Gay Sacramento: Walking Tours

Author: , August 2nd, 2014

Sacramento has a great variety of walking tours, and while none of them are specifically gay, we’ve sampled a bunch of them to bring you some great options.

Sacramento Urban Art, Food & Libations Walking Tour

First off, three historical tours.

Sacramento Capitol TourThe Capitol
http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/detail.aspx?content2=2288&content3=1036
10th & L
Mon-Fri 8 AM-5 PM; Sat-Sun 9 AM-5 PM
Free

This is a great free tour – you get a backstage look at the history and workings of the California State Capitol, including the legislature, the Governor’s office, and the artwork scattered throughout the building, And you can’t beat the price. Biggest surprise? The modern portrait of the current Governor, Jerry Brown, from his first term as Governor in the 1970’s.

Sacramento Governor's Mansion TourThe Governor’s Mansion
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=498
1526 H Street
Wed-Sun 10 AM-5 PM
$5 adults, $3 kids

While not free, this one’s only $5 for adults and $3 for kids. The Governor’s mansion is actually not where the Governor lives – he’s in an apartment two blocks south. In fact, no one has lived in the house since Jerry Brown’s Father. Nancy Reagan decided the house wasn’t nice enough for her and Ronnie, although, in her defense, our guide told us that the neighborhood was very sketchy back then, and 16th street was a main thoroughfare before the freeways were build, so it wasn’t that great a place to live. The house is being renovated – the third floor is done, and when we were there, they were painting and redoing the floors on the first two stories.

Sacramento Underground TourSacramento Underground Tour
http://www.historicoldsac.org/programs/programs-underground.asp
Old Town
Various Times – See Website
$15 adults, $10 kids

A little more expensive than the other two historic tours, but fascinating. In 1862, Sacramento experienced an epic flood that left a lake miles wide in downtown. The city decided to raise itself twenty feet, and property owners were forced to pay to construct a wall in front of their buildings to bring the streets up 20 feet. The space between the walls on either side of the street was then filled with dirt, and at that point people had to use ladders to climb down to the businesses below. The buildings were then jacked up one by one, and new walls were built below them to hold them up. And finally, wooden sidewalks were built to connect the streets to the newly raised structures. It was an amazing feat of architecture, and the hour-long tour takes you under several of the buildings to see where the city used to stand.

Next, a few food tours. Both of these are from Local Roots Food Tours, and our guide for both was the amazing Lola.

Sacramento Urban Art, Food, and Libations TourUrban Art, Food & Libations Walking Tour
http://local-food-tours.com/culinary-cultural-experience/our-food-tours/
Midtown
Every Day 2 PM
$68

This tour includes food, drinks, and a tour of the street art in Midtown. The first two were great – the last one would have been more enjoyable if it hadn’t been 103 degrees out, but hey, it was cool anyhow. Standouts on this tour were the food at LowBrau (great sausage – even though I don’t like sausage) and Thai Basil. I even tried sushi for the first time – it was pretty good! Lola is full of info about the city culinary scene and the artwork you’ll encounter along the way. We’ve lived here for 11 years, and we visited five places we’d never tried before and discovered artwork we didn’t know existed.

Sacramento Gourmet on K TourGourmet on K Culinary Walking Tour
http://local-food-tours.com/culinary-cultural-experience/our-food-tours/
K Street
Fri-Mon 1:30 PM
$62

Another great food tour with Lola from Local Roots, and honestly our favorite of the two. Why? A few things, This one is under the shade for most of the tour, a big bonus on a hot summer day. It includes some real stand-outs – Mayahuel, which has amazing modern Mexican food (and a huge tequila selection, if you are so inclined), the great charcuterie and cheese plates (and wine pairings) at Downtown and Vine, and the wonderful Andy’s Candy Apothecary, a great little candy store with a story, Andy won a competition with a cash starter fund, professional help starting the business, and a year’s rent. These tours are a great way to sample restaurants you might never try otherwise.

