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From “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” to “Carol,” hitting the open road has always had plenty of gay appeal. And within the U.S., you can take your pick of homo-enticing itineraries like Miami to Key West or Fire Island to P-Town. But the queerest of them all has to be driving the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco. Think gay beaches, gay cities and a single, twisty highway hugging the Pacific Ocean.

RELATED: 10 hottest gay destinations for 2018

San Diego | Photo courtesy of Visit San Diego

Day 1: San Diego

Rise, shine and caffeinate. The best brekkies in San Diego are at Hash House A Go Go and Breakfast Republic, but if you’re on the move, swing by Nomad Donuts and grab a to-go doughnut topped with bacon (to balance out the carbs, of course).

Next, head to Balboa Park to the gayley named Museum of Man. Skip the museum, but work off breakfast by climbing the California Tower (which only recently opened to the public) via guided tour. The climb offers incredible 360-degree views of the city. Afterward, snap a selfie at the photogenic Botanical Building and Lily Pond.

You came to California for the beach, right? San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline are yours for the taking. Ocean Beach is funky and chill; the party crowd loves Pacific Beach (aka PB), but clothing optional Black’s Beach is hands down (or should we say pants down?) San Diego’s gay beach. Queers congregate at the north end.

The epicenter of gay life in San Diego is Hillcrest and there’s much to see and do. Satisfy your margarita and ‘mo craving in one swoop at gay hot spot Baja Betty’s. Order from the “liq-her” cabinet at Sapphic hangout and eatery Gossip Grill or chill at video bar Flick’s. Club crowds join the queue at Rich’s around 11pm.

LGBTQ ‘hood Hillcrest is woefully lacking in good accommodations, but bumping North Park is only a stone’s throw away by car. The Berkshire Motor Hotel is one of the city’s best budget options and close(ish) to gay dive bars Pecs and the Eagle.

Laguna Beach

Day 2: Orange County and Long Beach

Before waving goodbye to America’s finest city, fuel up first at Wow Wow Waffle in North Park with a savory liege waffle topped with avocado, candied bacon and goat cheese (heaven!).

It might be too early to hit the beach, but depending on how late a start you get (we know you, girl), there’s a gay (and nude) section at surf mecca San Onofre State Beach which is a literal stone’s throw from the Orange County line and close to Camp Pendleton. Yes, you’ll see military women and men in (make that “out of”) uniform.

About 30 minutes up the road is Riviera-like Laguna Beach. Once a legit gay getaway, its queer cred has waned in recent years but pretty West Street Beach still draws an LGBTQ crowd, and one gay bar—Main Street—remains. Regardless, Laguna’s beachfront downtown is immaculate and a full day can happily be wasted here.

Heading north on PCH, dart inland onto I-5 for a quickie dinner at the Anaheim Packing District, a multi-level food hall housed in a former citrus-packing warehouse dating back to 1919.

Swerve back to the coastal highway and end the day with a night out in Long Beach, home of the gayest sounding retired ship—the Queen Mary. A big(ish) city in its own right, Long Beach has a surprisingly large queer scene centered around gay nabe Alamitos Beach and the bars lining Broadway including The Brit, Mineshaft and Falcon.

A Long Beach legend, the Varden Hotel has been around since the ’20s (it was originally the Dolly Varden!), but has been spiffed up and is now a simple and affordable downtown gem sharing a city block with homo burger hangout Hamburger Mary’s.

ALSO: Extend your gay stay an extra day when you earn rewards good toward hotels, only with Orbitz Rewards!

Abbey, WeHo, Los Angeles, LGBTQ

The Abbey | Flickr photo by Ed and Eddie

Day 3: Los Angeles

Power lesbians, WeHo gym bunnies, Silver Lake scenesters, DTLA daddies and maybe even a RuPaul sighting (hey, it’s happened to us!) await, so get yourself to the nearest freeway (LA is full of them) and make a morning beeline for the City of Angels.

Start your morning in line with other East Side cuties at either HomeState (best breakfast tacos in town) or Sqirl (unreal breakfast bites). Afterward, head to Sunset Junction in gayish Silver Lake for a cup of java at Intelligentsia, then stroll LA’s most hipster street.

Next up: It’s a short drive to downtown (aka DTLA) where a ton of cool attractions await. Ride Angel’s Flight, the world’s shortest funicular; peruse sprawling food bazaar Grand Central Market; duck into The Last Bookstore for new and used books ; and walk the Instagrammable Arts District for selfies galore.

Late afternoon is the perfect time to hit up a bathhouse (not that kind). K-town is full of traditional Korean-style bathhouses frequented by celebs and regular folks alike. Both men and women should check out popular WiSpa, an elegant K-Town icon; Century Spa, meanwhile, teems with gay men at night.

Time to head to famous West Hollywood. Laurel Hardware (yes, it was an old hardware store) is mixed, sceney, fun for dinner and won’t break any banks, especially if you stick to pizzas. Afterward, hit up the gay bar strip centered around Santa Monica and San Vicente Boulevards. Yes, it’s a queer LA rite of passage to have a drink at the legendary Abbey (plus, you’re most likely to spot girls here), but the ‘hood offers plenty of bars like NYC import Flaming Saddles, dive bar Mother Lode, video bar Revolver and dance club Mickey’s.

