By Jason Heidemann, on June 16, 2022

The One Thing You Must do in Each of America’s Top LGBTQ Resort Towns

Rainbow Pride flags hanging over a busy street during Carnival in Provincetown

Basking in the sun in a small, American town where Pride flags hang from mom ‘n’ pop storefronts and same-sex couples proudly walk the streets with hands interlaced, offers a luxury most of us in the queer community do our best to at least occasionally afford. But oftentimes we forget that there’s a lot more to do in places like P-town and Palm Springs than wake and bake with a cocktail in hand. If you can pull yourself away from the beach or swimming pool, here is the one thing you absolutely must do in each of America’s top LGBTQ resort towns.

Take a ride in Provincetown

Nothing is queerer than this Massachusetts sliver of New England paradise, the rainbow fist in Cape Cod’s beefy, flexed bicep. One stroll down lively Commercial Street and you will feel the world is indeed your pink-pearled oyster. P-town musts include the queer beach at Herring Cove, Tea Dance at the Boatslip, cabaret theater headlined by P-town drag staples like Miss Richfield 1981 and Dina Martina, and a 1am slice of pizza at Spiritus. But for Gaga’s sake, do not leave this heavenly hamlet without first renting a bike and spending an afternoon cycling Province Lands Bike Trail. Two thirds of Provincetown is National Seashore and the trail whisks riders past sandy dunes, pine forests, cranberry bogs, and to the beach where just off the coast you may even spot a whale or two.

STAY The highly rated Benchmark Inn is located in the heart of P-town’s Gallery District.

Witness an invasion in Fire Island

This sandbar off the coast of Long Island is as skinny as a carb-starved twink, and two of its communities—funky Cherry Grove and the super luxe Pines—have been homo havens for decades. The few reasons to leave the lovely beaches, afternoon pool parties, or the comfort of your vacation rental include Low and High Tea at Pines fixtures like the Blue Whale and Sip·n·Twirl respectively, wandering through the “Meat Rack” (this one’s mostly for gay guys), and sunset dinners at Sand Castle restaurant in Cherry Grove. But at least once, visit Fourth of July weekend and witness the Invasion of the Pines, an annual tradition (rooted in political protest) in which hundreds of drag queens travel via boat from Cherry Grove to storm the Pines.

STAY Short on hotels, both the Pines and Cherry Grove offer numerous vacation rental options.

Learn something in Fort Lauderdale

The last thing you want to do in Fort Lauderdale is rip yourself away from the beach and (gasp!) visit a museum—and we can hardly blame you. Stretched out along 24 miles of bragging coastline, and home to 165 miles of navigable waterways (hence the name “Venice of America”), LGBTQ travelers come to Lauderdale for queer fun in the sun. But before you throw your cocktail in our faces, consider that the quick and compact Stonewall National Museum houses Billy Porter’s red boots from “Kinky Boots,” original research papers from sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, signed memorabilia from Lily Tomlin, a love letter from a gay Nazi to his lover, AIDS artifacts, fascinating exhibitions, and more. Small, but worth it, this is what we’ve got until they open an LGBTQ museum on the National Mall. Plus, it’s free.

STAY The LGBTQ-friendly W Fort Lauderdale is only steps from gay Sebastian Street Beach.

Watch the other heel drop in Key West

Revelers can celebrate the dawn of a new year in loopy and licentious Key West by watching a pirate wench, a conch shell, and even a giant key lime fall at the stroke of midnight (the latter into a margarita glass). But if you’re a queer traveler who came to the Conch Republic to admire the famous sunsets at Mallory Square, enjoy playtime with the descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cats, and bake your cakes poolside at one of the island’s gay resorts, there’s one drop you must see if you’re visiting on NYE. Head to the back patio at Bourbon Street Pub and countdown to midnight along with hundreds of revelers (gay and straight) as Key West drag icon Sushi descends to the bar floor from within a giant, fire-engine red high-heeled shoe.

STAY For a chic getaway, check out the Perry Hotel & Marina Key West on nearby Stock Island.

Clap for nature in Saugatuck

A duo of rainbow hamlets nestled right next to the fifth largest lake on the planet is the stuff of our queer dreams. Artsy Saugatuck and Douglas are twin towns located on the banks of Lake Michigan and beloved by LGBTQ folk who come from miles away to get their gay on in a woodsy and judgement-free setting. Surrounded by wineries, u-pick berry farms, and the quaintest small inns and B&Bs you’ll find anywhere in the Midwest, the region’s dreamiest feature is by far its famed “dunes coastline,” including miles of sandy beaches. Beloved Oval Beach (often named one of the top beaches in the world), is a queer sunseeker’s dream, but come dusk it draws the masses each day to the most applause-worthy sunset in the Wolverine State.

STAY The laid-back and hip Lake Shore Resort is located right on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Float down the Russian River

Visitors spend months planning a dream vacation to Sonoma County so they can hike a Redwood-lined coast, swill Pinot at local wineries, dine under the stars at farm-to-table restaurants, and tuck in at day’s end in one of the region’s fabled country resorts. The itinerary is often the same for queer travelers to Guerneville, a tolerant town of under 5,000 people clumped around both sides of the bendy Russian River and home to legendary LGBTQ hangouts like Rainbow Cattle Company, and The Woods hotel. But one thing every traveler—queer and hetero—must do is plan a #FloatTrip along the river starting at nearby Steelhead Beach. For an idyllic afternoon like no other, pack sunscreen, floaties, a bikini, and as much White Claw as you can.

STAY The Woods offers charming cabins and cottages and a pool aimed at LGBTQ travelers.

Go retro in Palm Springs

Sunny, chill, and boasting average daily highs above 75 degrees 10 months annually, Palm Springs is where everyone from gays and golfers to movie stars and music lovers come to bliss out. Queer delights include the lively bar strip on Arenas Road and legendary annual bashes like the White Party (mostly men) and the Dinah (mostly women), while must dos for all include the Aerial Tramway, luxe outlet malls, and a hike in Joshua Tree National Park. But the most pressing question is always lodging. From hip hideaways to cheeky charmers to men-only resorts, LGBTQ-friendly options are plentiful. But at least one time bring your entire crew and rent a historic house dripping in mid-century glamour and boasting a swimming pool surrounded by lush privacy hedges.

STAY For the most mod of Palm Springs home rentals, book in the retro Racquet Club Estates area.