Under The ‘Gaydar’: 10 Best Gaycation Destinations That Might Surprise You

Who takes a gaycation in the Deep South? Why would you ever venture to flyover country for the drag bars? The LGBTQ renaissance.

Michigan’s Bible Belt has its own Fire Island. Columbus, Ohio’s drag scene is among the largest in the country. And Salt Lake City, Utah has an up-and-coming LGBTQ scene that may soon rival those on the coasts. Cities like Richmond and Columbus may not register on your gaydar like San Francisco and NYC, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty to offer gay travelers. Here are 10 of the best gaycation destinations that are still under the ‘gaydar.’

Richmond, Virginia

Outsiders may think of the old Confederate capital as a city stuck in its ways, but little do they know that Richmond, Virginia is anything but.

After “coming out” in 2014, Richmond has emerged as the gay capital of the South. With the help of the Richmond Triangle Players, a theater dedicated solely to LGBTQ themes, art exhibitions like “One Love: LGBT Families” at The Valentine, and hilarious drag brunches at Godfrey’s, Richmond is out, and Virginia is for all lovers.

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Providence, Rhode Island

In 1636, Roger Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island under the name of tolerance, liberty, and free will, and, if he were still alive today, he’d probably be proud of what the city has become.

Accepting of all walks of life (4.4 percent of the city’s population identifies as LGBT), the New England capital has become a haven for East Coast gays looking for somewhere tamer and quainter than Boston and NYC. With seven universities, an eclectic arts scene, and one of the more underrated culinary hubs in the country, Providence carries a youthful energy and pride without the coastal elitism.

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Overshadowed by big city boys in Chicago and its yuppie neighbors in Madison, Milwaukee, Wisconsin is definitely not a city on most people’s gaydar.

Thanks to Pridefest, the “Brew City” is emerging as one of our up-and-coming travel destinations. The annual LGBTQ Film/Video Festival attracts thousands every October. The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center offers one-of-a-kind LGBTQ productions, and Walker’s Point is setting itself up to be the next big Boystown.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico

Unlike most renowned “gay destinations,” Santa Fe, New Mexico doesn’t have a go-to district like L.A.’s West Hollywood or Chicago’s Boystown; instead, it has art, food, and culture that appeals to all.

The city’s arts scene is the second largest in the States, and it’s where legends like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams found their inspiration. The culinary scene, reliant on the chili, offers a taste that’s both uniquely Mexican and American at the same time. The city’s Hispanic and Native roots feel almost foreign from the burger and fries of Americana. It’s just a city that’s different…and doing different right.

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Durham, North Carolina

North Carolina may have laws limiting protection for the LGBTQ community, but, apparently, that doesn’t apply to Durham. Not only is the Bull City considered one of the best places to live for LGBTQ people in the U.S., but it’s also home to North Carolina’s annual Pride Festival and the state’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

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Asheville, North Carolina

As if that’s not enough for North Carolina, head west to Asheville and find an LGBTQ bohemian paradise smacked in the Smokies. Here, the proportional LGBTQ community is twice as large as the average for the rest of the country, and the city sprawls not only with nightlife hotspots like drag night at Scandals but also plenty of artisan wineries, breweries, and boutique shops.

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Columbus, Ohio

The Midwest may not get much love as a bastion of progressiveness, but Columbus, Ohio is certainly an exception. Locally known as the San Francisco of the region, the gay cultural landscape is vibrant, and the drag scene is easily among the best in the nation–just watch “Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens”.

The city is also a rising fashion mecca, housing the third most fashion designers in the country, along with retail giants like L Brands, Express, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. As if that’s not enough, Columbus ranks as the second most sexually satisfied city in the country–wink, wink.

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Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan

How is the largest gay resort in the Midwest in Michigan’s “Bible Belt?” It must be something in the water.

With over 140 gay-owned businesses, ranging from B&Bs to bars to art galleries to cutesy ice cream shops, the small neighboring towns of Saugatuck and Douglas are home to the largest gay resort in the Midwest–and thanks to local protection of gender identity and sexual orientation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anti-LGBTQ attitudes here. Michigan’s Gold Coast consistently ranks among the prettiest places in the country, and there’s no better place to experience it than at the men-hideaway Dunes Resort.

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Albany, New York

You’d think a city like San Francisco would be at the forefront of supporting LGBTQ rights, but, oddly enough, it’s Albany, New York. The city created the first gay and lesbian community center in the country, and it’s Albany that was home to one of the earliest transgender groups dating back to the 1950s.

The city may not have the crazy, never-ending nightlife of NYC, and it may not have the sheer numbers of NYC, but, for general “Queer Life,” Albany ranks seventh in the country–not to shabby for a city overshadowed by the Big Apple.

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Salt Lake City, Utah

The LGBT community and the Mormon church hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye. Although the LDS has long-advocated against gay marriage, that doesn’t mean they’re against gay rights. In fact, Utah is one of the first states to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that protects LGBTQ individuals–and they passed it under a Republican supermajority. This agreement has helped reinvent SLC into a premier gay destination in the Rockies, and a unique city of contrasts where devout Mormons parade down Harvey Milk Blvd.

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Looking be loud and be proud when you celebrate Pride? Check out our list of the best gay pride parades in the U.S.