If you’re pinching pennies, rest up at the Instagrammable Mama Shelter in Hollywood (check out that rooftop!). If you’ve got a few more bucks to blow, the Andaz West Hollywood boasts killer views and is stumbling distance from the bars (granted it’s uphill).

Butterfly Beach |Photo by Compass + Twine

DAY 4: Santa Barbara

Time to burn rubber. Make a beeline for Pacific Coast Highway and put LA firmly in your rear view mirror. Swing by boho chic Trancas County Market in Malibu and fuel up on coffee and sundries, then head to a El Matador State Beach and watch the morning waves swirl and crash around the stunning rock formations.

Follow PCH until it kicks you onto 101 and follow the coast past ritzy Montecito (wave to Oprah and Ellen!) and onward to palm tree-studded and Spanish-tinged Santa Barbara.

For lunch, join the long lines at taco haven La Super-Rica Tacqueria which made a cameo in the Katy Perry video “This is How We Do.” Next, spend a few hours idling on State Street, a long and rambling road full of shops, restaurants and eateries. Butterfly Beach is as good a place as any to catch a few rays; stay for its famous sunsets.

Grab dinner in the Funk Zone, a warehouse area full of chic tasting rooms and galleries. Lucky Penny serves up cheap and tasty pizzas, but the neighborhood is most famous for its wine bars so save room for some vino sourced from nearby wine country. The Wildcat Lounge is the closest thing Santa Barbara has to a gay bar. It’s okay.

Save a few bucks by booking a shared room with your friends at the Wayfarer, a favorite among penny-pinching hipsters and perfectly located both in the Funk Zone and near the freeway.

Pacific Coast Highway, aka Hwy 1

DAY 5: Big Sur

Rejoin Hwy 101 and follow it up the coast until it bends inland. Exit the highway in Solvang, a windmill-laden town that wears its Danish heritage with pride. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but also a good pastry pit stop. On the way back to the highway, stop at Ostrichland USA for a hilarious feeding encounter with several dozen giant birds.

In Avila Beach, stop by lovely Pirate’s Cove to catch a few guaranteed rays of sun (in the buff if you like) before heading into the foggy north. Fuel up on gas in charming San Luis Obispo and wave goodbye to civilization; things are about to get a little wild.

A stone’s throw from SLO is where PCH meets the coast with one applause-worthy vista after another. In teensy Cayucos, grab a pair of fish tacos at excellent Ruddell’s Smokehouse. If you plan your trip accordingly, you absolutely should prepare to spend a half day touring Hearst Castle, former residence of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. But if a day’s detour isn’t in the cards, at least swing by the free Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery and hang for a few minutes with these large and playful mammals.

It’s about 100 miles of twisty roads, hairpin turns and spectacular vistas as you make the uninterrupted ascent into Highway 1’s main prize—woodsy Big Sur. Barely anybody really lives here, but city slickers love it. Make the short and easy hike to McWay Waterfall, swing by the kooky Henry Miller Library and grab dinner at rustic and affordable Big Sur Bakery. For a sublime experience, reserve (well in advance) a moonlight dip at the Esalen Hot Springs.


Unless you’re willing to pitch a tent, cheap lodging options are few and far between but the charming and perfectly located Big Sur River Inn is unlikely to ruin your credit rating.

Dolores Park

DAY 6: San Francisco

It’s only a few hour’s drive between Big Sur and San Francisco, but there’s still plenty to see and do. The fairytale homes and cottages lining otherwise stuffy Carmel are a sight to see, but even more enjoyable is the peninsula’s famed 17-mile Drive and the swarms of monarch butterflies that migrate annually to Pacific Grove. Save room for a giant bowl of clam chowder at Vivolo’s Chowder House.

Stretch your gams in Santa Cruz, home to a large student population and a famed boardwalk. Ride the Giant Dipper, a national historic landmark and the largest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast. Both busy Bonny Doon and Laguna Creek Beach attract their fair share of gay sunbathers, but the weather can sure be fickle.

Even a full day on the road shouldn’t stop you from reaching fabled queer mecca San Francisco by late afternoon. Once you arrive, the only question is, Where to begin? For sure grab a few sweet treats at Tartine and make a beeline for the so-called Fruit Shelf Gay Beach at Dolores Park; read the plaque honoring slain gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk outside his former camera shop at 575 Castro Street; see a revival film at the legendary Castro Theatre; get fitted for a kinky night on the town at Mr. S. Leather; and dance the night away with a mixed crowd of girls and boys at the legendary Stud bar.

Beck’s Motor Lodge
in the Castro is a real gem. True, it once enjoyed a cruisy reputation, but this retro motel recently underwent a spiffy renovation and remains the neighborhood’s most convenient choice.

Tagged: California, Los Angeles, San Francisco

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is a Lead Content Specialist for Expedia Group, and manages content initiatives across numerous Expedia-owned brands. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, the Huffington Post, Chicago Magazine, Passport and many others.

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