Thursday, May 23, 2024
United States

18 LGBTQ+-Friendly Big Cities in the USA

Vacationer Magazine compiles a list of big U.S. cities where LGBTQ+ folks are comfortable being authentically out and proud!

As members of the LGBTQ+ community, large cities often serve as welcoming safe havens. San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Miami stand out because they have well-established queer communities. Last year, Vacationer Magazine profiled 22 Small LGBTQ-Friendly Cities in the U.S. because so often we forget about the towns and cities between the larger metropolitan areas.

In addition to these cities, we’re passionate about encouraging you to think big and get out and explore cities of all shapes and sizes. We’ve curated a list of major cities across the United States that are well worth your time, attention, and tourism dollars. These destinations offer a diverse range of exciting attractions, along with a reputable nightlife scene, thrilling entertainment options, adventurous experiences, and a wealth of cultural offerings – all in a setting that prioritizes safety and inclusivity for LGBTQ+ travelers.

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, a city bursting with personality and adventure, stands out for its thriving and abundant LGBTQ+ community. While Midtown remains an infamous gay hub, Queer life flourishes citywide, from West Midtown to East Atlanta and nearby suburbs. Downtown boasts cultural attractions and events, and Castleberry Hill is emerging as a popular neighborhood to visit or call home. In addition to its central location, the neighborhood offers historic buildings turned into desirable lofts, art galleries, a Sunday market, and the ever-popular No Mas! Cantina for margarita nights with your Best Judys. Looking to get out and have a good time? Blakes on the Park is “always a groove”, Heretic offers leather and a little mischief while Bulldogs Bar brings all the boys to the yard. 

Atlanta’s Pride Festival, cultural institutions, LGBTQ+-owned businesses, and annual events include Joining Hearts Main Event (since 1987), Southern Fried Queer Pride Festival, and Atlanta Black Pride Weekend. LGBTQ+ cultural organizations like Out Front Theatre and the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus add to the city’s rich tapestry of entertainment and art. Get out and about and explore all of what Atlanta has to offer, including attractions like the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Centennial Olympic Park, and World of Coca-Cola. Don’t forget to savor a nice Georgia peach (or a few) while you are in town!  

Take a look at our Atlanta Travel Guide for more travel inspiration and recommendations. 

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, a historic and inclusive city, attracts millions yearly for annual events such as the Boston MarathonBoston Pride for the People Festival & Parade, and more. Explore the Freedom Trail‘s historic sites including The Paul Revere House (period costumes are optional), delve into LGBTQ+ history on the Boston Equality Trail, or visit museums such as The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Experience Cambridge’s Ivy culture with visits to Harvard University, Radcliffe, and MIT. Thriving LGBTQ+ communities in neighborhoods like the South End offer entertainment at venues including Club Café and Jacques’ Cabaret, or toast over some tasty tapas and charcuterie at Barcelona Wine Bar

Click here for more information on Boston. 

Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte offers a diverse range of neighborhoods to explore, each with its own unique charm. Uptown, the city’s cultural hub, boasts top-notch museums like the Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, while Romare Bearden Park features two gardens, outdoor dining seats, and an urban waterfall with scenic views of Uptown Charlotte and Truist Field. NoDa, Charlotte’s artistic district, is a must-visit for its bustling arts scene and local craft breweries. Plaza Midwood, known for its punk rock vibe, is perfect for shopping and casual dining, with options that include Common Market and Pinky’s Westside Grill. Explore Camp North End, a collection of several repurposed warehouse buildings that have emerged as a variety of creative spaces including galleries, photography and design studios, and hip restaurants. When the sun sets, head to The Scorpio, Charlotte’s oldest gay bar, for lively drag shows. Additionally, Charlotte welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers with organizations like Time Out Youth Center and Stonewall Sports, making it an inclusive destination year-round.

Click here for more information on Charlotte.

Chicago, Illinois

“Chi-Town” welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers with open arms, offering a diverse experience across neighborhoods including Northalsted (formerly Boystown), Andersonville, and Pilsen, known for their Queer-owned businesses, nightlife, and cultural events. Explore Boystown’s Legacy Walk, celebrate at Andersonville’s Midsommarfest, and delve into LGBTQ+ history at the Leather Archives & Museum and Gerber/Hart Library and Archives. Experience local nightlife at iconic spots like Sidetrack and live it up at Berlin nightclub. Don’t miss cultural events like the Reeling Film Festival and the annual Pride Parade, along with Northalsted Market Days in August, showcasing Chicago’s LGBTQ+ heritage. 