And finally, we have a scavenger hunt.

Urban Adventure QuestUrban Adventure Quest
http://www.urbanadventurequest.com/tours/things-to-do/sacramento/default.aspx
Midtown/Downtown
Anytime
$49 for up to 5

Finally, a really cool self-guided tour. Urban Adventure Quest offers pre-planned scavenger hunts in tours all around the US. Their Sacramento tour starts just east of Capitol Park, winds through the park and the Capitol, to Downtown Plaza, and finally into Old Town. The tour consists of about 20 questions (and some bonus ones) that require you to find things, count things, and discover artwork and history along the way. You play on any smart phone, and can play up to five folks for one cost. There’s even a leaderboard where you can see how you stack up against other players.

There’s something for almost everyone in Sacramento.

Sacremento Gay Travel Resources

Steamy Walking Tours in New York, London, Tokyo and Paris

Author: , April 5th, 2014

New York CityGreat cities are always changing, and as property developers and big businesses move in, often the first neighborhoods to lose their character are those that operate on the margins – places where economies are decidedly underground. Even though a lot of that gritty neighborhood character is lost to history, there are audioguides out there that capture the essence of times gone by. Next time you’re headed to New York, London, Tokyo, or Paris, plug in to one of these guides to experience a different, seamier side of city life.

Times Square, New York City

Perhaps the most obvious example of a once-gritty neighborhood that’s lost its edge is New York’s Times Square. To look at the chain restaurants, family-friendly stores, and hoards of tourists that clog the area today, there’s no real sense of the adult theaters and sex shops that populated the streets from the 1960s to the 1990s. An audio walking tour ($1) from the Soundwalk company guides you through the streets and attempts to recreate those bygone days with the help of a narrator well-versed in its salubrious history.

Authored By Karen Gardiner Dion – See the Full Story at Sherman’s Travel

Click here for gay travel resources.

Five Free Walking Tours in New York’s Central Park

Author: , August 31st, 2013

Central Park - Apple MapsSeeing all of Central Park in one trip is impossible – it is six percent of Manhattan’s total acreage, after all. That’s why the Central Park Conservatory offers 13 themed tours of the park to focus your visit. We’ve narrowed down their offerings to the most interesting options that are still free of charge (a rare find in NYC). Visit their online calendar to see tour schedules, and don’t forget to donate what you can to the conservatory afterwards – the organization cares for all 250 acres of lawns, 150 acres of lakes, 9,000 benches, and 36 bridges in the park.

1. Cross-Park Promenade

This tour is perfect for covering many popular sites at once. In just over an hour, you’ll see the miniature sailboats so familiar from movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the famous Bethesda Fountain, the Loeb Boathouse, and Strawberry Fields. Keep in mind you’ll start on the east side but end the tour on the west side of the park. Starts at 72nd Street and 5th Avenue, Length: 75 mins.

2. History of Sports in Central Park

If you’re a sports fan, this is the tour for you. Guides explain how and why tastes in recreational activities such as baseball and horseback riding have changed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and reveal how Central Park has managed to continuously accommodate these evolving interests. Starts at the Dairy Visitor Center, Length: 75 mins.

Photo from Apple Maps.

Authored By Cailin Barrett-Bressack – See the Full Story at Shermans Travel

Click here for gay travel resources in New York City.

