The Golden State is not only home to more than 1.3 million LGBTQ+ residents—it has played an essential role in supporting gay rights over the decades and is one of the most queer-friendly states in the nation. From dedicated museums and iconic bars to film festivals to Pride Month events, here are some of the many ways to embrace LGBTQ+ culture in California.
June is the biggest month for LGBTQ+ tourism, as hundreds of thousands of people head not just to gay meccas L.A. and San Francisco, but to Sacramento and Long Beach for city pride celebrations (Long Beach traditionally holds its celebrations in May). Inspired by the Stonewall Riots that sparked a major movement for gay liberation in June 1969, annual Pride parades, festivals, and other related events pop up in several cities around the world, including many in California. While most are celebrated in June, San Diego holds its Pride events in July, and Palm Springs has its own in November.
As gay travel writer Miles Griffis asserts, "LGBTQ+ life doesn’t only exist in the Golden State’s major cities." In late July, Lazy Bear Week invites gay men to the Northern town of Guerneville in Sonoma County for wine tours, bonfires, hikes, and watersports. In March, Griffis suggests heading to Mammoth Gay Ski Week. "The five-day ski and snowboard event overtakes the small town of Mammoth Lakes and celebrates queerness in the rugged Sierra Nevada."
No matter what time of year you are heading to California, there are opportunities to find LGBTQ+-inclusive events, spaces, and people, because the state celebrates pride year-round. The best way to find out about these events is to check local LGBTQ+ newspapers and websites, such as the Los Angeles Blade, the Bay Area Reporter, as well as local LGBTQ+ centers (found in most major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, and more).
A Welcoming Spirit
Pride's origins are inherently political, but the first parades in June 1970 were an invitation for people of all ages and identities to take to the streets in an effort to spread love, equality, and freedom. Pride parades have grown significantly since then, with community groups of all kinds showing their support for the community in a colorful, family-friendly, intergenerational gathering.
Several Pride celebrations host kid-specific events too: The Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose hosts a Proud of My Family event, giving LGBTQ+ families a chance to create rainbow bracelets, face paintings, and collages before a mid-day parade in the city's Central Park. And at San Francisco Pride, there's a Family Garden area focused on providing a safe and less-crowded area for young ones, complete with arts and crafts as well as a San Francisco Pride Run with a free kids’ race component.
The Bay Area
San Francisco's famous “gayborhood,” the Castro, is known not only for its vibrant culture and nightlife, but its role in post-Summer of Love political history supporting the first-ever openly gay politician, Harvey Milk. The National GLBT History Museum, a small but mighty display of regular exhibitions from the community's rich and often unexplored past, is situated right in the heart of the Castro near the Human Rights Campaign's official store—housed in Milk's former Castro Camera store and campaign headquarters.
Cinephiles also head to the Bay Area mid-June for the Frameline Film Festival, the longest-running international LGBTQ+ film festival in the world. At venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, attendees can expect premieres of highly anticipated movies, new media, and episodic television as well as panels, parties, and an awards ceremony where the best of the best take home cash prizes (and, hopefully, distribution deals).
In L.A.’s West Hollywood, where nearly 40 percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ+, you’ll find glamorous hotels, designer stores, and a thriving nightlife (including iconic gay bar, The Abbey). Those looking for nightlife will find plenty of opportunities to drink, dance, and see drag queens and pop stars perform at L.A. Pride, where LGBTQ+ allies and headliners such as Paula Abdul and Meghan Trainor have graced the mainstage.
Downtown Los Angeles has had a true glow-up in the past few years due in part to its burgeoning queer community. During Pride Month, check the website of DTLA Proud for events (And while you're downtown, check out Precinct, DTLA's most popular gay bar, which often puts on performances from RuPaul's descendants.)
Just a two-hour drive from L.A., Palm Springs is home to a population of 50 percent gay residents represented by the first-ever all LGBTQ+ city council, which shows just how queer-friendly the desert city is year-round. Besides their November Pride celebration, Palm Springs is home to a women's golf tournament named after Dinah Shore that now brings thousands of women to the desert for Club Skirts The Dinah.
If you're looking for the perfect time to go to Disneyland Resort, make the trip to Anaheim for Gay Days in early October. Mickey and company welcome LGBTQ+ friends and family to the Happiest Place on Earth with specialized activities, T-shirts, and DJs.