Fifty-One Ab-Fab Road-Trip Destinations and Pit Stops – One in Each State and the District of Columbia – That Are Must-sees and Dos for Out-and-Proud Wanderlusters in the United States
By: Mikey Rox*/Special to TRT—
There are a million things to love about traveling the United States – from our sprawling national parks and historic coastal cities to tucked-away small towns and southern hospitality – but every once in a while we need to experience our people in our places. As it turns out, there’s queer fun to be found everywhere – in areas that you would never suspect, in fact – throughout the entire country. When planning your next “family”-friendly getaway, consider these welcoming attractions, establishments, events, and gatherings in all 50 states and the nation’s capital that exist by and for the LGBTQ+ community.
Praise Him on high (before hitting a boozy brunch; wine is Jesus-approved, remember) at Cornerstone Metropolitan Community Church in Mobile, a predominately LGBTQ+ congregation led by lesbian pastor, Reverend Sara Sills. Sunday service begins at 10:45 a.m. Arrive early for easy parking, visit the institution’s welcome center, and take a guided tour of the campus. [Editor’s Note: Other Alabama destinations can be found here: https://bit.ly/3yKZ8oj.]
Newly renovated Mad Myrna’s, located in downtown Anchorage, hosts a wide range of LGBTQ+ events, including movie nights, drag and strip shows, karaoke, and Pride pageants. This nightlife mainstay, along with queer dive bar The Raven just down the street, has provided last-frontier fabulousness for over two decades.
A pair of well-worn cowboy boots and a bottle of sunscreen are all you’ll need for a rugged, clothing-optional weekend at the all-male Copper Cactus Ranch, quietly nestled deep in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains in Queen Valley. Weekends feature bonfires, musical jam sessions, drum circles, and body painting, among other activities that encourage boys to be boys.
Pet-friendly Pond Mountain Lodge is the longest continuously operating gay-owned resort in Eureka Springs where you can enjoy the great outdoors while hiking, fishing, swimming, picnicking, and more. It’s also become a queer wedding destination in the south since the landmark SCOTUS marriage-equality decision was handed down.
You may recognize lesbian-owned Hicksville Trailer Palace as the setting for Lana Del Rey’s “White Dress” music vid, but this dog-friendly, 21-and-older desert oasis in Joshua Tree hosts travelers in 11 individually designed vintage mini-mobile homes situated on seven acres flush with fun and games, including a ball pit, arcade, cornhole, putt-putt, a BB gun, and archery range, shuffleboard, ping-pong, and darts.
Memorialize your road trip with fresh ink – maybe your route map or a memorable symbol – at LGBTQ+-owned Pens & Needles Custom Tattoo Company, voted Best Tattoo Shop in Colorado Springs.
Once you’ve quelled your hunger pangs with the Traveler Restaurant’s classic dining options, like linguini and meatballs, pizza, fried seafood platters, and BLTs, browse the stacks – of books, that is – to find your favorite LGBTQ+ authors or stories. This quaint country eatery in Union allows each person to take home up to three titles – for free – from the selection of thousands that line its walls.
Frolic in the sand and surf on decidedly gay Poodle Beach – you’ll find it at the far southern end of the Rehoboth Boardwalk near Queen Street (a bit on the nose, but what can ya do?) – before cleaning up and heading out for a night of queer revelry in this lively shore town with a rich LGBTQ+ history.
District of Columbia
Queer or not, every American should pay a visit to the Supreme Court, judiciously located at 1 First Street in Washington, D.C., the battleground for many milestone equal-rights cases, including the game-changing Obergefell v. Hodges, which, in 2015, granted marriage rights to same-sex couples across the United States.
Dedicated solely to LGBTQ+ history, civil rights, art, and culture, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale (with a branch in neighboring Wilton Manors) features three gallery spaces with changing monthly and bi-monthly exhibits and includes a permanent timeline of American queer history.
Strip down and relax in the steam room, sauna, and pools of this clothing-optional, membership-only men’s bathhouse in midtown Atlanta that hosts weekly events like Bear & Daddy Night on Tuesdays, $5 lockers on Wednesdays, and a complimentary BBQ on Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m.
Join the LGBTQ+ Honolulu FrontRunners/Walkers every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in Kapi’olani Park for a tourists-are-welcome sweat sesh around stunning Waikiki ($10 for singles/$15 for couples) before brunching with the group at a downtown restaurant, pit stains and all.
