By Dalia Colón
With world-class attractions set against the backdrop of Florida’s natural beauty, the Sunshine State’s northeastern and central regions offer plenty of enticing reasons to visit.
Whether you’re looking to indulge in a good meal, entertain the kids or cut loose after dark, here are some LGBTQ-friendly destinations in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Gainesville and Ocala you won’t want to miss.
Incahoots: This popular LGBTQ nightspot keeps the party going all night with four bars, drag shows, go-go dancers, a game room and more. 711 Edison Ave., (904) 353-6316.
Metro Entertainment Complex: For more than two decades, this gay bar in the historic Riverside district has been a reliable source of late-night fun, with regular happy hours, drag shows and male dancers. 859 Willow Branch Ave., (904) 388-8719.
River City Pride (October): This annual celebration at Riverside Arts Market includes a 3-mile parade, live music, appearances by LGBTQIA+ celebrities, a best dressed pet pageant, drag revue, guest lecturers and more.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park: Try kayaking, canoeing, pedal boating, camping and more at this public beach and park. 500 Wonderwood Drive, (904) 249-4700.
Adventure Landing: This amusement park has two Jacksonville-area locations, with family-friendly roller coasters, a water park, mini golf, laser tag and more. 4825 Blanding Blvd Jacksonville, (904) 771-2803; and 1944 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach, (904) 246-4386.
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary: Big cats bring big family fun to this nonprofit attraction. Take a tour, watch a night feeding or just observe the lions, tigers, arctic foxes and other creatures. 1860 Starratt Road, (904) 757-3603.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens: This must-do zoo features Northeast Florida’s only walking safari. In addition to animals from around the world and a Wild Florida section, enjoy a show in the 4D theater, catch the Campground Critters rescue animal act, embark on a train ride and take a spin around the carousel. 370 Zoo Parkway, (904) 757-4463.
Where to eat
13 Gypsies: This self-described “peasant kitchen” serves up flavorful Mediterranean dishes in a come-as-you-are atmosphere. 887 Stockton St., (904) 389-0330.
Bistro AIX: This upscale eatery has a reputation for welcoming guests of all backgrounds and orientations. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy the French-inspired fare, jazz brunches and creative cocktail menu? 1440 San Marco Blvd., (904) 398-1949.
Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille: Come for the food—burgers, chicken and waffles, Cuban sandwiches and so on. Stay for the open mic nights, drag-queen-hosted bingo games and other adults-only entertainment. 3333 Beach Blvd., (904) 551-2048.
Places to stay
One Ocean Resort and Spa: For LGBTQ-friendly accommodations with gorgeous Atlantic Ocean views, book a room at this waterfront resort that features an on-site spa, complimentary bicycle rentals and free beach chairs and umbrellas. 1 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, (904) 249-7402.
Hotel Palms: Located just three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, this stylish and sustainable boutique hotel features minimalist design, local beers on tap in the lounge and a grassy courtyard for casual gatherings. 28 Sherry Drive, Atlantic Beach, (904) 241-7776.
Tini Martini Bar: Tucked inside the Casablanca Inn is this indoor-outdoor nightspot that extends onto the verandah. Despite the name, the drink portions at this LGBTQ-friendly bar are generous, and the list of martinis, wines, beers and specialty cocktails is even larger. 24 Avenida Menendez, (904) 263-4882.
Limelight Theatre: All the world’s a stage at this LGBTQ-friendly community theater. 11 Old Mission Ave., (904) 825-1164.
LGBTQIA+ St. Augustine: For upcoming events, like the Facebook page.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park: For more than a century, this attraction has delighted visitors seeking to take a walk on the wild side. Catch an animal show, ride a zipline over the zoo and more. (904) 824-3337, 999 Anastasia Blvd.
Paranormal and ghost tours: Explore the metaphysical side of St. Augustine when you dare to embark on one of several tours laced with ghost stories.
Trolley tours: St. Augustine is a delightfully walkable city, with cobblestone streets and many attractions close together. But little feet get tired, so a hop-on-hop-off trolley tour is a smart way to cover a lot of ground. (Plus, what kid doesn’t love riding on a trolley?) Old Town Trolley Tours includes free admission to the St. Augustine History Museum and a free beach shuttle, while each ticket from Ripley’s Red Train Tours comes with a free round of minigolf.
