10 Road Trips to Take with Your Partner This Holiday Season

Get ready for a romantic excursion full of under-the-radar gems.

Willie B. Thomas/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Willie B. Thomas/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Between the stress and unpredictability of air travel, the holidays are an apt time for a good, old-fashioned road trip. Even better: A romantic road trip you can take with your partner, venturing off the beaten path and discovering new sights, flavors, and activities. Sure, a classic, Americana-style trek along Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway is all well and good, but digging a little deeper—and making pit stops at under-the-radar destinations along the way—reaps rewards that you and your loved one won’t forget. From poolside bliss in the Arizona desert to a Rocky Mountain winter wonderland, these are the best LGBTQIA+ road trips to take this holiday season.

Casinos, canyons, and cacti in the Southwest

You might end up on the naughty list for spending the holidays indulging in Sin City, but it’ll be worth it. Treat yourselves to a stay at the Luxor Las Vegas, one of the most queer-friendly hotels in the US, and do some gaming at the new Resorts World Las Vegas (with more than 40 restaurants on-site, you won’t be lacking for food options). Be sure to break away from the Strip to dance at LGBTQIA+ nightlife spots in the Fruit Loop district. For something more wholesome, stroll through the whimsical Holiday Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolates in suburban Henderson, hot cocoa in-hand.

From here, buckle up for fun in the Arizona sun—and some epic selfie moments—with scenic stops at the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon (escape the crowds by visiting Grand Canyon West, outside the national park, for breathtaking hikes along Guano Point). Don’t forget to stop by the least visited national park in the state, Petrified Forest National Park, where the easy Blue Mesa Trail wows with boulder-sized crystalized logs and badlands lit up in tints of purple and green.

Loop back to Phoenix and luxuriate in the city’s largest hotel, the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix. Owned by one of the most LGBTQIA-friendly hotel brands in the US, it’s a chic place to hang by the pool and drink in the city views at Breeze Bar. Round out your Arizona adventure in Tucson, where you can spend your day communing with cacti in Saguaro National Park (the west district of the park is far less visited, and hikes like Wasson Peak are practically devoid of humans) and your evening enjoying drag trivia at IBT’s.

Find the queerest part of Route 66

As one of the most iconic roadways in the nation, you might be surprised to learn that the queerest parts of Route 66 are actually in some pretty unexpected locales. Start in Chicago, the city where the highway begins, with holiday merriment, like sipping mulled wine in Christkindlmarket and seeing the Tree Lights at suburban Morton Arboretum. Skip the crowded ice rink in Millennium Park and choose a smaller neighborhood spot, like Midway Plaisance.

From here, enjoy the French toast at queer-owned MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse and the live DJ at LGBTQIA+ bar Just John Club (both in St. Louis). Then, dance at out-and-proud Club Majestic and try a seasonal tasting menu at lesbian-owned Farm Bar in Tulsa. The biggest queer surprise on Route 66 is the fact that the road goes right through Oklahoma City’s 39th Entertainment District, aka the gayborhood. Here, you’ll find all kinds of LGBTQIA+ nightlife, drag brunch, and billiards, with other inclusive options nearby. Check out Frankie’s lesbian bar and the queer-owned restaurants in Paseo and the Plaza District; our holiday picks are the Jackfruit Tikka Masala at Picasso Cafe or the Spicy Miso at Goro Ramen + Izakaya. 

