A Love Letter To My Favorite Queer Cities

The queer cities I’ve fallen in love with.

I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled– road trips around the U.S., with friends and with classmates, and even taking myself on a grand spanking Grown Up Vacation to London when I was in my early twenties. I’ve spent time in places that offered me queer fun and queer safety. It is my dearest hope that one day, any city in the world will be a queer-friendly city that is perfect for a lesbian-friendly vacation. Until then, here are some cities that I have loved, and hope you will too. 

Northampton, Massachusetts

Before I started my sex ed certification, I’d never heard of Northampton. But over the course of getting my certification, I spent about a month there (two weeks at a time), and completely fell in love. Being from New York, I’ve got kind of a skewed sense of what constitutes a “small town,” but to me, Northampton seemed small and quaint, and spending the holiday season there is like living in your very own queer-affirming Hallmark Christmas movie. Northampton has the perfect combination of things I love: trees and wooded paths to stroll along, actual stars in the night sky, a 10-minute walk to Main Street, and dozens of affordable restaurants, many of which are vegan. (Although I’m not vegan, I get anxious when I travel, so knowing that I’m in a place where I can easily access good healthy food to soothe my anxious belly is important to me.) You can even stay at the lesbian-owned Grapevine Inn, and explore the nightlife at The Dirty Truth beer hall. The best part of Northampton, though, was how many queer couples I saw walking hand in hand as I strolled the town; which is unsurprising since Northampton is also the home of renowned queer-friendly Smith College.

New York City

It seems almost redundant to cite New York City as a lesbian-friendly vacation spot. As a native New Yorker, it’s hard for me to see NYC as a vacation spot, but on the times of the year when I’m broker-than-usual but still want some time off, it helps to look at this city with new eyes. NYC is the home of the Stonewall Riots, after all, and for decades has been a place where queers from all over the country and the world have come to in order to find and build community. And New York City has been the place of my personal queer awakening, the place where I went on dates and fell in love with women for the first time. I fell in love all over this city. I had my first serious girlfriends in Lefferts Gardens and Park Slope. I drank mescal and had one-night stands in Morningside Heights. I got my natal chart read for the first time, by the most beautiful woman I’ve ever kissed, on a yellow school bus from Williamsburg to Jacob Riis. I was a glittering bisexual mermaid at Coney Island. I U-Hauled from Astoria to Ridgewood, Queens. And while most of the country, unfortunately, has a dearth of true lesbian bars, NYC has a thriving queer nightlife scene: Henrietta Hudson, Cubbyhole, Hot Rabbit at Lot 45, Littlefield, House of Yes, and The Woods, to name a few.

San Diego, California

Known as California’s “Gayest City,” San Diego is a great spot for a vacation, though—full disclosure—it’s pretty expensive. Sunny and 72 degrees all year ‘round, San Diego is also an ideal place to escape the winter blues. And it’s a lower key, reportedly more bi-friendly place, than other famous gay cities like L.A. and San Francisco. Sun yourself on the all-gay nude beach or catch a gay rodeo. San Diego is also home to one of the few remaining lesbian bars in America, The Gossip Grill. Mondays are ’80s night at The Brass Rail, and Thursdays at Rich’s are reserved for lesbians at a party called Repent. If nightlife isn’t so much your thing, there are also loads of coffee places and restaurants to check out, as well as feminist bookstores to keep bookworms (like me) content.

Portland, Oregon

Portland made the list as an ideal lesbian vacation spot because it’s rumored to have the most strip clubs per capita of any city in the United States, which just makes my little queer stripper heart sing. Some of the particularly queer-friendly strip clubs include Devil’s Point, Sassy’s, and Casa Diablo. Devil’s Point is known for Stripperoke on Sunday nights, where you can belt out your favorite tunes while surrounded by naked women, like your own personal music video. I’ve literally never heard of anything so wonderful in my life. And Casa Diablo is the only strip club that I’ve ever heard of that has an entirely vegan menu. Forget vacation, Portland is the heaven that we queer women go to after we die.

Shoreditch, London, England

A few years ago, I took myself on my first big-girl vacation across the pond to London. I stayed in an Airbnb in Shoreditch, and as soon as I walked through the door of the flat, I was greeted by my host, Kay, who opened the door with a hair clipper in hand. She was giving herself a crew cut and entreated me to help her shave the back of her head before I even set down my bags. I was delighted, and it turned out that this set the tone for the entirety of my trip. I spent one night hanging out with Karoline and her flatmate, who were both queer, as well as one of their guy friends, who identified openly and joyfully as bisexual, somewhat of a rarity among cis men.  They were talking about sex and relationships over several pints of bitter when suddenly he turned to me and asked, “So, what about you?” I was newly out to myself, and I said, possibly for the first time aloud: “Well, I just started dating women.” And we all lost it at the perfect, beautiful odds of establishing such a queer flat, even if temporarily.

There’s nothing that really makes London any more or less queer than any other big international city (like, for example, my hometown of New York City). But the time I spent in Shoreditch will always hold a special place in my heart as a particularly lesbian-friendly vacation. Kay spent an evening taking me around the Gay Part of Town, where I clumsily hit on a stunning Russian ex-pat who took pity on me by putting up with my fumbling flirtation for about thirty seconds longer than any reasonable person would. By the end of the night, I vaguely remember Kay and I falling tipsily onto my bed, where we didn’t do anything more than hold hands since both of us were too shy and inexperienced to do anything more. We talked a little bit about not feeling “queer enough” due to our inexperience with women, which, as I write it, is perhaps the sweetest gay thing we could have done.

Before I left, Kay designed me a tattoo of a topless mermaid with a pixie cut, reading a book. She came along to the tattoo shop, and I got it inked in Union Jack colors. I got the tattoo to signify that, though I’m femme and straight passing (whatever that means), I’m actually queer af. I don’t feel like I need those physical signifiers anymore; I’ve long since both buzzed and grown out my undercut. But the mermaid still makes me smile, and London is still an important city for the babyqueer I used to be.