Buenos Aires on Foot

Author: , August 7th, 2013

Buenos Aires - Apple Maps

from Apple Maps

Buenos Aires is a city made for walking, but that doesn’t mean your ambling should be aimless. For visitors to BA on a budget, several local companies offer free walking tours in a number of neighborhoods, with guides working solely for tips. Read on for a vetted roundup of three of the city’s best, free, English-language walking tours…

BA Free Tour

Billed as the first free walking tour in not only Buenos Aires, but in all of South America, the five-year-old BA Free Tour outfit offers regular guided tours, led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic BA locals (known as “portenos”), around both the city center (2.5 hours, Monday-Saturday 11am) and the Recoleta and Retiro nabes (2 hours; Monday-Saturday 5pm). The well-organized city center tours touch on the politics, history, architecture, and culture of Buenos Aires, with stops at iconic sites like Congreso, the Casa Rosada, and the Obelisk. While group size varies, our outing was comprised of some 15 tourists, a mix of visitors from around the globe. BA Free Tour also offers late-afternoon “Aristocratic” walking tours past the mansions of the upscale Recoleta and neighboring Retiro quarters, with stops at La Recoleta Cemetery and along the mansion-lined Avenida Alvear, while offering insights into porteno cultural and lifestyles en route.

Authored By Elissa Richard – See the Full Story at Shermans Travel

Click here for gay travel resources in Argentina.

Some Great Things to Do in Portland

Author: , August 6th, 2013

Visit the Pearl District

The Pearl

Check out the Pearl (www.explorethepearl.com) – this is an older, industrial district where loading docks are being turned into restaurants with patios, similar to the Yaletown District in Vancouver. The district is an old warehouse district that was popular with local artists for loft space. In the mid 80’s, Thomas Augustine, a local gallery owner, coined the name. We’ve scoured a few websites to find out more about the origin of it, after hearing several things, and the nearest we can tell, it goes like this:

Pioneer Courthouse SquareMr. Augustine came up with the name, claiming originally that it was because the district was like a crusty oyster – a bit rough looking on the outside, but with pearls inside for folks who looked a little deeper. But in 2002, he came clean, revealing that he’d really named the district after Pearl Marie Amhara, a social worker who was born in Ethiopia and whom Augustine had immense respect for. But he chose to wait until after her death in 1996 to reveal this, out of respect for her and her work.

And apparently, the name was not universally embraced until someone writing for Alaskan Airline’s magazine picked it up, trumping other suggestions like the Warehouse District and the Brewery District (after a famous local brewery). Today, though, the name is universally accepted.

Jamison ParkWhatever the story, the area is undergoing a startling transition, as buildings are renovated, upscale furniture and clothing boutiques move in, new restaurants premier, and condo buildings spring up in and around the district.

Powells Books PortlandThis is a great place to spend an afternoon, window shopping, having a casual lunch or dinner, and, if you’re a book lover, getting lost in the stacks at Powell’s Books (www.powells.com).

If you’ve never heard of Powell’s, you have to see it to believe it. It’s a used/new bookstore that takes up a full city block, cobbled together from several original buildings. Wandering around inside is like being transported to book wonderland… For instance, most bookstores have a couple rows of Sci Fi and Fantasy Books – Powell’s has something like eight rows, each floor to ceiling, each 15-20 feet long. New and used copies of books co-mingle on the shelves, and you can often find a used copy in great condition for considerably less than the original. It’s like a huge old library, but you can buy the books! Another must-see in Portland.

Have Lunch in the Square

Pioneer Courthouse SquarePioneer Courthouse Square (www.pioneercourthousesquare.org/) was once the Portland Hotel, and later a parking garage, but in the 1980’s, the city decided to open up the block as a public square – Portland’s living room.

There’s a plaque at the Square’s northeasteen end that will give you a bit of the history of the site.

The city built this brick-paved plaza at the front of Pioneer Courthouse, with the visitor’s center framed by a beautiful waterfall fountain at one end.

There’s also a Starbucks here perched on the northwest corner – a really cool glass structure where you can grab a coffee and a snack for your people watching time in the Square.

The light rail passes on the north and south sides here. There are also several great pieces of public art here, including the man with the umbrella, and the chessboard and latte.

There’s also a cool crossroads sign that will tell you how far you are from all kinds of places when you’re standing in the square in the heart of Portland. Locations include Portland’s sister cities around the globe.

In the northwest corner, just below the Starbucks, is a small, circular amphitheater. Stand in the center and say “Keep Portland Weird” – it’ll freak you out.