Planning a weekend in the Windy City? Check our Ultimate Queer Weekend Guide to Chicago.

Columbus, Ohio

In Columbus, a city of inclusivity and optimism, you will find a thriving LGBTQ+ community and queer-friendly businesses. Columbus is home to Nina West, winner of Miss Congeniality on the eleventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who has started The Nina West Fund to give back to their hometown through The Columbus Foundation.  

Parable Coffee, a Black and queer-owned café, offers artisanal coffee and pastries. Two Dollar Radio Headquarters is a locally owned and operated shop, indie bookstore, performance space, bar, and vegan café that is known to welcome the LGBTQ+ community. FUZZ, a queer-owned nail salon, provides a relaxing self-care retreat. Out of the Closet Thrift Store offers retail therapy for a good cause, with the majority of proceeds going to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Enjoy outdoor solitude in Columbus’ scenic Metro Parks or explore LGBTQ+-friendly neighborhoods Short North Arts District and German Village. Immerse yourself in the lively arts scene at the Wexner Center for the Arts and Columbus Museum of Art. Columbus offers diverse experiences, from Goodale Park strolls to cultural exploration. 

Click here for more information on Columbus.

Denver, Colorado

There’s magic in the Rockies, and everyone knows you have to ascend a Mile High for it. Denver celebrates 300 days of sunshine and offers a lively downtown, incredible art museums, and rich civil rights history and acceptance. Highlights include the Denver Art Museum with LGBTQ+ artworks, shopping at Cherry Creek and Larimer Square, the iconic Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, craft breweries, the “Blue Bear” at the Convention Center, Denver Botanic GardensDenver Union Station, and LGBTQ+ bars like Charlie’s DenverTracks, and X Bar.

Be sure to head out into the open air and explore the region’s incredible outdoor offerings including Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park further out. 

Click here for more information on Denver. 

Houston, Texas

A gay visit to Houston, Texas promises a warm and diverse experience with a thriving gay community (this is Beyonce’s hometown, after all). Explore the Montrose area known for its family-friendly nightlife and unique shops, and restaurants serving tasty bites such as BB’s Tex Orleans and Hugo’s.  Discover LGBTQ+ history at sites like the Montrose Center. As the country’s fourth-largest city and third-largest county, Houston boasts a wonderful mix of world-class arts, thriving business, professional sports, and award-winning dining. The city is gaining recognition as “the New Capital of Southern Cool” and for its exciting dining scene. Do not miss the opportunity to explore cultural landmarks including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the impressive Museum District. 

Click here for more information on Houston.

Las Vegas, Nevada

If you haven’t been to Sin City there is no time like the present. Discover the wild and bustling party scene featuring iconic divas, 24-hour clubs, and budget-friendly bars. Whether you seek parties, relaxation, a sun-kissed glow, or a shotgun wedding, Las Vegas has got you covered. Infamous resorts and LGBTQ+-friendly accommodations include Bent Inn Las Vegas, Vdara Hotel & SpaLuxor Hotel and Casino, and The Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino. Love finds its place with options like the Gay Chapel of Las Vegas – Elvis lives! Live it up when the sun goes down at Piranha Nightclub or FreeZone.

Don’t miss iconic events and shows like Las Vegas PRIDERuPaul’s Drag Race Live, and The Beatles LoveWeekends with Adele run into November, and did you hear Kylie is coming? Get your tickets to the Kylie Minogue Residency at The Venetian Resort. Just remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. 

Get a more extensive look at things to do, places to stay, and more with our LGBTQ+ Guide to Las Vegas.

Los Angeles, California

The community is welcome in all four corners of the City of Angels. West Hollywood is the ultimate place to check out eye candy and immerse yourself in the local scene. Looking for a place to watch Drag Race with the stars of the franchise? Head to  Micky’s West Hollywood and rub elbows with queens of past, present, and future seasons. Grab dinner at landmarks like The Ruby Fruit and designer hotels such as The London West Hollywood and Andaz West Hollywood. Immerse yourself in the local culture along the West Hollywood Design District, Sunset Strip, and Santa Monica Boulevard, and if needed, find support at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Ready for a beach day? Will Rogers State Beach, known as “Ginger Rogers Beach,” has welcomed LGBTQ+ visitors since before many of us were even born. 