National Park-hopping in Utah

For one of the best LGBTQIA+ road trips to take this holiday season, consider a national park. Home to five national parks, Utah is a quintessential state for nature enthusiasts looking to find serenity with their partner. After all, few sights are as romantic as seeing Delicate Arch aglow at sunrise in Arches National Park, or marveling at the snow-swept hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Salt Lake City, in all its unexpected queerness, is an apt starting point. Hang out in the Marmalade District—one of the cutest, quirkiest, under-the-radar gayborhoods in the US—with a meal at LGBTQIA-owned Laziz Kitchen or a show at Salt Lake Acting Company, a former Mormon church turned into a queer-centric theater space. Then, drive to Moab for cozy vibes and comfort foods at restaurants like Sunset Grill, where the prime rib is as picture-perfect as the sunset views. Stay overnight at Element Moab, a contemporary new resort with an outdoor hot tub so large you could swim laps in it. You’ll be properly fueled to hike in Arches National Park just down the street, as well as nearby Canyonlands National Park, before heading west to visit the wildly underrated Capitol Reef National Park, then cross-country skiing at Bryce Canyon. Round out your Utah trip with the iconic Zion National Park. Though one of the most visited national parks, December through March is slow season for Zion, which means you might get the popular Narrows trail to yourselves.

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A new side of New England

For a quintessential holiday moment, snowy trees and all, it doesn’t get more postcard-perfect than a drive through New England. Begin in Boston, but instead of doing the typical Boston things, try some pumpkin hushpuppies and buttermilk fried chicken at queer-owned restaurant Sweet Cheeks, then go gallery-hopping and shopping at LGBTQIA-centric spots, including Gallery 263 and Trident Booksellers.

Drive through Rhode Island for an aphrodisiac crawl to Providence Oyster House in Providence, Benjamin’s Raw Bar in Newport, and Matunuck Oyster Bar in Wakefield, where you can take your bivalve obsession to the next level with guided tours of the restaurant’s own oyster farm in Potter Pond. Head west for a scenic coastal jaunt through Connecticut, and a stop in New Haven for some local-style pizza (aka coal-fired, thin-crust pies frequently topped with clams). Frank Pepe is the local icon, but you can avoid the lines at equally delicious alternatives like Modern Apizza. Rest up at the adorable House of 1833, a Mystic B&B in a historic mansion where several suites come equipped with hot tubs.

Next, drive north into western Massachusetts for a scenic hike in the Berkshires (the Hoosac Range trail in North Adams is a wintry stunner) before enjoying some of the best skiing in New England in Vermont—skip Stowe for the quieter Okemo Mountain Resort. You’ll find similarly enchanting vibes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where you can ski or snow tube at Cranmore Mountain Resort, before heading to the coast in Maine. Portland is a vibrant, liberal city with an inclusive queer scene, while smaller towns like Old Orchard, York, and Kennebunkport offer their own alluring charms, especially when you’ve got the chilly beaches all to yourselves.

Winter wonderland vibes in the Rockies

Another apt locale for winter wonderland bliss is the Rockies, especially the stretch of craggy peaks zigzagging from Colorado through Wyoming. Start in Denver, where you can explore the newest Meow Wolf, get a haircut at trans-friendly Bee Sweet (the salon charges by the hour rather than the gender), and feel the holiday romance at the 16th Street Mall, where pedicabs drive you along the thoroughfare lined with boutiques and twinkling Christmas lights. Before hitting the road, rest up at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, a gorgeous (and massive) property located right on the pedestrian mall, complete with one of the only heated outdoor pools open year-round in Denver.

Head to Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, for hearty mountain fare like bourbon-glazed duck wings and smoked pheasant chowder at Bird & Jim, plus whiskey cocktails and ghost tours at the Stanley Hotel, aka the historic property that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. In the morning, go snowshoeing (or snowy hiking) in the adjoining national park, which gets wonderfully quiet this time of year. Keep driving north into Wyoming for a seriously under-the-radar small city, Cheyenne, where you can drink in history at the Wyoming State Capitol, drink in coffee at the welcoming and lovely Central Cafe, and drink in impressive cocktails at the glamorous Paramount Ballroom.

Wrap up your mountainous trek with a stint in Jackson Hole, whose tourists and transient community guarantee a diverse and inclusive environment, especially as you savor shakshuka and banana-Nutella bread at Persephone Bakery or warming moules frites at The Bistro, a fresh face on the local dining scene from restaurateur Gavin Fine.

