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Travel Watch: Paradise found in Delray Beach, Fla.

For those who think that South Florida’s gay scene is confined to South Beach, a trip north to Delray Beach is like a breath of fresh air.

Delray Beach provides a sunny, relaxing, slower-paced getaway only an hour’s drive north of Miami. Delray Beach has a quiet, small-town feel, but no one will give a second glance at a same-sex couple holding hands on the beach. There’s plenty to do in town, and the club scene, when you want it, is no more than half an hour away.

A former farming community turned retirement haven, Delray Beach is no longer your grandmother’s beach town. On Atlantic Avenue, a mile-long stretch of bars, galleries and boutiques leads straight to the Atlantic Ocean.

Shopping is upscale and trendy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an ill-fitting screen-printed tourist-trap sweatshirt. The galleries keep their doors open well into the evening on Fridays and Saturdays, and they’re fun to wander into on a pre- or post-dinner stroll.

Dining options abound, ranging from hamburger shacks to sushi bars. There are plenty of sidewalk cafes to choose from along Atlantic Avenue.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, try Olio, just a block south on Southeast Second Avenue. Olio’s elegant but relaxed décor, with exposed brick walls and an oak bar, provides the perfect setting in which to linger over a meal. Unlike much of what you’ll find on the main drag, its quiet enough that you’ll be able to enjoy the conversation as well as the food.

Delray’s only gay bar, Lulu’s, closed its doors several years ago, and no other establishment has taken its place as the focal point of the LGBT scene. However, gay and lesbian travelers are not without options, both within Delray Beach and a short drive away.

If you feel like staying in town, check out Dada, a restaurant/pub just a block north of the western end of the Atlantic Avenue strip. Dada’s atmosphere is funky and artistic, with a clientele and waitstaff to match. The food is delicious, and the décor is, as the name implies, surreal. A clock-face melts down the side of the hostess stand, and lanterns dangle from the limbs of the gigantic banyan tree in the front yard.

If you’re really after a genuine club scene, though, the gay bars of Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale are only a short drive away.

Mojito’s, about 20 minutes north in Lake Worth, hosts “Revolution Fridays” for men and women.

Even more options abound half an hour south in Fort Lauderdale, whose Wilton Manors neighborhood hosts one of the highest concentrations of gay and lesbian establishments in the United States. Atomic offers a sport bar/dance club feel, while Epic at the Manor is an upscale nightlife hotspot. Ladies, check out New Moon, the area’s premiere lesbian bar.

During the day, the best place to be in Delray Beach is anywhere outdoors. Laze over brunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes, or pick up the makings of a picnic at the Green Market, a farmers market held every Saturday morning.

Make sure to save plenty of time for the beach, one of Florida’s finest. Lay out in the sun or under a rental cabana. In the afternoon, a rainbow of colorful kites appears as the onshore breeze draws crowds of kite-surfers. If you don’t like the feel of sand between your toes, grab a bench in Veterans Park and watch the boats go by.

If you’re looking to treat yourself to a luxurious vacation, the Seagate Hotel and Spa is a great place to stay. Located on Atlantic Avenue halfway between the shops and the beach, the Seagate is an ideal launching pad for all that Delray Beach has to offer - that is, if you can bring yourself to leave the hotel. The brand-new building (opened in November) features bright, clean, luxurious bedrooms, some with ocean-view balconies. The friendly staff represents a wealth of local knowledge about the area’s restaurants and attractions. Work out in the state-of-the-art hotel gym, swim laps in the heated pool, or relax in the adjoining spa.

When you’re ready to hit the beach, walk or take the complimentary shuttle to the Seagate Beach Club, an exclusive private facility located right on the beach. With beach chairs, towels and locker facilities provided, it’s a perfect way to enjoy the ocean without the usual hassle. At the beach club, you can lounge on the deck of the saltwater pool and enjoy a pina colada in the sun, or climb up to the open porch for a casual lunch. The club’s upper story contains a fine-dining establishment, perfect for an ocean-view dinner.

In recent years, Delray Beach has become a vibrant destination without losing its natural beauty or small-town feel. If you’re looking for an ocean-side getaway far enough from civilization that you can relax but close enough that the gay scene is within reach, Delray Beach is the place to go.