You’ll need to lace up your hiking boots to reach the two-miles-in-and-back Goldbug Hotsprings, the trailhead of which starts on BLM land just south of the Elk Bend community, but it’ll be well worth your while when you slip out of your shorts and soak nude in natural pools of varying degrees, surrounded by picturesque scenery.
Pay homage to the queer pioneers who blazed their own trails toward LGBTQ+ equality on a self-guided tour of the Legacy Walk in Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood, the placards of which on the area’s 40 rainbow-colored pylons honor our community’s heroes, including Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, Antonia Pantoja, Frida Kahlo, and Alvin Ailey.
Put your name on the list at popular Bloomington distillery/bar/kitchen Cardinal Spirits, where you’ll nosh on inspired (but affordable) dishes like lamb barbacoa tacos and gochujang tomato and cantaloupe gazpacho, sip on canned bourbon cream sodas, and take home a bottle of its Indiana corn Pride vodka, 10 percent proceeds of which support local LGBTQ+ organizations.
Stop for a photo-op at the “American Gothic” cottage in Eldon, famously depicted in gay artist Grant Wood’s oft-parodied same-name 1930 painting, which has since become an iconic example of 20th-century American art.
With its rainbow-flag-painted façade, Equality House, a project of Planting Peace in Topeka, gained international notoriety (surely you saw the news stories; they were everywhere) when it revealed itself as a beacon of hope and equality against evil forces, specifically the anti-everything Westboro Baptist Church, which is right across the street.
Bourbon – but make it gay. That’s your task as you bounce from one celebrated distillery to the next (most of which are within walking distance of each other along the Ohio River) in downtown Louisville. Stumble back and sleep it off at tobacco warehouse-turned-boutique hotel Vu Guesthouse.
Beat the oppressive New Orleans heat with a summertime treat at queer-women-owned Chance in Hell SnoBalls, a traveling winter-in-a-cup pop-up shop in the Bywater that serves frosty flavors like grape Nehi, pineapple-cilantro-chili, refreshing cucumber-cardamom-basil, and ginger matcha.
When in Maine you order the lobster roll – given – but when dining at Ogunquit’s gay-owned The Front Porch you have your pick of elevated seafood. Start with blue cheese mussels or the oyster trio before settling into entrees like lobster risotto or haddock tacos. When you’re stuffed to the gills (fish pun intended), head upstairs to the restaurant’s bar where you can sing along nightly to show tunes and standards around a grand piano (the pianists take requests), lit from above by fixtures fashioned from old hats.
One of the last bastions of LGBTQ+ Baltimore nightlife (Charm City has lost most of its queer bars and hangouts in the past few years), the Eagle, which celebrates 30 years on the scene in 2021, has triumphed over financial ups and downs to keep its doors open to the leather and kink communities and those who love them. Pro-tip: Head to the Toolbox for all the what-happens-there-stays-there excitement you’re seeking.
Following the route of Boston’s first Gay Pride March in 1971, the Equality Trail walking tour includes 13 sites around Beantown, including 81-year-old Bay Village gay bar Jacques, the police headquarters on Berkeley Street, the State House on Beacon Hill, and St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tremont Street, where, 50 years ago, peaceful protesters issued a list of civil-rights demands at each location. [Editor’s Note: You can also travel west to Northampton and/or Holyoke, both of which have a very healthy population of lesbians, trans people, and queer folks, and tons of hangouts to choose from.]
Test your pop-culture prowess at Five15, a retail shop with a stage (and bar) in downtown Royal Oak, on its drag queen trivia nights, the latest of which featured “Schitt’s Creek”-centric questions. If memory games aren’t your milieu, opt for less-skilled activities, like weekend drag bingos and the some-Sundays Drag Brunch Cookout.
Friends of Dorothy can follow a yellow brick road (of sorts) to the Judy Garland Museum, established in the actress’s birth town of Grand Rapids, where you’ll learn about the troubled star’s illustrious life and career, or, on a lucky day, attend a Garland-focused event, book signing, or festival.
Set sail for Ship Island, off the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Biloxi, in your private vessel, or hop aboard the public ferry in Gulfport from March to October. If you arrive in your own boat, anchor near Fort Massachusetts, swim ashore, and make the trek on foot to the easternmost end of the isle for legal sunning and funning in the buff.