A different take on the PCH

Like Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway is so well known that even those who haven’t been to California feel like they know its ins and outs. But there’s still much to discover along this oceanic route, especially if you start up north in bucolic, seafood-filled towns like Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Stay at the pastoral Little River Inn, and get your fill of California wines and cioppino, before enjoying an awe-struck drive through the majestic coastal redwoods en route to the Bay Area.

San Francisco is the obvious go-to, but be sure to enjoy a meal at Miss Ollie’s, an LGBTQIA- and Black-owned Caribbean restaurant in Oakland, and a wine tasting at any number of bars in the quaint town of Healdsburg, like Baci Cafe & Wine Bar, an intimate space that oozes charm with its flower-adorned tables and flower-garnished entrees. Further south, the Madonna Inn is a beacon of loud-and-proud queerness in San Luis Obispo that’s worth a stop for its hot-pink tennis courts alone, followed by more vino in California’s more underrated wine region, the Santa Ynez Valley.

Head to Solvang, home to Danish-inspired architecture, Danish bakeries, and family-run restaurants like Peasants Feast, for thoughtful comfort foods like pastrami-smoked salmon, roasted mushroom tacos, and hot chicken sandwiches on sesame brioche buns, with a boatload of local wines to match. Rounding out your coastal Pacific road trip, you’d be remiss not to spend time in one of the country’s most famed gayborhoods, West Hollywood, but don’t sleep on the more underrated queer scene in San Diego, home to one of the best LGBTQIA+ beaches in the US. Follow the rainbow flags to Hillcrest, an uptown neighborhood that’s home to queer businesses aplenty, including Hillcrest Brewing Company, the first openly gay-owned brewery in the country.

The ultimate Tex-Mex trek

For an epic saga of tacos, hot springs, and art, embark on a Tex-Mex trek from El Paso to South Padre Island along the Mexico border. El Paso has some of the most legit Tex-Mex food anywhere (which tends to get overlooked by buzzier cities like Austin), especially at institutions like L&J Cafe and Tacoholics. For a more neoteric take, check out Ambar Restaurante, inside the breathtakingly refurbished Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park downtown; it’s home to one of the largest tequila selections in the state, plus bites like halibut ceviche tostadas and confit brisket tacos. Then, enjoy a nightcap with a view at rooftop bar La Perla, a space that once served as the penthouse suite for Elizabeth Taylor. Before hitting the road, go bar-hopping in Pride Square, a downtown enclave with a cluster of LGBTQIA+ bars, like EPIC Bar and the jazzy Speak Easy.

Hit up artsy, funky, and queer-friendly Marfa for inevitable selfies, Instagrammable toasts at Do Your Thing Coffee, and a visit to any number of galleries to gawk at contemporary art in Exhibitions 2D or Hacienda del Arcon, which doubles as the headquarters for the International Woman’s Foundation. From here, the off-the-beaten-path Big Bend National Park beckons with peaceful hikes, immense desert nature, and natural hot springs along the Rio Grande, ripe for canoodling. End your trip in South Padre Island, where the Texas-Mexico border meets the Gulf, and where miles of beachfront afford opportunity for relaxation, sun-basking, jet-skiing, and fun dolphin-watching boat tours.

Olympic adventure in Washington

The Pacific Northwest is breathtaking year-round, but especially during the holidays, which is why it’s one of the best LGBTQIA+ road trips for this time of year. If there’s one queer thing you do here, make it a drag show to remember at the Dina Martina Christmas Show, sure to put you in a festive mood for exploring Olympic National Park. In the off season, you’re likely not to encounter many hikers on your way to beautiful sights like Marymere Falls, Ruby Beach, or the Hoh Rainforest. Rest your heads in the comfy confines of Kalaloch Lodge, perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where almost everything on the menu (including the wine) at Creekside Restaurant is locally sourced.

