Sunny Florida has long been one of the world's premier gay and lesbian travel destinations, especially that scenic, vibrant stretch of Atlantic shoreline stretching from Fort Lauderdale south through Miami and the Beaches and on down to distinctive Key West.
The region's pleasant fall, winter and spring months have long drawn legions of sun-worshipers, many escaping from cooler, snowy climes. And during the summer months, gay tourists from all over world have for decades taken advantage of the often substantially reduced hotel rates and airfares, plus a slew of lively events and festivals, such as Gay Days in Orlando.
Perhaps no city in America has grown more in popularity among gay visitors in the past 15 years than fabulous Fort Lauderdale, which has seen an especially dramatic increase in upscale gay resorts. A number of older properties that had fallen on hard times have been reinvented by gay entrepreneurs and outfitted with lavishly landscaped pool areas, spacious rooms with luxurious bedding and opulent bathrooms and friendly, highly professional staffs. In fact, in January 2011, Fort Lauderdale was named Best Beach in the World by OMG magazine and chosen as Best Destination by Amazing Gay Awards. This is the premier Florida destination for both couples and singles looking for an inviting, private gay hideaway to relax for a few days – or a few weeks.
Inland Fort Lauderdale's up-and-coming Wilton Manors neighborhood bustles with gay and lesbian businesses, including inviting cafés and coffeehouses, lively bars and lounges and fine retail and dining options. The city has more than 100 gay-owned establishments including hotels/guesthouses, bars, clubs and restaurants and myriad recreational opportunities. It's easy to see why Fort Lauderdale has one of the highest per-capita lesbian and gay populations in the country.
Down south, the subtropical island of Key West takes great delight in marching to its own drum. Around the 1970s, gays began relocating there in sizeable numbers, and about a decade later gay and lesbian guesthouses opened to accommodate demand for the destination. Walk through town today and you'll notice a spirited camaraderie not just among gays and lesbians, but among all types of visitors, whether they're sipping cocktails at a sidewalk cafe along Duval Street or celebrating the sunset at Mallory Square.
In Key West, you'll find your pick of gay resorts. The town was selected Best Gay Resort Town in 2006 and 2008 by readers of Out Traveler and OutTraveler.com. There you'll find dozens of historic, intimate gay-friendly guesthouses - many with colorful gardens and ornate architectural details. The majority are in historic Old Town. The best thing about this relatively small community is that almost anywhere you stay, you're an easy walk from enticing shopping, dining and nightlife.
South Beach has long been known as the "Gay Riviera," attracting the LGBT crowd with its stunning collection of welcoming Art Deco gems and boutique hotels, but the luxury lodging scene has been heating up across the entire destination. In addition to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and The Setai, the legendary Morris Lapidus-designed Fountainebleau and Eden Roc resorts, (made famous by the 1950s Rat Pack) received multimillion-dollar makeovers in late 2008. The hottest newcomers include Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa Miami Beach, Gansevoort Miami Beach, The Mondrian, The Standard and W Hotel, to name just a few.
More inland options include additional Ritz Carlton resorts, a Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental and the Viceroy.
While Greater Miami has been famously rolling out the welcome mat for gay men and lesbians from around the world for more than two decades, the destination is now experiencing a “gay renaissance.” In January 2010, The City of Miami Beach passed Florida’s most progressive human rights law, which included the creation of a city Human Rights Commission. As a result, Miami Beach now has one of the strongest human rights measures in the United States; meaning locals and visitors alike are welcome throughout the area.
In April 2010 the new LGBT Miami Beach Visitors Center opened the first permanent operation of its kind in the United States. Centrally located in the offices of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce at the corner of 11th Street and Washington Avenue on South Beach, LGBT visitors now have a new resource to enhance their stay in Greater Miami and The Beaches. Visit Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (GMCVB) own dedicated LGBT travel website, www.lgbtmiami.com
On the Gulf Coast, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area has grown into an increasingly prominent gay and lesbian destination. This host to the fast-growing St. Pete Pride Festival has a wealth of lively gay bars and is home to more and more accommodations and resorts that market to gay and lesbian travelers.
Just down the coast, sophisticated and artsy Sarasota continues to develop a loyal gay following, thanks to its vibrant downtown, beautiful beaches and wealth of both cultural and outdoorsy diversions.
The gay scene that began in just a handful of progressive, welcoming communities, such as Key West and Fort Lauderdale, has quickly begun to proliferate all around the state, from Miami to North Florida. Just about any time of year, you'll discover events and festivals geared toward GLBT visitors, plus dynamic nightlife options, romantic gay guesthouses and superb shopping and dining.