LGBTQ-Friendly Destinations in Northwest Florida
By Dalia Colón
From pristine beaches and turquoise waters to tree-lined streets and cultural attractions, Northwest Florida is a welcome addition to any traveler’s bucket list.
Whether you’re a same-sex couple seeking a romantic getaway, a modern family searching for kid-friendly fun or an otherwise nontraditional visitor, here are some LGBTQ-friendly destinations in Tallahassee, Pensacola, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Panama City Beach that'll make you feel right at home.
926 Bar and Grill: Everyone is welcome at this gay-owned establishment. Karaoke, trivia nights, drag shows and Sunday brunches make 926 the go-to spot for Tally’s LGBTQ community. 26 W Tharpe St., (850) 727-8140.
The Mickee Faust Club: Tally’s answer to Florida’s theme parks is this band of cheeky thespians. Look for musical comedy performances, writing workshops and more.
Tallahassee Pridefest (April): Join scores of like-minded revelers in downtown’s Kleman Plaza for this festival benefiting the Family Tree LGBTQ community center.
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park: This nature preserve is home to alligators, eagles, deer and other wildlife, making it the perfect spot for kayaking, geocaching or a glass-bottom boat tour. 465 Wakulla Park Drive, (850) 561-7276.
Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association: Take advantage of Tally’s rolling hills when you link up for a ride with this community of cycling enthusiasts. Hard-core riders will want to pencil in March’s Tallahassee Trail Festival.
Tallahassee Museum: Immerse yourself in real Florida when you visit this 52-acre property. Nature trails, zipline courses and native wildlife will keep the whole family engaged. 3945 Museum Drive, (850) 575-8684.
Mission San Luis: This living museum tells the story of Florida’s Native American population and early Spanish settlers through costumed interpreters, hands-on exhibitions and life-sized buildings. 2100 W Tennessee St., (850) 245-6406.
All Saints Cafe: This bohemian coffee shop is known for its vegan brunches and LGBTQ-friendly vibe. 903 Railroad Ave., (850) 224-0805.
Happy Motoring!: What was once an abandoned gas station (hence, the name) is now a bustling southside hangout known for welcoming the trans community. Come for the sangria, coffee and Tally Mac Shack food truck. Stay for the drag queen bingo and trans meetups. 1215 S Adams St., (850) 597-9784.
Where to stay
Hotel Duval, Autograph Collection: Chic accommodations, a fitness center and multiple on-site restaurants make this upscale hotel the choice for discerning travelers. And when it comes to the LGBTQ community, Hotel Duval doesn’t just tolerate you; it celebrates you. Every year, Duval hosts the Pridefest pageant in its gorgeous Horizons Ballroom. 415 North Monroe St., Tallahassee, (850) 224-6000.
The Cabaret: This friendly piano bar in the historic district is the go-to place for after-work drinks, late-night nibbles, trivia contests and drag shows. 101 S Jefferson St., (850) 607-2020.
The Roundup: Guys, round up your tribe and head for a night of fun at this predominantly male downtown bar that features Western decor, an outdoor deck and karaoke nights. 560 E Heinberg St., (850) 433-8482.
Memorial Day weekend (late May): The holiday weekend is especially memorable for Pensacola’s LGBTQ community, when more than 100,000 revelers descend upon the city. Past festivities have included beach soirees, drag queen bingo, foam parties and more.
PensacolaPRIDE (June): More subdued than Memorial Day weekend, this weeklong celebration features lectures, open mic performances, a Celebration Ball and other events designed to include both LGBTQ folks and mainstream allies.
Stamped Film Festival (August): Check out this annual showcase of movies featuring LGBTQ themes and/or actors and directors. The festival includes short and feature-length documentaries and fictional tales.
Fort Pickens National Park: What once served as an antebellum fort is now a destination for camping, fishing, picnicking and exploring. The fort is part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which offers kayaking, birding and other adventures. 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, (850) 934-2600.
Blue Angels: The Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron holds thrilling practices that are free and open to the public. 1750 Radford Blvd., (800) 327-5002.
Pensacola Ice Flyers: Beat the heat when you enjoy a hockey game featuring the city’s minor league team at Pensacola Bay Center. Tickets start at just $5. 201 E Gregory St., (850) 432-0800.