Colonial Quarter: History comes alive when you experience this interactive enclave that recreates life in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries through costumed characters, hands-on activities, storytelling and even period restaurants. 43 St. George St., (888) 991-0933.
Where to eat
The Floridian: Farm-to-table comfort foods, sandwiches, grain bowls and creative cocktails await you at this LGBTQ-friendly eatery. 72 Spanish St., (904) 829-0655.
Places to stay
The Saragossa: This LGBTQ-owned B&B features five elegant guest suites and complimentary three-course brunch daily. It’s located just a five-minute walk from the action of St. George Street. 34 Saragossa St., (904) 808-7384.
Casa de Solana: Ten stately guest rooms, complimentary hot breakfast and free daily wine and cheese in the courtyard await you at this LGBTQ-owned B&B that’s within walking distance of many local attractions. 21 Aviles St., (904) 824-3555.
The Terrace on Main: Drag shows, karaoke nights and themed parties make this gay bar the go-to spot in Daytona Beach. 415 A Main St., (386) 265-4227.
Abbey Bar: There’s always something happening at this craft bar in nearby DeLand. Expect regular pride nights, “Love Is Love” street parties, drag shows and more. 117 N Woodland Blvd., DeLand, (386) 734-4545.
Volusia Pride Festival (October) This annual Volusia County event was the brainchild of two college students and their supportive pastor. Today, revelers flock to Old Fort Park in nearby New Smyrna Beach to experience live music, vendors, children’s activities and more.
DeLand Pride: This organization hosts events yearround, including pageants, comedy nights and LGBTQ proms.
Daytona International Speedway: Race on over to the epicenter of the NASCAR universe to tour the speedway, explore the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and even drive or ride in a NASCAR vehicle as part of the NASCAR Racing Experience. 1801 W International Speedway Blvd., (800) 748-7467.
Screamer’s Park: With gift shops, restaurants and arcade games, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier seems pretty tame. But this area just south of the pier beckons adrenaline junkies with a slingshot ride, Vomatron (billed as “the ride the astronauts feared” and more. 25 S Atlantic Ave., (386) 944-9861.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse: Tire out the kids with a 175-foot climb to the top of this historic landmark in nearby Ponce Inlet. After the breathtaking view, let them burn off more steam as they explore the exhibits, greenspace and playground below. 4931 S Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, (386) 210-3660.
Marine Science Center: Learn about the area’s marine life hands-on when you check out seabird and turtle rehabilitation, explore exhibitions and walk the nature trail. 100 Lighthouse Drive, (386) 304-5545.
Where to eat
Crabby Joe’s: Treat yourself to sunrise views when you enjoy breakfast at this restaurant located on Sunglow Pier. For only $3 per hour, you can rent a fishing rod. 3701 South Atlantic Ave., (386) 756-4219.
Off the Hook: Oysters, calamari, grouper and other fresh seafood are always on the menu at this waterfront Ponce Inlet eatery that features live music several nights a week. Request an outdoor table so you can watch the boats and dolphins go by as you dine. 133 Inlet Harbor Road, Ponce Inlet, (386) 202-4490.
Places to stay
Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach: Never miss a beat when you choose this beachfront hotel that features rockstar-worthy accommodations, oceanfront dining and live music every night. 918 N Atlantic Ave., (386) 947-7300.
Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort: There’s plenty to do at this upscale waterfront resort located in the heart of Ocean Walk Village entertainment complex. 100 N Atlantic Ave., (386) 254-8200.
University Club: Get your degree in fun when you check out this gay bar known for drag shows, themed events and watch parties for everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race to Gators football games. 18 E University Ave., (352) 378-6814.
Boca Fiesta: At this LGBTQ-friendly Mexican restaurant, the only thing spicier than the tacos is the entertainment. On select nights after dark, the backyard is hopping with the events like Queens and Queers dance parties and divalicious lip sync battles. 232 SE First St., (352) 336-8226.