Foodies will get a crash course in late-18th-/early-19th-century American cuisine from LGBTQ and James Beard semi-finalist chef Rob Connoley, who presents a reservations-required, seven-course, Ozark-inspired tasting menu Thursdays to Sundays at Bulrush in St. Louis. Each meal includes staff explanations of the dishes, a history, and QR code-accessible videos on the top-rated restaurant’s research projects.
Research will show that there’s not much in the way of LGBTQ+-specific recreation in traditionally conservative Montana, but if you’re traveling through Big Sky Country, consider a stop into Missoula’s Gay Men’s Meeting at The Center, held every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m.
Belly up to the bar at Omaha Mining Company – an on-the-fringe gay watering hole that has, according to one Yelp reviewer, “existed since the 1960s between the Douglas County jail and urban blight” (though tighter parking has made the area much safer these days) – and order an ice-cold lager or similar no-nonsense libation before heading downstairs to the Mineshaft for pool tables and art. Every fourth Saturday of the month the Big O! Bears group hosts a growling good time.
After you’ve made your requisite donation to Las Vegas’ glitzy casinos, ease the pain with a trip to the Fruit Loop, a cluster of gay bars and clubs along East Naples Drive, near the University of Nevada. Badlands Saloon and Charlie’s, both country-western bars (this is the desert, after all), along with the Las Vegas Eagle and FreeZone offer plenty of merriment without losing your ass – unless that’s what you’re into.
Dabble in the dark arts with a visit to the “magick retirement” cottage of bisexual British occultist and “Wickedest Man in the World” Aleister Crowley, whose four-month stay at this house in Hebron, owned by self-professed medium Evangeline Adams, resulted in myriad “secret and arcane” activities. If you’re superstitious of the supernatural, there’s a church conveniently located next door to cleanse your sassy soul.
Asbury Park, a 1.6-square-mile city located on the northern Jersey Shore, has a long and sordid history – from disproportionately impoverished minority communities and race riots to political corruption and a severely underserved school system – but it has since overcome many of those obstacles to emerge as one of the most densely populated LGBTQ+ communities in the Mid-Atlantic. There are tons for you and your fey friends to do here, too. Shop for kitsch at Severedwing, belt your signature tune on karaoke nights at Georgie’s, enjoy a chef-prepared meal at Hotel Tides, dance poolside at Paradise, and carry out an artisanal pizza from Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen, all of which are gay-owned and -operated (and just a sampling of the abundant LGBTQ+ businesses around town).
Rest your weary head at the eponymous, well-appointed house of wealthy bisexual arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, now a National Historic Landmark and B&B in Taos, which has welcomed such visionaries as Georgia O’Keefe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, and Martha Graham.
Directly across the street from Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn – the site of the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots – is the Stonewall National Monument, designated as such by the National Park Service on June 24, 2016, which encompasses Christopher Park and the block of Christopher Street bordering the park in the West Village. Pop into the gift shop for a souvenir before entering the inn for cocktails and local oral history.
Pick up a few cans of spray paint and head to the ever-changing Free Expression Tunnel, connecting the north and central campuses of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where you can add your own progressive designs and messages that students and tourists alike can enjoy for years to come (or at least until another artist paints over them).
If you’re seeking more stimulating conversation on your gaycay than your travel partner is capable of providing (dull queers do exist, y’all), join the Queerly Reading book and discussion club, which meets every second Saturday of the month at 9:30 a.m. in the Bismarck Barnes & Noble Café. Join its Facebook group for title selections and to contribute ideas.
Cleveland-based DJ Alan Freed is widely credited for coining the term “rock and roll” in the early 1950s – or, at the very least, popularizing it – so it’s only fitting that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was born here, too. Inductees include many of your LGBTQ+ music idols, from Janis Joplin and Joan Jett to Freddie Mercury and Elton John.
Many queer folx got their first sensation of same-sex attraction by playing with shapely superheroes when they were kids (what future gay boy didn’t pine for a peek under the Caped Crusader’s codpiece?), and you can relive that age of innocence at the Toy and Action Figure Museum, filled to the brim with over 13,000 distinct characters and many mint-condition collectibles, located in Paul’s Valley.
Portland-based Wild Diversity offers a full slate of outdoors activities (that require advance reservations) – which include bird watching around Whitaker Pond, a two-day Willamette River paddling adventure, writers’ retreats, and a deaf community campout, among many others – specifically geared toward (but not limited to) BIPOC and QTBIPOC.
