5 Gayest Travel Destinations in the South
Magnolias, creaky porch swings and slow drawls – these are the things we most commonly associate with the South.
But, gay-friendly cities? Not so much.
Many people assume that the entire southern half of the United States is still on the conservative, intolerant end of the cultural spectrum. And while that may be true for some areas, today’s South is much more progressive and open-minded than you probably think.
Here we profile the most gay-friendly cities in the South and show you just how different they are from what you may have thought.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
The Carolinas have some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the country, so if you haven’t visited these national treasures, you’d better get moving. And hip cities like Asheville mean that you can get a healthy mix of vibrant city life and natural beauty in one visit. In the same day, you can tour the 250-room, 19th century castle built by George Vanderbilt and hike the stunning Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This historic town that sits on a plateau between 2 mountain ranges has everything you’d want: noteworthy architecture, live music, and amazing dining options. The city also boasts their own yearly Pride celebration and a number of gay bars – Asheville is even home to O. Henry’s, the oldest gay bar in the state.
2. New Orleans, Louisiana
It should come as no surprise that The Big Easy is also a very easy place for LGBT travelers to feel at home. The city has long been known for its extreme tolerance for people from all walks of life. In fact, legend has it that every year New Orleans becomes home to many tourists who discover, while on vacation, that they’ve never felt more comfortable anywhere else in the world.
This Deep South town is a veritable treasure trove for visitors – the music, the food and the breathtakingly beautiful old European architecture make it feel almost like a foreign country. And the city’s large gay population and thriving gay neighborhood make it an ideal travel destination. The lower end of Bourbon Street has about 10 gay bars and clubs and hosts the annual Southern Decadence Fest every Labor Day weekend. This gay Mardi Gras is not to be missed.
3. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Arkansas would certainly not be the first place you think of when you hear “gay friendly,” but this little Southern gem is as open and accepting as they come. It was officially the first city in the state to endorse same-sex marriage and is currently the only city in Arkansas with a Domestic Partnership Registry.
But it’s not just about political claims to fame – Eureka Springs is insanely charming with its windy, hilly roads and stunning Victorian architecture. Basically it takes everything you thought you knew about Arkansas and turns it on its head. And despite the small size of the city, one annual Pride event isn’t nearly enough. They put on 3 different Diversity Weekends every year in the spring, summer and fall, all of which attract thousands of visitors from all over the world.
4. Miami, Florida
If you’ve been putting in overtime at the gym and investing in a fabulous warm-weather wardrobe, it’s probably time that you head to Miami. The Cuban-flavored city seems to be home to a disproportionate amount of beautiful people who know how to dress, eat and party like none other. It’s really an upscale playground for LGBT travelers who are looking to let loose in the sun and in the after-dark scene where that’s all about seeing and being seen.
The city has several cool neighborhoods worth checking out, but if you want to a front row seat for Miami gay culture, make sure to head to South Beach, or SoBe to those in the know. If you tire of the beach, stroll over to nearby Ocean Drive, a super lux open air mall that looks more like a Fashion Week catwalk than the malls you’re familiar with. And keep your eyes peeled for Miami’s own circular pink flamingo symbol that lets visitors know that a business is welcoming of LGBT visitors.
5. Dallas, Texas
As a whole, the state of Texas might not be a haven of open-minded tolerance, but cities like Dallas are essentially oases that go against the normal Texan grain. With the 6th largest LGBT population in the country and The Church of Hope, the biggest gay church in the world, Dallas certainly welcomes travelers of all genders and sexualities. The city also boasts not one, but two gay neighborhoods: Oak Lawn and Bishop Arts District.
Dallas is truly a modern city that has no shortage of great shopping, high-end dining and unique culture. History buffs will want to check out the JFK exhibit at Dealey Plaza; fashion hounds will be in heaven at the Neiman Marcus flagship store; and artsy types will dig the funky Deep Ellum neighborhood full of street art and live music. If this is surprising news to you, it might be time that you checked out Texas for yourself.
It can be easy to dismiss small, Southern cities as stuck-in-time backwaters that shun anyone different, but that’s simply not the reality in many places anymore. But the good news is that as these gay-friendly Southern gems have modernized, they’ve retained the Southern charm and beauty the region is known for.
Politically and culturally progressive cities overflowing with old fashioned charm offer the very best of all possible worlds for gay travelers looking for something new.
Jay Deratany has recently restored a historic Victorian mansion and turned it into The Kirby, a boutique hotel, wine bar and bed and breakfast in Saugatuck Michigan. Not only is he passionate about travel & hospitality, but he’s also is a human rights activist, attorney and movie producer! To learn more, visit The Kirby Hotel and connect with Jay on Google+.