North America's best bargain cities for gay travelers, meaning cool, GLBT-popular destinations (population 150,000 or greater) that offer great value, affordable accommodations, and plenty of cheap restaurants and gay bars. Some of these cities are still relatively pricey but listed here because they offer great value considering the region they're in. Others are cities more popular with business travelers than vacationers, but providing a positive, inexpensive vacation experience to GLBT visitors.
The largest city in North America has plenty of hip, stylish neighborhoods with significant gay followings, from trendy Condesa to artsy Coyoacan (where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived). Mexico City also has a pulsing gay club district, Zona Rosa, parts of which are lined with one festive bar after another. This sophisticated, if somewhat intensely huge, the city has plenty of swank hotels and fancy boutiques, but the favorable exchange rate makes it a bargain for visitors from the U.S. and Canada - taxis are cheap, the subway extensive, and restaurants offer solid value. The Condesa district makes for a reliable lodging base, with such gay-friendly options as the see-and-be-seen Hotel Condesa and the intimate, gay-owned Condesa Haus.
Home to the rollicking annual Mardi Gras festival and a slew of gay bars open 24 hours and serving super-cheap drinks, this quintessentially Southern city has always been one of the country's better big cities for travelers on shoestring budgets. Following the 2005 tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina, the Big Easy has been back in full force for some time now, but tourism numbers are still down a bit, meaning that hotel prices are lower than ever. Gay-friendly inns like the 1896 O'Malley House and Elysian Fields Inn offer wallet-friendly rates, and you can eat like royalty here without spending a fortune - think down-home, laid-back eateries serving soul food, Cajun and Creole fair, fresh seafood, and deep-fried-you-name-it.
Few cities celebrate sheer joie de vivre the way Montreal does - it's a city that embraces fashion, cuisine, nightlife, sex, and art with refreshing exuberance, and with one of North America's best Gay Pride celebrations, Pride Montreal. In the city's festive Gay Village, you'll find dozens of lively cafes, gay bars, saunas, strip clubs, and restaurants - plus well-priced yet comfy B&Bs like La Conciergerie. Not far away in the stylish Plateau neighborhood, you can dine on high-end fare without spending a fortune, and stay at the swish, gay-friendly Opus Hotel for a surprisingly good price. Don't miss other charming areas, like Vieux-Montreal and the Latin Quarter. The bargains for U.S. visitors vary according to the exchange rate.
Philadelphia has long been a leader in GLBT equality - and in courting the gay market. And sure enough, "family" have been flocking to the City of Brotherly Love for many years, taking advantage of the exceptional visual and performing arts scene, the wealthy of outstanding restaurants, and the approachable, welcoming gay nightlife scene. Foodies will discover great bargain hunting in the form of Reading Terminal Market and the city's famed cheesesteaks, but there are plenty of haute upscale temples of gastronomy here, too - yet even at these, prices are far less than in NYC, 90 minutes away. Fair-priced lodging highlights include the centrally located, gay-owned Alexander Inn and the old-world elegant Gables B&B.
San Antonio, Texas
Famous for its meandering downtown Riverwalk, which is lined with breezy outdoor restaurants and bars, and the historic Alamo mission, San Antonio has a great deal more to offer - from the gay-popular South Town neighborhood and King William Historic District to some of the top art museums in the Southwest to up-and-coming Pearl Brewery District. Outside of certain holiday periods, the city is also quite affordable - especially the several gay-friendly B&Bs of note. Another selling point: some of the best Mexican and Tex-Mex in the country, and generally at appetizing prices.
An old-world, largely working-class city that's long been overshadowed as a tourist destination by its relative neighbor to the south, Chicago, up-and-coming Milwaukee has enjoyed a terrific resurgence in recent years, with revitalized urban neighborhoods, handsome new condos, and a burgeoning retail and dining scene. This friendly, relatively affordable city hugging the shores of Lake Michigan has a sizable gay population and a vibrant gay nightlife corridor just south of downtown. Host of the nation's largest Gay Pride festival, it's a city that gay travelers are often pleasantly surprised by. Notable accommodations that offer plenty of value include the gorgeously restored Brumder Mansion and the boutique-y Hotel Metro.
The top value among the West Coast's major cities, the well-planned, eco-conscious, and left-leaning city of Portland has also emerged into a haven of food-loving bargain hunters - you'll find scads of fair-priced eateries serving inventive, farm-to-table cuisine and locally crafted beers, spirits, wines, and coffees. And the city's farmers markets and food carts are the stuff of legend. The artsy Ace Hotel and riverfront Hotel Rose are among the many mid-priced, yet inviting places to stay. Funky neighborhoods like Hawthorne and Alberta abound with vintage-clothiers and diverting dive bars. Even the posh Pearl District has its share of affordable bistros and boutiques, plus the legendary Powell's Bookstore.
Set amid the spectacular saguaro-cactus-studded desert of southern Arizona, friendly and approachable Tucson as one of the better-priced resort destinations in the country - even the high-end spots here, like the posh Westin La Paloma and J.W. Marriott Star Pass offer decent deals from time to time, especially during the summer off-season. Home to University of Arizona, Saguaro National Park, and the flagship locale of the famed vintage-clothier Buffalo Exchange, Tucson also has a vibrant strip of mostly cheap eateries and shopping, 4th Avenue. Visitors on a budget might try one of the city's many gay-friendly B&Bs, perhaps the Catalina Park Inn near the university, or super-cheap, endearingly offbeat Hotel Congress, near 4th Avenue.
The friendly, culturally rich, and affordable city of Guadalajara - the second-largest metropolis in Mexico - has a remarkably vibrant gay scene. It's long been known for its elegant buildings and churches that make up the city's historic center, the stylish shops and cafes of the fashionable suburb of Tlaquepaque, and the easy proximity to the beloved town of Tequila, home to the Sauza, Jose Cuervo, and numerous other fine distilleries. It's also home to nearly two-dozen gay bars as well as gay-friendly colonial B&Bs and plenty of welcoming restaurants and cafes, the majority of them within easy walking distance of the central Plaza Tapatia. Top budget lodging picks include the La Perla and Old Guadalajara B&B, both of them gay-owned.
A less pricey base for exploring such high-cost hotspots as Boston and Newport (both less than an hour away), Providence is a pretty fantastic city in its own right. The city's artsy, left-leaning colleges like Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales bring plenty of gay students and academics, and this progressive city has an openly gay mayor. Superb restaurants, a vibrant Little Italy, restored historic neighborhoods, and a moderate cost of living (by Northeastern standards) are further draws. Providence is also the only New England city with gay bathhouses, perfect for guys on the make. Hotels can be pricey, but there are also some bargains, like the Marriott Courtyard and Federal Hill's stylish Hotel Dolce Villa.