Historical Queer US Cities: A Starter Guide

Make ‘more queer travel’ one of your New Years resolutions.

They say history helps us better understand our present day world, but what happens when your history isn’t always quite as visible and celebrated? Queer folks know that our histories have long been hidden, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t always been here. And in more recent years, there have been efforts to uncover our past. So where’s a lesbian looking to polish up on her queer history to go? Try adding these places that blend historic sites with a bit of queer fun to your starter travel bucket list!

New York City

Us New Yorkers here at GO might be accustomed to nights on Christopher Street, but to out-of-towners, it’s a huge deal to visit the Stonewall Inn, where Pride first began as a series of riots. You can still visit this iconic space, grab a drink with your girlfriend, and even bring home some merch if the spirit moves you. Make sure to also check out the Stonewall National Monument—a beautiful park acknowledging the riots and celebrating the LGBTQ community. Not too far is also Henrietta Hudson, one of the few lesbian bars still existing, in operation for more than 30 years now.

For the true history nerd, there’s no better spot than the Lesbian Herstory Archives. This Brooklyn-based site contains a treasure trove of books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, periodicals, shirts, banners, buttons, and more documenting lesbian existence. You’re even welcome to bring your own items for the archive! Make sure to visit the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art—currently the only art museum dedicated to LGBTQIA+ art. There are even more queer history sites to check out in NYC, from the Cubby Hole (lesbian bar open since 1994) to the Alice Austen House in Staten Island. You can find dozens more at the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. And don’t forget to check out GO’s events calendar for more queer NYC events, bars, and more!

San Francisco

Way across the country, queer folks have flocked to San Francisco for decades. It’s where the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization, was founded, and it’s where many queer women still make their home today. Start your queer history journey at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. Located in the Castro (a popular gayborhood), it is the first stand-alone museum in the nation dedicated to LGBTQIA+ history and culture. Next, you’ll need to check out the Bay Area Lesbian Archives. While they work to create a community space for the public, you can reach out to them prior to your trip to see if they have any upcoming workshops, author readings, or other events, or even to see if you can visit to do a little volunteer work while in town. 

While you’re in town, you’ll also want to visit The Women’s Building. This women-led non-profit community center has been a vital part of the community for decades, serving as the site for a number of organizations in the past like ACT UP, and is home to one of the most well-known murals in town. And once you’re looking to blow off some steam, pop into some of the local lesbian bars like Wild Side West (open since 1962) and Mother—always a good time!

San Diego, California

You might remember San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter being one of the locations for the trainwreck that was The Ultimatum: Queer Love. But did you know it’s also known as the historic heart of San Diego? The city has long been a haven for the queer community, from the gay bars that popped up around town during World War II to the formation of a Gay Liberation Front group in San Diego State College in 1970 to being home to one of the few lesbian bars in the country (hello Gossip Grill!) 

Stay in the quarter at the historic Horton Grand Hotel. Once the site of a house of ill repute run by famed madame Ida Bailey, I’m told she still haunts the place. The Horton Grand’s walking distance from the Gaslamp Museum (which, honestly, also feels a bit haunted). You can also check out the San Diego History Center, as well as the San Diego Natural History Museum (the latter is located in famed Balboa Park, which is also where you’ll find other major points of interest like the Centro Cultural de la Raza where you can learn about local Chicanx history, and the San Diego Zoo, because who doesn’t love animals?) Make sure to stop in for some dancing at Number 1 Fifth Avenue—this bar has been offering LGBTQ+ folks a grand old time since 1981! 

Boulder, Colorado

I may be biased being that I live in Colorado, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend a trip to our queer-friendly state! While Denver often gets a lot of queer cred, you should definitely make time for nearby picturesque Boulder. Why? Well, for one, did you know Boulder was the first city in the nation to issue same-sex marriage licenses back in 1975? You can see (and even take a selfie with your partner) where it happened at the Boulder County Courthouse, which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. 

If you’re into historic theaters, you’ll absolutely love the Boulder Theater (I caught Ani Difranco performing there last year myself but they regularly host musicians, comedians, film festivals, and more). This versatile venue is also walking distance from the Hotel Boulderado. Established in 1909, it’s the oldest hotel in Boulder and is a hop, skip, and jump from the popular Pearl Street. Spend some time exploring this charming downtown area (maybe grab a sandwich from the queer-owned Lindsay’s Boulder Deli) and then get your history fix at the Museum of Boulder (where you can catch an excellent exhibit on Colorado’s Black history from now through fall of 2025) and the University of Colorado Natural History Museum. You can also check and see if Out Boulder is hosting any events while you’re in town—the organization has offered services and support for the local LGBTQ+ population since 1994. Two more things before you go: definitely spend some time hiking in the nearby Flatirons (which were formed about 300 million years ago), and end the day with a treat at Jungle, a delightful queer-run rum bar and burger shack featuring drag nights, live jazz, and fun drinks like Apple Bottom Dreams and The Devil Wears Nada. 

Chicago, Illinois

For a big city feel with less crowds, some midwest personality, and plenty of history and queer folks, Chicago is the getaway for you. Check in at the historic and centrally-located Palmer House Hotel—originally built in 1870, it burned down during the Great Chicago Fire and was rebuilt shortly after and has remained a fixture of the Windy City ever since. Next, visit the Chicago History Museum to get a sense of the city’s past (you can also check out some of their queer-centric online exhibitions including one on Drag in the Windy City and another on the Black LGBTQ+ run Thing Magazine prior to your visit). You can also take a quick side trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Conservatory (both free all year round!) while you’re in the area.

Further north, you’ll find Andersonville, Chicago’s most lesbian-friendly gayborhood and sometimes affectionately referred to as “Girlstown”. Spend some time perusing the books at Women and Children First (opened in 1979– a part of queer history!) and then hang out a bit at Nobody’s Darling (a Black lesbian-owned bar that hosts everything from singles and friends mixers to BIPOC trivia nights, drag shows, and more). Other Chicago points of interest to keep in mind include the Jane Adams Hull-House Museum (where you can learn more about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and queer icon Jane Addams), the Lorraine Hansberry House (home of the acclaimed lesbian author who wrote A Raisin in the Sun), and The Closet (a lesbian bar in the Northalsted neighborhood aka Boystown and open since 1978). And that, of course, isn’t even touching on some of the other amazing tourist attractions in the area like the Field Museum, the Art Institute, and Wrigley Field.

Happy trails!

What Do You Think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *