10 Most Welcoming U.S. Vacation Destinations for LGBTQ+ Families: Seattle, NYC, DC, Chattanooga

The most LGBTQ-friendly vacation spots in the U.S. have fun attractions, LGBTQ-run businesses, and are protected by LGBTQ-inclusive laws.
LGBTQ+ family travel (Photo: @wildphtography via Twenty20)
Photo: @wildphtography via Twenty20

When you think about inclusive family vacation spots in the U.S., you probably think of the Anaheim and Orlando theme parks and other overtly welcoming destinations. But beyond the big theme park towns, there are some other great cities across the country packed with fun attractions, protected by LGBTQ-inclusive laws, and full of LGBTQ-run businesses. And these LGBTQ-friendly cities in the U.S. offer a warm welcome to all families.

Best U.S. Vacation Spots for LGBTQ+ Families

Here are my recommendations for family-oriented LGBTQ friendly travel destinations in the U.S., and tips for fun family activities and things to do while you’re there.

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1. Long Beach, California

Lifeguard stand in Long Beach, California (Photo: @billcoons via Twenty20)
Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, feels like a welcoming small town (Photo: @billcoons via Twenty20)

Long Beach is just south of LA (it’s about 45 minutes from Santa Monica), but it feels worlds away. It’s like a quaint and quirky small town straight from a sitcom. And if you’re traveling with your furry family member, Long Beach has the only beach in L.A. county where your dog can run wild and free off-leash as long as it’s under voice control.

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After all that fun in the sun, cool off with ice cream at either Long Beach Creamery or Afters. For big ticket thrills, visit the Aquarium of the Pacific, take a tour of the historic Queen Mary, or cruise the Alamitos Bay and the Naples Canals on a private boat. And for something totally free, don’t miss the city’s vibrant series of murals.

2. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Beach and umbrellas at Fort Lauderdale (Photo: @deev13 via Twenty20)
Fort Lauderdale is an LGBTQ friendly destination that offers both beachy fun and one of the largest gay libraries in the country (Photo: @deev13 via Twenty20)

There’s no doubt that Fort Lauderdale is LGBTQ-friendly, though it kind of has a reputation as a party town. But there’s another side to this Florida beach destination with great attractions for all ages, such as Butterfly World and the Museum of Discovery and Science.

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If you’re traveling with teenagers interested in learning about LGBTQ history, check out the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, one of the largest gay libraries and archives in the U.S. The exhibitions change, but it’s a great activity—especially if you have queer teens looking to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and the history of civil rights. 

3. Seattle, Washington

View of Seattle and Space Needle (Photo: @natemueller via Twenty20)
Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is a must-go spot for LGBTQ families (Photo: @natemueller via Twenty20)

The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest is also one of the most inclusive cities in America, with several streets in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood adorned with rainbow flag crosswalks and businesses proudly displaying trans and rainbow flags all-year.

If you’re in the neighborhood, do not miss the ice cream at Molly Moon’s. Beyond the touristy stops at Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, Seattle has some great attractions for families, such as the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP).

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While the city has a rainy reputation, summer in Seattle is generally sunny and gorgeous. For the ultimate family vacation, come the last weekend of June for Seattle’s Pride weekend, when the region’s thriving gay community takes center stage and there’s a huge LGBTQ+ parade and picnic celebrating the city’s queer communities.

4. Denver, Colorado

Denver Mural
Denver has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene and outdoor activities like 85 miles of bike trails (Photo: Pieter Van de Sande via Unsplash)

In addition to its thriving LGBTQ+ scene and annual PrideFest summer festival, Denver is also a great destination for active families since it has so many outdoor adventures right downtown—including 85 miles of bike trails and the manmade whitewater kayak chutes at Confluence Park. And just outside the city, there’s a world of hiking and camping as it’s only an hour and a half from Rocky Mountain National Park.

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But for something incredibly special—especially for music lovers—plan your trip around a concert at Red Rocks. The open-air outdoor amphitheater in Red Rocks Park has some of the best acoustics in the world and hosts big-name acts.

5. Oahu, Hawaii

Surfboards lined up on Oahu beach
All of the Hawaiian islands are LGBTQ-friendly vacation spots, so the right island for your family will depend on your interests (Photo: Robert Linder via Unsplash)

All of the Hawaiian islands are very LGBTQ-friendly, so if you’re a same sex couple planning a family vacation to the Aloha State and don’t know which island to choose, the right fit will depend on your family’s interests. If you love the outdoors and hiking, Kauai is your island. If you love hanging out in the water and snorkeling all day, look to Maui (a particularly great spot for winter vacations when you can watch humpback whales on their annual migratory journey).

