By No Vacation Required, on May 13, 2015

LGBT destination guide: Washington, DC

Washington, D.C., is a city of contrasts. Massive stone government buildings and colossal monuments dominate the District, but the low skyline, intimate neighborhood streets, and exceptional walkability give the city a very human scale. Washington, D.C., itself is a monument to national traditions while, at the same time, it is a dynamic cultural hotspot and one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the country.   

This post is just one in a series of LGBT destination guides filled with LGBT-centric places to eat, sleep, and play. In this series, we spotlight destinations that show up on our personal radar in cities all over the world. We want to say a special thanks to Marriott International for sponsoring this post and, more important, for their long-standing commitment to embracing LGBT employees and travelers all around the world.

One LGBT neighborhood

Dupont Circle. There only are a few neighborhoods in the country that are synonymous with LGBT culture. Like the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City, the Dupont Circle neighborhood has been a critical area for the LGBT community for years. In the last decade, the iconic neighborhood has shed its Bohemian roots and transitioned from a gay ghetto to become a coveted address for people from all walks of life (as long as they can afford it). Even so, it continues to serve as the focal point for Washington D.C.’s LGBT community and queer travelers who visit the nation’s capital.

When you visit, make sure to walk the heart of Dupont Circle, P street. But also check out the emerging 14th Street and U Street corridors, both of which are either on or just beyond the neighborhood’s borders.

Two LGBT fun facts

The gorgeous Human Rights Campaign (HRC) headquarters in Dupont Circle “serves as a proud base for national activism, political change, and full LGBT equality.” Make sure to stop by and say thank you for the HRC’s tireless work on behalf of the national LGBT community.

Belief + Doubt exhibit

Washington, D.C., is home to the country’s oldest continuously active LGBT organization. The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance was founded in 1971, and played a key role in Mayor Walter Washington enacting Washington D.C.’s groundbreaking legislation banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in several public sectors, including housing, bank credit, and employment.

Three LGBT-friendly activities

Busboys and Poets. Inspired by the revered poet, Langston Hughes (who many believe was gay), Busboys and Poets is a locally adored “community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers.” The restaurant/bookstore/theater has a vibe of democracy in action; it is not a stretch to imagine patrons here are sipping lattes and planning revolutions.

Washington, D.C., is where the will of the people is codified. Coming to the District to have your voice heard at a rally or in a meeting with a congressional representative is one of the most thrilling and patriotic ways to experience the city.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. There are several reasons why LGBT visitors should carve out time to visit the Smithsonian’s modern-art museum. One reason stands out among all of them: The museum is fearless in the way it takes on subjects from which many public institutions shy away. One spectacular example is Barbara Kruger’s brash installation, “BELIEF+DOUBT.” This is a must-see exhibit that addresses “conflicting perceptions of democracy, power, and belief.”

Four LGBT-friendly hotels

Renaissance Washington DC Dupont Circle.  With quick access to both the Dupont Circle and Georgetown neighborhoods, few accommodations are better situated than this hotel. When we stayed on a recent visit, we were most impressed with personal touches such as a boozy evening “discovery hour” and the property’s insightful and exceptionally helpful “Navigators” (read: concierges), who aren’t afraid to recommend off-the-beaten path experiences.

Renaissance Washington DC Dupont Circle’s Navigator tips

Park Hyatt Washington. The Park Hyatt Washington strikes a balance of ultra-trendy and business-forward that fits perfectly with the vibe of the surrounding West End neighborhood. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, stop in to see the museum-worthy cherry blossom-adorned glass installation that flanks the hotel’s lobby.

The Carlyle Dupont Circle. The upscale, Art Deco hotel is right in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s LGBT scene, making it a favorite among queer travelers. While the property holds its own in the areas of design, service, and comfort, we would be remiss to not mention Kimpton Hotels’ 100 percent rating on the HRC Corporate Equality Index.

The William Lewis House. This Edwardian Logan Circle bed and breakfast caters to gay travelers but in the spirit of non-discrimination is “straight-friendly,” too. The lovingly restored mansion provides visitors with a more than just a place to rest their heads after a long day exploring Washington, D.C.; it is a unique way for visitors to connect with the history of the city.

Five LGBT-friendly bars and restaurants

The Green Lantern. Don’t let the nondescript 14th Street alley turn you off; one of Washington, D.C.’s best gay bars hides in the shadows. Every time we visit the city, we make a point to stop in for at least one drink, although that is not easy to do. Great conversations, inexpensive cocktails, and complete lack of pretension make it difficult to leave.

Viewfinder Tip: Washington, D.C., is pedestrian friendly, the Metro system is excellent, and parking is challenging, so leave the car at the hotel. 

The Cake Room. This super-adorable bakery (think gingham and wainscoting) changed its name from Sugar Daddy Bakery a while back, but the desserts are as delectable as they’ve been for years. We fell in love with the dense cherry cheesecake, but the fact that the bakery is a huge supporter of D.C. Pride really is what captured our hearts.

Number Nine. Upscale and gimmick-free are not common terms used to describe gay bars, which is why Number Nine is a breath of fresh air. A mantra of “no theme nights, no dress code, and no attitude” set the lounge apart, but classic cocktails, mid-century inspired décor, and a killer happy hour make this place a real standout.

Annie’s Paramount Steak House. This steakhouse is a bona fide LGBT institution. The food is good (we loved the Texas burger stacked high with grilled red onions and tangy BBQ sauce) but the restaurant deserves a spot on your itinerary for being a welcoming spot for the LGBT community for decades. We recommend having a quick dinner and then racing off to JR’s Bar and Grill for strong drinks and show tunes (on Mondays).

Filter Coffee. Just off the beaten path that is Connecticut Avenue is Filter Coffee’s intimate and dark little café. You might have to fight students with laptops for a table, but the delicious coffee and yummy chocolate chip banana bread is worth the hassle. We appreciate their commitment to the community, including the way they continue to partner with local, gay-friendly businesses.

What do you feel makes a city especially LGBT-friendly?