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We’re here, we’re queer and summer is near! As we slather on the sunscreen and rush to beaches, pool parties and, importantly, Pride parades, it’s worth noting that there’s more to the gay summer calendar than well-trodden events like Gay Days at Disney, Bear Week in P-Town or Market Days in Chicago. Here are 10 events to rush to before every gay in America discovers them.

RELATED: This is the ultimate gay road trip

Fresh Meat Festival: San Francisco (June 14–16)

Stop looking for beach bashes in foggy SF. This festival of “transgender and queer performance” runs concurrent with Frameline: The San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, but swaps the silver screen with actual human beings and serves up live music, dance, spoken word and more with an emphasis on black, gender non-conforming and differently abled performers.

Photo courtesy of Back Lot Bash

Back Lot Bash: Chicago (June 22–24)

Literally taking place in a parking lot behind a gym, Chicago‘s Back Lot Bash is the annual women’s event that stole a sizeable chunk of Pride’s thunder some 15 years ago and hasn’t looked back. Think a full weekend of rock ‘n’ roll orbited by numerous pre- and post-parties.

HOT! The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture: New York City (July)

Queer New Yorkers famously make a beeline for Fire Island and the Hamptons come summer, but long-running Hot! embraces the heat and humidity right in the city with a full month of live theater, music, dance, cabaret and more featuring every letter in the LGBTQ alphabet.

SheFest: San Diego (July 7)

Skip San Diego in May and June when coastal California is covered for days on end in blankets of fog and instead gather with the girls in North Park (the city’s coolest ‘hood) one week before SD Pride for a full day of games, workshops, activism, music and more. Afterward, hit up Gossip Grill, the city’s only lesbian watering hole.

Photo courtesy of Kingsley Hurley

Gay Wine Weekend: Sonoma (July 20–22)

Sonoma really is wine country dreamland (Napa can keep the heat and rampant tourism) and this event bills itself as the biggest gay wine event in the world (how much competition is there really?). Picture chino-clad gays sipping and swirling Pinot Noir in a pastoral setting complete with brunches, wine tasting and VIP parties.

ALSO: Have an even gayer old time by joining Orbitz Rewards!

Ascension: Asbury Park, NJ (Aug 5–6)

You’d be hard pressed to stumble across a New York gay who hasn’t already participated in (and hopefully survived) the Fire Island version of this annual circuit party. The Asbury Park version offers a similar itinerary (wake, bake, drink, repeat), but in a gay beach town that—for the time being—remains lesser known.

Tropical Heat: Key West (Aug 15–19)

Let’s hear it for the boys (and boys only, actually) at this men-only weekend in Key West where frisky fellas are encouraged to shed their inhibitions (and swimsuits) with a weekend of outrageous pool parties and bar nights. With events like Hot Naked Sunday Pool Party, you don’t exactly have to read between the (tan) lines to know precisely what this weekend is about.

DTLA Proud: Los Angeles (Aug 26, 27)

The revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles owes more than a little gratitude to the pioneering queers who started taking up residence here a decade ago. Join thousands of them at this block party-ish bash featuring a weekend of raucous daytime performances at Pershing Square chased with boozing and bar hopping at night.

WomenFest: Key West (Sept 5–9)

Now let’s hear it for the girls! The Conch Republic turns Sapphic with an annual Labor Day bash that’s no shyer than the gentlemen’s version (think body painting and clothing optional pool parties) but coupled with sightseeing tours and day excursions. Last year’s event was headlined by comedian Tig Notaro: Consider the boys officially jealous.

Temptation Sundays: Las Vegas (ongoing)

Show up in a Speedo at any one of Sin City‘s famed pool parties and you’ll stand out like a glittery gay needle in a hetero haystack. Not so at Temptation Sundays, the long-running gay pool party that invades the pyramid-shaped Luxor for an afternoon of boozing and baking. Women are showing up in greater numbers, but guys still prevail.

Tagged: California, Chicago, Chicago, Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Midwest, New York, San Francisco

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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.

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