The bowl shape is an amplifier, that will return your voice back to you like an echo chamber.

Piano Push Play PortlandNew this year – there’s a piano on the square (and several around town) as part of the Piano! Push Play effort (www.opb.org/artsandlife/article/portland-performs-piano-push-play-popup-project/)- free for anyone to play – and they do!

In the summertime, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, there are also free concerts on the square (www.thesquarepdx.org/calendar.shtm).

Walking around the square, you’ll see many bricks with names on them – these are mostly everyday folks who paid to sponsor a brick to help pay for the building of the square.

There’s also some great upscale shopping in the blocks around the square.

See a Movie in the Living Room

The Living Room Theater PortlandSee a movie at The Living Room (www.livingroomtheaters.com) – ever heard of this? Portland has a great “Living Room” style theater where you can lounge on a couch and watch an indie movie.

The theater offers oversized chairs, a few ottomans to rest your feet (get there early to get one), and food served by theater staff in the theaters. There’s also a bar/seating area in the front where you can enjoy a drink and some snacks before the film.

The theater specializes in indie films, so check out their website for the latest films before you go and make sure there’s something you want to see. The theater is just on the edge of the West End.

If you’re visiting Portland in the summertime, you might be fortunate enough to catch one of the movie in the park nights at Jamieson Park in the pearl (picture at right), played on a huge, inflatable movie screen that sits where the fountain’s pool usually laps.

Come early and get a seat on the lawn and enjoy a warm Portland summer evening under the stars.

Portland Saturday MarketShop the Saturday Market

Check out the Portland Saturday Market (www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com) – an outdoor bazaar/swap meet/yard sale with all kins of crafts and clothing, and even a guy who makes balloon animals. Though it’s called the Saturday Market, it’s actually on both Saturday and Sunday.

Try the Epicurean Tour

Food-Tour-Portland-03Take a walking Tour – there are several great walking tours that start at at the Visitor’s Center in Pioneer Courthouse Square – we took the Best of Portland Walking Tour (www.portlandwalkingtours.com), a two-and-a-half hour tour that starts at the square and winds in and around Portland, giving you a sense of the history, architecture, and community-mindedness of this beautiful city. The guide was friendly and well informed, and the tour provided a lot of the information about Portland and the city’s green policies that we’re bringing you in this article. Here are a couple pics we took on the tour – many of the other pics in this article were taken during those two and a half hours too:

Epicurean Tour PortlandWe also took the Epicurean Tour (www.portlandwalkingtours.com/tours/epicurean_excursion.php) – which starts out in Downtown at the Heathman Hotel, and winds its way up through the Pearl District. On our tour, we tried hot soup at Flying Elephants Delicatessen (that’s our tour guide, Bob, in the middle): Then we visited an The Bridgeport Brewing Company – a local brewery on the north side of the pearl, in a historic building that was slated to be torn down as unsafe.

Even though they don’t own the building, the Bridgeport folks stepped up and paid to have the building retrofitted so they could stay in their iconic building. Now the building has a beautiful public space where you can enjoy their ales and a little something to eat, too.

They showed us a hops flower – the little guy that figures so largely in the flavor of beers and ales.

Tea Zone PortlandNext, we stopped in at the Tea Zone – a tea shop that serves all kinds of hot teas, as well as one of our favorites – bubble tea. Regular readers of the newsletter will remember that we first found bubble tea – iced tea with milk, sugar, and some tapioca bubbles that you suck up with a big straw. We also got to check out a brick of tea – a big rectangular block of tea that was used for transport in the ancient world.

Pearl Bakery - PortlandNext, we stopped at our favorite place on the tour – The Pearl Bakery – with some fantastic fresh baked breads, croissants, and other treats:

We also stopped by In Good Taste, a cooking store with a cooking school in the middle and every kind of pot, pan, cooking implement and spice known to man – we tried a couple flavored mustards with some wine here:

And we wrapped it all up with a cup of tasty gelato. It’s a great tour – just bring your appetite and some good walking shoes: Also offered is the Underground tour, into the old streets and catacombs beneath the current city.