Before you plan your trip to Los Angeles, you may want to add more to your trip itinerary after taking a look at our list of things to do in LA

Miami, Florida

Greater Miami & Miami Beach warmly welcome LGBTQ+ travelers with a thriving queer scene, marquee gay events, South Beach’s LGBT Visitor Center, a gay beach at 11th-12th streets, iconic gay hotels, electrifying nightlife (Twist and Bar Gaythering), renowned drag brunches at Palace Bar and Restaurant, and the allure of Miami Beach Pride. Across diverse neighborhoods, LGBTQ+ inclusivity shines with comedy at Little Haiti’s Villain Theater, art in Wynwood (Wynwood WallsMuseum of Graffiti), dining delights at R House Wynwood, and LGBTQ+ events like Gramps bar’s “Double Stubble” and Wynwood Pride.

Don’t miss Little Havana’s Gay8 Festival, the nation’s largest Hispanic LGBTQ+ celebration. Let us not forget about the Versace Mansion where you can get up close and personal with the mystery and lore and ponder what really happened back in the summer of 1997. 

Want to visit Miami during a big event? Take a look at our list of annual LGBTQ+ events happening in the city to play your fun weekend getaway! 

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, a city immersed in culture and nightlife, offers diverse experiences. Explore the historic French Quarter, savor beignets at Café du Monde, and enjoy live music on Frenchmen Street. Discover the charm of the Garden District, relish jazz at Preservation Hall, and visit the National WWII Museum. Take a scenic Mississippi River steamboat cruise and delight in Creole and Cajun cuisine at renowned restaurants like Commander’s Palace.

Join the festivities of Mardi Gras and live it up in the quintessentially Queer neighborhoods of Marigny and the French Quarter. Enjoy evenings at Bourbon Pub and Parade or The Oz, the city’s premier gay dance club. Don’t miss annual events including the Gay Easter Parade and Southern Decadence. All this and more make New Orleans a year-round destination for queer travelers.

Don’t head to The Big Easy without checking out our Queer New Orleans Travel Guide and list of fun things to do and see. 

New York City, New York 

New York City’s rich queer history began well before the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village, now celebrated at the Stonewall Inn, a local gay bar and national LGBTQ+ landmark. Greenwich Village is also home to Julius’, NYC’s oldest continually running gay bar, and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, commonly called “The Center,” a pivotal LGBTQ+ community hub.

Explore iconic spots like Marsha P. Johnson State Park and the Alice Austen House Museum. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project traces and documents over 400 historic places connected to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in New York City, telling the often-untold story of their overall influence on American history and culture. Spend some time to go beyond Manhattan. For example, Brooklyn’s underground queer scene thrives at venues like 3 Dollar BillHouse of Yes, and Good Judy

New York City is a melting pot of cultures. Watch as Justin T. Russo explores some of the city’s hidden gems in our video series, Check Your Luggage.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” has become a standout LGBTQ+ destination in recent years. Its rich history, inclusive atmosphere, and LGBTQ+ scene, particularly in the Gayborhood, make it a welcoming city. Explore historic sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to connect with the city’s commitment to freedom. Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community is active, hosting events like OURFest commemorating National Coming Out Day and Philadelphia Pride March. Enjoy LGBTQ+ history tours with Beyond the Bell Tours and cultural events at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Find support at the William Way LGBT Community Center and shop with purpose at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. Savor diverse cuisines, including iconic Philly cheesesteaks, and all kinds of tasty treats at Reading Terminal Market. Do not forget to take a selfie with the Rocky statue before you leave town! 

Click here to get more vacation ideas for your first or next trip to Philly.

Phoenix, Arizona

Greater Phoenix’s LGBTQ+ community is an integral part of the city’s urban core. With a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Municipal Equality Index Scorecard, Phoenix showcases its commitment to inclusivity. The city hosts nationally recognized LGBTQ+ events such as the Phoenix Pride Festival and the Rainbows Festival. By day, enjoy outdoor activities like hiking Camelback Mountain or getting out in the open air on Salt River with Salt River Tubing. Looking for a spa treatment? Relax and unwind at The Spas at Camelback Inn

If you’re looking for your culture fix, head to the Musical Instrument Museum or explore the home of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West found in nearby Scottsdale. By night, Phoenix comes alive with nightlife in the Melrose District, known for its popular clubs like Charlie’s (where there’s always a party) and Stacy’s @ Melrose. The iconic Melrose Arch and rainbow crosswalks symbolize LGBTQ+ presence and acceptance, while queer-owned businesses, including Mi PatioRock PhoenixPat-O’s Bunkhouse Saloon, and Boycott Bar, thrive along Seventh Avenue. 