Cactus Flower Cafe: Pensacola’s main “gayborhood” is East Hill, where you’ll find plenty of LGBTQ-friendly businesses and restaurants. Among them is this award-winning Mexican spot. 3425 N 12th Ave., (850) 432-8100.
The Vineyard: Two words: drag brunch. This East Hill eatery is renowned for its Saturday brunches featuring decadent food, bottomless champagne and diva-licious entertainment. 1010 N 12th Ave., (850) 435-4567.
Where to stay
Portofino Island Resort: This waterfront resort in Pensacola Beach is party central for the annual Memorial Day weekend LGBTQ festivities, with scantily clad partiers, spirited beverages and beach camping in abundance. If you’re seeking beachfront accommodations with stunning views and a welcoming atmosphere, then you’ll feel at home here any time of year. 10 Portofino Drive, (850) 916-5000.
Solé Inn and Suites: This gay-friendly hotel is located on downtown’s famed Palafox Street, within walking distance of the Saturday farmer’s market, restaurants, galleries, nightlife and other attractions. 200 N Palafox St., (850) 470-9298.
HarborWalk Village: This entertainment complex is the heartbeat of Destin, with centralized shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Enjoy food and live music at Harry T’s Lighthouse and AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, or dance the night away at Coyote Ugly Saloon. 10 Harbor Blvd., (850) 424-0600.
Festival of the Arts (October): This annual outdoor event features work from artists across the Southeastern United States and beyond. The festival takes place in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village. 4323 Commons Drive West, (850) 650-2226.
Concerts in the Village (spring and fall): Bring a blanket and a picnic basket and cozy up for an evening of live music and food trucks. The family-friendly al fresco concerts are held on Thursdays in the fall and spring at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village. 4323 Commons Drive West, (850) 650-2226.
Ultimate 7D Interactive Movie Ride: Thrill-seeking families can ramp up the fun during an interactive movie. 34 Harbor Blvd., (850) 837-7007.
Destin Fishing Rodeo (October): Destin is known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village,” and this monthlong event attracts folks angling for some healthy competition. In addition to adults and children’s fishing contests, the celebration includes a 5k run, costume party and fireworks display.
Emerald Coast Open (May): Have fun for a good cause—and possibly earn prize money—when you participate in this tournament to help rid Florida’s waters of the invasive lionfish. The multi-day event includes a family-friendly festival for Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day.
Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park: Water slides, lazy rivers, kiddie rides, mini golf and more await you in this amusement park that’s sure to make a splash with the entire family. 1007 US Highway 98 East, (850) 837-8319.
Harbor Docks: For fresh gulf-to-table seafood, head to this waterfront favorite. Enjoy grouper parmadine, sauteed red snapper, seafood, gumbo, shrimp and grits and more. 538 Harbor Blvd., (850) 837-2506.
Jackacudas: Can’t decide between a California roll, poke bowl and shrimp tacos? At this restaurant known for serving fresh catches, you can have it all. There’s also a good selection of vegetarian options. 56 Harbor Blvd., (850) 424-3507.
Where to stay
Henderson Park Inn: Enjoy beachfront views and complimentary amenities like bicycle rentals, community snacks and happy hour cocktails in the tiki bar. 2700 Scenic Highway 98, (888) 836-1105.
Fort Walton Beach
Green Door Music Hall: The mission of this creative haven is to push boundaries and encourage open hearts, so you’ve got a green light to be yourself. Nurse your favorite wine or craft beer as you enjoy live music of all genres. 158 C Miracle Strip Parkway SE, (850) 461-7794.
Fort Walton Beach Park Landing: There’s always something happening at “The Landing,” as locals call it, from movies on the lawn and outdoor concerts to a weekend farmer’s market and holiday fireworks. 139 Brooks St. SE, (850) 833-9500.
Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival (May/June): Arrrr you ready for a swashbuckling good time at The Landing? This annual pirate invasion includes a parade through downtown, live music, fireworks, children’s activities and more. Costumes encouraged. 139 Brooks St. SE, (850) 244-8191.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park: Swim with dolphins, snorkel with stingrays and watch animal shows at this adventure park that brings you up close and personal with sea life. 1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, (850) 243-9046.
Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone: For a family-friendly adrenaline rush, head to this attraction that features go-kart rides, mini golf, laser tag, bumper boats, a treetop adventure and more. 1306 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, (850) 400-3300.
