For gay and lesbian travelers, there are few greater destinations than the United States.
Its major cities are amongst the wildest party destinations with the greatest number of gay and lesbian bars and clubs, and a whole host of riotous parades, festivals and marches. They boast a plethora of the world’s finest theatres, art galleries, museums and other centers of cultural activity.
Here’s our guide to the three best gay cities in the ‘Land of the Free’:
Gay New York City
New York City was voted the most popular destination for gay and lesbian travel by PlanetOut for 2006. And it really doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to see why.
In addition to being the self-styled ‘capital of the world’, the Big Apple is arguably also the ‘gay capital of the world’.
Traditionally, the home of the New York gay and lesbian community has been Greenwich Village (or, as New Yorkers calls it, West Village). If it’s gay landmarks that you’re looking for, stop by the former residences of the lesbian author Willa Cather and the gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
But gay life in New York is by no means confined to West Village, and in the last few years other pockets of gay life have sprung up across the city. There is a strong community in the East Village and the Upper West Side while Chelsea, just to the north of Greenwich Village, may be the city’s most staunchly gay male neighborhood..
The highlight of the gay calendar – the annual LGBT Pride March – which includes Rally, Pridefest, and Dance on the Pier, takes place from June 18 to 25. The March, which traditionally starts on the Sunday, is one of the largest and most important of the world’s pride events with more than 700,000 people taking part.
But there’s also a serious note to the festivities.The symbolic significance of the march mounts as it reaches Greenwich Village, the area that has witnessed some of the seminal moments in gay history. The infamous Stonewall riots of June 1969 here proved to be the defining moment for the gay civil rights community in the US.
Gay Los Angeles
Los Angeles, with its gorgeous beaches lined with palm trees swaying in the gentle sea breezes, its throngs of gay and lesbian bars, clubs, shops and restaurants, is not so much a great gay travel destination, as a gay paradise. So it’s little wonder that it has a rapidly expanding gay community amongst the city’s population of 17 million people.
From the pumped gym-goers to the gorgeous sun-kissed beach-loungers, L.A.’s image-obsession at times seems to know no bounds. And it doesn’t get much more image-obsessed than West Hollywood – WeHo to the initiated – where beautiful gay men and women come together to eat, drink, cruise and have a good time.
Los Angeles is a city that loves to eat out, and it goes without saying that gay Angelenos are obviously no exception. Many of the restaurants in West Hollywood, and to an even greater extent, on Santa Monica Boulevard, cater to a largely gay clientele.
In addition to its many gay and lesbian bars and clubs, Santa Monica Boulevard also has a vast array of gay-interest shops. Elsewhere in Hollywood, the LGBT Center on North Hudson Avenue is held to be the biggest gay and lesbian organization anywhere in the world.
An hour’s drive from central Los Angeles takes you to Long Beach where another energetic gay scene can be found. The ‘Broadway Corridor’, as it’s known to Long Beach residents, has a large number of gay-owned businesses, and is a great shopping destination, as well as having the usual array of bustling cafes, smart restaurants and bars.
Gay San Francisco
San Francisco is a city defined by countercultural open-mindedness and freedom of expression. Despite its small size, San Fran makes up for it in its vibrancy and feverish gay activity.
Like New York, the city has the military to thank – at least in part – for the accidental role that it played in developing its gay identity. During the Second World War, sailors who received a ‘blue discharge’ for homosexual offences frequently chose to stay in the ports where they were, rather than head home in disgrace. And so a gay community was born.
Now, many years on, as a reflection of San Francisco’s status as one of the world’s preeminent gay centers, the city’s Pride Event (held in the last week of June) is no small affair. As well as this massive outpouring of gay and lesbian pride, the city also puts on several other events annually that are well worth a look.
San Francisco has the distinctly rainbow-colored communities of Castro, Polk Street and the SOMA. And, of the three, it’s Castro that really stands out as possibly the world’s gayest street, whose siren song can be heard across the known gay world.
The Castro, with nearby Market Street (on which can be found a massive LGBT community center) to the fore, is, in effect, an all-gay neighborhood with a network of bars, clubs, shops, gyms and saunas.
Both within and outside the borders of San Francisco’s gay districts, the city has a great gastronomical reputation, with any number of excellent restaurants to choose from.
The city is also blessed with a host of fantastic art galleries and museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and downtown on ‘Theatre Row’, some outstanding theatrical offerings.