Click here for more information on Phoenix.

Portland, Oregon

Portland’s community is alive and kicking with an abundance of drag queens, gay clubs, and LGBTQ+-owned businesses. Known for its legacy of gay rights activism, like the formation of the Portland Gay Liberation Front in 1970 and the early repeal of sodomy laws in 1972, the city hosts a bustling Queer scene. The city celebrates LGBTQ+ pride through events like the annual Portland Pride Festival and Parade at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, while year-round LGBTQ+ establishments create an inclusive atmosphere. Portland offers amazing nightlife at bars like SilveradoC.C. Slaughters, and Eagle Portland. Get out and explore everything the city has to offer, including the Portland Japanese Garden, the Portland Art Museum, and the International Rose Test Garden.

Check out our travel guide for more family-friendly ways to spend your time in Portland.

San Francisco, California

A big gay pilgrimage to San Francisco is a must for everyone. The city’s iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and historic cable cars, blend seamlessly with its natural beauty, cultural diversity, and lively neighborhoods. You can explore the enchanting streets of Chinatown, savor seafood delights at Fisherman’s Wharf, and stroll through the charming lanes of Haight-Ashbury. Whether you are admiring the views from Twin Peaks, wandering the historic alleys of North Beach, or simply enjoying a foggy day by the bay, San Francisco’s unique charm will leave you captivated. 

Beyond its iconic attractions, San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ heritage is deeply woven into its fabric, from the Castro District’s historic significance to lively Pride celebrations. Fancy a sip? Check out local favorite establishments like 440 CastroMotherTwin Peaks TavernPowerhouse, and SF Eagle. Discover the city’s diverse neighborhoods, rich arts scene, and welcoming communities for a truly memorable visit.

Click here for more information on San Francisco. 

Seattle, Washington

Seattle warmly welcomes all with iconic attractions like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, offering diverse experiences such as whale watching tours and scenic strolls in parks that include Olympic Sculpture Park and Discovery Park. Explore cultural gems like the Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Museum of Flight, and the Ballard Locks, or enjoy unique water-themed adventures. Inclusivity is more than celebrated in Seattle, with Capitol Hill at the forefront, hosting PrideFest Capitol Hill. Diverse nightlife options like C.C. Attle’s (“The Classic Gay Bar”), Queer/Bar, and Pony abound, and organizations like Equal Rights Washington, Seattle PrideFest, and Three Dollar Bill Cinema provide valuable resources.

For couples looking for a romantic getaway, you can check out our Couple’s Guide to Seattle courtesy of Jon Bailey and his husband Triton.  

Washington, D.C. 

Explore Washington, DC, the epicenter of LGBTQ+ history, and discover landmark sites like the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Campaign headquarters. Wander the hot spots on P Street and 17th Street NW in Dupont Circle and enjoy theater at venues like The Kennedy Center. Stay active with the DC Front Runners and sample brews at gay-owned Red Bear Brewing Co. Explore African American history at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and check out additional landmarks like the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. Discover our Queer history on a Rainbow History Project walking tour or simply grab a bite at Annie’s Paramount Steak House (serving the community since 1948), 18th & U Duplex Diner, or Busboys and Poets.

New visitors to the District should also note that as the next host of the 2025 World Pride, Washington, DC’s queer nightlife continues to expand with nonbinary-inclusive bars such as Trade and Kiki, lesbian bar A League of Her Own, and gay bear bar Uproar. Be sure to stop by the 2023’s newest additions, Shakers on U Street as well as Little Gay Pub found in Logan Circle gayborhood.

Click here for more information on Washington, D.C. 

Explore more of the United States with our list of 22 LGBTQ+-friendly small cities in the country.

Jeffrey James Keyes

Jeffrey James Keyes co-authored the New York Times Bestselling book "Killer Chef" with James Patterson and wrote/produced the award-winning short film "Uniform." He is also an accomplished playwright with an M.F.A. from Columbia University. Jeffrey was "bitten by the travel bug" in high school while studying abroad as a foreign exchange student in Germany. He writes about lifestyle, travel, and wellness for a variety of publications and websites.

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