Just 30 minutes north of Miami, you’ll find one of Florida’s top LGBT destinations. Sure, you can soak up the sun in the likes of South Beach, but why not take it down a couple notches and relax in a far different scene. Yes, Miami is trendy, hip and fashionable – but Fort Lauderdale offers similar attractions with a more casual feel at lower prices.
Fort Lauderdale has never tried to be Miami, nor should it. With 23 miles of beaches, at least 50 LGBT popular establishments and the highest concentration of LGBT couples in the US, this city has something far different to offer. So if you’re looking for a warm weather destination with beaches and gay activities galore, then Fort Lauderdale might just be your ticket to the perfect gaycation.
Gay Hotels & Resorts
You’ll find more gay hotels and resorts in Fort Lauderdale than just about any place on the planet. Second perhaps to Palm Springs on the West Coast, Fort Lauderdale boasts roughly 15 gay-specific guest houses, hotels and resorts. Accommodations are offered for a variety of budgets. For the most elegant and luxurious of the bunch, we recommend The Grand Resort located just off the beach in the center of town. Other favorites include: Ed Lugo Resort, Alcazar Resort, Villa Venice Resort and Worthington Guesthouse.
Stay Away but Play Gay
Many of the gay-specific hotels and resorts offer day passes to visit their property and use their facilities. Just about every property comes equipped with a private pool (typically clothing optional) and you’ll find a variety of additional facilities like spas, fitness centers, restaurants and more. If sleeping at a gay property isn’t your style but you still want to socialize with the likes of those that do, then this is your ticket to get the best of both worlds. Day passes typically range in price from $10 to $35 per day.
Cocktails at the W Hotel
The W is one of our favorite luxury hotel chains with its modern and chic décor and plenty of spaces to enjoy the high life. The W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is located right on the beach and offers excellent views from the outdoor terrace overlooking the beachfront. If you have the budget to stay, then please go for it but if sleeping here is beyond your means, it’s worthwhile to stop by for a cocktail or two and enjoy the relaxing environment while soaking up some sun and watching the city life unfold below.The AIDS Museum
The World AIDS Museum located in Wilton Manors is dedicated to telling to history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The museum opened in 2013 and is the only museum worldwide dedicated solely to telling its story. It’s funded entirely by donations and does an amazing job at telling the highly emotional history from the beginning until current times. The display shows how the disease has affected our community and the world through a chronological display that will leave you both in awe and in emotional recourse. The full tour takes a couple hours to complete but it’s worth a quick stop if only to visit the highlights and see this remarkable feat in telling the story that has affected so many throughout the past few decades.The Gayborhood
It should come as no surprise that Fort Lauderdale boasts a lively gay neighborhood given its large population of LGBT residents. Wilton Manors is an area just northwest of downtown and it’s here you’ll find most of the LGBT-specific venues in town. It’s worth noting that this part of town isn’t particularly walkable so you’ll likely need transportation to get around. Whether you rent a car, hail a taxi or order an Uber (use code S6UQQ for $20 off your first ride), no visit to Fort Lauderdale is complete without a night out in the thriving gayborhood.
Dance the Night Away
The club scene in Fort Lauderdale is nothing like that of the upscale and perhaps pretentious vibe of Miami Beach. Fort Lauderdale is casual and so too are its dancing venues. The Manor is a must-visit place especially if you only choose one club to go. However, you can find dancing at a few other venues including Village Pub, Hunters and even Scandals – if country music is your thing.
The Manor – the largest and probably the most popular place to dance the night away on weekend nights. They have a huge main dance room plus a number of other small sapces, seating areas and terraces.
Village Pub – a relatively new gay sports bar and popular with all types. You’ll find a gay and lesbian mixed crowd and a packed dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hunters – a popular bar and club venue with karaoke, cabaret and country western dancing. They also host a popular Sunday tea dance.
Scandals – this is the go-to gay country western bar complete with cute cowboys, line dancing and cheap drinks.
