Travel

5 LGBTQIA-Friendly Destinations To Hit Up in the New Year

Whether you want to relax in the sun or get out and explore, our list will start you off right.

Jonathan Tung Photography/Shutterstock
Jonathan Tung Photography/Shutterstock
Jonathan Tung Photography/Shutterstock

Sometimes, it’s party vibes you crave and other times, it’s quieter transitions. But the first months of the New Year – no matter where you spend them – is the time to do what brings you joy. From chilling in our favorite California small town to sipping craft brews in Colorado, we’re here to help you start 2022 in style at one of these LGBTQIA-friendly locales.

Find a favorite brew in Boulder, Colorado

Named one of Advocate‘s 10 queerest cities in the country and one of Nat Geo’s happiest cities in the USBoulder has it all. A leader in same-sex rights, Boulder was the first county in Colorado to issue a same-sex marriage license (in 1975). Just about 30 miles from from Denver, it sits against the majestic red sandstone backdrop of The Flatirons. Hike or picnic to see them up close or find them on business logos and artwork all over town. If you travel for good brew, you’re in luck, as Boulder has one of the highest concentrations of breweries per capita in the entire country. Brewery-hop as you check out the street art dotted around town, thanks to a mural festival a few years back. Stay at The Nest B&B, a lesbian-owned private cottage with rave reviews that’s only a short walk to hiking and restaurants. For a larger property, Hotel Boulderado will wow you with historic charm, a perfect downtown location, and Victorian-inspired rooms.

For even more brews, enjoy daily happy hour at The Corner Bar, the perfect place to people-watch or kick off your evening party. Take a ride to Gold Spot Brewing Company in Denver, which is queer-owned and known for its unique ingredients such as Guanabana and Sudachi lime. While you’re there, head to the The X Bar for drag brunch or queer comedy. If watching the game is more your thing, visit Tight End, a gay sports bar with a full weekly schedule. For one of the only lesbian bars left in the country, visit Blush & Blu for spirits, coffee, and community.

If all that fun requires you to nurse a hangover, head back to Boulder and hit up the decadent Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, with hand-carved ceilings and hand-painted tables by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. Before you go home, consider hitting the slopes at Eldora Mountain Resort (20 miles north of Boulder) or visit Colorado Springs’ stunning Garden of the Gods, a registered National Historic Site 90 minutes from Boulder, where you can gaze up at huge red rock formations, go climbing, take a Jeep tour, or rent an electric bike to explore.

Sune Goldsteen
Sune Goldsteen
Sune Goldsteen

Prioritize relaxation in Ojai, California

Located just 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, the quaint town of Ojai is so LGBTQIA-friendly that its residents say “everyone is just out, everywhere.” You’ll feel like you’re living in a boho-chic magazine in this Shangri-La of chill energy, great food, and gathering places. While the Ojai Valley Inn is grand, try the smaller Emerald Iguana Inn, which has a totally exotic feel and is walkable to town. For cheese and wine plus one of the most Instagram-worthy hangouts we know, head to Tipple & Ramble, a female-owned business where everyone feels at home in the impressive yard filled with lounge chairs, hammocks, string lights, and retro furniture.

In the tiny neighboring area of Meiners Oaks (only minutes away), browse Farmer and the Cook for organic fare like wood-fired pizza, vegan soup, and a date shake you’ll be talking about for months. For stunning views of the valley and to watch Ojai’s famous pink sunsets, check out Meditation Mount (make sure to pre-register). For some of the best authentic Mexican food in Southern California, hit up The Tortilla House, which closes shop when they sell out – so get there early. Once you’re fueled up, drive out into the valley and take the short 1-mile hike to Rose Valley Falls, great for most fitness levels. If you prefer water to land, visit nearby Lake Casitas for boat rentals and fishing.

