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Know the Way to San Jose During Gay Pride (and Beyond)

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‘Tis the season for Gay Pride, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to go to over-the-top parties and contend with raging crowds. While the big-city Pride festivals in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have obtained almost legendary status, there are plenty of alternatives for those looking for a more laid-back way to celebrate.

Close enough to San Francisco (just 42 miles) to share its liberal attitude, but far enough away that congestion and crowds are generally not a problem, San Jose is the Bay Area’s alternative for a low-key getaway during Gay Pride and beyond.

Going strong in one incarnation or another for almost 40 years, San Jose Pride is an annual two-day event celebrating the San Jose LGBT community and its allies. Held in Discovery Meadow Park Downtown, the first day is free to all and packed with local performers. Day two kicks it up several notches, with big-time talent. (Past headliners include legendary DJ/remixer Tony Moran (Mariah, Madonna, Beyonce, Janet), R&B singer Brandy, and Tony Award winner and original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday.) The vibe is celebratory, and it’s also family friendly—incuding the world’s largest Monopoly game–no fighting over who gets to be the top hat!

This year’s San Jose Pride will take place August 17 & 18. Both the Hyatt Place San Jose and the Fairmont San Jose in downtown San Jose will be offering preferred rates for the weekend.

Downtown San Jose has a solid selection of bars and clubs within walking distance from each other, and others just a designated-driver-ride away. Brix Nightclub and Splash boast heavy beats, videos, and, of course, boys and girls ready for a party, while Mac’s Pub has an easygoing “Cheers” vibe. For those craving leather and Levis, Renegades is just a 10-minute drive from downtown, and Tinker’s Damn, in very nearby Santa Clara, is a longstanding favorite of those who prefer their dancing and drag shows with no attitude.

Locals boast that San Jose’s cultural scene rivals that of San Francisco. Big-name musical acts pack the HP Pavilion, while smaller venues all over the city host film festivals, speaking series, and music, dance and theater performances. Don’t miss works from world-renowned artists at the San Jose Museum of Art (the newly opened Annie Lebovitz: Pilgrimage runs through September 8) and discover the work of “street artists” championed by independent downtown galleries like Anno Domini. On the first Friday of each month, The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art and independent galleries and businesses in the city’s SoFA distric feature exhibits and performances.

Established more than 30 years ago in response to the loss of housing and employment protection for gays and lesbians in Santa Clara County, the Billy DeFrank Community Center has since become an invaluable institution in San Jose, providing health education, support and services, as well as a friendly place for the LGBT community to come together. Located in the Rose Garden neighborhood next to the Crema Coffee Roasting Company, the center welcomes visitors.

For a quirky local experience, Winchester Mystery House is a puzzle of secret passageways, hidden rooms, and doors to nowhere. Designed by Sarah Winchester, widow of Winchester Repeating Arms Company treasurer William Winchester, the house was under construction 24/7 for more than 35 years, due to the widow Winchester’s fear that the angry spirits of those killed by a Winchester rifle, would do her in if it were ever completed. Tours are available. Spirits may or may not accompany.

Even if your interest in technology is limited to how to turn on your iPhone, The Tech Museum of Innovation will have you claiming your citizenship on Planet Nerd. Ride in a jet pack chair, experience an earthquake without having to actually experience an earthquake, combine your facial features with those of complete strangers (not always pretty, but always funny), and more. Beginning in October, Star Wars fiends will be able to see more than 80 costumes and props from all six Star Wars films, and to learn how real-life research might someday make sci-fi stuff in the films a reality.

If dining, shopping, and spa treatments sound like the perfect way to spend a few days away, Santana Row, a landscaped pedestrian friendly live/work district, has you covered. A mix of high-end and mid-range retail stores, award-winning restaurants, spas, nightspots, and more, make for an easy park and play weekend. Rooms at the plush European-style Hotel Valencia come complete with a rooftop pool, and easy access to Aveda, dining at the award-winning Lark Creek Blue, and the casual patio hangout at Vintage Wine Bar.

If San Jose is another world away from San Francisco, then Half Moon Bay is like another galaxy. This quiet coastal city is an easy drive, less than an hour. Stop at Año Nuevo State Park for a guided 3-mile walk through sand dunes (between December 15 and March 31), and get up close and personal (not too close!) with a colony of Northern Elephant Seals in their natural habitat. Amazingly cute for such large creatures – males weigh up to 2 ½ tons! – the seals come ashore to mate, give birth, molt and rest, before returning to the ocean, where they spend most of their lives.

Continue on to the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. The cliff-side resort attracts everyone from urban gays to Bay Area families looking for a quiet getaway, but if you can’t afford a night, just stop in for a glass of wine while taking in the gorgeous bay views. Then head onto Main Street in the city’s historic downtown. The always-buzzing Sam’s Chowder House is the place to grab fresh seafood with a water view, and talk to real fisherman selling their day’s catch on the docks of Pillar Point Harbor. Later, hit Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for in-house craft brews, live music and an innovative menu–think Yucatan-style ceviche and crispy garlic fries.

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By Brian Carmody for Brian Carmody is the founder of, the social/resource site for LGBTs celebrating their relationships and life events.