Pride Community Center of North Central Florida: This LGBTQ gathering place organizes the annual Gainesville Pride parade and festival in October, as well as showing an LGBTQ-themed movie on the last Friday of each month. 3131 NW 13th St., Suite 62, (352) 377-8915.
University of Florida Bat Houses: If you’re batty for flying mammals, then head to the world’s largest occupied bat houses. Located on the UF campus just across from Lake Alice, this is a prime spot to watch the creatures hunt for insects after dark. Museum Road, (352) 273-2054.
Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail: This railbed-turned-recreational trail offers 16 miles of paved thoroughfares stretching from Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and beyond. Walk, jog or bike or ride a horse along the shaded path as you enjoy scenic views at every turn.
Butterfly Rainforest: It’s hard not to feel delighted when you step into this paradise of free-flying butterflies, waterfalls and lush plant life. 3215 Hull Road, (352) 846-2000.
Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention: Kids can build robots, conduct science experiments and more in this hands-on museum inspired by Gatorade inventor Robert Cade. 811 South Main St., (352) 371-8001.
Where to eat
Satchel’s Pizza: This cash-only spot is a Gainesville institution with homemade sodas, craft beers, wines, stained-glass windows, local art, live music and even a playground for the kids. You’ll find all the usual pizza toppings, plus curveballs like carrots, sunflower seeds and tempeh.
Places to stay
Sweetwater Branch Inn: Downtown Gainesville is the site of these 20 Victorian guest rooms, suites and cottages that are big on Southern hospitality. 625 E. University Ave., (352) 373-6760.
Camellia Rose Inn: Choose from six spacious guest rooms or a detached cottage as you enjoy free breakfast, socialize with other guests at happy hour, relax on the second-story wrap-around veranda and take advantage of free wifi. 205 SE Seventh St., (352) 395-7673.
The Copa: Ocala’s premiere gay nightclub features drag shows, male dancers and drink specials. 2330 S Pine Ave., (352) 351-5721.
Ocala Pridefest: This annual event in Tuscawilla Park features live music, drag performances, food trucks, corn hole, face painting and more.
Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours: Get a bird’s-eye view as you fly above Northeast Florida’s lush treetops and emerald green waters. Specialty tours include the Big Cliff Canyon 9-zip tour, moonlight tour, horseback riding and kayaking excursions and more. 8045 NW Gainesville Road, (352) 351-ZIPS (9477).
Silver Springs State Park: In this filming location for Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon, you can explore hiking trails, stay overnight in a cabin and embark on a glass-bottom boat tour. 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd., (352) 261-5840.
Engage in some horseplay: Take advantage of your time in the Horse Capital of the World when you try a riding lesson, watch an equestrian competition, tour a local farm or enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing: The art of drag takes on a new meaning at this museum paying homage to car racing’s “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. 13700 SW 16th Ave., (352) 245-8661.
Where to eat
Braised Onion: If you ask a local where to find the best food in town, you’ll hear plenty of votes for this comfort food eatery. Expect fried green tomatoes, fish and chips, eggplant parmesan and other stick-to-your-ribs fare. 754 NE 25th Ave., (352) 620-9255.
Latinos y Más: Latin fusion is the name of the game at this popular eatery specializing in Mediterranean-style seafood dishes, Mexican-inspired burritos and flavorful salads. 2030 S Pine Ave., (352) 622-4777.
Places to stay
Hilton Ocala: Located on six lush acres in the heart of Horse Country, this hotel features tennis and basketball courts, a jogging track, outdoor pool and restaurant with a kids’ menu. Weekly live music, free yoga classes and horse and carriage rides make for a memorable visit. 3600 SW 36th Ave., (352) 854-1400.
Hampton Inn & Suites Ocala: If you’re looking for convenience, then book a stay at this hotel that’s located within a 15-minute drive of Ocala International Airport, Paddock Mall, Easy Street family fun center and the World Equestrian Center. Free Wi-Fi and a complimentary breakfast buffet make the Hampton a great value for budget-conscious travelers. 3601 SW 38th Ave., (866) 238-4218.
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