When you think about the gayest parts of the U.S., Florida doesn’t exactly spring to mind…
But you’d be mistaken! Greater Fort Lauderdale is considered the 2nd gayest place in the U.S. (after Provincetown), in terms of LGBT+ persons per 1,000. Who’d have ever thought?
This is mostly because of the predominately gay neighborhood of Wilton Manors, which is filled with gay bars, shops, cafes and restaurants. There are clothing-optional, male-only resorts, gay saunas, and it is only 15-minutes from Sebastian Beach, the gayest section along Fort Lauderdale’s four-mile stretch of beach. Heck, just walking through the area will make you think you’ve slipped into an alternative universe where straight people are the minority and gays reign supreme.
Aside from all of the fun places to eat, drink and dance, there are many spots that pay homage to the significant cultural queer history and community of Greater Fort Lauderdale, which we feel is super important to make time for when you visit.
Here are the top 5 cultural things for LGBT+ travelers in Greater Fort Lauderdale:
1. Stonewall National Museum & Archives
It’s always important for LGBT+ travelers to pay homage to a city and region’s queer history. And Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall National Museum & Archives is a must-visit for that exact reason. Home to one of the nation’s largest gay archives, visitors can spend hours sifting through old photos, documents and books that chronicle the progression of LGBT+ rights in the U.S.
While it is not affiliated with New York’s Stonewall Inn, it was inspired by the 1969 riots that not only inspired the gay rights movements across the U.S., but all over the world!
Based in downtown Fort Lauderdale not far from the gay centric neighborhood of Wilton Manors, the museum is a fantastic way to fill a day. They run several exhibitions throughout the year, each one shedding light on aspects of gay life. Whether it be queer artworks, intersectionality within the LGBT+ community, the history of gay clubs or love letters exchanged between gay couples pre-legislation.
There is also a library with over 28,000 volumes of books (we can practically hear our inner book nerds squealing). There is a range of fiction, non-fiction, and art books to pick up and flip through. Visitors can pop into the library and read the books, but you’ll need a membership to check anything out. While we sadly couldn’t join (due to our short stay in the area), we enjoyed taking a few moments to sit in a corner and browse through some gay classics.
The museum and library are free to visit, but as it is entirely run by volunteers, visitors are encouraged to donate what they can.
2. World AIDS Museum
Florida was one of the worst affected parts of the U.S. during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (alongside New York and San Francisco). The World AIDS Museum was set up to shed light on the history and impact of a disease that took the lives of over 700,000 people in the U.S.
It’s difficult for younger generations to imagine how bad the stigma around HIV/AIDS was back when it first appeared. In a world with PrEP and an increase in representation of HIV positive individuals living long and healthy lives, it’s unfathomable to imagine a time when the general public didn’t know or care about the condition. Heck, the U.S. President at the time, Ronald Regan, famously took YEARS before even acknowledging the epidemic.
Therefore museums like these are vital for remembering how hard people fought for their voices to be heard and for access to the help they needed. It features an exhibit on the timeline of AIDS, chronicling its discovery in the 1980s, up to modern day, where modern medicine has made living with HIV totally manageable, with many countries aiming to completely eradicate the condition in the near future.
The museum welcomes active participation from their visitors and local communities, with projects like HIV/AIDS Oral History, where those affected by the disease can share their stories and be featured in the museum’s video collection.
The center actively gets involved with local LGBT+ fundraisers, especially around Pride season, and provides educational seminars with world-acclaimed activists.
Visitors can also request a walking tour of the museum to gain even further insight into the history and impact of HIV/AIDS.
3. Shop at the Pride Center Flea Market
Aside from Pride, name a better way to get a gaggle of gays together than a flea market. We’ll wait…
We just can’t resist scoring a deal on some fabulous vintage fashion or rehoming a piece of quirky furniture.
The Pride Center Flea Market is held on the first Saturday of every month, between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. It takes place on the Pride Center at Equality Park Campus in Wilton Manors and features over 50 unique vendors, ranging from clothing to art, furniture to books, and anything else you could think of. They also have food stalls, coffee stations and live music to get visitors swaying on their feet while they browse.
We love getting to support both the local artists and the Pride Center, which provides excellent services to Greater Fort Lauderdale’s queer community. The flea market is just one of the ways the center encourages people to get involved. They also host workshops for parents of gay teens, which helps inform them of their child’s identity and the ways they can provide support. They run couples counseling, one-on-one therapy sessions and healthcare navigation programs, so no member of the LGBT+ community feels excluded.
And for fun, they host games of bingo, movie nights, theatre productions and music gigs. So, after you’re done perusing through the market stalls, pop into the center to see what else might be going on.
4. Have a coffee in Eucalyptus Gardens
Imagine being able to drink an iced latte, browse through Madonna or Whitney vinyls, listen to the sound of rushing waves through a conch shell, enjoy live music, and have your fortune told by a tarot card reader…all in one place. That’s the Eucalyptus Gardens for you!
An absolute hidden gem – the Gardens are a bohemian block’s worth of colorful shop fronts, cafes and queer-friendly hangouts. We came upon the area during a casual stroll around Wilton Manors and were taken aback by how charming it was. Everywhere else around Greater Fort Lauderdale has such a “go big or go home” energy, while the Eucalyptus Gardens is quiet, unassuming, and utterly quaint.
They have a couple of buskers playing music, which sets a perfect ambiance for browsing through the booths.
Our favorite spot was the Voo La Voo Café, which whipped up some of the best crepes we’ve ever had. Although for the best coffee, hit up The Alchemist, which has a range of caffeinated drinks to pep you up for the day.
The block is mainly frequented by locals looking to nab a special deal on home furniture, plants or avant-garde paintings. But there are plenty of booths which sell cute knick knacks that are perfect for visitors looking to pick up a souvenir.
The nicest part about it is how there is no pressure to buy anything – vendors are more than happy for people to simply come and look at the items.
5. Visit the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
Perched midway between Miami and Palm Beach sits the amazing NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale – an 83,000 square foot building packed to the brim with over 6,000 works of art.
As you approach the museum, you’ll be mesmerized by the vibrancy of the downtown Fort Lauderdale arts district. Filled with tons of eclectic shops, artisan restaurants and funky galleries along trendy Las Olas Boulevard, the museum itself is unmissable, with murals draping down the building’s side. These alone are worth taking the time to inspect – they’re so intricately decorated and visually stunning to look at.
Once inside, you’ll be torn over where to begin. Do you wander around the museum’s main display of paintings that have come from all over the world? This includes works from the art collection of David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good, with a particular emphasis on women artists.
Or do you visit one of their fascinating exhibitions, which are ever-changing and offer varying takes on the world’s issues? In the past, they’ve showcased the works of Thomas Bils, who displayed paintings representing various financial burdens people face on a day-to-day basis, from parking fines to insurance bills (we wonder how he’d portray our tab at the local gay bar)!
You can easily spend a whole day here – it’s so darn big! And if you get tired of walking, there is a wonderful café to grab a cake and drink, and best of all, to rest your feet.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets from the museum are $12 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $5 for students.