With its rainbow-colored crosswalks and blocks of out-and-proud bars and shops, the city of West Hollywood stands as the visible symbol of Los Angeles’s LGBTQ community. WeHo became the first majority-gay municipality in America in 1984, and ever since, its rich tradition of pride and acceptance has been celebrated by locals and visitors alike.
Today, LGBTQ residents comprise roughly half of the population, and the 1.9-square-mile city is known as a safe, welcoming, and fun urban environment that thrives on the interests of its community. Nowhere else in LA will you find such an authentically gay-friendly atmosphere and so much cosmopolitan excitement packed into such a small stretch.
If you’re hoping to explore WeHo’s vibrant LGBTQ nightlife, cultural events, and offerings, look no further.
It’s no contest — WeHo is the most popular area for LGBTQ nightlife in all of Los Angeles. With 25 gay bars in less than two square miles, it has an extensive variety of offerings within its compact space. “Boystown,” along Santa Monica Boulevard, is the disco-beating heart of the city and is home to plenty of iconic institutions.
Not sure where to start? Consider making the Abbey your first stop. One of the most famous gay bars and nightclubs in the world, the Abbey has everything from go-go dancers to high-end cocktails — and surprisingly good food. From there, be sure to visit Rage, Fiesta Cantina, Micky’s, Revolver, and Flaming Saddles — which are all practically next door to each other. If you’re up for venturing a bit farther down Santa Monica, continue on to Gold Coast and Fubar.
WeHo is filled with queer-owned establishments and haunts. In addition to the Abbey (listed above), make time to visit Hamburger Mary’s — popular for their daily sass, weekend Drag Queen Brunch, and legendary Drag Queen Bingo, held Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
Or, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, head to Yogurt Stop, a lesbian-owned fro-yo shop boasting flavors such as Lezbionic Tonic, Touched By My Angel Food Cake, and I’m Comin’ Out Cake Batter.
The West Hollywood Design District is known for shops and boutiques of all types — in fact, there are more than 300 different businesses in this small area. Formerly known as “the Avenues,” the neighborhood fills the blocks between and around Melrose, North Robertson, and Beverly Avenues with upscale and designer retailers, as well as more locally sourced shops. While you’re there, be sure to explore the West Hollywood Library as well, which is home to one of the country’s largest LGBTQ book collections and plays host to a weekly Drag Queen Story Hour, where queens read progressive, age-appropriate literature to kids of all ages.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed shopping experience, venture to Out of the Closet on Santa Monica. This second-hand shop has plenty to peruse — including designer clothes at ridiculously low prices — and gives all of its proceeds to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Pharmacy.
Those interested in the history of America’s lesbian-rights movement should check out the Mazer Collection in WeHo’s Design District. It’s one of the nation’s only lesbian cultural archives, and it contains some 2,500 books, as well as a substantial T-shirt collection, video archives, records, accounts of misguided psychological studies, softball uniforms, intriguing old pulp novels, and countless articles and clippings. It’s open to the public every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (as well as on weekends, by appointment).
The Los Angeles LGBT Center also produces live performances and hosts exhibitions that celebrate the lives and experiences of the city’s diverse community. Additionally, the center puts on regular forums and events, which you can check out here, and offers affordable meeting spaces where groups, clubs, and organizations can host their own artistic activities.
If you happen to be in the area come May, be sure to also check out WeHo’s One City One Pride event, as it shares and celebrates the city’s LGBTQ visual and performing arts through a multitude of free shows.
WeHo is also the site of some of the area’s largest LGBTQ events, such as Los Angeles Gay Pride, Outfest, West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, and AIDS Walk Los Angeles — just to name a few. In fact, the term PRIDE (an acronym of Personal Rights In Defense and Education) was coined in LA.
Come June, parades, music, and people fill the streets of WeHo. The monthlong Pride celebration includes countless festivities around the city, but the main event is the two-day festival located in West Hollywood Park. Welcoming more than 400,000 people each year, it’s one of the largest Pride celebrations in the U.S. There, you can watch some of LA’s top musicians perform on the event’s three stages as WeHo’s elaborate floats roll by during the Sunday parade.
July sees WeHo hosting the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival. Spanning 11 days, the event highlights an array of world-class films, complete with panels and parties. The festival is the longest-running event of its kind in the country, so we suggest stopping by if you’re here in the summer.
The third major event that the city puts on is West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval — the largest Halloween celebration in the U.S. The festival is packed with food stalls, various entertainment, live music, and outrageous costume contests. More than half a million people attend the event each year, so if you’re a fan of festive celebrations and playing dress-up, add this to your calendar.
Whatever your orientation, you’re guaranteed to find your place amid WeHo‘s culture of acceptance.