Travel rebounds after pandemic, consider these LGBTQ-friendly getaways

Thu. June 24, 2021 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

Even though Illinois has fully reopened, many locals really want to venture out of town.

One word, Vacation!


Airlines and hotels are filling up as many will make their way to O'Hare International or Midway Airports this summer, bound for a relaxing break.

We all could use some R&R.

Here's a list of a dozen destinations to consider, even it's just a weekend getaway.  Hopefully it's a long weekend:

Puerto Vallarta

Arguably the biggest and most welcoming LGBTQ destinations in the world.  PV, as it is often known, has a long history of being a haven for same-sex couples and LGBTQ travelers.  Be sure to visit the “Romantic Zone,” the de-facto gayborhood.  There are plenty of clubs, bars, theaters and restaurants in this area, and some LGBTQ-owned clothing shops.

Where to Stay: About 10 minutes from Puerto Vallarta's main airport and a quick walk from the iconic Marina, the Westin Resort and Spa Puerto Vallarta is the go-to destination for gay travelers. A former coconut plantation turned wellness resort, the property welcomes visitors to 14 acres, a private stretch of beach, and a beautiful pool with swim-up bars surrounded by hundreds of palm trees.  For Pride 2021, the property added a “Rainbow Over Puerto Vallarta” menu of colorful and delightful detox shots and juices as part of their signature Detox Program, to promote wellness travel within the LGBTQ community and cater to those seeking a more calm, regenerative vacation. The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta was awarded with “Best Pride Hotel” by Gay Travel Awards 2019, presented by GayTravel.com.

Planning: The 2022 Vallarta Pride is scheduled for May 23-30.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Fort Lauderdale beaches are a great reason to travel to this popular Florida city, but not the only reason.   Wilton Manors is, without question, one of the most LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods in the country, with plenty of can't-miss gay gars, such as, Hunter's Wilton Manor.  There formerly was a Hunter's here in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village, which is now closed.  But the Hunter's brand, for 35 years, has been an LGBT staple.

Where to Stay: A long-time supporter of the LGBTQ community, W Fort Lauderdale has earned its reputation as one of Fort Lauderdale's most LGBTQ+ friendly playgrounds. Just minutes away from Wilton Manors, the property lends itself to being a lifestyle hub with a sexy rooftop pool, booming social scene and elevated food and beverage culture. Just in time to ring in Pride this year, W Fort Lauderdale is celebrating with the debut of an exclusive new 'Rainbow Room' package with bold and vibrant rainbow amenities and decor from corner to corner. This Insta-worthy room and glittery heaven includes a rainbow candy bar cart, unicorn beach inflatable, Pride rainbow bed throw, mylar rainbow balloons, rainbow glitter bar and colored uplights as well as a Mini Polaroid camera and film so guests can snap all the moments with a special vintage touch. Andy Warhol and Keith Haring decorative pillows complete the vibrant atmosphere in the Rainbow Room, which can be booked through December 23, using code 4LG at www.wfortlauderdale.com.

Calendar:  Pride Fort Lauderdale is set for November 20-21, a two-day festival on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

New York City

A must for LGBTQ travelers, if only for a visit to the Stonewall Inn – the gay bar in Manhattan and the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969, widely considered the single most important event leading to the gay rights movement in the U.S.  Flash-forward to the present and this summer, 2021, NYC celebrates 10 years that gay marriage has been legally recognized.

In Addition To The Tourist-Filled Times Square:   A few spots vacationers should check out are the Leslie Lohman Museum; the Harvey Milk School and the Lesbian Herstory Archives.  And, for the best gay-friendly nightlife, check out Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, and the West Village.

Calendar:   Still scheduled for the last weekend in June, the official theme for the 2021 NYC Pride is, “The Fight Continues.”

Key West, Florida

When Jimmy Buffett sings about Margaritaville, or chomps on a loaded Cheeseburger, he often is doing so in – or about – this Florida city, known for the Southernmost Point in the U.S.  The Key West vibe is chill, year-round, with a beach adventure by day and bar crawl at night.  Be sure to check out 801 Bourbon Bar, with its nightly drag shows featuring the 801 Girls.

Where To Stay:   Equator Resort is a perfect spot for gay men, with breakfast in the morning, coffee all day, daily happy hour by the pool, and a Jacuzzi.  Equator Resort is clothing-optional in a relaxed setting with helpful, friendly staff.  Another solid option is Island House, named "The Best Gay Resort In The World" by OUT Traveler.  There's a pool, on-site gym, tanning deck, hot tub, sauna and, of course, a Playroom.  And, Island House boasts (as of mid-June) that 121,654 men have visited since 1999.

Calendar #1: Key West Tropical Heat, August 5-11 –Thepremier event for men, with pool parties, themed events, and plenty of shenanigans.  Visit www.tropicalheatkw.com for more info.

Calendar No. 2: Womenfest Key West, September 1-5 – Women from around the world hit the Keys for this annual celebration.  For more information, go to: www.womenfest.com.

Tel Aviv

Traveling to the Middle East is not easy.  A quick look at United Airlines shows flights from Chicago to this Israeli city need a connection, thus adding hours and stress to an already long journey.  But boy is it worth it.  There is so much to do in Tel Aviv, home to the most vibrant LGBT community in the Middle East. Growing rapidly, and developing a New York-style, 24/7 intensity, it is attracting much of the youth countrywide.  And it's a beach city, too, so hot bods everywhere.

Where To Stay: Hilton Tel Aviv, located in Independence Park and the anchor of the gay beach.  Speedos are plentiful.

Returning: Tel Aviv Pride is June 25, marking the first time the parade has taken place in two years, after it was cancelled last year.

Puerto Rico

One of the most LGBTQ+-friendly islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico feels like an international vacation with all the perks of staying close to home (no passport required). From the vibrant dining, shopping, and nightlife of San Juan to remote, white-sand beaches surrounded by palm trees.

Must Visit: Puerto Rico unveiled its first LGBT monument in 2016, a memorial to the 49 victims of the massacre at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub. Most of the people killed were LGBT and Latino, and almost half the victims were of Puerto Rican descent.  Located in San Juan's Third Millennium Park, the monument is comprised of seven rectangular columns in rainbow colors and sits at the entrance to the Sixto Escobar Stadium.  At the base of the monument is a plaque highlighting the names of the 23 Puerto Rican victims killed at Pulse, with the other 26 victims listed below.

Where to Stay: Try theiconic Caribe Hilton, a beachfront oasis featuring a secluded beach, oceanfront swimming pools, beachside hammocks and a full-service spa offering a wide range of relaxing body treatments. Famous for being the birthplace of the piña colada, hey, do we really need to same much more … other than, Cheers!

Las Vegas, Nevada

Any city most known for a section known as The Strip, well, that's must-see.  The lights, the show, the gargantuan-sized hotels.  Las Vegas should be in Texas …. because everything seems bigger here.

Award-winning: In 2016, Las Vegas was crowned 'Destination of the Year' in the inaugural Gay Travel Awards.

Tip No. 1:   Don't rent a car, especially if you're staying at a hotel on The Strip.  You'll park it and then likely never use it again – until you're heading back to the airport.

Where To Stay:   Well, that could be the toughest decision.  Las Vegas is the home to countless hotels, including numerous high-end, ultra-posh, always-pampering place.  A few to consider are: The Bellagio, Encore at Wynn, and Delano Las Vegas.

Mark Your Calendar … in Pencil: The Las Vegas Pride Parade is expected to return on October 8.

Saint Maarten

Deemed “The Friendly Island,” St. Maarten celebrates pride year-round, welcoming all for life, love, and endless sunshine. Visitors can enjoy Cupecoy Beach, the island's most famous gay beach, or head to Maho Beach for those famed flyovers.  The Gay Sint Maarten website offers LGBTQ-friendly guides, listings for LGBTQ-owned businesses and more.

