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With more than 1 million LGBT travelers flocking to Miami each year, it’s certainly safe to call this steamy Florida city a gay mecca. And that’s not a new development. The Miami gay nightlife scene dates back to the 1930s, but things really took off in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Miami Beach became the city’s hub for Speedo sunbathing during the day and hitting up the glitzy nightclubs at night. And these days, LGBT destinations and culture exist well beyond Ocean Drive. Here are 10 things you might be surprised to learn about LGBT Miami.

RELATED: Visit our LGBTQIA travel hub for welcoming hotels, the ultimate queer events calendar, inspiration, and more!

The LGBTQ community has its own chamber of commerce

Yep, Miami is so gay-friendly that it’s one of the few cities in the world where the community has its own official chamber of commerce. The Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce recently opened the Miami Beach LGBT Visitor Center, which happens to the be the first of its kind in the US. Stop by the Center at the beginning of your trip to get the inside scoop on events happening around town and the staff will even hook you up with discounts at Miami’s various cultural institutions. Bonus: This building is just steps away from the World Erotic Art Museum, where the collection easily rivals the bronzed bodies lounging on area beaches.

Miami Beach Pride Parade is fairly new

Even though queer culture in Miami has been out and proud for decades, the first official Miami Beach Pride Parade made its inaugural march in just 2009. But the event has made up for lost time. More than 15,000 spectators showed up for the inaugural parade (exceeding organizers’ expectations), and it’s gotten bigger ever since. More than 130,000 people attended last year’s festivities, which evolved into a week-long celebration. This year’s Miami Beach Pride takes place throughout the first week of April. During Pride week only, swing by the Nobu Miami and cool off with its signature “Froze” cocktail where 5% of sales from the drink will directly benefit the Out Miami Foundation.

It’s home to a European-based gay hotel

When many jet-setters in the LGBT community travel abroad to cities like Barcelona and Berlin, many opt to book rooms at an Axel Hotel, a “hetero friendly” collection of boutique hotels catering specifically to the queer community (gay men, in particular, make up most of the clientele). And now Axel is set to makes its domestic debut this summer, and the first outpost will be in South Beach. Since Miami sees such a high volume of LGBT tourists each year, the choice for this first location seems like a no-brainer.

Ocean drive and 12th street in Miami

Miami Beach is home to the gayborhood

While it’s true that the entire eight-mile stretch of barrier island on Miami Beach is home to a large percentage of gay residents and businesses, the actual gayborhood is in a concentrated stretch of South Beach. Ask a local where it’s at and they’ll likely tell you it’s between 10th and 15th Streets from Ocean Street to Washington Avenue. That’s where you’ll find many hot spots like Twist and Palace, as well as the LGBT visitor center.

gayborhoods in miami

…But that’s not the only gayborhood

South Florida is pretty much a Russian doll of gay meccas. Another notable area is Wilton Manors. Situated 40 minutes north in Fort Lauderdale (but considered to be part of the Miami Metropolitan area), this village has the honor of being the second gayest city in America. They got that title because according to the 2010 US Census Bureau, Wilton Manors ranks second in the country for its percentage of gay couples as a proportion of total population. (Coming in at number one? Provincetown, of course.) In addition to a variety of bars and other gay-owned businesses, Wilton Manors is also home to  the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center, and a branch of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives. Translation: A day trip to Wilton Manor should be on your Miami itinerary.

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The gayest police cars patrol city streets

If you feel like you’re seeing rainbow flags (the traditional symbol of LGBT pride) all over town, it’s not just in your head. Rainbow flags pop up throughout Miami signaling gay-friendly and gay-owned businesses and neighborhoods. But the most surprising spot to, um, spot the multi-colored symbol is on a pair of police vehicles roaming the metro area. In 2013, Miami Beach police debuted squad car with the word “Police” displayed in rainbow hues. And earlier this year, the Wilton Manors Police Department redesigned one of their squad cars with giant rainbow patterns displayed on each side. The bad news is the officers driving those cars don’t get to wear more fashionable uniforms.

Winter Party in Miami

Winter Party | Flickr CC: Elvert Barnes

LGBT Miami likes to party all the time

Everyone from Will Smith to Swedish House Mafia has songs about the Miami party scene, and the city’s vivacious nightlife reputation definitely extends to the LGBT community. In addition to dance clubs and bars, the city hosts a bevy of beloved annual events throughout the year. Besides Pride in April, there are gay-focused circuit parties like Winter Party in March and the White Party in November. Each May, the Aqua Girl pool party (and surrounding events that week) offers entertainment geared toward the lesbian, bi and trans communities. And, of course, the city’s WinterMusic Conference/ULTRA in March, and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in February, are big draws to members of the queer community even though they aren’t strictly gay-focused.

Queer cinema is alive and well

For years, Miami and its neighboring northern city, Fort Lauderdale, each hosted their own individual gay and lesbian film festivals. But, to quote an old Spice Girls song, “two became one,” and they combined forces in 2015 to create one big film fest, which eventually evolved to becomes the Outshine Film Festival. This celebration of queer cinema takes place twice annually (each city plays host) and has grown to become the largest LGBT cultural arts event in South Florida. Miami is set to to host the next one starting April 18; the Fort Lauderdale edition takes place in October.

It’s easy to shop small (and gay) in Miami

Since many LGBT Miami residents are also entrepreneurs, finding and supporting gay-owned businesses is simple. Some of the standout Miami Beach spots include Hotel Gaythering, a playful boutique hotel boasting an industrial-chic vibe, onsite gay bar and a men-only gay sauna that has surely seen some steamy moments. Over the course of its 20-plus years, Front Porch Café has become a breakfast institution where everyone orders the pancakes—even if they’re gonna squeeze into a swimsuit later in the day. Icebox Cafe is another mainstay with a couple of decades under its belt. Save room for desert at this all-day cafe, because the chocolate cake is said to be one of Oprah’s favorite things.

Little Havana is home to one very big fest

Latinx influences abound in Miami, so it’s no surprise that the country’s largest Hispanic LGBT event has found a home here. The Gay8 Festival started in 2015 and takes place every February in the Little Havana neighborhood. The street fest combines dance parties, performances, art installations and more into one big party that celebrates diversity. The fest tackles social issues, too, by hosting a LGBTQ Human Rights Symposium where global thought leaders gather from around South Florida, other parts of the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America to discuss education and human rights advocacy for the pan-American region.

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Tagged: Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Miami

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Kevin Aeh

Kevin Aeh

Kevin Aeh is an editor/writer based in New York City. He covers lifestyle, travel, and pop culture; and his current obsessions include finding the best eye cream, booking a trip to Cuba, and binge-watching Lady Dynamite on Netflix. His writing has appeared in Time Out New York, Furthermore from Equinox, Refinery29, Vulture, and more.

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