Do December Right with These Magical, Queer-Friendly Festivities

Our favorite ways to make the yuletide gay.

The Christkindlmarket in Chicago | Steve Gadomski/Shutterstock
The Christkindlmarket in Chicago | Steve Gadomski/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for LGBTQIA-friendly destinations and activities to get into the holiday spirit, we're here for you. From the biggest and brightest holiday light displays, markets, and more in some of the best spots across the country, these are our favorite ways to make the yuletide gay.

Go all out with chocolate and lights in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

LGBTQIA-friendly and filled with holiday hotspots, Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley turns up the charm in December. Base yourself in Bethlehem (nicknamed Christmas City for good reason) and start your morning at the queer-owned Backdoor Bakeshop for freshly-made coffee, baked goods, and sandwiches. Once you’re caffeinated, hit up the German-inspired Christkindlmarkt for handcrafted gifts and some mulled wine, visit the Christmas City Village, or make your own gingerbread person at the Gingerbread Games. While in town, support local queer-owned and queer-friendly businesses. Go to Domaci for colorful and creative home decor; for great eats and drinks, try Apollo Grill, Fegley’s Bethlehem Brew Works, and Bonn Place Brewing Company. You can then spend the night waiting up for Santa at the queer-welcoming Sayre Mansion.

Save some time to visit the Allentown Art Museum and Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. Then, drive an hour to the famed Koziar's Christmas Village. There, you can gaze at a spectacular collection of over 1 million lights, mail letters to Santa, and sneak a kiss with your bae on The Kissing Bridge. Also nearby is the town of Hershey, home of the famous chocolate company, which the Human Rights Campaign named as one of the best companies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. View holiday lights from a rollercoaster, visit Christmas villages and, of course, eat a ton of chocolate at Hershey Park. When you've had enough chocolate and holiday spirit, head back to Bethlehem or stay the night in the historic Hershey Lodge.

Jazz up your holidays in New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Easy does the holiday season right. Visit in December to see steamboats and streetcars blinged out in lights and the French Quarter buzzing with cheer. Don’t miss the bonfires on the levee, a Christmas Eve tradition meant to help Papa Noël (Santa Claus) find his way, and the Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, where a holiday train whizzes you through 25 acres of light displays and 600-year-old oak trees. Or sing holiday carols in Jackson Square, do a special holiday home tour at the historic mansions of the French Quarter and Garden District, and cap off your night with one of the city’s famed Reveillon Dinners, a decadent four-course meal that’s a Creole tradition.

When you feel like taking a break from the holidays, New Orleans has a ton of LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs like Good Friends and The Bourbon Pub and Parade — so give yourself the best gifts of drinking, dancing, and drag shows. When it’s time to call it a night, check into queer-owned bed and breakfasts like Antebellum Guest House, The Burgundy, La Dauphine, and HH Whitney House.

Have a white Christmas on the slopes of New Mexico

Santa Fe and Taos have long attracted artists, free spirits, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Come December, these gorgeous mountain locations are filled with so much cheer, you’ll feel like you’re in a Hallmark movie. In Santa Fe, stroll through the historic Santa Fe Plaza and see a brightly lit Christmas tree, a giant menorah, and thousands of flickering lights. Listen to holiday music at the Loretto Chapel, a 150-year-old Gothic-style church (don't leave without getting a peek at the impressive staircase). When it’s time to warm up, visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum or enjoy the warm waters of 10,000 waves, a spa and baths inspired by Japanese hot springs. Stay at the queer-owned El Farolito or queer-friendly Inn of the Turquoise Bear, the former home of gay poet and scholar Witter Bynner.

Just 90 minutes to the north (and a pretty scenic drive), Taos celebrates the holidays with Yuletide in Taos. Wander through historic streets lit up with bonfires and lanterns and shop handcrafted jewelry, textiles, and pottery while supporting individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence at the CAV Taos Holiday Market Arts and Crafts Fair. Don’t leave without hitting the world-class ski slopes of Taos Ski Valley, Angel Fire, and Enchanted Forest — and be sure to stick around for torchlight parades and fireworks. Then warm up by a fire and get a good night’s sleep at queer-owned Casa Galina or LGBTQIA-friendly Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast.

See the Space Needle and visit a reindeer farm in Washington

Seattle may offer you a grey-sky holiday, but where else can you view Christmas trees from the top of a Space Needle? Visit Snowflake Lane in Bellevue, a 17-year-old tradition with falling snow, dazzling lights, drummers, dancers, and a parade of holiday floats. Or check out Winterfest in Seattle Center for ice sculpting, a winter train and village, and live performances. See a staged version of A Christmas Carol at the ACT Theater or The Nutcracker performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company, then immerse yourself in the WildLanterns lights show at Woodland Park and Zoo.

Get some sleep at the queer-owned Bacon Mansion before you drive two hours east to Leavenworth, a mountain town that looks like something straight out of The Sound of Music. Sip warm glühwein (mulled wine) and admire the lights adorning Bavarian-style buildings, meet relatives of Comet and Blitzen at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, dash through the snow on an open sleigh, or drive a snowmobile at Mountain Springs Lodge. To satisfy your appetite, taste the best gingerbread at The Gingerbread Factory, then chase it down with a fresh brew at the Munchen Haus or Icicle Brewing Company. Don’t miss having a delicious dinner at the Watershed Cafethen spend the night at one of the area’s queer-friendly inns like Pine River Ranch or Obertal Inn.

Get blown away by festive cheer in the Windy City

While a lot of us flee the big cities for the holidays, super queer-friendly Chicago sparkles and shines during this time of year. Belt out your favorite carols and go ice skating in Millennium Park, watch a parade of floats and marching bands on the Magnificent Mile, and walk over a mile of lights, including a 110-foot illuminated tunnel at the Botanic Gardens’ Lightscape. If you prefer the cozy indoors, find your holiday fun at Light up the Lake at Navy Pier, which boasts the area's largest indoor lights show, humongous light sculptures, and a beer garden. Cap off your festivities with a ride on the 200-foot Centennial Wheel (included in your entrance ticket), complete with heated gondolas.

See how other countries celebrate their holidays, including Diwali, Hanukkah, Ramadan, and Kwanzaa at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights. Or, explore vendor products from around the world at the Christkindlmarket, where you can snack on fresh pretzels and bratwurst while you shop. Don’t leave town without having deep dish pizza at Giordano's or Lou Malnati’s and hitting up the gay bars of Boystown like Sidetrack, Roscoe’s Tavern, and Progress. For gay-owned accommodations, book a room at The Villa Toscana, a Victorian-style bed and breakfast with old-world charm.

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Mark Jason Williams writes essays and travel articles and is working on a travel guidebook for LGBTQ couples. He can be found at