America the beautiful: purple mountain majesties, fruited plains, and enough rainbow-waving gay-friendly cities to make LGBTQ travelers feel at home across the country.
It’s been a tumultuous journey since early cradles of queer civilization sprouted in major American metropoles following World War II. Areas like the Castro, the West Village, and Boystown have grown, shrunk, and sometimes changed their names to reflect the ever-changing communities that live there. What hasn’t changed is the necessity for gay-friendly cities. According to a 2019 survey by Community Marketing and Insights, the number-one reason LGBTQ people travel is to relax — and for them, relaxing means visiting somewhere they know is queer-friendly, like a well-established gayborhood.
Luckily, travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to gay-friendly cities in America. Hit up old-school communities that wear their identity on every sidewalk. Disappear into queer locales where lavender life is but an asterisk in their fabric. Modern gayborhoods are as dynamic and diverse as the alphabet-soup mafia that gave them birth. We’ve listed out our favorite safe small towns in the US, now it’s time for these nine gay-friendly cities in America to take center stage.
We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend in these gay-friendly cities! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.
- 1. Bushwick, Brooklyn
- 2. Andersonville, Chicago
- 3. The Castro, San Francisco
- 4. The Marmalade, Salt Lake City
- 5. Midtown, Atlanta
- 6. Hillcrest, San Diego
- 7. Short North, Columbus
- 8. Montrose, Houston
- 9. Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale
1. Bushwick, Brooklyn
The West Village might be NYC’s historic gay center, but when it comes to contemporary queer life, Bushwick is the place to be. Contrary to gay-and-lesbian haunts like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, this East Brooklyn nabe lives in the non-binary future. In many ways, the people and bars you’ll find in Bushwick mirror the street art-strewn blocks where they live. They’re eccentric and experimental — the perfect scene for a 20s-something in search of a wild night.
Whatever mischief you’re hoping to find, the clubs of Bushwick will deliver. Chill with a tropical cocktail on Happyfun Hideaway‘s low-key back patio, or eye your astrological match on the dance floor at Zodiac-themed Mood Ring. Hot Rabbit, a femme-flavored pop-up party, is where NYC lesbians go to cut a rug. House of Yes is a mixed queer club where guests dance in glitter-clad costumes after checking identity hangups at the door. If you’re more of a voyeur, see one of the queer-friendly burlesque shows by Company XIV.
Bushwick’s LGBTQ influence extends to neighborhoods just beyond its borders. 3 Dollar Bill — located in East Williamsburg — is Brooklyn’s biggest gay-centric club. Go for high-end drag, midday dance fetes, and weekend circuit parties. The Knockdown Center, tucked into industrial Maspeth, Queens, is the site of Bushwig, an annual drag festival for the city’s funkiest gender benders.
Nightlife isn’t Bushwick’s only calling card. Spend an afternoon touring the area’s hip boutiques and contemporary art galleries, then dine at one of the neighborhood’s trendy restaurants serving international cuisine. Bushwick might be queer, but first and foremost, it’s cool.
Where to stay
The Wythe Hotel
The Wythe Hotel, a chic space with Manhattan skyline views, is a thirty-minute train ride away from all the action.
BKLYN Hotel — a minimalistic boutique hotel on the edge of Bushwick — is best for budget-conscious travelers. For those with extra dough, opt for a swankier pad in nearby Williamsburg.
2. Andersonville, Chicago
Chicago’s Boystown is dead — literally. In 2020, the neighborhood changed its name to Northalsted — both a joyous move toward gender inclusivity and a sign of the city’s changing landscape. Now, the boys (and everyone else) are flocking north to Andersonville — an area that’s quickly becoming the city’s LGBTQ hotspot.
Queer residents are nothing new to Andersonville. In the 1990s, this neighborhood got the name “Girlstown” thanks to a lesbian population that settled along Clark Street. Today, queer spots cater to an assorted set of locals. SoFo Tap is a laidback bear bar, Atmosphere is a gay den for go-go boys, and Meeting House Tavern provides queer folks a gathering space with board games, theme nights, and a robust selection of brews. Nobody’s Darling, a Black-owned queer cocktail bar, opened to acclaim this past year, attracting a diverse crowd that transcends age, race, and even sexuality.
