As some of the earliest queer-inclusive destinations in the world, places like Palm Springs, Fire Island, P-Town, Rio de Janeiro, and Puerto Vallarta will forever hold a special place in the hearts of LGBTQIA+ people. What they possessed then and now were an inclusive spirit of love and compassion where travelers could express themselves and experience a particular locale with dignity and respect.
Today’s queer travelers, whether planning a weekend away or globetrotting halfway across the world, are seeking out new destinations with similar qualities. First and foremost, they take notice of places offering better protections for LGBTQIA+ people, but they also look to experience the nuances of a destination’s local queer community, recent investments in queer-owned business, the number and caliber of queer events, and on-the-ground activism. These are a few up-and-coming LGBTQIA+ destinations travelers are flocking to for these reasons, and more:
You’ll notice something welcoming when you drive into this quintessentially cute, coastal Maine town for the first time: Pride flags adorn many of the homes and queer-owned businesses, and there’s a solid sense of community and comradery. The enchanting village of Ogunquit further lures LGBTQIA+ travelers with a bustling downtown, home to an eclectic mix of fine restaurants, B&Bs, art galleries, trendy and traditional beach shops, and jewelry stores. On its outskirts, you’ll find a museum dedicated to American art that boasts views from its building and grounds overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, as well as Ogunquit Playhouse, a charming and history-packed theater.
In Ogunquit, LGBTQIA+ nightlife centers itself on Main St. at Mainestreet. Not your average resort town gay bar, the lively watering hole is host to tea dances, live performances, and some of the more notable drag shows in New England. A sophisticated piano bar and lounge that doubles as a restaurant, The Front Porch, is another main draw and just steps away.
Travelers acquiring their OGT bumper stickers tend to lay up their feet at the stately Cliff House, a large, fashionable resort spread across 70 oceanfront acres on the breathtaking Bald Head Cliff. Further afar in Kennebunkport, a nearby and highly frequented stop for visitors crawling up the Maine coastline, is the Yachtsman Hotel & Marina Club and Hidden Pond Resort, which are high on style and under LGBTQIA+ management.
Tel Aviv, Israel
When it comes to the Mediterranean, Mykonos has long been a crowd-pleaser of the queer jet-set and circuit party crowds. But with recent, increased direct flights from the U.S. and a boom in high-style hotels like The Setai, The Norman, and The Lighthouse, LGBTQIA+ travelers are discovering a welcomed alternative in Tel Aviv.
The city’s unrivaled beach culture with dynamic, Bauhaus-heavy architecture at its backdrop is reason enough to visit, but LGBTQIA+ travelers find themselves attracted to Tel Aviv most for its open, inclusive, and bohemian spirit.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Israel was already seeing record-breaking tourism numbers, attracting Ricky Martin, Andy Cohen, and Neil Patrick Harris as its recent, notable gay guests of honor at Tel Aviv Pride. While that celebration undoubtedly lives up to the hype in this extroverted city, travelers should also consider touching down for Purim in March. A feast for the eyes, the Jewish holiday is marked with lively parties spilling out onto the streets and lots of queer attendees dressed in lavish costumes that rival even the best Halloween celebrations in New York and West Hollywood.
Thanks to a surge of new LGBTQIA+ travelers in the last year, The Big Peach’s boomtown nature is growing in popularity with the queer community, with no signs of slowing down. “Atlanta is one of those cities that has a surprisingly robust number of LGBTQ-welcoming hotels and attractions,” says Jason Heidemann, Editor of the Orbitz Blog.
Many travelers here are increasingly drawn to the city’s popular Pride weekend festivities, with hotel bookings growing double digits during 2019, according to the travel bookings platform. “Look for it to trend again next year when the IGLA convention will be held there in 2021,” Heidemann adds.
Other popular Atlanta events with LGBTQIA+ folks include Black Pride Weekend, the largest of its kind in the U.S., with a roster of events and themed parties, comedy shows, brunches, booze cruises, and boat rides, all which take place over Labor Day weekend.
Rancho Mirage, California
Palm Springs’ slightly upscale and affluent neighbor, Rancho Mirage is known for its country clubs and resorts, like the iconic Sunnylands and posh Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. It tends to draw a slightly older, more sophisticated — but not stuffy — crowd.
With demand for real estate and vacation rentals at an all-time high in Palm Springs, and thanks to a resurgence in local art and interest in mid-century modern design principles found all throughout the Coachella Valley, Rancho Mirage and neighboring Palm Desert are seeing spikes of interest as alternative options. The weather, with 300 annual days of sunshine in the region, doesn’t hurt either.
Seneca Falls, New York
With a societal spotlight on gender and racial equality, LGBTQIA+ travelers, organizers, and allies alike are increasingly making pilgrimages to Seneca Falls, NY to show their solidarity with individuals and movements dedicated to broader equality and justice.
In town, visitors first pay dues at the National Women’s Rights Historic Park, site of the first Women’s Rights Convention, as well as the home of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Outside of town, LGBTQIA+ travelers can find the Equal Rights Heritage Center in nearby Auburn, plus plenty of Finger Lakes leisure-time activities to keep them entertained, like the Seneca Wine Trail and Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
A brand new art and design-centric hotel that’s a short drive away, Lake House on Canandaigua, should also be on the radar. It has plans to offer queer couples fall foliage and other themed getaways as well as Pride-themed events later this year.