Many have attributed the growth of Fort Lauderdale’s gay community to the decline of Miami Beach’s popularity for LGBT residents. As changes in Miami have occurred over the decades, many residents have moved north to the less pretentious and more affordable neighborhoods of Fort Lauderdale, particularly Wilton Manors. It’s in this neighborhood where you’ll find the majority of the popular nightlife venues including favorites like Matty’s, Lips, Progress, Georgie’s Alibi and Infinity Lounge.
Matty’s – this is a popular video bar with a variety of special events and drink specials throughout the week. They occasionally host popular gay recording artists and DJ’s.
Lips – looking for a drag show? This is the place to go watch the show, see lip-syncing queens perform and hassle the crowd of locals looking for a fun and interactive night out.
Progress – a relatively new, trendy and upscale bar with drink specials throughout the week.
Georgie’s Alibi – daily happy hour on food and drink including 2 for 1 specials with a variety of live performances and events.
Infinity Lounge – a mixed gay and straight crowd in a casual, lounge atmosphere with a wide range of tasty drinks and cocktails.
Probably the most popular event of the year is the annual Halloween celebration that takes place in Wilton Manors. This outdoor event includes parades, concerts and lots of parties to round up a celebration that draws crowds including local residents, regional dwellers and even travelers coming from afar to partake in the celebration.
Fort Lauderdale Embraces the ‘T’
Most in our community are guilty of using the umbrella term ‘LGBT’ often disregarding (unintentionally or not) the trans community. We’ve certainly been guilty of this ourselves having addressed trans travel issues just a few times. But where others lack, Fort Lauderdale has come out in front purposefully welcoming trans travelers, setting them apart from most LGBT-friendly destinations. The local authorities and tourism bureau have worked tirelessly over the past few years to better understand the specific needs of the trans community and ensure that their city has what it takes to provide for the community. As an indication of their efforts, the South Comfort Transgender Conference, which was held in Atlanta for more than two decades, recently relocated to Fort Lauderdale with arms wide open from both sides.
Rosie’s is Where it’s At
Rosie’s Bar and Grill is located in the heart of Wilton Manors and is a staple in the LGBT community. It’s a place where people come together for Sunday brunch, evening dinner or weekend cocktails to enjoy a meal or a drink with like-minded residents and visitors looking to experience the best of the gayborhood. Rosie’s is a must-visit establishment with friendly service, good food and delicious cocktails – we promise it doesn’t disappoint!
No Longer Just for the Retired
Fort Lauderdale long had a reputation of being a place where only the older generation of LGBT people came to live and visit. While there is still a thriving community of mid-age and retirees, the demographic of its residents and visitors has drastically shifted downward. These days there are plenty of 20 and 30-something year olds that call Fort Lauderdale home or come to visit each year.
Get Around by Bike
The city recently installed a bike-share program, which allows visitors to easily rent a bike to get around the city. There are numerous stations located along the beachfront area of the city, and it’s a great alternative to traveling by car. In the past, renting a car or going by taxi were the only realistic ways to get around the city. But with the advent of mobile technology, visitors can skip the rental and between biking around or getting an Uber or Lyft, you can experience all the city has to offer without the burden of a rental and parking, all while saving on the cost.
Mansions and Water Taxis
Fort Lauderdale is home to plenty of rich and famous residents, and many of their elegant mansions can be seen from the deck of the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi. Spend an afternoon taking a quick ride along the banks of some of the most opulent homes around. After all, Fort Lauderdale is considered one of the yacht capitals of the world and many yacht owners call this city home.
Shop Til You Drop
If you’re a fan of luxury brands, then Fort Lauderdale has what you need. Just outside the city limits about 20 miles away, you’ll find the Saw Grass Mills Outlet shopping center. The shopping mall is the largest luxury outlet center in the world, and you can find your favorite brands at reasonable prices, compared to normal stores. The center offers transportation from Fort Lauderdale via shuttle service, which you can catch at various Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotels.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
This park located just north of the beachfront area is a great place to escape the city and enjoy the outdoors. The park occupies 180 acres and is a favorite of locals to enjoy the outdoors and a perfect option if you’ve already had enough beach time. Go for a stroll through the preserved wildness or even rent a bike – yes it’s ok to get some exercise on vacation!
Have you ever considered visiting Fort Lauderdale? Which of these highlights sounds the most interesting to you? Let us know in the comments below!