On your way out, Tacoma is a city that often gets overshadowed by Seattle, but shines as a beacon of inclusivity and fun, as seen at gay and lesbian bar The Mix. If you’re looking for more Washington wine, the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley are a short drive away, teeming with lavish wineries and cute tasting rooms. For the ultimate solitude, just head north to Washington’s lesser-known national park, North Cascades, where you can enjoy snowy lakeside hikes with nary another human being in sight.

A great time by the Great Lakes

The holidays are a great time to explore Milwaukee, with plenty of cheesy comfort food to stave off the winter chill. You’ll have ample indoor entertainment options to choose from, like art museums, breweries, and watching a Packers game at Walker’s Pint, the oldest lesbian bar in town. Drive along the shore of Lake Michigan to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place of such snowy serenity that it feels like a Robert Frost poem. Stay at Milkweed Inn, a fairy tale-looking inn nestled in the woods of the Hiawatha National Forest. The LGBTQIA-owned property is the handiwork of Iliana Regan, a Michelin-starred chef who rose to culinary fame in Chicago before opting for a more peaceful lifestyle with her wife.

Keep the fairy tale vibes going on Mackinac Island, a majestic retreat seemingly preserved in time with its complete lack of chain businesses or cars. You’ll park your car and take a ferry to the small island where carriage rides, horses, and fudge shops are the norm—and while the island bustles in the summer months, the holidays are a great time to ensure you’ve got all the fudge for yourselves. You can go intimate at a B&B or go the complete opposite at the aptly named Grand Hotel, a titanic-sized property that opened in 1887 and lays claim to the longest hotel porch on Earth.

Round out your great escape on the Great Lakes with stops in Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, all underrated havens for queer culture, including the charming Detroit-area enclave of Ferndale. This is a town whose two most recent mayors were both openly gay, and is filled with LGBTQIA-centric theater, bars, and boutiques. In Cleveland, you can go the religious route at several churches that specifically cater to LGBTQIA+ parishioners, like Trinity Episcopal Cathedral or The United Church of Christ, or go the disco ball route with a night of dancing at Twist Social Club. Then there’s Buffalo, whose nickname as the Queen City could easily double as the Kween City thanks to its omnipresence of LGBTQIA+ businesses, from Paradise Wine shop to Trend Up boutique in Allentown.

Gulf Coast getaway

For those whose idea of a winter wonderland is more sand than snow, a Gulf Coast excursion might be in order. Especially if said excursion starts in the queer mecca of New Orleans, where androgyny, drag, and unpretentious nightlife earns its Big Easy nickname. It’s also a city where romance takes many shapes, from spooky-cool cemetery tours and Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s Restaurant (the place where they were invented) to a spree of LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs.

Head east along the Gulf with a stop in Biloxi for some unassuming fun. The casinos are always a good time, but it might surprise you to know that the Mississippi beach town is home to the Gulf Coast Association of Pride and the annual Pride Day festival. Continuing on, Dauphin Island in Alabama is a welcoming beach community for LGBTQIA+ travelers. Make your way into Florida and explore the more unassuming shores in the South Walton area, like Santa Rosa Beach for al fresco sushi and live music at The Bay; and Seaside for pastel-hued cottages and boutiques (The Truman Show was filmed here, which explains its twee perfection and almost over-the-top cuteness). Round the panhandle and hang out in Tampa, central Florida’s more overlooked city. Ybor City is a neighborhood so queer-centric that it’s often nicknamed GaYbor City, home to events like the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and bars like Bradley’s on 7th. Finish in south Florida with a trip to Biscayne National Park, a watery wonderland just outside of the much larger—and much more well-known—Everglades. Here, you can embark on an immersive paddle board tour through mangrove forests in Jones Lagoon, before wrapping up your Gulf Coast adventure with some poolside relaxation at the loud-and-proud LGBTQIA+ hotel AxelBeach.