The Best Gay Nightlife Destinations in California

California is an LGBT-friendly US State and it’s the home to many festivals, parades, and events empowering the queer community. If you’re looking to experience the best gay nightlife in California, here are some destinations you may want to check out.

Los Angeles

One of the most liberal states in America, California has been at the forefront of LGBT activism and is home to some of the best gay nightlife in the country. Whether you’re looking for a place to download a gay hook-up app, dance the night away or check out a couple of Los Angeles gay bars, you can find it all in this diverse and exciting state.

With its high-tech karaoke system and camp, and gay anthems blasting until 2 am, Eagle LA draws locals and visitors alike to this fun gay bar in Pasadena. Formerly known as The Shed from 1968–72, The Outcast from 1972–83, and Gauntlet II from 1983–2005, this gay watering hole is an old-school LA legend that’s just plain fun.

Located in the historic United Artists building, this unique hotel is one of LA’s most LGBTQ-friendly options with industrial-chic rooms, a swanky rooftop pool with bar, and stunning views of the iconic Hollywood sign. You can also enjoy world-class dining atop the mile-high skyscraper, which offers 360-degree breathtaking views of the legendary California sunset.

A neighborhood gay bar in West Hollywood since 1949, Circle Bar is an LA institution with a vibe that outlives trends; patrons can still get down to the beats while enjoying their martinis and celebrity sightings. They have a great Happy Hour and also host a variety of karaoke and line dancing lessons.

Palm Springs

With its sunny weather, desert vibes, and celebrity sightings, Palm Springs has come into its own as a gay nightlife destination. The party starts when the sun goes down, and locals and visitors linger over cocktails at downtown bars such as The Abbey, where you can expect to dance with a diverse crowd.

The Abbey is a coffeehouse by day, but its bar opens up to the main patio and transforms into a lively nightspot with martinis and dancing. It also hosts one of the city’s most popular Pride celebrations in November.

Other bars along Arenas Road serve up a mix of music videos and a variety of drink specials. Flicks are packed to the gills almost every night, with go-go dancers and stiff drinks. Hunters gain traction for its year-round events and dancing, while Toucan’s Tiki Lounge draws a crowd with its raucous drag shows.

In North Park, the slender indoor bar at Number One-Fifth Avenue serves up craft cocktails and a neighborhood dive-bar feel. Nearby, the glam-but-divey Nunu’s has a long patio, deep red walls, and a dance floor. The LGBTQ-friendly Urban Mo’s is an all-in-one hangout with a bar, restaurant, and patio, with a menu that includes burgers, salads, and kicky drinks. And in Hillcrest, the sexy, cozy Nunu’s delivers a glam, yet casual vibe.

San Diego

One of the nation’s warmest cities, San Diego embraces gay visitors with a laidback attitude and neighborhood charm. Tucked into a coastal setting, the city’s diverse neighborhoods include Hillcrest, home to the lion’s share of the city’s roughly two-dozen gay bars, including longtime favorites like Flicks bar, a Hillcrest mainstay with the usual array of gay video screens, a cozy back patio, and a rotating calendar of fun theme nights.

Across town in lively University Heights, easygoing Lestat’s draws a colorful crowd at all hours of the day and night. Several gay-friendly coffeehouses dot the area, including a few spots that focus on drinks, such as Urban MO’s, a Hillcrest staple with a slender bar and patio seating that opens to an inviting back patio, and Martinis Above Fourth, which draws a devoted bunch for its piano and singing performances.

San Diego is also home to a handful of top lesbian bars, such as the sexy and sophisticated Gossip Grill, which features a menu of upscale craft cocktails and fine dining, with an emphasis on attracting ladies, plus plenty of naughty theme nights, including Bingo Gone Bonkers hosted by cranky drag queen Mariam T and Smartypants Saturday Trivia Brunch. The area is also well-stocked with swanky LGBT-friendly hotels, including the tony Hotel Palomar in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter and the chic Solamar in nearby Mission Bay.

Orange County

Whether you’re looking to get your groove on with your gay or lesbian friends, or are in the mood for a romantic date night, Orange County has something for everyone. With plenty of gay and lesbian bars, clubs, and eateries in the area, you can find a place that suits your tastes and caters to the community at large.

The center of Orange County’s LGBT scene is West Hollywood, which is home to some of the most famous gay-friendly attractions in Southern California. The city is also home to a number of museums dedicated to LGBT history, including the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, which features a wide variety of lesbian literature, art, and videos. Another must-visit destination is ONE Archives Gallery and Museum, which showcases an impressive collection of LGBT historical and cultural materials.

Another popular attraction in the area is Strut Bar & Club. This new club is making waves in the area, offering an all-inclusive playground for fabulous folks and colorful queers alike. There’s no cover charge, and the drinks are flowing all night long.

Despite its conservative past, Orange County has become a hub of progressive thinking and is home to many LGBT-friendly businesses and communities. In addition to gay-friendly restaurants and clubs, Orange County is also home to several LGBTQ parades, festivals, and events.

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