Or the Chocolate Tour

Cacao PodWe took a new tour this time around – the Chocolate Tour(www.portlandwalkingtours.com/tours/chocolate-decadence-chocolate-tour/). If you love chocolate, this tour is the one for you.

We started off this one at the Heathman Hotel too, up on the second floor, with our great tour guide, Donna. A brash Texan who relocated to Portland, she has a passion for chocolate. She started out by passing around a cacao seed pod – almost as big as your hand. Inside, there’s a white creamy liquid (yeah, she had our attention) called a mucilaginous pulp – in which are embedded 30-50 seeds. The mucilaginous pulp is edible, but is instead usually used to ferment the beans.

These seed pods must be harvested by hand – they grow directly on the tree branches, and automated harvesting could damage the tree, allowing fungus to infiltrate its system.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and a chemical called theobromine, which is what gives you that chocolate “rush”. Unlike caffeine, theobromine’s rush is akin to the feelings experienced form a long kiss or hug, and it doesn’t crash you like caffeine does. In a recent poll in the UK, more than 50% of women said they’d rather give up sex than chocolate!

Cacao Heathman

There are at least 24 distinct cacao varieties worldwide, but they break down into three categories – commodity grade – easier to raise but less flavorful; flavor grade – with more flavor but harder to raise/more expensive, and hybrids of the two.

You’ll learn so much more on the tour, and you’ll get to try samples of many types of chocolate.

The tour starts and ends at Cacao (www.cacaodrinkchocolate.com), a gay owned chocolate shop.

Cacao - Drinking ChocolateWhen we say chocolate, we mean both chocolate from renowned makers worldwide and fantastic, locally made drinking chocolate. The latter is divine, and is the store specialty – while we were there, we tasted a dark chocolate drink that was really good. They also make one that’s truly fascinating – a drinking chocolate with a complex flavor that included a hint of spicy pepper, giving the drink an unexpected kick. If you’ve had the really thick hot chocolate in Italy, this is similar, but not quite as pudding-like.

Chris at CacaoThe main store (or should we call it a cafe?) is beautiful decorated in warm woods, and the chocolate bars beckon with fantasic, brightly colored wrappers. The menu also includes coffees: espresso, americano, macchiato, cappuccino, and more.

Chris was our host at Cacao’s main store – very cute and totally knowledgable about the various chocolates we sampled at the store.

Moonstruck Portland

The shop is in what’s being called the West End, an area that’s quickly becoming a trendy new district, just across the street from the Pearl District/ Cacao is a must-see when you’re in Portland, but go early, because they don’t stay open late at night.

Cacao also has a second store, at the Heathman Hotel in Downtown, where we started the tour.

Teuscher Portland

Besides Cacao, we visited three other chocolate shops. The first was Moonstruck (at right). They make hand-crafted chocolates the American way, with little to no cream or milk – and had some adorable little clownfish chocolates and the cinnamon to-die-for Mayan chocolate truffle – they’re an Oprah favorite.

Cake Toppers - Teuscher

Also on the tour – Teuscher (at left – www.teuscherportland.com) – a boutique chocolate operation from Switzerland with just 23 stores worldwide.

What we liked about this one – the champagne-infused chocolate, the mocha they make with espresso over one of these divine treats, and the fact that the owner of the company is gay.

Leonidas PortlandThey also sell same-sex cake toppers (at right), by the way. 🙂

And finally, we visited a Belgian chocolate store – Leonidas (www.leonidasportland.com) – whose chocolates were much more creamy than the american chocolates, and a much bigger operation, with something like 1,500 locations worldwide.

Benessere PortlandWe also visited Benessere (www.benessereoil.com)- literally wellbeing – a shop specializing in imported Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.

