Throughout the 20th century, as particular neighborhoods in America’s largest cities became LGBTQ strongholds, a number of corresponding resort towns became similarly famous as gay vacation spots. Provincetown, Fire Island, Key West, Palm Springs, and the Russian River grew into international queer havens, united by their creative spirits and often flamboyant and permissive personalities. Slightly more low-keyed burghs—Laguna Beach, Saugatuck-Douglas, Ogunquit, Rehoboth Beach, New Hope-Lambertville—also developed big-time gay followings despite their tiny populations.
While all of these places—albeit to varying degrees—remain touchstones of queer vacation life; they also now have plenty of competition. In recent years, dozens of small communities with less pronounced queer cachet but nevertheless progressive vibes, alluring settings, and sophisticated cultural offerings have become increasingly fashionable with the LGBTQ set, both as places to live and travel.
Listed in alphabetical order, here are 10 of the most compelling of these diverse and desirable little towns with emergent gay followings. To be considered for this list, each community (as well the accompanying alternative recommendations) had to have fewer than 10,000 year-round residents, at least a couple of reliably inclusive lodging options (plus plenty of vacation rentals and Airbnb listings), and an exceptional mix of enticing activities and attractions.
Astoria, OR (pop. 9,800, travelastoria.com)
Dramatically situated where the mighty Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean, Astoria was visited by the Lewis & Clark expedition, permanently established as a fur-trading outpost, and eventually developed into a prominent port city and salmon-canning center. Today, with many of its stately downtown buildings and riverfront wharves occupied by hip lifestyle boutiques, artisan breweries and coffee roasters, and retro-chic cocktail bars, this hilly town at the northern tip of the spectacular Oregon coast has begun to resemble a miniature version of Portland (two hours away), complete with a sizable LGBTQ population and a super-fun Gay Pride weekend in mid-June. Pop culture alert: The Goonies was filmed here, and the former Clatsop County Jail—featured prominently in the movie—now houses the Oregon Film Museum.