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As LGBTQ people, we need to work and love to play, but increasingly our standard bearers for both pursuits are letting us down. Can anyone afford to live in New York or San Francisco anymore? Is there a room available in P-town in July without booking a year in advance? Even as we become increasingly interwoven into the fabric of hetero suburban society, the desire to be in close proximity with same-sex friends, neighbors and, for some, potential hookups hasn’t gone away. Whether you’re looking for a new place to live—or just let loose, here are America’s 9 next great gay meccas.

Also: 26 LGBT vacations you must take before you die

nashville

Nashville, TN

If Music City keeps attracting young professionals at its current rate, every millennial alive might soon be living there. The country music capital is a blue oasis in a sea of red and although gay nightlife fixtures Blue Genes and Vibes recently lost their leases thanks to skyrocketing rents, the small number of gay bars only tells a partial story. The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, for example, was just the recipient of the Rising Star Chamber Award thanks to its efforts in making Nashville a more LGBT-affirming city and out rising star chef and “Chopped” winner Brian Riggenbach will open his high profile Mockingbird diner alongside husband and general manager Mikey Corona in December.

los angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

Who says the era of the gay bar is over? On a weekend in downtown Los Angeles (aka DTLA) you can grab booze and a bite at queer bar Redline, get rowdy at corner rock and roll bar and live performance space Precinct and wind down on Sunday with a frothy tiki cocktail at “Banana Hammock” at Bar Mattachine. This was all nonexistent a decade ago, when Disney Hall was was still the main reason to visit L.A.’s inner core. But its resurgence is in full swing and queers are leading the revitalization. In August, the inaugural DTLA Proud Festival hit Pershing Square with live performances by Jackie Beat, Big Dipper and others, offering a refreshing (and needed) alternative to L.A. Pride.

St. Petersburg Pride

St. Petersburg Pride | Flick CC: CityofStPete

St. Petersburg, FL

A week after a mad gunman claimed the lives of 49 people at LGBT nightclub pulse, the Tampa Bays Rays became the first major league baseball team to respond to the attacks by charging a mere $5 tickets to its next home game at Tropicana Field in downtown St. Pete and donating all the money to the victims’ families. The sold out game included a singing of the NationalAnthem by Una Voce (the Florida Men’s Chorale), an unveiling of the Pride Flag on the field and a heartfelt tribute to the victims on the large screen. By far a more liberal city than Tampa, St. Pete is home to the hip Grand Central District which not only includes a couple gay bars but also the largest Pride Parade in Florida each June.

salt lake city

Salt Lake City, UT

The Beehive State has been abuzz with queer news of late including the election of openly lesbian Jackie Biscupski to Salt Lake City mayor lastNovember. Meanwhile, the city became one of the first in the U.S. to name a street after slain gay rights icon Harvey Milk and bore witness to a tearful apology in June from Republican Lt. Governor Spencer Cox who spoke passionately about his own prejudices toward the LGBT community. If that weren’t queer enough, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that its metro area has the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children in the country and out Republican Dave Robinson is currently running to become mayor of Salt Lake County.

Get cheeky at Kehena Beach

Get cheeky at Kehena Beach | Flickr CC: Eli Duke

Puna, HI

We wouldn’t be the first ones to claim the queer-friendliness of this Big Island paradise nor the first to fall in love with it, but for certain Puna has captured our hearts. This crunchy, cool jungle district claims a mixture of artists, hippies, yogis, off-the-grid types and queers galore. Several gay B&Bs dot the landscape as does the LGBT-owned and operated Kalani eco-retreat. Although there are no gay bars to speak of, the teensy town of Pahoa boasts a mega-inclusive vibe and several great restaurants and dive bars. The gay community is a fixture at black sand nude beach (don’t miss Sundays!) and for adventures further afield there’s nearby Hilo and Volcanoes National Park.

columbus

Columbus, OH

It’s a no brainer that Columbus should make this list. It has all the makings of a great gay city to both visit and live in including a slamming good annual Pride Parade, a variety of livable nabes ranging from cute overload (Short North) to scrappy cool (Old Town East) and a cost of living that hasn’t kicked folks to thecurb the way other gay meccas have. The city is big enough to have a bar scene that caters to many types (Slammers for the girls, Union Cafe Bar for the pretty boys and Toolbox Saloon for the rough ones among many others) and is also home to Jeni’s Ice cream—possibly the world’s best. Columbus has been a great gay secret for years, but that secret is ready to burst out of the closet.

Asbury Park Pride

Asbury Park Pride | Flickr CC: Josiah Lau Photography

Asbury Park, NJ

Is this the funky and affordable alternative to Fire Island queer New Yorkers have been craving? A speedy two-hour jaunt from the city via rail, this coastal town of 16,000 has been attracting gay settlers as early as the 1950s and for New Yorkers has been gaydar worthy for at least a decade. It may now be time for the rest of us to take note. While the city only has two full-time gay bars including Georgie’s and Paradise at the gay-oriented Empress Hotel, it packs a big queer punch with a summer crammed full of LGBT-themed events like Jersey Pride Festival, Destination Asbury Park and Asbury Park Bear Weekend. If the calendar continues to fill this fast, this could be the next P-Town.

oakland-california

Oakland, CA

The queering of the Bay is no longer confined to the famous city that rests upon it. While many LGBT folks (especially young ones) still flock to San Francisco in search of a mythical gay paradise, just as many now flee it in search of cheaper rents and single family homes in which to raise children. The queer appeal of Oakland is easy to understand. Hip restaurants, cafes and wineries abound, the Oakland Estuary’s waterfront is in the middle of a massive redevelopment, the Port of Oakland just elected its first out president (Michael Colbruno), up-and-coming out rapper Kamaiyah hails from here and the oldest gay bar in the U.S.—the White Horse Inn—has been a fixture since 1933.

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Tagged: California, Hawaii

Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.

2 thoughts on “America’s next great gay meccas”

  1. San Francisco is always a mecca for gay. Period. It is expensive living there, of course.
    Personally, I think Oakland is a great place for gay couples. It is a very accepting city.

  2. Sacramento is not the quintessential Cali city, but is going through a renaissance right now. Just next to downtown is midtown, with gay bars, coffee shops, and lots of gay-friendly restaurants and boutiques. The weather beats SF and Oakland, hands-down, and it’s super bike friendly. Wineries abound within a 20 minute drive and Sac is building a huge local beer culture as well. The capital is very gay friendly and is ready for the LGBTQ community to discover it!

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