Travel

8 Immersive LGBTQIA+ Museums and Archives to Bookmark Now

Here's a rainbow-hued list of museums across America you should plan to visit.

Anthony J. Rayburn
Anthony J. Rayburn
Anthony J. Rayburn

In America’s 35,000-plus museums, an astoundingly diverse range of exhibits are enshrined, from pivotal events in human history to quirky odes to “only here” inventions (what do you mean you’ve never visited Minnesota’s Spam Museum?). Though one subject matter may appear wholly disparate from the other, all museums are linked by a shared mission: to preserve memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that every generation can grow wiser than the last.

For the LGBTQIA+ community, museums and archives dedicated to queer history, culture, and causes play an integral role in the ongoing pursuit of equal rights and representation. These institutions – whether they chronicle the gay liberation movement of the 1960s or showcase contemporary queer-made art – establish LGBTQIA+ folks as not just characters in the Great American Story, but writers penning their own future, their own way. In the words of gay senator Tammy Baldwin: “All of us who are openly gay are living and writing the history of our movement.”

And the next chapter is looking more rainbow-hued than ever. Here are our favorite LGBTQIA+ museums across America to plan your visit to now.

World AIDS Museum in Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale’s World AIDS Museum offers an eye-opening, and at times, heart-wrenching presentation using first-hand accounts from those affected by the epidemic. As the first-ever institution dedicated to HIV/AIDS, the non-profit strives to mitigate the persisting stigma associated with the virus, while also curating educational programming and seminars to promote dialogue among youth and at-risk individuals. Above all, the World AIDS Museum is an emotional tribute to the lives lost to the virus, and recognition of the everyday struggles still faced by millions today.

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles

Building off activist Jim Kepner’s extensive collection, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives has become one of the world’s largest repositories of LGBTQIA+ materials. Since 2010, the ONE has preserved over 2 million items to promote awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, including 30,000 volumes of books and periodicals, 4,000 films, 21,000 videos, and 6,900 audio recordings. The Archives, which are part of the University of Southern California Libraries system, also have a satellite space called ONE Gallery in West Hollywood.

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art in New York City

New York collectors Fritz Lohman and Charles Leslie had been gathering gay-themed art for years before debuting their collection in their Soho loft in 1969. Fifty years later, the duo would establish one of the country’s premier LGBTQIA+ institutions for queer creativity, amassing more than 30,000 diverse visual artworks that span three centuries. In 2017, The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art expanded its footprint to a fashionable corner of Wooster Street, where it continues to organize rotating exhibitions, a bookstore, and a calendar of public programming.

Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale

One of the nation’s top cultural institutions dedicated to LGBTQIA+ history, the Stonewall National Museum & Archives holds over 28,000 books of fiction, non-fiction, biography, and art related to the pivotal Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City. In 2020, the museum moved from historic gay enclave Wilton Manors to the same building as the original library in Fort Lauderdale, which has been around since 1984. The Stonewall National Museum & Archives is an educational powerhouse not just for visitors, but also historians, scholars, and students researching LGBTQIA+ culture.

National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago

For sports-aficionados, Chicago’s National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame – the only one of its kind in the US – deserves a top spot on any Windy City itinerary. You’ll find it inside the Center on Halsted in Boystown, Chicago’s preeminent gayborhood, a few short blocks from legendary Wrigley Field. The attraction opened in 2013 to share the legacy of trailblazers who have “enhanced sports and athletics for the LGBTQ community,” and honor newly out-and-proud LGBTQIA+ athletes in its hall of fame each year, joining legendary inductees like Greg Louganis, Megan Rapinoe, and Billie Jean King.

GLBT History Museum in San Francisco

Located in San Francisco’s Castro district, the non-profit GLBT History Museum earned its exalted rank (and quippy nickname: “the gay Smithsonian”) for its astounding permanent collection of historic LGBTQIA-themed artifacts that date back to 1850. Though the museum focuses on San Francisco and the northern California region (you’ll learn a ton about the pioneering political figure and gay rights activist Harvey Milk here), it also archives and displays materials donated from around the world. As a participating member of the national Museums for All program, admission is free for visitors every Saturday.

Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City

In the 1970s, a group of women who were originally part of the NYC-based Gay Academic Union founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives, determined to confront a particular qualm: that the umbrella of gay history was still dominated by a patriarchal perspective that catered overwhelmingly to the male homosexual experience. This would effectively cause lesbian history to disappear as quickly as it was being made. Today, the Brooklyn organization still gathers materials to document lesbian “herstory” from all geographic, cultural, political, and economic backgrounds, and historical contexts, enabling future generations to continuously investigate and reevaluate the lesbian experience.

Tom of Finland House in Los Angeles

Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen – though you probably know him better as Tom of Finland – is perhaps the most prolific queer illustrator of all time. The virtuoso’s former Echo Park home, owned by Laaksonen’s business partner Durk Dehner, is now the HQ of the Tom of Finland Foundation, which houses the largest collection of Tom of Finland art. (Some say it’s the world’s greatest repository of homoerotic art.) Visitors can appreciate more than 1,500 pieces of Laaksonen’s work, and over 100,000 images, materials, and vintage pornographic films inside the Tom of Finland House, which was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by the L.A. Conservancy in 2016.

American LGBTQ+ Museum in New York City

As part of the New York Historical Society’s latest expansion, the city’s oldest museum will soon welcome the American LGBTQ+ Museum – proof that there are more and more LGBTQIA+ museums emerging. Once complete, the 70,000-square-foot exhibition space will be New York City’s very first museum dedicated to global LGBTQIA+ history and culture, amplifying the voices (over 3,200 LGBTQIA+ people across the US helped inform the museum’s creation), accomplishments, and hardships faced by members of the community. Until its official debut in 2024, the museum will be hosting virtual programming on its website.

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.

Paul Jebara is a travel and design journalist, content expert, and photographer in NYC. Follow him on Instagram @paulgoesthere.

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.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.