There’s still plenty of time to get away from it all this summer. But instead of heading toward the usual gay meccas of Palm Springs, P-Town and the Pines, why not take a gaycation that’s off-the-beaten path.
Below, check out seven destinations for gay travelers that won’t feel like the same old, same old.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
This colorful North Carolina city is surprisingly gay, with rich literary roots and a tremendous B&B culture. Many inns are gay-owned, including 1889 WhiteGate Inn and Cottage, Cedar Crest Inn, and Hill House Bed & Breakfast.
At night, stop by O.Henry’s, the oldest gay bar in the state. But don’t confuse age for mustiness—under new ownership, O’Henry’s had a complete renovation last year. Other favorite spots loved by locals and visitors alike are Scandals (for dance parties and drag shows) and woman-owned Tressa’s Jazz & Blues (for the music).
Be sure to also hit the Asheville Bee Charmer, where you can pull up a stool at the bar for a tasting of honey from around the world.
Missed your local Pride celebration? No worries: The major LGBT event in Asheville, the annual Blue Ridge Pride Festival, isn’t until October.
2. Puna District, Big Island, Hawaii
You can’t get any more off-the-beaten-path than this colorful district on the Big Island, but Orbitz lists it as one of the hottest queer destinations for 2015—offering “a friendly mix of hippies, gays, artists and off-the-grid types.”
The stunning black sand of Kehena Beach was created by lava, which also gives the shore the look of a moonscape. Its remote location makes it a favorite with nudists, but beware of the rough surf.
Just a short walk away is Absolute Paradise, a gay-owned (and clothing-optional) B&B with a pool, sundeck and hot tub that’s only about 15 minutes from Pahoa town and less than an hour from Hilo Town International Airport.
It’s also close to waterfalls, live volcanoes, snorkeling, and tropical gardens.
Another gay-friendly accommodation is Kalani, a nonprofit educational center and eco-community, offering a pool, campgrounds, a lodge and eco-cottages made from sustainable bamboo.
For longer stays, the all-inclusive Kalani Experience covers everything from airport transportation to meals to massages.
Sounds like Heaven on Earth to us.
3. Columbus, Ohio
Considered the gateway to the gay Midwest, Columbus prides itself on being a youthful and educated destination for LGBT travelers.
As the “art and soul” of Columbus, the Short North is a vibrant cultural and business community home to several of the city’s best known gay bars and restaurants.
One of those well-known watering holes is the Union Café, a Short North hotspot with great food, friendly staff and stiff drinks. It’s usually packed and always fun, with a weekly schedule of drag shows, drink specials and showtune singalongs. (If musical theater ain’t your bag, then try Axis Nightclub across the street.)
It might sound touristy, but take a walking tour of the German Village, a 200-year-old internationally recognized historic district that’s also home to Columbus’ gayborhood.
Want more culture? On the first Saturday of each month, thousands flock to High Street for Gallery Hop, with new exhibitions, street performers and grub throughout the ‘hood.
4. Long Beach, California
Smack dab in the center of Southern California, Long Beach is just minutes from both Hollywood and Orange County, with a recently elected gay mayor—Robert Garcia—and one of the country’s biggest Pride celebrations..
Long Beach is an eclectic blend of big city excitement and the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere of a resort town, with a downtown that overlooks the Pacific, 11 miles of beachfront and the must-see Aquarium of the Pacific.
Dubbed “Retro Row,” Fourth Street is a big draw—with charming restaurants, bistros and coffee shops, plus dozens of boutiques selling vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture and decor.
If you come in the fall, the annual Long Beach QFilm Festival runs September 10 to 15, at the fully restored Art Deco-era Art Theater.
5. Madison, Wisconsin
Outdoorsy, friendly and progressive, Madison—nicknamed “Mad City”—has an ever-changing gay community.
Daytime destinations in this walkable college town include coffeehouses and A Room of One’s Own, a feminist bookstore and coffeeshop.
To find out more about what’s happening in Madison, check out the local LGBT outlet, Our Lives.
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
More than 300 years ago, William Penn founded Philadelphia on the principles of equality and freedom of expression. Today, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection rolls out the red carpet for LGBT travelers from around the world.
You’ll know you’re in “the Gayborhood”—yes, that’s what it’s actually called—when you spy the rainbow street signs and crosswalks. From Chestnut to Pine Streets and Juniper to 11th Streets—and in some of the alleyways inbetween—you’ll find most of the city’s gay spots, notably Tavern on Camac, Woody’s and The Bike Stop.
Giovanni’s Room was the oldest gay bookstore in America before it closed in May 2014. Soon after, Philly AIDS Thrift took over the historic space—you can still peruse a great selection of LGBT books (both new and used) as well as clothing, housewares, art and tchotchkes galore.
If it’s Thursday, head to Bob and Barbara’s—though outside the Gayborhood, this diveis home to the longest-running drag show in Philly, hosted by the fabulous Miss Lisa Lisa.
7. Rome, Italy
You may be surprised that the same city that’s home to the Vaticanis also home to a vibrant gay scene. (Then again, maybe not so surprised.) While not the gayest place in Italy—that’s fashion capital Milan—the Eternal City is a fabulous destination for a queer vacation.
It’s got millennia of history—from a time when same-sex relationships were embraced—as well as great shopping, gay nightlife and beautiful men.
The main queer promenade is actually called Gay Street, with shops and bars along Via San Giovanni in Laterano.
Hetero-friendly Coming Out, steps from the Colosseum—which was a popular cruising spot in ancient times—is a fixture in Rome’s nightlife. Opened in 2001, it offers everything from coffee and food to karaoke, drag shows and live music.
Muccassassina rages every Friday at three-story nightclub Qube. It began in 1990 inside a former slaughterhouse in Testaccio (The party’s name actually means “cow murderer.”) A quarter-century later, it’s still hands-down the best gay party in Italy.
More the fun-in-the-sun type? Take a train to Ostia and hit the gay beach there, Il Buco.