Expand Your Horizons
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12 Small Towns Known for Being LGBTQ-Friendly

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Expand Your Horizons
Johnce/istockphoto

Expand Your Horizons

Do a quick search online for "gay-friendly travel," and you'll find the usual suspects — New York City, Chicago, Palm Springs, Miami — but there are plenty of smaller cities and towns that are just as enticing to LGBTQ travelers. "Small towns offer a more relaxed pace, a chance to experience regional food and art at the source, and often, easy access to the natural beauty of the area," says John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association. "For those who previously 'escaped' conservative small towns, it can be cathartic to see that not every small town is stifling to LGBTQ+ people." Cheapism consulted travel writers and bloggers to discover some great travel destinations no matter what season.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas
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Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Population: about 2,000
This historic Ozark Mountain resort town calls itself the Gay Capital of Arkansas and celebrates four "diversity weekends" a year to attract LGBTQ travelers and future residents alike. The town boomed in the late 1800s as a resort, and much of the era's Victorian architecture has been preserved — the entire town even is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eureka Springs was incorporated in Valentine's Day, so little wonder it also touts itself as a marriage destination or that it was the first city in Arkansas to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. Boating, hiking, hunting, and fishing are all within easy access, as is Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas. But with all the beautiful, twisty back roads, a Eureka Springs vacation also rewards a lazy day trip to nowhere in particular. (Highway 187 makes a graceful loop from U.S. 62 and skirts Beaver Lake).

Saugatuck and Douglas, Michigan
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Saugatuck and Douglas, Michigan

Population: about 3,000
This lakeside region in southwestern Michigan has been a getaway destination for LBGBT Chicagoans for decades. Oval Beach on Lake Michigan is considered one of the best in the world — and one of the gay-friendliest — earning accolades from Thrillist and Condé Nast. You can swim and sun yourself, rent a canoe or charter a sailboat, or hike up nearby Mount Baldhead, a natural sand dune. The two towns like to tout their downtowns (separated by the Kalamazoo River) and the 140 or so local businesses, as well as their heritage of being Michigan's "Art Coast." Michigan is a mecca for craft beer lovers, making this area a great base to explore breweries locally or in nearby Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Walla Walla, Washington
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Walla Walla, Washington

Population: 32,986
TripSavvy names Walla Walla its No. 1 gay-friendly destination for its welcoming college-town vibe, its sunny, dry climate and sweeping views of the Blue Mountains. The Walla Walla Valley is also famous for its wine industry, which sprawls into neighboring Oregon. But Washington is also known for its craft beer, and there are about a dozen small breweries and distilleries in the area. The city has a small but active LGBTQ community, and in 2019 Walla Walla's City Council declared its first LGBTQ pride month.

Lost River, West Virginia
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Lost River, West Virginia

Population: about 2,200
Two hours west of Washington, this picturesque valley region has been a weekend getaway for the area's LGBTQ population since the 1980s. Dave Hughes, a travel and retirement writer, says it's the perfect choice for travelers who want to be close to nature while still enjoying amenities like fine dining and shopping. "Many LGBT people own vacation cabins nearby, and LGBT-owned businesses like the new Lost River Farmers Market and the Lost River Trading Post are popping up in the small town of Wardensville," he says. Other attractions include the gay-owned Guesthouse Lost River, which has been an oasis for visitors since it opened in 1982, and the area's annual Pride Festival every June.

Bisbee, Arizona
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Bisbee, Arizona

Population: 5,209
This historic town southeast of Tucson was a hub of copper mining more than a century ago; today, it's a hot spot for LGBTQ travelers that attracts artists, retirees, and weekenders. "Bisbee offers a thriving downtown cultural scene, with galleries, second-hand shops, and excellent restaurants," Hughes says. "This area is noted for its architecture, including Victorian-style houses and an elegant Art Deco county courthouse." Hughes recommends the Copper Queen Hotel, built in 1902 and touted as the longest continually operating hotel in the state. It's hosted celebrities from John Wayne to Johnny Depp, and — depending on who you talk to — it may be haunted, too. Explore the area's mining history with a trip to the Queen Mine or explore the high desert landscapes of the Mule Mountains.

