less extroverted and outspoken than Americans. For example, religion is not really talked about publicly here. That can make the culture feel more accepting than in some parts of the US. Attitudes to gay people are similar to attitudes in liberal US states.

It’s not perfect but people are pretty accepting e.g., my Mom (who is wonderfully supportive) still introduces my partner to people as my “friend.” I’m sure a lot of other gay couples all over the world can relate to that type of thing.

30Traveler is about travel beyond backpacking, with a focus on flashpacker style travel, renting apartments, and vegan/vegetarian travel.

The Lesbian’s Guide to the Bay Area

San Francisco guide
View San Francisco from above in a helicopter tour!

By Sophie Needelman

The Bay Area is known as a gay haven, teaming with liberal residents, colorful cultural gems, and enough food to keep you overeating for days. This dynamic region is home to the notoriously gay city of San Francisco, bold Oakland, quirky Berkeley, and tons of gorgeous suburbs in between. Living in the Bay Area has been incredible, but it definitely was not always easy to find my way—especially because San Francisco tends to be more of a gay boy’s city than one suited for lesbians. With that said, the rich and open minds of the people in the Bay make it great for anyone; lesbians just have to know where to look.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is my favorite place in San Francisco to see performances and check out museum exhibits. I have experienced some incredible performance artists and alternative works in many of the beautiful facilities housed here. With the Museum of Modern Art nearby, you could spend an entire day walking the grounds and exploring all of the culture this hotspot has to offer. There is great people watching around here too. I tend to gravitate toward artsy folk so grabbing an outside table at the tea and dessert café right in the center of YBCA is my favorite way to spend an afternoon!

In my opinion, the best way to get to know a city is to hit the pavement and walk around as much as possible. In San Francisco, one of my favorite walks is to start at the Embarcadero, head West into Union Square, then go North through Chinatown, Little Italy, and eventually over some infamous hills to Fisherman’s Warf. The entire walk takes about an hour, and there are plenty of places to stop and eat or take photos along the way!

SF Lesbian Guide

Another great way to get a sense of a city’s culture is to know where to shop. Aside from the mainstream and often touristy places like Union Square and Fisherman’s Warf that are home to many large chains, I do most of my shopping in the East Bay where there are more off the beaten path boutiques and thrift stores. My favorite stretch of sidewalk is on College Ave. in Berkeley, home to various gift shops, book stores, and cafes. My second favorite area to shop is on Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley—there are tons of restaurants around here as well as markets, galleries, and specialty stores that are fun to explore. When I exhaust those two regions of my neighborhood, I hit up the notorious Telegraph Ave. right near UC Berkeley’s campus. There is truly no better place to buy handmade jewelry, tie-dye apparel, or used books!

With all of this site seeing, it is easy to work up an appetite. My favorite breakfast places are in Berkeley. It has to be a tie between La Note and Guerilla Café. Anything on either of the menus here is absolutely to die for! In the city, the Blue Bottle Coffee café near Mission and Market Street in San Francisco is an adorable yet chic place to get a delicious energy boost any time of day. The Buena Vista Social Club restaurant in Ghiradelli Square has got to be one of my favorite places to eat in the city because of its gorgeous views of the Bay and its classic and old school style. For any sort of ethnic food, the Mission is the place to be. If you are up for busy crowds and tons of great people watching while trying some of the freshest and tastiest free samples the Bay Area has to offer, look no further than the Ferry Building Farmers Market.

All of these Bay Area highlights make it an incredible place to live, regardless of sexual orientation. While my favorite parts of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley aren’t exclusively lesbian or even queer, I gravitate toward them because of their openness and richness in culture. One of the things I love about living here is getting to interact with all sorts of people, visitors and residents alike. For other lesbians like me who enjoy exploring the urban landscape of any and every city I encounter, these are a few great places to start your own journey! There is no better relationship—gay, straight, or otherwise—than the relationship you have with the city of your dreams.


Sophie Needelman is the Content and Editorial Coordinator for GayTravel.com. She is also the founder and director of The Defiance Project, a San Diego and Bay Area based dance company. Beyond her professional endeavors, Sophie enjoys pursuing her joint-degrees in Dance and Performance Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.