Pay your respects by setting a can of Campbell’s Soup beside the final resting place of gay pop-art icon Andy Warhol, whose gravesite at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in the town of Castle Shannon is broadcast 24/7 on his museum’s website as part of a project called “Figment.”
After a day of exploration in queer-friendly Providence – The Stable, Mirabar, and The Dark Lady are known for their neighborly customer service – spend a night or two at the Old Town Inn in New Shoreham or Newport’s Francis Malbone House, both gay-owned and secluded on nearby islands.
In a walking city like Charleston, you can spend an entire day sightseeing, and one of the can’t-miss photo ops is Rainbow Row, comprised of 13 brightly colored townhomes along East Bay Street on the Charleston Harbor. After you’ve fulfilled your daily step requirement, take a load off and relax with a crafty selection of Moscow mules at historic queer haunt Dudley’s on Ann.
Club David is as good as it gets for queer congregating in a state not exactly known for its LGBTQ+ progressiveness. Still, you’ll manage to catch a penny-pinching buzz with nightly drinks specials (many of which are half-price) and occasional events like drag bingo on the rooftop patio.
Throw your hands up as you barrel through the Thunderhead rollercoaster, stroll through the Chasing Rainbows Museum, and tap your feet to the Dreamland Drive-In musical show at Dollywood, the namesake theme park of everybody’s favorite LGBTQ+-lovin’ glam-ma Dolly Parton, in Pigeon Forge.
Download the 1956 Western film “Giant” to your tablet, open a bottle of wine, snuggle up in bed, and press play in a stately room at Marfa’s Hotel Paisano, which hosted LGBTQ+ icons Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean (in his final role) as they shot scenes for the flick in this charming Far West Texas town 66 years ago.
Despite his Mormon upbringing, wanted Wild West outlaw Butch Cassidy might have been gay. Allegedly, his mother heard noises and wondered what he and his new cowboy friend Mike Cassidy, whose last name he eventually took, “were doing down by the corral.” (A mother always knows what’s up, doesn’t she?) See where it all started with a visit to the thief-with-a-heart-of-gold’s humble boyhood abode and poke around the family plot, located in Panguitch.
Fill a waffle cone with your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor at its factory-based Scoop Shop in Waterbury before taking a saunter through the behind-the-building-and-up-the-hill Flavor Graveyard where discontinued pints, like Schweddy Balls and Vermonty Python, rest in peace. The confectionary connoisseurs are longtime supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, most recently celebrating International Transgender Day of Visibility.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Ruby Scoops, a Black- and LGBTQ+-owned ice cream shop in Richmond’s Brookland Park neighborhood, which serves up premium, small-batch, made-from-scratch ice creams, sorbets, sherbets, and desserts in tantalizing taste combos like roasted pineapple/rosemary, strawberry/sweet red bean, and guava daiquiri, plus a few tried-and-true standards, too.
Come for a haircut, stay for the coffee at Seattle-based Squirrel Chops, a queer-owned hybrid salon, and café where you can kill two birds with one stone when you get a perm and your daily pick-me-up.
Photo-capture rainbows in the mist as sun rays reflect off the tannic acid-darkened water of the 57-foot cascading Blackwater Falls in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, then pitch a tent at the state park’s campground for a night of slap-and-tickle under the stars.
Pizza and wine is a treasured culinary combo – at least for booze and junk-food enthusiasts (i.e. non-psychopaths) – and you’ll find options aplenty at wife-and-wife-owned Trouble and Sons in Whitefish Bay, where you also can order fresh salads to trick yourself into feeling healthy while getting fat and happy.
You may have trouble finding the exact spot where Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die by two homophobes in 1998, as it remains unmarked to this day, but a memorial bench on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie serves as a sufficient spot to remember our modern-day martyr.
*Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He’s currently nomading across the country in his van, seeking queer excitement everywhere he roams. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.
[This article was originally published in the August 12, 2021 issue of The Rainbow Times].
I simply love this initiative to talk about LGBTQIA+ friendly destinations, but this particular list surprised me by exploring itineraries across the United States.
If before I already dreamed of visiting Hawaii, now I want to do it even more! Oh, and I’m already adding to my list a place I had never considered before: Illinois. I really want to do this tour of the Legacy Walk.