After a long day, treat yourself to some style at Bohème Salon, a boutique studio offering gender-neutral cuts. Then have dinner at family-owned Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta with idyllic views of wine vineyards and a famous strawberry shortcake that won’t disappoint. No trip to Ojai is complete without perusing Bart’s Books, the world’s largest outdoor bookstore, which was founded in 1964. Bart’s carries mostly used books, including many queer titles and books on gender and sexuality.

David Mitchell Photography
David Mitchell Photography
David Mitchell Photography

Experience New York City like the locals do

New York City done right is NYC done like a local, which means hitting the streets and doing what New Yorkers do best: walk. Join Christopher Street Tours for walking tours that start in The Village and hit all the city’s important historic LGBTQIA+ sites, or try the Drag History Tour for something different. While you’re there, visit BGSQD, a volunteer-staffed queer cultural center and bookstore inside the LGBTQ Community Center. Don’t miss Marie’s Crisis Café, an iconic gay piano bar with history dating back to the 1850s when it was used as a den for prostitution (it’s now solely used for drinking and belting out show tunes). For a curation of the city’s best eats all in one place, head across the Brooklyn Bridge to Time Out Market, where no one has to agree on dinner. Then, take in a Broadway show like SIX, whose playwrights, students from Cambridge, set out to address the lack of gender diversity in theater and re-imagined the lives of Henry the VIII’s six wives into a high energy performance you won’t forget.

Instead of falling into the tourist trap of staying in Times Square, spend the night at the Renaissance New York Chelsea Hotel, the perfect central location in one of Manhattan’s quintessential gay neighborhoods. Just down the street from the famous Chelsea Flea – host to over 50 vintage and antiques vendors – this brand-new hotel evokes a secret garden (because of its proximity to the flower district) with its dark hallways covered in ivy wallpaper, eclectic furnishings, and swinging hammock chairs in the lobby. And while we’re not usually huge fans of hotel restaurants, the understated Cotto has surprisingly thoughtful dishes and one of the best steaks you can get in the city without needing a reservation weeks in advance. For an epic party vibe, make a reservation to go up to Somewhere Nowhere, a hidden rooftop bar and nightclub on the top floor of the hotel, with mind-blowing panoramic views of Manhattan’s skyline.

For more of why to love NYC, go to Central Park (stay above the 80s for a more authentic experience). While you’re there, visit the Museum of the City of New York‘s eye-opening exhibit on activism, including LGBTQIA+ rights. For a truly unforgettable experience, discover American Legion Post 398, a basement speakeasy in Harlem where you can order a life-changing fish fry and listen to heart-pounding jazz. As a final hurrah, book a slot at the luxurious and LGBTQIA-welcoming AIRE Ancient Baths in Tribeca. Change in their private restrooms for privacy, then dip or relax in different pools located in their stunning candle-lit basement spa.

Amy Scher
Amy Scher
Amy Scher

Celebrate with seafood and waterfalls in Connecticut

While upstate New York often gets all the press, Connecticut is our hidden gem. It’s one of the most LGBTQIA-friendly states in the US, thanks to its early adoption of equal rights legislation. From its sparkling sea to rolling hills, you can do it all here. On the coastline in Mystic, get a slice for lunch at Mystic Pizza, made famous by the 1980s movie of the same name. Then, book dinner at S&P Oyster with its waterfront views, outdoor fire pit tables, and fresh seafood like linguini & clams, seafood paella, and of course, oysters galore. While you’re downtown, get lost in the shelves of Bank Square Books, which has an impressive selection of queer titles. Stay at the Mermaid Inn of Mystic, an enchanting lesbian-owned B&B of 20 years. In the morning, run (don’t walk or they’ll sell out) to Deviant Donuts with choices for vegans and gluten-sensitive peeps, too. Then, head to Beer’d Brewing Company for their taproom, beer garden, and brews like Hobbit Juice (an exclusive), Connecticut Casual, and 8 Days a Week with a dash of graham cracker character.