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But if you want a little bit of everything, Oahu is probably the best bet for your family. Plus, Honolulu is home to the Hawai’i LGBT Legacy Foundation, which hosts several Pride festivals and events throughout the year. If you’re traveling with little ones, consider staying at one of the best Hawaii all-inclusive resorts for families, Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa, about 45 minutes from downtown Waikiki. The hotel’s cast members (Disney’s term for employees) undergo the same training as park employees for inclusion and sensitivity and work hard to create magical vacations for all. 

6. San Diego, California

Surfers on the beach in San Diego (Photo: @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20)
In San Diego, families can be as busy or as relaxed on vacation as they want (Photo: @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20)

If half of your family loves to go-go-go on vacation and the other half just wants to take it slow-slow-slow, San Diego is a great compromise for summer vacations or any time of year. It’s got a little bit of everything, from the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and the surrounding museum-packed Balboa Park, to some of the best family-friendly—and most wheelchair accessible—beaches in the world.

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If you have a car, drive 30 minutes up the coast to The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. The colorful rows of giant ranunculus are a must-see in the spring. 

7. New York City, New York

Two women looking at the skyline of New York City (Photo: @aniamisyyy via Twenty20)
NYC is an exceptionally good vacation destination for trans and queer kids (Photo: @aniamisyyy via Twenty20)

New York City is one of the best vacation spots for trans and queer kids since there are so many LGBTQ+ cultural sights to see and be inspired by. It’s a great trip to take if your kid or teen is transitioning and expressing a new gender outside of the home for the first time, or if your child is searching for more LGBTQ+ representation and role models. The Leslie–Lohman Museum of Art is solely dedicated to representing LGBTQ+ artists and there are a number of shows on Broadway that feature LGBTQ+ stories and characters.

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If your teens love to shop and thrift, funky Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is packed with LGBTQ-friendly boutiques and shops. And for something really special, make a reservation at Bindle & Keep for a custom-fitted shirt, pair of pants, or a suit. The bespoke LGBTQ-owned company is all about making clothes that are tailor-made to the customer, and the experience can be incredibly powerful for a teen struggling with self esteem and acceptance.

Of course, just as important as seeing iconic U.S. tourist attractions like Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, you cannot go on a New York vacation without visiting the Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village. Make sure your kids have their National Parks passports so they can get a stamp for their visit while they learn about LGBTQ heritage and the history of civil rights. 

8. Washington, D.C.

View of the Washington Monument (Photo: @1davidlange via Twenty20)
D.C. is a relatively affordable vacation destination for families (Photo: @1davidlange via Twenty20)

Washington, D.C., is one of the best budget-friendly trips for families because most attractions are free, from the National Mall and the major memorials to 17 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and a zoo—all with free admission.

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While you can’t see and do it all in one trip, make sure to prioritize The National Museum of American History. The museum is continually adding to and exploring its resources to better represent LGBTQ+ identities. For the little ones, the museum’s The Muppets Take American History series features adorable surprise pop-ups throughout the museum.

9. Chattanooga, Tennessee

View of Chattanooga (Photo: @ashley031284 via Twenty20)
Chattanooga stands out as an LGBT-friendly oasis in the South (Photo: @ashley031284 via Twenty20)

The Southeast isn’t the most LGBTQ-friendly region in the U.S., and some areas can be dangerous for LGBTQ+ travelers. But as someone in the LGBT community with my own family, I can say that after growing up and living in the South (Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee), there’s a real gem for families, and it’s not the big city of Atlanta. It’s tiny, quirky Chattanooga. This funky town on a river has a huge art scene and, with that, a more welcoming, diverse environment than other Southern cities.

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There are tons of attractions for the whole family in Chattanooga, too. The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country. Chattanooga is also home to the tallest underground waterfall in the U.S., Ruby Falls. And your little ones will love the fairytale caverns and gardens at Rock City. If all that sightseeing worked up an appetite, head straight to Community Pie for pizza and homemade gelato. And for breakfast or brunch, you have to swing by the eccentric, Halloween-themed Aretha Frankensteins

10. Chicago, Illinois 

Kids splashing in Chicago (Photo: @ilenebauer via Twenty20)
Chicago has a ton of kid-friendly activities, and its children’s museum has an LGBTQ inclusion program (Photo: @ilenebauer via Twenty20)

From the Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier, Chicago is packed with fun attractions for kids. And if you do visit the world-famous spot overlooking Lake Michigan, be sure to check out the Chicago Children’s Museum, which has an impressive LGBTQ inclusion program with special training for museum staff and community events for LBGTQ families.

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If your kiddo wants to go to a game at Wrigley Field, The Cubs, like other MLB teams, do a special Pride night (usually in June). It’s incredibly empowering to see famous athletes decked out in rainbow-colored socks and uniforms. 

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Deanne Revel
Deanne Revel is a travel journalist and host covering the world of theme parks and family entertainment. She loves all things roller coasters, character breakfasts, and parades. Deanne is a packing pro (carry-on always!) and is passionate about LGBTQ travel. When not on assignment, you can find her exploring national parks or theme parks with her wife.