As one of the most progressive states in the nation and home to an LGBTQ population north of two million, California is a top queer-friendly destination. No matter what you’re looking for—whether it’s a romantic farm-to-table dinner at a celebrated restaurant, glamping in the midst of California’s world-famous scenery, or a raging pool party in the desert—the Golden State can deliver the perfect experience.
Read on to learn more about six ideal destinations for an LGBTQ getaway, listed from north to south.
Discover a more rustic side of Northern California’s LGBTQ scene in Guerneville, a tucked-away hamlet set among majestic redwood forests about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. For pinch-me-perfect romantic settings to enjoy with any partner, book a stay at the Mission Revival–style Applewood Inn, or the chic Boon Hotel + Spa. For a truly easygoing stay, Highlands Resort offers a wide array of homey cabins and suites, and promotes an “unplugged” approach to relaxation. At night, catch the action at the landmark Rainbow Cattle Co., a party destination since 1979, or the Bar at the R3 Hotel, another longtime favorite of the LGBTQ crowd. (read more)
2. San Francisco
The City by the Bay is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world, with dozens of gay-friendly businesses sprinkled citywide. Learn more about the history of the gay movement at the GLBT History Museum, or on a guided “Cruisin’ the Castro” historical walking tour. June is Pride Month, which culminates on the last weekend when up to a million visitors flock to the city for the annual (and outrageous) San Francisco Pride celebration. If you are new to the city’s gay scene, Badlands, Lookout, and Twin Peaks Tavern are legendary haunts, and The Parker Guest House, the Hotel Whitcomb, Joie de Vivre Hotels, and the W are just a few of the city’s gay-friendly hotels. (read more)
3. West Hollywood
As the center of LGBTQ Los Angeles, it goes without saying that West Hollywood has excellent restaurants, hotels, and shopping on every corner. As for nightlife, consider The Abbey, one of the most famous gay bars and nightclubs in the world. Or, turn up the volume at the aptly named Girl Bar, and check out Fubar if you’re looking for an underground feel. Round out the weekend with drag queen bingo nights held every Sunday at Hamburger Mary’s. In late May, the One City One Pride festival sponsors free events around the city, and come June, West Hollywood becomes the home base for the L.A. Pride Festival and Parade. (read more)
4. Laguna Beach
A historic arts colony with a long-established gay community, Laguna Beach is Orange County’s leading LGBTQ city. Stay in such gay-friendly spots as the Surf and Sand Resort, a spectacular oceanfront luxury hotel that’s also home to the intimate Aquaterra Spa. Swim and surf in secluded coves and sunny beaches (including such gay-popular stretches as West Beach and Mountain Road Beach), then take in some art at the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna’s numerous galleries. At night, catch performances at the acclaimed Laguna Playhouse, then dance and hang with the locals at Main Street Bar & Cabaret—especially lively during Laguna’s busy summer months. (read more)
5. The Deserts
There’s no question that the Palm Springs region ranks as one of the world’s top destinations for LGBTQ travelers. Many LGBTQ Pride events take place in November here, instead of the traditional June; the Greater Palm Springs Pride event kicks off the season early in the fall month with an eye-popping parade and block party. Other events include the Desert Hot Springs Pride Festival in mid-November, LGBTQ Days in March, and the Dinah Shore Weekend/Palm Springs Women’s Weekend in early April; “The Dinah” is considered the world’s largest lesbian happening. A few weeks later, it’s the guys’ turn, and time for the Palm Springs White Party, the area’s biggest annual gay event. (read more)
6. San Diego
Blessed with sunny beaches and plenty of cultural attractions, San Diego is an appealing destination for LGBTQ travelers. Hillcrest, a retro-hip enclave located northwest of Balboa Park, is the city’s unquestioned LGBTQ hub. Dig into classic American comfort foods at Gossip Grill, then dance the night away at The Rail, San Diego’s oldest gay bar. The neighborhood is also home to Hillcrest Brewing Company, a proudly gay brewery and restaurant—some say the nation’s first—and is near Balboa Park’s San Diego LGBTQ Pride Parade and Festival, a three-day celebration in July that draws 300,000 people. For more suggestions on where to stay, check out San Diego Travel’s guide to LGBTQ+ Friendly Lodging. (read more)