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Expanding Summer Horizons

By Amy Cavanaugh

Think outside the beach this summer when you’re deciding where to head for vacation. Here are more choices for your summer getaway: soaking up the culture of a big city or visiting a cool college town before the students return.

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas
Texas in the summer? Don’t sweat it—spend your days museum-hopping and lounging by the pool, and your nights dining and drinking, and you won’t even notice Houston’s heat. The fourth-largest city in America, Houston has a lesbian mayor, Annise Parker; a museum district with more than a dozen museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, which this summer has a show on immersive light environments by artist James Turrell; and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.

Have breakfast at Blacksmith, a coffee shop with a cool vibe that serves cane sugar lattes and biscuits with crème fraiche and marmalade. For lunch, visit Eatsie Boys, which has a food truck and a café serving kale salads, pretzel sandwiches, and matzo ball pho, or Café Brasil, a funky restaurant with a beet and goat cheese sandwich you’ll crave long after your visit. For dinner, go to Hugo’s for high end but approachable Mexican, and end your day with an inventive cocktail and small bites at Anvil Bar & Refuge, beer from the extensive list at The Hay Merchant, or a drink at laid-back lesbian bar The Usual.

Madison, Wisconsin Skyline

Madison, Wisconsin
The state capital is home to the University of Wisconsin, and when the students are gone for the summer, you’ll have more space to explore. Browse the shops and art galleries on State Street, visit breweries like New Glarus and Capital Brewery, and rent bikes to tour the city and surrounding area. Downtown is very walkable, and you can easily get by without a car. Madison is also a great spot for outdoorsy types, since you can rent paddleboards, canoes, or kayaks to explore one of several lakes. And you can be back in town in time for dinner at Graze, which turns regionally sourced ingredients into dishes like Greek-inspired lamb meatballs and deviled eggs with smoked paprika aioli.

No matter what else your itinerary includes, make sure you’ll be in Madison on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, since the Dane County Farmers Market, the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States, is a must-visit. Have breakfast, pick up cheese curds (a visit to Wisconsin isn’t complete without a bag of squeaky curds) and buy other locally made items that are perfect to bring home as gifts. While you’ll find gay and gay-friendly bars year-round, like gay dance club Plan B, you can also coordinate your vacation to participate in Wisconsin Capitol Gay Pride, which will be held August 17 and 18 this year and features a parade, rally, special brunches, and more.

Amy Cavanaugh writes about food and drink, travel, and culture from her home base of Chicago.