The Sunshine State has long been regarded as one of the world’s premier LGBTQ+ travel destinations. From the jewel in the crown – Fort Lauderdale, to the panhandle and all the way down to iconic Key West, here’s a roundup of what else awaits LGBTQ+ visitors to Florida.
Pensacola’s beaches are known the world over as some of the finest. A stretch of beach near the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore Santa Rosa Area is an unofficial LGBTQ+ beach area.
PensacolaPRIDE is the authentically local LGBTQ+ event of the year in Pensacola. The festival in June traditionally includes local speakers and entertainment, as well as numerous vendor booths ranging from LGBT-friendly religious organizations to fine-art dealers. The week usually includes special events like an open mic performance, educational forums and a movie marathon, and caps off with a semi-formal banquet and dance called the Celebration Ball.
The Stamped LGBT Film Fest is set for October and features independent, art-house productions aimed at shedding light on LGBT lives. Stamped offers the unique experience of a different venue every night. Past venues have ranged from the independent theatre Treehouse Cinema to the outdoor restaurant East Hill Yard to the prestigious Pensacola Museum of Commerce. Best of all, the festival offers free admission to all who wish to attend.
LGBT nightspots, located in Pensacola’s downtown area, include a piano bar called Cabaret, the western-themed Roundup, and Top of the Town, an after-hours club.
In addition, LGBTQ+ visitors to Pensacola will find no shortage of LGBT-owned and LGBT-friendly hotels and restaurants, including: Sole Inn & Suites, Portofino Island Resort, Cactus Flower Café, Maximillian Coffee, Bonelli’s Café Italia, Sluggo’s Vegetarian Restaurant and the Ruby Slipper.
Greater Fort Lauderdale features one of the largest Pride Centers in the country, the first and only World AIDS Museum and Education Center, and is home to the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, one of the only permanent spaces in the U.S. devoted to exhibitions relating to LGBT+ history and culture. Most recently, Greater Fort Lauderdale opened the areas first LGBTQ+ Visitors Center in Wilton Manors.
Recently, the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB announced plans to host the first-ever Pride of the Americas Festival in 2020. The 10-day event will draw attention to the issues LGBTQ+ individuals face in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is expected to attract more than 350,000 attendees and will include a parade, a beach party, arts festival, social events and a human rights conference focused on LGBT+ rights.
Sarasota offers several LGBTQ+ centric events and entertainment, there are also a wide variety of attractions and world-class beaches. Siesta Beach has been ranked #1 beach in the United States by Dr. Beach in 2017. Top attractions include The Ringling, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Myakka River State Park and more.
The Purple Rhino Lodge is a non-profit organization that supports the fellowship of the LGBTQ+ community. They host weekly food specials, a full-liquor bar, drag shows and more. Located in the Gulf Gate neighborhood of Sarasota, Oasis offers live DJs, daily happy hour, drag shows, and male dancers. Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota is a Sarasota LGBTQ chorus group that uses music to bring communities together by promoting diversity through songs of hope, inclusion, equality and humanity. The OUT@AsoloRep series pairs theatre with community outreach in monthly events that highlight LGBT organizations in Sarasota County. McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre in Sarasota hosts a Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza throughout the spring (31 March – 30 June).
Sarasota Pride Fest takes place annually in October connecting LGBTQ+-friendly businesses and organizations in a day-long music and food festival.
Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades – Florida’s Paradise Coast
Florida’s Paradise Coast is an emerging destination for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and family to explore. With the combination of beaches, boating, fishing, Everglades adventures, and more along with the luxury aspects of relaxing spas, world class shopping, arts and culture, and a mix high-end resorts as well as value priced hotels, the destination offers great variety and many choices for activities and accommodations.
Since 2006 Naples’ neighbourhood LGBT gathering place has been Bambusa Bar & Grill, known for its drag performances & bingo, karaoke, DJ’s and live music. Cavo Lounge located at the Mercato in North Naples hosts Naples’ monthly Tea Dance Brunch Party. Every 3rd Sunday of the month beginning at 2pm, the hottest club in Naples displays its rainbow flag above the entrance and the party begins. Offering drag performances, multiple guest DJ’s, towering Bloody Mary’s with shrimp skewers, meatballs, and a pickle topped slider, this party rocks into the night. Any other day of the week Cavo Lounge is home to a very mixed crowd, where all are welcome.
The 3rd annual Naples Pride Fest takes place on Saturday, June 1, 2019 from 11am until 5pm at Cambier Park in the heart of downtown Naples. The event will feature music spun by crowd favourite DJ Kooshie and the dynamic MC Liquid will emcee the event.
The island’s near-perfect climate means its entertainment calendar is so packed with events and celebrations — many designed to appeal specifically to LGBTQ visitors — that any time is a good time to arrive.
In June, the five-day Key West Pride (4-9 June) salutes the island’s diversity and renowned One Human Family philosophy with featured events including a Pride parade along Duval Street. Contests, tea dances, on-the-water excursions, pool parties, a street fair and late-night gatherings abound.
In Key West, the life and work of legendary author Ernest Hemingway, who lived and wrote in Key West during the 1930s, are showcased during the annual Hemingway Days Festival (16-21 July). Highlights include the three-day Hemingway Look-Alike Contest for stocky, white-bearded aspiring “Ernests” during the 39th annual celebration, Running of the Bulls and other hilariously fun and literary events.
August’s steamy temperatures bring Tropical Heat (14-18 Aug) an adventurous long weekend of all-male adult fun. The roster includes happenings that range from pool parties to drag shows to late-night gatherings at island clubs.
In September, the five-day Womenfest Key West (4-8 Sept) attracts thousands of women for high-energy revelry and camaraderie. The event traditionally offers poolside and late-night parties, musical and comedy performances and on-the-water excursions. Key West’s accepting atmosphere makes it the ideal setting for singles, couples and groups of women to enjoy themselves.
October brings Key West’s most popular event, the 10-day Fantasy Fest (18-27 Oct) a rollicking celebration of costuming and masking events reminiscent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. During the outrageous Fantasy Fest extravaganza, attendees are invited to discard their inhibitions and slip into a realm of masked fantasy. This year’s theme: “Celebrating 40 Years of Fantasy!”
New Year’s Eve draws large-scale crowds to applaud the annual “Red Shoe Drop” starring drag diva Sushi. Dazzlingly gowned and perched in a supersized red high-heel shoe hanging above Duval Street, Sushi presides over the festivities at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex. After performances by female impersonators and other entertainers, Sushi and the shoe “drop” from the complex’s balcony to mark the new year’s arrival.
About VISIT FLORIDA:
As the Sunshine State’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 124.7 million visitors in 2018. Based on the latest economic impact study, Florida visitors contributed $85.9 billion to Florida’s economy and supported 1.5 million Florida jobs in 2017. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, the official tourism marketing corporation for the State of Florida, $2.15 in tax revenue is generated. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism to Florida through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs. As a public/private partnership, VISIT FLORIDA serves more than 13,000 tourism industry businesses, including major strategic alliance partnerships with Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney Destinations, The Hertz Corporation, Hilton, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando, Simon Shopping Destinations and Universal Orlando Resort.