SAN DIEGO PRIDE
We discover California’s best-kept secret!
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.