When you’ve had your fill, pack up and head north through the fairytale town of Kent. Stop at 109 Cheese & Wine for vintage rosé and a charcuterie board before heading to the cascading Kent Falls, where you can walk through the charming covered bridge on an accessible paved path to get up close. Continue further north to Salisbury – where Litchfield County meets the Berkshires – to the queer-welcoming White Hart Inn, established in 1806, whose taproom and dining experience are so memorable that New Yorkers flock here for the food alone. Just a half a mile off the Appalachian trail, the Inn’s motto is “kindness to strangers,” felt from the minute you walk in the door. Add that to the town’s Gilmore Girls vibe and you have the perfect base for new adventures. Grab a drink at the bar, where Ryan will make you a killer cocktail. He’s known for his creative mixes, but we can attest to him doing the classics right, too.

After a good night’s sleep, grab food to go at Provisions next door, along with the best brownie you’ll ever have. Then take your eats to the public beach and stunning lake at Town Grove. For more nature, go 30 minutes farther north and cross over to Massachusetts for a mild to moderate hike up to Bish Bash Falls, the highest waterfall in the state. Or stay closer and take the quick trip to Falls Village, where you’ll feel transported back to the 1800s. When you get there, park at the dam and watch the waterfall’s show from a sturdy viewing platform.

Amy Scher
Amy Scher
Amy Scher

Explore Austin (and beyond) to Hill Country, Texas

While the LGBTQIA-friendly mecca of Austin makes many “best of” lists for good reason, the Texas Hill Country, less than 50 miles west, has our hearts as well. Start in Austin, with its perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, and stay at Austin Marriott Downtown, a chic urban retreat with tropical rooftop bar and pool. Not only does it have breathtaking city views, but it’s only a few blocks to queer dance bars Rain on 4th, Olican Harry’s, and The Iron Bear. Still within walking distance, you’ll find Cheer Up Charlie’s, a lesbian-owned vegan bar and music venue with a packed events calendar.

For classically Austin eats, go straight to lesbian-owned la Barbecue, with recipes all their own and grass-fed meat from a local ranch. Or, go food truck hopping and taste it all in one place. While in town, stop by Book Woman, one of our favorite queer bookstores. And finally, soak up all the outdoor offerings of this city: South Congress for a fun neighborhood with great views of Texas, the HOPE Outdoor Gallery for inspirational graffiti art, a walk around Lady Bird Lake, a hike or bike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and Congress Avenue Bridge for sunset views and its famous Mexican Free-Tailed Bat colony (you’ll have to come back spring through fall for that; and yes, we are talking about real bats).

When you’ve had your fill of Austin, head to Hill Country for more barbecue, unforgettable music, and vineyards for miles. One of America’s fastest-growing wine regions, the area is made up of over a dozen small towns with over 100 wineries and tasting rooms. In the tiny hamlet of Luckenbach, a country music mecca with only 13 residents, you’ll find an outdoor stage, dance hall, and general store (now turned gift shop). Brought to its fame by a song from Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Luckenbach lives up to the hype with stiff drinks and music that makes you want to dance all night.

In Wimberley, a queer-popular Hill Country town, stay at the lesbian-owned Abundance Retreat, then grab some grub at Leaning Pear, the official brunch spot for Wimberley Pride that sits atop a natural bluff. When you’re ready to get out and explore, take to the trails by Jacob’s Well Natural Area, known in part for its underwater cave. To sample another fun town, hit up Fredericksburg and stay at the Swiss-inspired Barons CreekSide on 26 tree-covered acres, studded with log cabins and popular for LGBTQ weddings. For authentic Tex-Mex, venture to Hilda’s Tortillas or Hilltop Café, a restaurant converted from a gas station with lively music on the weekends.

Orbitz believes everyone should be able to travel freely, no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re going. Discover LGBTQIA-welcoming hotels, plan queer-friendly trips, and get inspired to vacation. You’ll feel welcomed whenever you book with Orbitz. Travel As You Are.

Amy B. Scher is a bestselling author of four books and an editor at Thrillist. She lives in NYC with her beautiful wife and bad cat, where she’s always planning her next meal and her next trip. Amy can be found at www.amybscher.com and on IG @amybscher.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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