Emerald Coast Science Center: Learning is fun when you explore this hands-on museum whose exhibits teach robotics, chemistry and physics. You’ll also meet the museum’s residents: Fibonacci the Cockatiel, Bindi the Bearded Dragon and other creatures named for scientists past and present. 31 Memorial Parkway SW, (850) 664-1261.
Air Force Armament Museum: This attraction at Eglin Field Air Force Base is always free and open to the public. The only museum in the world specializing in Air Force Armament memorabilia, it displays dozens of aircraft, bombs, missiles, rockets and other artifacts from World War II to present day. 100 Museum Drive, (850) 882-4062.
Heritage Park and Cultural Center: Experience Old Florida when you visit one or all of the attractions that make up this cluster of historic buildings: the Indian Temple Mound Museum, Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office Museum, Fort Walton Temple Mound and the Civil War Exhibit Building. The site also includes shopping, occasional lectures and special events. 107 Miracle Strip Parkway SW, (850) 833-9595.
Stewby’s Seafood Shanty: As the name implies, this unpretentious eatery features a casual decor—but takes its seafood seriously. Feast on shrimp, oysters, calamari and more, or ask for the catch of the day. 427 Racetrack Road NW, (850) 586-7001.
Rockin Tacos Grill and Tequila Bar: At this boardwalk restaurant, sip a margarita while you nosh on tacos, Mexican street corn and kicked-up burgers. Save room for even more fun after the sun goes down, when a DJ keeps the fiesta going late into the night. 1450 Miracle Strip Parkway, (850) 226-8226.
Where to stay
The Island Hotel: No need to rent a car when you stay at this hotel in the center of all the fun. Take a guided boat tour, grab a meal, rent a WaveRunner to cruise over to Crab Island, enjoy family fun in the arcade and more—all within walking distance. For a romantic couples’ getaway, book the Sunsational Sunset Package, which includes a room with a beach view, daily breakfast for two adults and two daily cocktails. 1500 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, (800) 874-8962.
Panama City/Panama City Beach
Splash Bar: Fellas, if you’re looking for late-night adult fun, then this nightspot is sure to make a splash. Catch a drag show, watch male dancers, play bingo and more. 6520 Thomas Drive, (850) 236-3450.
Coyote Ugly: Ladies, round up your squad and head to this coed saloon that’s famously female-friendly. Enjoy drink specials, little black dress parties and of course dancing on the bartop. 10512 Front Beach Road, (850) 236-5965.
Bay Pride (June): 2019 marked the inaugural festival held in downtown’s McKenzie Park. The daylong celebration includes live music, children’s activities, health screenings, an adults-only afterparty and more.
St. Andrews State Park: Nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, this popular park offers something for everyone, from swimming and snorkeling to fishing and camping. 4607 State Park Lane, (850) 708-6100.
Pier Park: Whether you’re in need of retail therapy, a bite to eat or an adrenaline rush, you’ll find it all in this outdoor shopping and entertainment destination in PCB. Attractions like the SkyWheel, IMAX theater and Emerald Coast Mirror Maze will get your blood pumping. 600 Pier Park Drive, (850) 236-9974.
Gulf World Marine Park: Enjoy educational animal shows, kiss a sea lion and swim with dolphins at this family-friendly aquatic attraction. 15412 Front Beach Road, (850) 234-5271.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: If you’re looking for an indoor activity in PCB, then this museum of marvels is sure to please the entire family. Wander through the mirror maze, get ready for the ride of your life in the interactive theater and experience all the oddities on exhibit. 9907 Front Beach Road, (850) 230-6113.
Schooners: This waterfront eatery is a PCB institution, known for its seafood, live music, weekend brunch and any-excuse-to-celebrate holiday parties. Stick around for the daily sunset cannon fire. 5121 Gulf Drive, (850) 235-3555.
Capt. Anderson’s: The Patronis family has been dishing up seafood since 1953, so their waterfront restaurant is a must-visit on any PCB vacation. The marina view and extensive wine list make it the perfect spot for a dressed-up night on the town. 5551 N Lagoon Drive, (850) 234-2225.
Where to stay
Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Panama City Beach: This hotel near St. Andrew’s Park is endorsed by the gay travel guide World Rainbow Hotels. Enjoy free hot breakfast, complimentary wifi and a kitchen in every suite of this LGBTQ- and pet-friendly hotel. 7909 Panama City Beach Parkway, (850) 588-4119.