Lauded for privacy, exclusivity, and safety, not to mention some of the most pristine beaches and turquoise waters in the world, LGBTQIA+ travelers are increasingly finding themselves drawn to this little Caribbean island’s big, welcoming spirit. With ties to France and the Netherlands, St. Bart’s became one of the first Caribbean islands to legalize same sex marriage by proxy in 2013, and the country also offers protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA+ people.
Its queer positivity can best be seen on display at Saline Beach, located on the island’s southern coast, an increasingly popular LGBTQIA+ and nudist beach, as well as at Hotel Manapany. Recently acquired and revamped in late 2019, this eco lodge-style property is the island’s premier gay-friendly resort in favor with couples seeking luxe accommodations. Discerning foodies and oenophiles are also drawn to the island’s top tier food scene, which is highlighted during the St. Barts Gourmet Festival, a popular event taking place each November.
Queer travelers to Texas, often regarded as a conservative state, have already favorited LGBTQIA+-friendly Austin on their travel bucket lists, but there’s another Lone Star hidden gem hiding in plain sight: Houston.
Texas’ largest city, and the most diverse city in the U.S., is a cultural melting pot that will surprise and delight LGBTQIA+ visitors thanks to an incredibly diverse dining scene, arts institutions, impressive performing arts centers and theaters, botanical gardens, and now, even a “unicorn” dessert bar that will speak to the most decadent of queer tastes.
Home to the largest LGBTIA+ community in Texas and one of the first destinations to market to gay travelers through a dedicated LGBTQIA+ visitor website over a decade ago, it’s easy to see why Houston's Pride celebration already draws some 750,000+ people each year from every corner of the globe. The city’s gayborhood of Montrose is dotted with bars and queer-packed eateries, easily rivaling the Castro or Chelsea in a uniquely charming Texan way where, yes, cowboy boots are recommended.
Guadlajara’s proximity to both Puerto Vallarta — arguably Mexico’s most popular queer playground — and the Tequila Valley have positioned it as a stop on many LGBTQIA+ itineraries as of late.
Just as high-strung Mexico City is to New York, Guadalajara is Mexico’s equivalent of LA, complete with great year-round weather and a more relaxed atmosphere. Queer travelers who spend their PTO time in this trending destination find a vibrant city bursting with museums and Spanish colonial architecture, with many boutique hotels such as the Villa Ganz housed in mansions of historical significance.
A highly regarded international film festival and the Guadalajara Book Fair attract intellectual types… who don’t mind a good party. Storied for its nightlife, Guadalajara’s seductive club with pulsing music and Vegas-style lighting, Babel, and California’s Bar, where the cantina meets the dance floor, are two of the more popular LGBTQIA+ options in town.
While some of Hungary’s laws are still repressive towards LGBTQIA+ people, the country’s large capital city of Budapest has long maintained itself as a progressive outlier, noted for being one of the friendliest spots for queer travelers in all of Eastern Europe. Easy, low-cost direct flights also make Budapest a favorable add-on leg for any Euro adventure, something LGBTQIA+ travelers have taken note of. According to Orbitz, the charming and surprising city — famed for its rich history and sightseeing oppourtunities at the Hungarian Parliament building and Buda Castle — saw a 20% increase in searches by queer travelers between 2018 and 2019.
Discerning travelers might notice “the scene” is not as prevalent in Budapest as other gay-friendly European cities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of points of interest for the LGBTQIA+ crowd. Tourists are likely to find these at Magnum, a provocative gay sauna; qLIt, a lesbian community organization (also a magazine) that hosts improv and trivia nights, table tennis competitions, and more; and, at Why Not Cafe & Bar, a Budapest institution known for karaoke and the place most travelers will start their night before moving on to Alterego, the rowdy, subterranean club with midnight drag shows.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
This family-friendly, seaside Delaware town is pure Americana, and well established on the radars of queer people living in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. But Rehoboth's ease of accessibility coupled with well-rounded character and positive word-of-mouth poises it to bring in travelers from beyond the Eastern seaboard in years to come.
“LGBTQIA+ travelers can find more flexibility and options for accommodations in Rehoboth Beach, compared to other gay-friendly destinations,” says Bryan Barbieri of EOS Hospitality, which operates the town’s premier luxury hotel option, the Bellmoor Inn & Spa. “The supply of hotels and short term housing rentals is enough to support the demand which allows for travelers to have options when it comes to budget, style, and a decision to splurge or save,” he adds.
Queer haunts of note that are at their peak in the summer include Blue Moon, Aqua Grill, Purple Parrot, and Diego’s Bar, but the destination is also working hard towards extending its season well past summer and giving LGBTQIA+ travelers opportunities to visit in different seasons, Barbieri adds. “Those who have done Carnival in Provincetown or Fantasy Fest in Key West should definitely not miss the Sea Witch Festival in October, which includes costumes, parades, and parties that everyone should experience at least once in their life.”
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