Where to Stay:  Sonesta Ocean Point Resort?embraces?a contemporary Caribbean style, offering an adults-only, LGBTQ-friendly, all-inclusive vacation with style, luxury and more.  This 130 all-suite, ultra-luxurious yet sustainable “resort within a resort” sits on the western most point of the island and features three exclusive pools, including The Edge Pool with a zero-entry cliff side beach, four bars and three restaurants including the signature Azul restaurant.

Columbus, Ohio

It's A Fact: Columbus has the 15th- largestper capita gay population in the country … even higher than Miami and New York City.  LGBT bars are aplenty, including Slammers, one of about 15 lesbian bars in the country; and District West, a new drag club that opened during the pandemic.

Batter Up: Columbus will be the hotspot for softball this year, as the city plays host to the annual 2021 Gay Softball World Series – a 6-day sporting festival of sorts that attracts teams from across North America.  Chicago has sent multiple teams to the Gay Softball World Series for decades, with champions to brag about, too.

Where to Stay:  Check out the AC Hotel Downtown Columbus where, among other things, the hotel has a Summer Road Trip offer, giving travelers $50 gas credit per night of their visit and complimentary nightly parking.

Orlando, Florida

Count The Couples: According to Orlando Weekly, the city has the highest number of coupled gay and lesbian households in the entire state. But this Florida hotspot is certainly for everyone.  Hey, there's Disney Gay Days and the annual Come Out With Pride Festival celebrated in October, and much more.

Never Forget: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a bill to President Joe Biden in mid-June that designates the Pulse Nightclub, the site of the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in American history, as a national memorial.

Where to Stay: There's no shortage of must-see Orlando hotels, but try out the new AC Hotel Orlando Downtown – and don't skip its 18th-floor SkyBar, a rooftop terrace serving up incredible sunset views and cutting-edge mixology from its unique vantage point.

Calendar: Come Out With Pride returns to Lake Eola Park on Saturday, October 9.


Welcome to an island with multi-colored homes throughout, more than 35 cove-like beaches, stunning clear-blue waters, and unique colonial architecture.  Curacao carries a simple motto: “Live and Let Live.”  No wonder Curacao is considered by many to be one of the most LGBT-friendly destinations in the Caribbean.

By The Numbers: Curaçao boasts the largest number of hotels with IGLTA memberships.

Where to Stay: The Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort is a 328-room beachfront resort. Playing off the destination's colorful aesthetic, the lobby and guest rooms feature bold pops of color and varying textures/patterns to give it a modern, Caribbean luxury meets Old World Europe feel. Spanning six acres, the resort features two pools, lush tropical gardens, sweeping ocean views and eight on-property restaurants including the poolside Salty Iguana, Izakaya Sushi Bar, C-Spice for all-day dining, Zala Craft Cocktails and Papiamento Marketplace.  Also, check out Landhuis Bona Vista, a boutique hotel that caters to guests 18 and older.  Enjoy their food options, pool, and relaxing spa treatments.

Calendar: Pride Curaçao 2021 is set: Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, a five-day, event-filled festival that includes a Boat Trip, White Party and more.  For more information, go to facebook.com/curacaopride.com.

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is all about its desert, hiking, golfing, and just a laid-back vibe that draws visitors from around the world.  Known for its kitschy and flamboyant local culture, Palm Springs is home to several gay-friendly restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and shops. Toucans Tiki Lounge and Cabaret is famous for its drag revue, while restaurants like Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge is very popular.

Where To Stay:   Options are plentiful, including clothing-optional choices.  Try, INNdulge – an award-winning gay resort that is clothing-optional.  Of course, there's a pool and a 12-man Jacuzzi and so much more.

Perfect Time: Just when the Chicago weather is getting cold, Palm Springs would be perfect Nov. 2-7, particularly for Greater Palm Springs Pride, its 35th anniversary celebration dubbed, You Are Included.  The annual Palm Springs Pride Parade is scheduled for Sunday, November 7 at 10 am.

Fun Adventure:   Be sure to visit BIKE Palm Springs Rentals to score a bike by the half-day, day, or week.  Is a popular, gay-owned business known for its friendly, prompt service which includes free maps, locks, helmets, and advice for the best touring routes.

BONUS:  Five For Fun, All Well Worth Visiting:   San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Diego.