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Bixby Bridge in Monterey
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A Pacific Pride Road Trip

By

  • Route distance:
    808.00
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Sunny Days and Star-Studded Nights Along California’s Pacific Coast Highway

San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are all hotbeds for California Pride celebrations come summer. And while you won’t be able to hit all the festivities in a row — each festival takes place at different times throughout summer — you can mix-and-match LGBTQ-friendly destinations along Pacific-hugging Highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, to extend your stay in the West Coast sun. Here, we start in San Diego and cruise north along the coast to the iconic city by the bay, San Francisco, but you could easily reverse the order — or start in the middle.

01
Pride Parade in San Francisco
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San Francisco

Your journey ends in the Golden Gate City, known as one of the most progressive cities in the U.S., in part because of its legacy as a beacon for gay rights. Much of that history is seen across the Castro neighborhood at destinations like the GLBT Historical Society Museum, which chronicles 100 years of local history. Nearby, a visit to the Castro Theatre is like stepping back in time to 1922, the year it was built. A historic landmark, the ornate theater has an epic art-deco chandelier and regularly hosts screenings, singalongs and special performances.

While in town, hop a cable car and set out to explore icons like the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront district and the rambling Victorian mansions of Nob Hill and the Mission District. Once night falls, don’t miss Martuni’s, which serves stiff drinks that can be sipped around a piano while patrons sing Broadway show tunes and pop classics. And no trip to San Francisco is complete without a dinner at Zuni Cafe. The cozy restaurant serves a roasted chicken for two that is a famed dish in this culinary capital.

126 km
1.5 hours by car
02
Laguna Beach
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Laguna Beach

Head north along the coast to the Orange County beach town of Laguna Beach. In the 1920s, LGBT Angelenos who worked in the film industry began escaping here for rest, sunshine and a break from the Hollywood scene. This trend only grew as word got out and a number of underground beachside bars offered a safe space to meet up. Opened in 1946, The Seahorse Bar was the most notable of these early, and secret, watering holes. Today, it is no longer explicitly a gay bar, welcoming people of all identities.

These days, Laguna Beach is perhaps best known for its arts scene and lays claim to over 100 galleries and studios. Wander rows of them along the Pacific Coast Highway or head straight to Village Gallery, which shows works by artists such as Thomas Kinkade, Fabian Perez, Michael Godard and Fabio Napoleoni. For colorful, contemporary art, try JoAnne Artman Gallery or Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art. For inspiration of a more natural variety, make time to enjoy an unforgettable Pacific sunset at the Rooftop Lounge, which offers prime, 360-degree views. They serve a happy hour around sunset with small bites and their famous house mojitos. Enjoy upscale Mexican fare at the beachfront Las Brisas before having a few drinks at the iconic Main Street Bar & Cabaret. It’s Laguna’s last-standing gay bar and delights customers with bingo nights, karaoke and drag shows.

97 km
1.75 hours by car
03
Hollywood Hills
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West Hollywood

In Los Angeles, you’ll find the country’s largest gay municipality, where over 40 percent of its residents identify as LGBT: West Hollywood. It’s the home base for the annual LA Pride Festival and Parade, including a two-day festival in West Hollywood Park, where big-name pop stars perform to crowds of over 100,000.

While in WeHo, as the city is often called, stop by The Abbey. It’s arguably the neighborhood’s most popular bar and club and great for dancing, sipping mojitos and getting fresh air on their massive patio. Celebrities like Lady Gaga have been known to make surprise appearances. The Abbey is on Santa Monica Boulevard, a strip of dozens of gay bars, including Micky’s, a must-stop for world-famous drag queens passing through Los Angeles. Before going out, get sustenance at Night + Market, an L.A. institution for inventive Thai cuisine. Crowds flock for papaya slaw-topped fried chicken sandwiches, shrimp pancakes and pork-belly curries.

484 km
6 hours by car
04
Highway 1 in Big Sur
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Big Sur

Driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll find plenty of tempting vistas — press on toward the Central Coast haven of Big Sur for one of the finest of the bunch. Unwind along the cliffside trails in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, or pack a picnic and head to the wilds of Pfeiffer Beach. For a dose of quaintness and culture, continue up the coast to the charming enclave of Carmel-by-the-Sea, pausing to peruse the town’s shops and galleries. Nature lovers will love a cruise along the scenic 17-Mile Drive in Monterey County, which affords jaw-dropping views of the Pacific coastline as well as close encounters with seals and otters.

349 km
4 hours by car
05
Vineyard in Sonoma
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Guerneville

Skirt around San Francisco — we’ll circle back in a few days — and make your way north to this queer escape in Northern California’s wine country. Guerneville has plenty of endearingly kitschy cabins available for booking or you can bring camping gear and pitch a tent at a number of sites. Either way, you should reserve an afternoon for kayaking down the Russian River past towering trees, visiting a few of the local wineries (there are over 400 to choose from), or both. At night, indulge with Mexican fare at El Barrio, which serves excellent queso and smoky mezcals. Afterward, stop by Rainbow Cattle Company, a vintage-looking saloon that is a popular hangout for locals in search of ice-cold beers.

119 km
1.5 hours by car
06
Pride Parade in San Francisco
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San Francisco

Your journey ends in the Golden Gate City, known as one of the most progressive cities in the U.S., in part because of its legacy as a beacon for gay rights. Much of that history is seen across the Castro neighborhood at destinations like the GLBT Historical Society Museum, which chronicles 100 years of local history. Nearby, a visit to the Castro Theatre is like stepping back in time to 1922, the year it was built. A historic landmark, the ornate theater has an epic art-deco chandelier and regularly hosts screenings, singalongs and special performances.

While in town, hop a cable car and set out to explore icons like the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront district and the rambling Victorian mansions of Nob Hill and the Mission District. Once night falls, don’t miss Martuni’s, which serves stiff drinks that can be sipped around a piano while patrons sing Broadway show tunes and pop classics. And no trip to San Francisco is complete without a dinner at Zuni Cafe. The cozy restaurant serves a roasted chicken for two that is a famed dish in this culinary capital.