There’s a reason TimeOut voted Andersonville America’s coolest neighborhood in 2021 — and it isn’t all because of LGBTQ residents. Shop for feminist lit at Women and Children First, find antique oddities at Wooly Mammoth, or see a whacky black-box theater production performed by the Neo-Futurists. The neighborhood’s historically Swedish population lives on in Scandi-inspired restaurants like Svea (try the Viking Breakfast), Simon’s Tavern (order a glass of glögg), and Lost Larson, a gezellig cafe. Andersonville is the best of everything rolled into one.
Where to stay
Staying at the Guesthouse Hotel, located near Andersonville’s southern border, is like living in an apartment. Each suite comes equipped with a full kitchen, preparing you for what life will be like when you realize you want to move here full-time. SoFo Tap and more LGBTQ haunts are all a short walk away.
3. The Castro, San Francisco
The Castro is America’s quintessential gayborhood: replete with rainbows, littered with LGBTQ businesses, and simmering with queer history. Although rising rents and societal acceptance have pushed out long-time residents to places like nearby Oakland, it’s unlikely the Castro will ever lose its designation as the country’s queer mecca.
Amble along Castro Street, and you’ll see bronze plaques hailing LGBTQ pioneers embedded in the sidewalk. At the corner of Market and 17th, you’ll find the Pink Triangle Memorial honoring gay and lesbian Holocaust victims. The GLBT Historical Society, which preserves and exhibits over a century’s worth of queer history, is a cultural landmark, as is the iconic Pride flag that flies above the neighborhood. The Castro is where Harvey Milk made waves as an openly-gay politician in the 1970s. It’s where communities struggled with — and eventually overcame — the devastating AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s. Twin Peaks Tavern, a watering hole open since 1972, was one of the country’s first gay bars with street-facing windows – a daring design choice in an unforgiving time. Today, you can still sip cocktails inside the vintage space while watching people pass by.
For a perfect Castro day, start by ogling the boutiques on Castro and Market Streets. Get a late-morning pick-me-up at Verve Coffee Roasters. Dolores Park Cafe serves a sensible American lunch. When the sun is shining, join the buff boys in speedos catching rays on the highest corner of Mission Dolores Park. The area, lovingly referred to as the “fruit shelf,” offers sweeping downtown views. At night, Beaux is best for dancing to top 40 pop, Hi Tops is a gay sports bar with surprisingly good food, and Moby Dick is a local queer haunt with pinball and pool. When the historic Castro Theater is open, kick back to enjoy a silver screen classic or catch a local drag show.
Where to stay
Parker Guest House
Most reasonably priced hotels are around Union Square. If you want to stay near the Castro, book a room at the Parker Guest House. This cheery bed-and-breakfast, housed in a classic Edwardian complex, is a block from Mission Dolores Park.
4. The Marmalade, Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City’s 18,000 square-foot Marmalade District might not cover the same sprawling space as the Castro, but bigger doesn’t always mean better. This tiny residential triangle north of Temple Square is indicative of a surprising fact for anyone who equates SLC with Joseph Smith’s anti-gay disciples: queer life is integrated into the everyday. With the Mormon majority slipping below 50%, several openly-gay elected officials, and an LGBTQ population that rivals Los Angeles, there’s no need for an elephantine gayborhood. Still, it’s nice to know there’s a place where your neighbors likely worship at the altar of RuPaul.
It’s hard not to confuse street names like Apricot and Quince with the fruit-forward playground slurs thrown around by tween bullies, but the name Marmalade comes from fruit trees planted by early residents. The trees might be gone, but the area is still sweet. When hunger calls, sit down at Arlo for contemporary American cuisine or grab a pastry from District Coffee Co. Once you’re satiated, stroll the fruit streets to peep Gothic and Victorian architecture leftover from SLC’s Mormon heydays.
Marmalade earned the moniker gayborhood after the 2007 opening of Club Jam and the emergence of the original Utah Pride Center. Although both establishments have moved on, it only takes a short drive to reach the city’s queer haunts du jour. Five minutes will get you to Metro Music Hall (a queer-friendly performance venue with glitzy drag shows). Laziz Kitchen, a gay-owned Meditteranean restaurant, is ten minutes away, as is LGBTQ Club Try-angles. Come for the beer-dipped wieners served during summer’s Sunday BBQs.
