We dis­cover Cal­i­for­nia’s best-kept se­cret!

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #225 - By Marc An­drews

SAN DIEGO, a mod­estly sized city of 1.3 mil­lion, is billed as both “Amer­ica’s Favourite Sum­mer City” and “Amer­ica’s Most Live­able City”. Now it’s build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a gay hub, with a big Pride week­end ev­ery July.

Just 200km south of Los An­ge­les and an­other 45 min­utes on to the Mex­i­can bor­der town of Ti­juana, the most no­tice­able thing driv­ing into San Diego for Pride week­end was the churches. I’ve never seen this num­ber of the big churches lit up at night in rain­bow colours or draped in rain­bow flags in any other city.

The gay busi­ness district is mainly around the Hill­crest area, a 10-minute car ride from the down­town area, where most of the ho­tels are con­ve­niently sand­wiched to­gether around the slightly seedy and kitsch Fifth Av­enue.

The town it­self is cute, if noth­ing spe­cial. Much of the city is stock-stan­dard Amer­i­cana. What re­mains of the beau­ti­ful, orig­i­nal build­ings dat­ing back to the 1800s are sand­wiched be­tween newer, shinier, less vis­ually pleas­ing tow­ers. Yet San Diego re­tains a chilled-out at­ti­tude long gone from sis­ter cities LA and San Fran­cisco.

A ma­jor gay at­trac­tion of the eighth big­gest city in the US is its lengthy and ex­tremely cruisey Black’s Beach. Lo­cated at Tor­rey Pines, about hal­fan-hour’s ride from down­town, it’s a stren­u­ous clam­ber down a steep cliff­side to the beach, so re­mem­ber to save some wa­ter and en­ergy for the ar­du­ous climb back up, too. The beach of­fers wa­ters warm enough to linger in (though with an abun­dance of kelp) and the not-so-hid­den bushes area is busy, busy, busy.

Come July and sum­mer­time, it’s Pride. To kick off a week­end of rain­bow cel­e­bra­tions, DILF at the his­toric Rail Bar (a gay land­mark since the 1960s) on the Fri­day evening was suit­ably sweaty and the per­fect way to get the packed crowds horned-up.

San Diego Pride, the fol­low­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon, was a vast street pa­rade. No­tice­ably ab­sent from pro­ceed­ings was sex ap­peal. Un­like other city’s events, this was rather se­date. In­stead, we saw many floats ded­i­cated to fam­i­lies, cheer­lead­ing teams, high schools – and, there they were again, churches.

Af­ter­wards, the crowds moved on to the Pride Fes­ti­val (with paid ad­mis­sion) where there were stalls, per­for­mances and blaz­ing sun. Make sure you take plenty of sun­screen if you want to sur­vive San Diego Pride with­out ir­re­versible tan lines, chronic sun­stroke or worse.

After the Pride Pa­rade and Fes­ti­val, party-go­ers had two op­tions. One, Party On The Pier, was staged by the ubiq­ui­tous White Party group, best de­scribed as the Amer­i­can ver­sion of a WE party. Many in the San Diego LGBTIQ com­mu­nity voiced con­cerns that the Pier party tick­ets were over­priced and of­fered very lit­tle, but pay­ing crowds throbbed along re­gard­less.

The sec­ond op­tion, with many good re­ports, was the Hap­pi­ness Tea Dance And Es­capade Boat Cruise, de­vised by pro­moter Joe Whit­taker. On a per­fect sum­mer’s evening it hosted hun­dreds of hot­ties on a four-hour boat cruise around San Diego Har­bour with a spe­cial

ap­pear­ance by none other than Cher – well, Chad Michaels from Drag Race do­ing Cher, along­side Aussie drag DJ, Kitty Glit­ter.

As a travel writer and mu­sic jour­nal­ist, my only small com­plaint was, as with most Amer­i­can gay events, the mu­sic. The beats never dare stray too far to­wards sexy, per­haps for fear of sex­u­al­iz­ing the crowd. In­stead, they stay a tad too im­po­tent and cheesy. Over the Pride week­end there were more histri­onic Whit­ney Hous­ton remixes spun than were played when the diva was alive and high-kicking in the 1980s. Still, the crowds lapped it up, so I went with it and, in the end, Whit­ney’s stomp­ing an­them It’s Not Right (But It’s Okay), which orig­i­nally de­mol­ished dance­floors back in the 1990s, never sounded bet­ter.

Again, there were two ri­val events on the fi­nal day of the Pride week­end. One was a pool party, free for staff who’d worked at Pride as a thank you, and $20 for ev­ery­one else. While that was ad­mirable and com­mu­nity-minded, it strug­gled to com­pete against an event hosted by one of the city’s ma­jor tourist at­trac­tions: San Diego Zoo. En­try to the zoo party in­cluded en­try to the zoo as well so, for a few hours around twi­light, gag­gles of gays gig­gled at the horny meerkats along­side moms with prams and re­tirees revving up their mo­bil­ity scoot­ers.

The Zoo Party was both dress-up and dress down – buff Amer­i­cans sport­ing an­i­mal prints, ze­bra leg­gings, puppy masks, lion tails…”

The Zoo Party was both dress-up and dress down – acres of top­less, buff Amer­i­can men sport­ing skimpy an­i­mal prints, ze­bra leg­gings, puppy masks, lion tails and pretty much ev­ery­thing else that might nor­mally be sold at the San Diego Zoo gift­shop.

This may just be the most unique gay dance party in the world. Where else can you see bears tum­bling around with each other in their cages, and see hu­man bears paw­ing at each other on the dance­floor? We saw mon­keys, lizards, birds of prey and snakes – and that was just in front of the DJ box once the crowd started to peak! The Zoo Party makes San Diego Pride some­thing fan­tas­ti­cally spe­cial and worth mak­ing the trip for.

A word of warn­ing: be­ware the “fan con­tin­gent”. Per­sonal fans now seem to be a nec­es­sary dance­floor ac­ces­sory. When the beats kick in and the fancy fans come out, flung around by flam­boy­ant types, stand back for your own per­sonal safety.

San Diego is full of friendly Cal­i­for­ni­ans, thrilled you’ve dropped by and ea­ger to see you re­turn next year. We’ll be back, for sure, ze­bra leg­gings and all.

“Cher” on the Hap­pi­ness boat cruise.

Zoo Party an­i­mals.

Daddy and Top.

Hunks on cruise.

Fe­line groovy at the Zoo Party.

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