Culture Crave? Don't Miss These 7 Fantastic Outdoor Experiences

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 19, 2020

You had to stay home, Now you want to travel. When you're ready, We're ready.

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The "great outdoors" is feeling even greater in this notorious year. To reduce virus risks, many of us are hunting for fresh-air outings with maximum acreage for social distance.

Fortunately, your cultural pursuits needn't suffer, thanks to the glory of open-air museums, art parks, botanical gardens, and outdoor tours. From coast to coast, many sites have reopened with guidelines to keep staff and visitors safe with plenty of queer-centric themed content and LGBTQ-owned businesses nearby to support. Here are a few fabulous attractions eager to welcome you in a pleasantly spacious way.

Neon Museum, Las Vegas
Unique, dazzling, and unforgettable—it's hard to overstate the magic of the Neon Museum. This non-profit institution on the north end of Las Vegas fills out a 2.3-acre campus with scores of retired, retro signs assembled to form the Neon Boneyard.

Visitors love the site's outdoor space and one-way path, lined by iconic marquees that once glimmered across town, some atop the most famous Strip casinos. Some signs are self-illuminating, others are spot-lit, and all are spectacular. Visitors can buy tickets with advance reservations for daily open hours, from 4 p.m. to midnight.

Grab a pre- or post-Neon bite of modern Mexican cuisine at Mandalay Bay's Border Grill, co-owned by Mary Sue Milliken and out chef and LGBTQ advocate Susan Feniger. Health policies are in place to ensure safety for guests and staff.

Ready to visit? CLICK HERE

Storm King, Hudson Valley, New York
Five hundred acres is a whole lot of open space, and at Storm King, it's even more inviting thanks to more than 100 pieces of large-scale modern art adorning the landscape. Some of the world's greatest sculptors are represented here by immense works that were either acquired since its 1960 founding, erected at specific sites, or are part of temporary exhibits. Visitors can reserve tickets ($20 each) for daily admission from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Storm King closes at 5:30 p.m.) Frontline healthcare workers, active military, EBT users, and some others are invited to visit for free (full free-entry list here). And while bikes aren't allowed these days, picnics in designated areas are. Just be sure to buy your timed ticket well in advance.

LGBTQ Bonus: Pair a visit here with a Big Gay Hudson Valley event, hosting everything from hikes to tastings to live performances in towns up and down the Hudson River.

Ready to explore? CLICK HERE

New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden
Since 2003, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden has invited travelers to stroll among renowned, large-scale sculptures. Last year, the New Orleans Museum of Art doubled the garden's size to 12 acres, with installations among City Park's natural landscape of magnolias, pines and live oaks.

Visitors can check out 90 works from artists like Deborah Butterfield, Robert Indiana, Do Ho Suh, Katharina Fritsch, George Segal, and many more. The garden is open Wednesday through Sunday for $15, with free admission for healthcare workers and first responders (through December 31, 2020). Helpful hint: Reserve well in advance since capacity is currently reduced.

LGBTQ visitors and locals will appreciate the Big Easy's everyday queer-friendly vibes, whether sipping drinks on a Bourbon Street balcony, brunching on the Country Club's porch or people-watching on strolls through the Marigny and Bywater.

Wondering where to stay? CLICK HERE

TurnPark Art Space, West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Tucked among the hills and forests of Western Massachusetts is a lovely cultural outpost spread across 16 acres of a former quarry. TurnPark Art Space, founded in 2017, was the vision of two sculptors who wished to share intriguing works, special exhibitions, and performances. Though the indoor galleries are temporarily closed and events are suspended, TurnPark's sculpture-laden grounds welcome visitors daily (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) for a $15 suggested donation. Thanks to its scenic location at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains, you can take in art as well as rolling hills, meadows, a lake, and a cliffside view of the natural landscape.

For a taste of the Gilded Age, stay at the gay-owned Devonfield Inn in nearby Lee. The English-style country house overlooks a pastoral meadow and offers modern amenities (as well as complimentary cognac and cordials in the living room at day's end). Innkeepers Doug Bagnasco and Jim DeBlasi are ready to welcome you with open arms—from afar.

Need a car? CLICK HERE

Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York
It's free and open to the public, and it's one of New York's true hidden gems. Socrates Sculpture Park was established in 1986 by a group of artists and community members, led by sculptor Mark di Suvero. Located along the East River, the four-acre park is an enchanting outdoor museum adorned with sculptures and multi-media installations, many of them created on-site in the outdoor artist studio space. Visitors may come and go freely as long as they follow COVID-era guidelines like wearing a mask, and staying at least six feet from others.

Don't miss the current "Monuments Now" exhibit, a major installation by renowned artist Jeffrey Gibson, who identifies as queer and incorporates camp themes in this large-scale project. (View more SSP visitors' rules here.)

Which NYC airport offers the most affordable flight? CLICK HERE

The Huntington, San Marino, California
One of the country's most impressive, historic botanical gardens spans 130 gorgeous acres. The Huntington, located just 15 miles east of Hollywood, is an art museum, archive, and library -- and a marvelous assemblage of 16 themed botanical gardens stretched across a former Pasadena ranch. Visitors can explore gardens with themes by region, climate, and flowers, or by plantings tied to Shakespeare, built for children, or focused on herbs.

LGBTQ visitors can feel at home in this swath of Los Angeles County, thanks to community anchors like the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center, the Pasadena Queer Women's Book Club, and other local groups. A new batch of timed tickets to the Huntington ($25) is released each Monday, as are $20 tickets for leisurely "Evening Strolls" through the gardens, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Ready to start planning? CLICK HERE

Mural Arts Philadelphia
It's a great city, filled with arts in and beyond the Center City Gayborhood. And since its July return, you can join the Mural Arts Center City Mural Mile Walking Tour to view "the world's largest outdoor art gallery."

Mural Arts Philadelphia is the country's largest public art program, founded in 1996 to transform public spaces while empowering communities and individuals through arts, education, mental health and wellness, and restorative justice. It's a tall order that comes alive as fabulous public artworks across the city.

Join the Mural Mile Walking Tour to learn about neighborhood history, mural-making processes, and backstories about the people who inspired each project. Don't miss artist Ann Northrup's "Pride and Progress", a gay-rights-themed mural adorning the LGBTQ community's William Way Center (with the best URL, Ninety-minute, small-group Mural Mile tours happen at 10 a.m. every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, starting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (tickets $24), with advance reservations and face coverings.

Want more LGBTQ travel tips? CLICK HERE

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.