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The Stonewall Inn

New York, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois

An Insider’s Guide to LGBT Travel in the U.S.

By: Keph Senett

Christopher Postlewaite / NYC & Company, Inc.
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  • States:
    New York
    California
    Florida
    Pennsylvania
    Illinois

LGBT travel has taken off in the U.S., with the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage opening the door for queer-friendly neighborhoods to welcome visitors in nearly every major city.

For first-time visitors, as well as those returning to the U.S., there’s a whole lot of land to cover. Get started with this primer.

Where to go

LGBT-friendly neighborhoods can be found in many cities across the U.S., particularly in populated areas ripe for exploration. Shops, bookstores, bars and restaurants adorned with rainbow flags fill the streets in the Castro District in San Francisco, California. Head east to the lesbian-friendly Mission District to explore street art, taquerias and coffee shops. Chicago, Illinois, has two LGBT neighborhoods: the gay-friendly and party-happy Boystown in East Lakeview and the less-showy, lesbian-friendly Girlstown in Andersonville.

Find history, culture and a healthy dose of nightlife while exploring the roots of the modern LGBT movement. In New York City, New York, The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village received the first historical LGBT landmark designation as the Stonewall National Monument in 2016. Just north are the boutiques and brownstones of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, both traditionally gay neighborhoods turned into artsy enclaves.

See where the LGBT movement began at The Stonewall Inn in New York City.

See where the LGBT movement began at The Stonewall Inn in New York City.
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Malcolm Brown / NYC & Company, Inc.

What to do

Learn about the artistic and cultural heritage of LGBT Americans at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City or the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles, California. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician elected to office in California, and his legacy lives on in San Francisco at his former house, now the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store.

Stock up on LGBT literature at independent bookstores such as Women & Children First in Chicago or Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Have a drink at iconic bars such as Twin Peaks Tavern in San Francisco, drag queen hangout Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club in Chicago, or Cubbyhole, a casual local pub in New York City. Finish an evening with a show at the Castro Theatre, an art deco institution in San Francisco known for hosting sing-alongs with a vintage pipe organ.

Browse an expansive collection of LGBT media at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles.

Browse an expansive collection of LGBT media at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles.
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Tommy Kohl / ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

When to go

Nearly every city in the U.S. has its own pride festival, which usually includes a technicolor rainbow parade, musical performances and countless dance parties. New York, San Francisco and Chicago all host their pride festivals in late June, so you’ll have to choose — or plan wisely. But if you miss out, there are a number of niche festivals, like partying with the leather crowd at San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair in September or Chicago’s Bear Pride in May and United Latinx Pride festivities in June.

Most pride festivals have kid-friendly activities, but for a family vacation, you can’t beat the unofficial Gay Days in June at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and in October at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Thousands of LGBT families show up in red shirts to promote queer visibility, creating a fun community and solidarity at the beloved theme parks.

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