When Courtney Vondran, the lesbian travel blogger behind Courtney The Explorer, moved back to the U.S. after living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, she missed the overseas “gayborhood”—an extra queer-friendly neighborhood—she had called home. “I met queer friends and found a community in Puerto Vallarta. I went to my first lesbian bar and felt affirmed in my identity,” she says.
Vondran started visiting gayborhoods around the world and found there weren’t many accessible resources on queer-friendly destinations. After one of her TikTok posts went viral, she realized that “people want to travel to LGBTQIA+ friendly travel destinations that aren’t just safe, but support queer locals and businesses,” she says. So she made it her goal to visit every gayborhood in the U.S. and learned that there are more than she realized—even in traditionally-conservative Southern and Midwestern states—leading to her newly-launched “100+ Gayborhoods to Visit in the USA” bucket list.
“Queer people want to be in places where we’re seen, understood, and celebrated,” Vondran says. “Safe spaces are necessary and potentially life-saving. When I travel with my partner in the Midwest, I feel relief and joy when I see queer couples, spaces, pride flags, or visit a gayborhood.” The free printable list of U.S. gayborhoods has been viewed more than 25,000 times.
Here are five of Vondran’s favorite gayborhoods across the U.S.
1. Northalsted, Chicago, Illinois
Also known as “Boystown,” Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood was the city’s first recognized gay district and it’s where Vondran currently lives with her trans-masc partner. “We wanted to live in a neighborhood that was super gay, where we could be around like-minded people, and be a part of the queer community in Chicago,” she says.
Since 1970, Chicago Pride has been held in Northalsted every June with a street festival and parade. Vondran attended the parade for the first time when she was 16 years old. “I didn’t know I was gay at the time—but I felt free and liberated,” she says.
Things to do:
Snap a picture at one of the 14 rainbow crosswalks (the largest installation of its kind in the world) around Boystown; visit The Legacy Walk, Gerber/Hart LGBTQ+ Library, The Leather Archives & Museum, and Sidetrack, one of the top-rated gay bars in the world. Vondran also suggests going to Wood, an upscale LGBTQ-owned restaurant; Two Hearted Queen, a lesbian-owned coffee shop; Trickery, a gay-owned one-man magic show; and Unabridged Bookstore, an LGBTQ+ bookstore.
2. Saugatuck, Michigan
Vondran went viral on TikTok again when she posted about Saugatuck, Michigan. Hailed as one of the most gay-friendly destinations in the Midwest, this Lake Michigan town (also known as the Midwest’s version of Provincetown, Massachusetts), is home to The Dunes Resort, the largest LGBTQ+ resort in the U.S., with an iconic gay bar featuring drag and cabaret shows. Vondran hopes to return to Saugatuck for the Go Girl Saugatuck Women’s Weekend.
Things to do:
3. West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
West Hollywood (WeHo) is one of the most well-known gayborhoods in the country and hosted the world’s first permitted Pride parade in 1970. Vondran also has a special place in her heart for WeHo because it’s where Showtime’s iconic early 2000s TV series The L Word (and its recent reboot, The L Word: Generation Q) is based; she recommends a visit to The Abbey, which was featured on the show.
Things to do:
“WeHo is super gay with many thriving LGBTQ+-owned businesses and famous gay bars—I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vondran says. Her recommendations include a lesbian-owned yogurt shop, Yogurt Stop, and My 12 Step Store, which specializes in gifts for the sober community.
4. Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.
Vondran is a fan of Washington, D.C. because it has one of the less than 25 remaining lesbian bars in the country, A League of Her Own. The bar is located in the Northwest D.C. Adams Morgan neighborhood alongside myriad queer-friendly businesses. “The nation’s capital has served as a battleground for LGBTQ+ people to fight for their rights and stand up together,” Vondran says, including hosting annual Pride celebrations and social justice rallies—and after all those marches and demonstrations, Adams Morgan is where you can let loose, enjoy the hard-won victories, and dance.
Things to do:
18th Street NW is full of queer-friendly businesses in addition to Pitchers and A League of Her Own, including Three Fifty Bakery and Coffee Bar, Duplex Diner, Lost City Books, The Green Zone, Amsterdam Falafel Shop, and The Diner. For a queer-friendly bar closer to Capitol Hill, check out the newly-opened as you are. near Barracks Row for coffee, drag performances, social justice programs, and game nights.
5. Cooper-Young, Memphis, Tennessee
The Cooper-Young (unofficial) gayborhood is a thriving Memphis neighborhood, despite the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Vondran enjoyed her time here and says, “Queer hubs in not-so-queer-friendly states are powerful.”
Things to do
Her favorite places to visit are Imagine Vegan Cafe, an LGBTQ+-friendly restaurant specializing in Memphis-style BBQ. She recommends Dru’s Place in downtown Memphis for drag shows and The Pumping Station, a gay bar. “Finding rainbow crosswalks (the first in Tennessee) and an (unofficial) gayborhood in Memphis gave me hope—and is a reminder that queer people are everywhere,“ Vondran says.