When asked which U.S. city claims the highest concentration of same-sex couple households, names like NYC, San Francisco, LA and Chicago quickly roll off the tongue. Good guesses, but all wrong! The correct—and perhaps surprising—answer? Fort Lauderdale, a small Florida city with a massive LGBT appeal.
You may recall Fort Lauderdale as the undisputed Spring Break capital circa early 1980s, but a lot has changed since the city’s totally tubular days of wet T-shirt contests, MTV dance parties, and sardine-packed motel rooms. To start, the city cleaned up its act—and its beaches—shutting down Spring Break debauchery and reclaiming its pristine white sand swathes. It also invested billions into beautifying, rebranding and courting new residents as a more affordable and less pretentious alternative to neighboring Miami.
The LGBT community was quick to catch on to Fort Lauderdale’s new appeal, especially within the municipality of Wilton Manors. The city wasn’t just a place for hot gay guys sizing each other up in steamy nightclubs. There was also room for the sometimes less visible colors of the rainbow: lesbians, bears and the full spectrum of the trans community to name a few. It also presented safe zones for LGBT couples to settle, buy homes and raise families in a place of acceptance. Through the past decades, Fort Lauderdale not only welcomed the LGBT community, but invested in it and nurtured it.
It’s no surprise that, nowadays, Fort Lauderdale earns a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index. It has an openly gay mayor, hosts the largest annual trans conference in North America, and brings in an estimated $1.5 billion from the gay dollar annually. The city even has an official, all-inclusive tagline, “Everyone Under the Sun.”
Indeed, gay life is part of the fabric of everyday life in Fort Lauderdale. That said, some places offer a bit of extra LGBT love. Here are five:
1. Wilton Drive, affectionately known as “The Drive,” is the main thoroughfare in the Wilton Manors gayborhood, lined with gay-owned restaurants, novelty stores, bars, and nightclubs aplenty. Allot several hours for a memorable pub crawl or eat-around, embracing the singular personality-driven venues. Start at Rosie’s Bar & Grill, a gastropub with feel-good vibes, a friendly crowd and fabulous drink specials and be sure to stop at To The Moon Marketplace to sift through its treasure trove of vintage candy.
2. Fort Lauderdale’s Sebastian Street Beach is a wildly popular gay beach with an all-welcoming approach. Unlike the judge-y vibes of most gay beaches, Sebastian is a come-as-you-are kind of place with all sizes, shapes, genders represented. Prepare to make new friends and score invitations to house parties.
3. Culture vultures and history buffs should hit the Stonewall National Museum & Archives (SNMA) in Wilton Manors. It houses the largest LGBTQ lending library in the United States plus multiple galleries with rotating and permanent exhibitions focused on LGBTQ themes while hosting author presentations, films, and panel discussions throughout the year.
4. Whether you’re looking for a noteworthy breakfast, lunch or happy hour during the week or a fabulous weekend brunch, Milk Money Bar & Kitchen has got you covered. In the AM, this modern American eatery serves up the likes of Belgium waffles and house-battered chicken tenders with whipped jalapeno butter and maple syrup; in the PM, look forward to creative apps, salads, bowls and burger such as vegan Impossible lollipops, stuffed avocado salad and crispy sriracha glazed brussel sprouts. Umm…yum!
5. For a true club scene, there’s no better place than The Manor with its colossal dance floor, outdoor lounge spaces, performance stage VIP areas, and state of the art sound and lighting. Bubblegum Fridays cater to a younger crowd with an 18 and over door policy and blaring pop tunes; Saturdays are for the thirty somethings with headlining DJs, electro beats, and drag shows.