New Hope, Pennsylvania
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New Hope, Pennsylvania

Population: about 2,500
This town on the banks of the Delaware River is just about an hour north of Philadelphia and has been popular with day-trippers and couples seeking a romantic weekend. The Raven Resort and adjacent New Hope Lodge are LGBTQ-owned landmarks, but there are plenty of gay-friendly bed-and-breakfasts in the area as well. "Though small, the town offers a sophisticated array of antique shops, art galleries, charming restaurants, and the Bucks County Playhouse," Hughes says. "Nearby, there are wineries, hiking trails, and historic sites. Also check out Lambertville, New Jersey, just across the river."

Galena, Illinois
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Galena, Illinois

Population: about 3,400
Tucked away in the far northwestern corner of Illinois, historic Galena is a must for anyone interested in 19th-century Americana, Tanzella says. Main Street downtown has been named one of America's best by Fodor's Travel, and it boasts 125 stores, galleries, and restaurants along the Helluva Half Mile. History buffs will want to visit President Ulysses S. Grant's home and gawk at the period architecture from Grant's era that makes this town so picturesque. There are a handful of microbreweries, distilleries, wineries within an easy drive, too. But if you and your partner are feeling extra adventurous, why not try a sunset hot-air balloon ride? Not feeling so brave? There's also an annual hot-air balloon fest where you can stay safely on the ground.

Ithaca, New York
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Ithaca, New York

Population: 30,999
New Yorkers are probably familiar with the bumper sticker that reads "Ithaca is Gorges," a playful allusion to the stunning landscapes of the Finger Lakes region where this college town is located. If you love the outdoors, then Ithaca is for you. There are a dozen waterfalls and gorges in the Ithaca area, as well as countless trails for hour- or day-long hikes through a rolling countryside carved by Ice Age glaciers. Those glaciers also left behind soil that's ideal for growing grapes, and the Finger Lakes produce some excellent rieslings and other wines. If beer is more your thing, just follow the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, then make it back to town in time for dinner at the Moosewood Cafe, a landmark for vegetarian cooking with local ingredients.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Santa Fe, New Mexico

Population: 84,612
Travel and Leisure readers voted Santa Fe one of the best cities for gay travel, in part for its sizable LGBTQ population, its year-round outdoor amenities, and its unique history. Centuries of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican influences are reflected in the region's adobe architecture, its cuisine (try posole or a chili relleno), and artists including Georgia O'Keeffe and R.C. Gorman. History buffs will want to visit nearby Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II. Don't forget the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, just an hour's drive south.

Northampton, Massachusetts
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Northampton, Massachusetts

Population: 28,726
This town in western Massachusetts was once dubbed "Lesbianville, U.S.A." by the National Enquirer, but Northampton shrugged it off with style. The area has long been a welcoming, inclusive place for LGBTQ visitors and residents, Hughes says, and it boasts a thriving creative community. "The town hosts several queer arts festivals throughout the year, such as booQfest (books), the Out for Reel Film Series, and a lesbian film festival." If that's not enough to keep you occupied for a weekend, Hampshire County (where Northampton is located) goes all out to attract gay and lesbian visitors, and their website offers a wealth of attractions beyond the town.

Bloomington, Indiana
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Bloomington, Indiana

Population: 84,981
Bloomington is out and proud. Home to Indiana University, this city gets top marks from Human Rights Campaign's annual Municipal Equality Index for its quality of life, local government, and civic services. Bloomington aggressively touts itself to LBGTQ visitors, with not one but two annual Pride events: a film festival in February and PrideFest in late August. Museum geeks will want to visit the IU campus, home to the Indiana Geological and Water Survey, the newly expanded Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art (reopening fall 2019), and the Kinsey Institute.

Asheville, North Carolina
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Asheville, North Carolina

Population: 92,452
Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville long has been a haven for eccentric, creative folks. How else to explain the largest privately owned home in the U.S., the Biltmore Estate, built here in the late 1880s? Or the experimental Black Mountain College, where gay art icons Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham all studied in the 1940s? Outdoors enthusiasts flock here for mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, and bird watching. Bookworms will be just as content indoors, browsing the landmark Downtown Books and News or the maze-like stacks at Battery Park Book Exchange nearby.