Where to stay
Kimpton Hotel Monaco
Give back to the queer community by staying at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, housed in a historic downtown building from the 1860s. The boutique chain donates a portion of its proceeds to the Trevor Project – a nonprofit that provides suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.
5. Midtown, Atlanta
Atlanta is the LGBTQ stronghold of the South, and Midtown is its epicenter. Although hip spots like Old Fourth Ward and East Atlanta Village are equally vibrant lavender locales, Midtown has reigned supreme as the Big Peach’s go-to gayborhood since the 1970s.
Head to the rainbow-painted crosswalks at 10th and Piedmont for a night of debaucherous bar hopping. Blake’s on the Park started slinging drinks to LGBTQ customers over three decades ago, as did Bulldogs, an unpretentious dive favored by Black men. Ever-inclusive X is a southern bistro by day and a bustling bar by night. My Sister’s Room is a lesbian bar with 25 years under its belt.
You don’t have to imbibe to enjoy this LGBTQ mecca. Midtown earns the moniker “Heart of the Arts” thanks to a healthy helping of cultural institutions lining its streets. Step inside the High Museum of Art to see over 18,000 pieces ranging from classic to contemporary, or spend a night enjoying a Broadway musical inside the ornate Fox Theater. Piedmont Park, a 185-acre urban Arcadia along the neighborhood’s north side, gives visitors a chance to escape the city bustle – unless you’re visiting for Black Pride, October Pride, or the annual Joining Hearts circuit party. These raucous meet-ups turn the green space into ground zero for the city’s largest LGBTQ gatherings.
Where to stay
The Georgian Terrace
Pretend you’re spooning with Rhett Butler by spending a night at The Georgian Terrace, where stars from the film Gone with the Wind stayed during the 1939 premiere.
If, frankly, my dear, you don’t give a damn about old-school Hollywood, try Hotel Indigo — a sleek, modern spot across the street from the Fox.
6. Hillcrest, San Diego
If the 65-foot Pride flag at the heart of Hillcrest doesn’t prove you’re in the center of San Diego’s LGBTQ sanctuary, walk the neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendly streets. You’ll see rainbows outside Urban Mo’s, the “hetero-friendly” bar and restaurant. There are more rainbows outside Rich’s, a gay club that attracts dance-happy locals. Rainbows welcome guests at Hillcrest Brewing Company, dubbed the world’s first gay brewery, and rainbows greet visitors to the San Diego LGBTQ Community Center, one of the nation’s largest queer support organizations. The neighborhood even named a street after queer icon Harvey Milk and quite literally paved the roads with rainbows.
Hillcrest isn’t only about waving flags — it’s also about having fun. Throughout the year, blocks between Washington Street and Balboa Park erupt with celebratory shindigs. Honor Queer Christmas by wearing a costume to Nightmare on Normal Street, a Halloween-themed bash that haunts the neighborhood every October. Trade beads with boys at Hillcrest Mardi Gras, February’s Fat Tuesday fest, or scope out local artisans at CityFest, locally known as “Pride Light.” The neighborhood’s biggest event is undoubtedly San Diego Pride. Every July, over 200,000 people take to the streets for the weekend block party and parade.
Get a taste for local life by strolling around Sunday’s farmers’ market or dining at the LGBTQ-owned insideOUT. Snap a photo of the iconic Hillcrest sign hanging above University Avenue before perusing crafty boutiques and vintage stores.
Where to stay
Hillcrest House Bed and Breakfast
Make San Diego your home away from home by staying at Hillcrest House Bed and Breakfast. The LGBTQ-friendly digs, located close to the neighborhood’s center, feature five cozy rooms in a two-story home. For something more secluded, rent their historic off-site bungalow, built-in 1915, and updated with modern amenities.
7. Short North, Columbus
When it comes to queer Midwestern cities, Columbus takes the cake. With more LGBTQ residents per capita than Chicago, it’s possible to find slices of gayborhoods in several areas throughout town. For the most significant piece, stop by Short North — the self-identifying arts district sandwiched between Ohio State University and the city’s sprawling sports arena.
Head down High Street, the neighborhood’s artery, and you may wonder if this is a gayborhood at all. Art galleries outnumber gay bars, and street art is more common than Pride flags. Still, if you want a raucous night of dancing to Britney or belting with Barbra, this is the place to be. Axis is the city’s biggest LGBTQ dance club, and gay-friendly Union Cafe serves food, drinks, and a Sunday Showtunes event with a serious following.
Every June, the Pride parade marches straight through Short North’s center, and every October, HighBall attracts a queer-leaning crowd to a fashion-forward costume contest. Part of Short North’s appeal is its radical inclusivity. This anything-goes attitude takes corporeal form during the annual Doo-Dah Parade, a July 4th spectacle where the only expectation for participants is kooky self-expression. Like the neighborhood it marches through, the parade isn’t necessarily gay or straight – it’s a celebration of being free.
Where to stay
The college-themed Graduate hotel, conveniently located one block from Short North’s gay bars, is part of an expertly-designed boutique chain found in university towns across the country. If you’re looking for quirky charm that matches Short North’s energy, there’s no better place to rest your head. Poindexter, an on-site coffee shop and bar, is a stylish place to study up on all-things C-bus.
8. Montrose, Houston
In the 1970s, Montrose was described as “the strangest neighborhood east of the Pecos” – a fitting slogan for a neighborhood that defies Texas conservatism by being unabashedly queer. Just like nearby Austin and New Orleans, Montrose is a cultured stronghold for a liberal crowd. The area reached its rainbow zenith in the 1990s when roughly 40 establishments catered to queer folks. Today, there aren’t nearly as many LGBTQ businesses, but Montrose still shines bright as the Lone Star State’s greatest gayborhood.
Most of Montrose’s LGBTQ bars sit in a four-block radius around Crocker Street and Hyde Park Boulevard. There’s food and drinks at JRs, relaxed stetson style at George, and leather-wearing lads at the Ripcord. Buddy’s, an all-are-welcome watering hole, holds the distinction of being the world’s first LGBTQ bar to serve as a presidential voting location.
Leave the strip of bars to see the artsy side of Montrose. Contemporary works at the Cy Twombly Gallery and Rothko Chapel are mere footsteps from the Menil Collection, a Renzo Piano-designed museum with over 17,000 pieces in its catalog. Crafty boutiques like Space Montrose and antique stores like Old Blue House line commercial Westheimer Road. The neighborhood’s newer businesses might make Montrose a little less “strange,” but they’re still filled with enough pizzazz to honor its history.
Where to stay
Hotel ZaZa Museum District
Not only does the Hotel ZaZa Museum District share a name with Albin’s drag persona in La Cage aux Folles, it’s just as sexy and refined as Albin could ever hope to be. It’s also centrally located two miles from Montrose and within walking distance to the 445-acre Hermann Park. Be sure to take a peek at the astronaut-themed “Houston We Have a Problem” suite.
9. Wilton Manors, Fort Lauderdale
Wilton Manors is all LGBTQ all the time. This two-square-mile suburb of Fort Lauderdale is America’s second gayest city, beaten only by Provincetown, and the local government is run entirely by LGBTQ officials. Wilton Manors is so cheerfully queer, they even have a rainbow-clad cop car that says “Policing with Pride.”
Stroll down Wilton Drive, and you’ll have over 40 LGBTQ-owned establishments within your reach. Get your morning caffeine fix from the lads at Java Boys, chow down a Big Girl burger at Rosie’s Bar and Grill, or set up shop at Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar, where you can dine, drink, and dance without ever leaving the complex. Bounce to leather bars like Ramrod or the Eagle, watch a game at Gym Sportsbar or play pool at Hunters Nightclub. You can spend an entire night skipping in and out of LGBTQ bars on Wilton Drive and still have more to see.
Wilton Manors’ greatest asset is its proximity to South Florida’s hottest spots. The Stonewall National Museum and Archives, the country’s largest LGBTQ museum, is a ten-minute drive away. Sebastian Street Beach, Fort Lauderdale’s LGBTQ-friendly shoreline, is accessible in twenty minutes. Getting to Miami’s South Beach and the nude section of Haulover only takes an hour. If you start to feel overstimulated by everything LGBTQ, drive to Everglades National Park for some one-on-one time with nature.
Where to stay
Ed Lugo Resort
Cozy up in a 1950s-style bungalow at LGBTQ-oriented Ed Lugo Resort. Even out your farmer’s tan at the clothing-optional pool area, which feels more South Pacific paradise than South Florida suburb. When you want to see the city’s main sites, Wilton Drive is a short stroll away.
Check out Matador’s LGBTQ+ travel guides to the world: