California's reputation as an LGBTQ+-friendly travel destination dates back to the Summer of Love, became more entrenched in the 1970s, and continues to this day. We asked Scott Gatz, Founder and CEO of Gay Cities, to join us on the California Now Podcast to share his insights on why the Golden State is such a welcoming destination, and to recommend places to go.
For highlights from our discussion with Gatz, keep reading. To hear the full interview, including a detailed exploration of the various Pride events up and down the state, download episode 24 of the California Now Podcast—and be sure to subscribe, rate, and leave feedback on your preferred podcast platform.
1. San Francisco
"San Francisco in general has such a welcoming environment. If you think about it, it was a place for prospectors, it was a place for explorers to go and forge their own path. That ethos kind of kept with the city over all these years and in the 60s and 70s—you know the 60s, the summer of love, and the 70s was really the burgeoning of the gay liberation movement across the country. Here in San Francisco in particular, with Harvey Milk being one of the first openly gay elected officials, we have a wonderful base of history that this town has always been a hub of activity. You can just feel it in the air. I think anyone who's traveling there, gay or straight, will be able to feel that they can be themselves, whoever that might be, and no one in San Francisco will mind. You be you."
2. West Hollywood
"West Hollywood has become the epicenter of LGBTQ life [in Los Angeles County]. LGBT and gay bars have really thrived there. It's where the L.A. Pride Festival & Parade happens, right there in West Hollywood, and you really feel a sense of community. While L.A. is not always the most walkable city, West Hollywood is a very walkable stretch where you can park your car, you can stay at a hotel just off the strip, and wander around and hop from restaurants to bars and just feel the energy of that city. Just like the rest of California, it's incredibly welcoming."
3. Palm Springs
"The draw here, in some ways, is an escape. If we think about resort towns, when you want to get away, you want to be able to be in a place where you can just chill out and relax, but the unique thing about Palm Springs is it's not just a beach vacation or a place where you just have to lay by the pool. There's no beach there at all. You could lay by the pool, but there's terrific restaurants, there's a gay nightlife—a really thriving, popular nightlife. There's energy and there's art and there's architecture with the mid-century modern architecture throughout that town. It ends up being this really interesting mix, and you won't find yourself bored. There's a little bit of everything there."
4. San Diego
"San Diego is an amazing place. I mean, they brag about how many days of sun they have and you just can't keep us away from the sun. Being able to play at the beach and then go out at night and have great dinner and an immense gay nightlife scene in Hillcrest really make it a big draw. It's generally a younger community, with more of the military and universities around. I think that infuses a really nice energy into that town and it has become [a major destination]. Everybody likes the sun, so why not?"
5. Wine Country
"Napa and Sonoma have really done a good job of making it very welcoming for the LGBTQ community. Unlike the cities, there's really no gay bars, there's not that kind of nightlife, but you'll find all the things that anyone finds amazing. Some great vineyards, some of the best food in the entire world—and those are all great draws for our community. We have Gay Wine Weekend in July where hundreds of people come together and go to wineries that are either owned and operated by LGBTQ people, or work there, or run the place. It's a great way to connect with the LGBTQ side of Sonoma, but you'll find people just enjoying what everyone else enjoys there."