They served us some amazing combinations of oils and vinegars, including a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar mixed with a blood orange olive oil, and also with a walnut oil. Amazing – would make a fantastic salad dressing.

If you enjoy chocolate, you’ll love this tour – it’s just 2 1/2 hours, and an easy walk with no hills.

Check Out the Zoo

Portland ZooJust like the city of Portland, the Oregon Zoo (www.oregonzoo.org) is built to a human scale. It’s a decent sized zoo with most of the “wow” animals (no lions or tigers tho), and has a great, open, green feel.

Goat at Portland ZooIt’s nestled in the hills above the city, and is easily accessed via the light rail. Get on one of the west-bound lines anywhere in downtown, and ride the train a few stops west to the Washington Park stop.

Take the elevator up, and you’re literally right at the entry to the zoo.

The zoo has a great central meadow for picnicking (as well as snack bars if you don’t bring your own food), and a cool little Elephant Museum with a full-scale skeleton of an elephant inside. You can see the whole thing comfortably in a couple hours.

Check out the JAW Festival in Late July

Portland ArmoryEvery year in Portland in late July, Portland hosts the JAW theatre festival (www.pcs.org/jaw/) – Just Add Water – an intense two week workshop for four aspiring artists and four budding teen playwrights, that culminates in three nights of free readings for the public, all paid for by local arts groups.

We chanced upon the festival while searching the Pearl website for things to do for our upcoming trip, and the dates worked out perfectly.  It’s he;d in the gorgeous historic Armory building.

JAW performerWe caught two full plays and two short one-acts – and of the four, three were gay-themed.

But before the play, there was entertainment – a local rapper and some break dancers that kept the crowd enthralled.

The first full-length play at 4 PM – Complex, by Dominic Finocchiaro – was about a condo complex where a series of escalating murders happen, a comical farce that had some very funny moments but never quite gelled for me. Maybe it was the format – the actors all sitting down just reading their parts. Maybe it was the over-the-top story or the “what do you think happened” ending.

But both the short play and full length play at 8 PM were better. Much better.

The short, called Suddenly So Intrigued, bu Thom Hilton, focused on a couple friends, one openly gay, seeing each other for the first time since something happened between them seven years before at Christmastime. It was very well done, especially considering that it was written by a teen just entering his junior year.

The full-length play, The Ocean All Around Us by David Levine, was fascinating – an exploration of the relationship between two brothers, told backwards in time, slowly peeling the onion to reveal what happened one inflammatory night. There was a beautiful parallel within the play between the art of the younger brother and the unfolding storyline… we hope this play makes its way around the country, as it was quite amazing. It was also much more active than Complex – despite the lack of sets, the actors moved around and really interacted with each other.

If you plan to visit Portland in July, see if you can synch your dates to see some or all of the JAW festival!

Click here to visit the Portland, Oregon section of Purple Roofs

Free, Fabulous Walking Tours in San Francisco

Author: , March 25th, 2012

San Francisco Walking ToursWhen I first moved to San Francisco in 2009, I was committed to learning about the history of my new hometown. I soon discovered San Francisco CityGuides, a remarkable resource for locals and tourists alike, which offers over 50 different walking tours – all at no charge. The itineraries (typically 90 minutes long) range from stalwart sightseers’ favorites – the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown – to unexpected forays that will delight even longtime residents, including “City Scapes and Public Places,” which includes visits to several semi-secret roof gardens in the midst of the Financial District.

Up to a dozen different tours are offered between early morning and late afternoon, every day of the year with the exception of major holidays.

Before leading their first tour, each of the 34-year-old non-profit’s 200+ volunteer guides is required to take an intensive, months-long training program that immerses them in the history, architecture, and sociology of San Francisco as a whole, and also requires research on the specific topics and places they’ll be introducing to their tour groups.

Full Story from the SF Agenda

Click here for gay travel resources in San Francisco.