6 LGBTQIA-Friendly Small Towns You Need to Visit

From California to Maine, these queer-welcoming destinations do not disappoint.

Key West, Florida | Romain7189/Shutterstock
Key West, Florida | Romain7189/Shutterstock

It gets less attention than LGBTQIA-friendly metropolises like San Francisco and New York City, but small-town America is actually home to a mosaic of diverse, queer enclaves (in states both red and blue). Despite having less than 50,000 full-time residents, our favorite small towns wear an inclusive heart on their sleeves and have tons of fun doing it—all while allowing LGBTQIA+ businesses to flourish and welcoming all travelers to come as they are. Pick one to visit or see them all. 

Wilton Manors, Florida

Located on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale is the queer-friendliest small town on the Florida mainland: Wilton Manors. The city became the first in Florida to elect an all-LGBTQIA+ city commission in 2018, and its funky main thoroughfare, The Drive, remains a stronghold for LGBTQIA+ businesses with over 40 queer-owned establishments lining the street. You could spend morning to night exploring Wilton Drive, starting with a latte at indie coffee shop Java Boys to a boozy alfresco brunch at Rosie’s Bar and Grill to dinner and a night out at Georgie's Alibi & Monkey Bar. Beyond Island City—so nicknamed for the waterways that surround Wilton Manors, which you can traverse by kayak—are some of the world’s most renowned institutions dedicated to the queer experience, including Stonewall National Museum & Archives and the World AIDS Museum in nearby Fort Lauderdale. To be close to the action, stay at Casa Hermès, a swanky mansion turned guesthouse. 

Saugatuck, Michigan

The art coast of Lake Michigan is home to a number of top-tier creative institutions, like the Saugatuck Center for the Arts and Ox-Bow School of Art, but it’s also been a Midwest mecca for the LGBTQIA+ community for decades. There are more than 140 Saugatuck businesses owned and operated by LGBTQIA+ folks, including the adults-only Dunes Resort (its calendar is always jam-packed with events from drag queen bingo to karaoke) and the serene Lake Shore Resort, which overlooks the swoon-worthy bluffs of Lake Michigan. Though beach season reaches its peak in the summer, the region’s stunning nature hikes, historic landmarks, and wineries along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail can be appreciated all year long. 

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Before the Pilgrims established a New World colony in Plymouth, the English settlers first came ashore in Provincetown. Luckily, P-town has since come a long way from its Puritan origins. Owing to its geographic seclusion at the extreme tip of Cape Cod, it eventually became America’s first artist colony in the 20th century, and, not long after, New England’s most inclusive haven. Simultaneously quaint and cosmopolitan, Provincetown is a year-round haven for the LGBTQIA+ community, though certain weeks assigned to queer archetypes (Bear Week, Family Week, Girl Splash) are known to inject high-octane party fuel into the streets. Post up at one of P-town’s many queer-owned accommodations like White Porch Inn or AWOL for a campy setting across from the hidden nature trail to clothing-optional Herring Cove. For eats during your stay, don't miss the pastries at Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, made-to-order sandwiches at Relish, and lobster rolls at Patio. Also, be sure to reserve a dinner table at Italian restaurant Sal’s Place. When you're craving a rowdy night out after sunset tea dances at The BoatslipA-House is the place to be.

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Ogunquit, Maine

Ogunquit tends to be overshadowed by Provincetown as a New England queer destination, but that’s not to say this coastal village is any less welcoming, fun, or scenic. Its nickname, Beautiful Place by the Sea, says it all. Ogunquit is also a lot more convenient to reach, located just off Route 1 not far from the New Hampshire state line. Here, the majority of businesses on and off charming Main Street are LGBTQIA-owned, from boutiques to art galleries and restaurants, with dozens of pride flags waving from telephone poles throughout town. Join the masses who arrive in summer to chase lobster rolls, stroll the Marginal Way cliff walk, and plop a towel down on one of America’s top-rated beaches. Mosey over to storybook Perkins Cove for heady rum punches, steamer clams, and lobster dinners at Barnacle Billy’s, or Brix + Brine for inventive cocktails and coastal cuisine. Ogunquit’s diminutive size belies its impressive nightlife. Hit up Mainestreet, a nightlife emporium with several dance floors and a two-story patio with grill. And don't skip The Front Porch, an iconic piano bar that you can hear from down the street. For something wholly unique, visit Leavitt Theatre, a 1920s movie house that was converted into a cocktail bar and concert venue. 

Key West, Florida

Venture to the southernmost point of the contiguous US to find Key West, an enclave of come-as-you-are inclusivity. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are some famous names that sought refuge in The Keys, and, for generations now, so has the LGBTQIA+ community. Hedonists descend upon Key West for its quirky ambiance, Caribbean-style beach resorts, and queer-oriented nightlife. Book a room at the Ocean Key Resort and Spa or Southernmost Beach Resort, waterfront properties walking distance from Old Town. Embrace the kitsch of the Conch Tour Train to tick off a handful of must-visit attractions in one go, like the Hemingway Home, the Butterfly Conservatory, and the Key West Lighthouse. When you’ve built an appetite, head to Hot Tin Roof for “conch-fusion” fare with water views, or The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. for surf-and-turf specials whipped up with tropical flavors. The concentration of queer bars, drag shows, and clubs is on Duval Street between Angela and Petronia Streets, including hot spots like The Back Bar, Aqua, and Sidebar.

Palm Springs, California

While Palm Springs’ iconic mid-century modern homes fill coffee table books, the desert city’s progressive milestones have also made queer history, with the most same-sex households in California and the country’s first all-LGBTQIA+ city council. From Hollywood’s Golden Age to today's music festivals, Palm Springs has long been a getaway for the who’s who of the celebrity world who come to party under the desert sun just two hours from Los Angeles. But Palm Springs hosts more than its fair share of queer events, too. Beyond annual Pride celebrations, there’s The Dinah, the world’s largest lesbian festival, and the White Party, the largest LGBTQIA+ event in the world. Before you go, snag a room at The Marley, a former motor lodge glammed up with playful decor, or the Parker for a plush retreat that beams with Old Hollywood vibes. The local food scene has been on the up-and-up in the past few years, with highlights such as Vietnamese restaurant Rooster and the Pig, farm-to-table Italian at Birba, and vegan fare at Chef Tanya's Kitchen. Oh, and be sure to set aside some budget for shopping at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets, the largest luxury outlet mall in California. 

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Paul Jebara is a travel and design journalist, content expert, and photographer in NYC. Follow him on Instagram @paulgoesthere.