The Complete LGBTQ Travel Guide for Palm Springs

Suburban street in Palm Springs with palm trees
ballyscanlon / Getty Images

Named one of TripSavvy's Best LGBTQ-friendly destinations of 2019, Southern California's Sonoran Desert city of Palm Springs remains not only a favorite resort getaway and vacation destination for queer people of all ages but also a top spot for them to settle down permanently.

With a population of about 49,000 as of 2020, and an entirely LGBTQ-identified local government (as of 2018), Palm Springs reportedly first became a gay oasis when closeted Hollywood celebrities like Rock Hudson and Liberace flocked there in the early part of the 20th century. Today, the secret is way, way out and Palm Springs offers not just sun, swimming, parties, hip hotels, fab eateries, clothing-optional gay resorts, and stunning views of San Jacinto mountains, but also a solid line-up of things to do and cultural events. Most famously, these include the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and star-studded Palm Springs International Film Festival.

LGBTQ Events and Festivals

Unsurprisingly, there is more than just one annual pride celebration here! The main annual LGBTQ pride event, Greater Palm Springs Pride, which was founded in 1986, will next see a virtual edition from November 1 to 7, 2021 featuring an "at-home dance party and virtual parade." You can download the Pride app for a full rundown of events and activities. Billed as the world's largest queer/lesbian/non-binary event, The Dinah (aka Dinah Shore Weekend) celebrates its 31st edition between Sept. 29th and Oct. 3rd, 2021. The line-up includes dance parties, pool parties, a comedy show, celebrity performances, and meet and greets.

Fall also sees Palm Springs Leather Pride (Oct. 28-31 in 2021) and promoter Jeffrey Sanker's famed White Party that same three-day weekend, while bears, cubs, and admirers descend on Palm Springs during winter's International Bear Convergence from Feb. 24 to 28, 2022. Movie lovers, meanwhile, should check out Palm Springs' LGBTQ film fest, Cinema Diverse.

Both the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism and The Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau feature robust online calendars of events and plenty of resources, while the former also boasts an LGBTQ Travel landing page and downloadable digital version of its "Come Out And Play" publication. Website Gay Desert Guide, meanwhile, offers plenty of LGBTQ intel including what's ons and business guides.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum

The Best Things to Do

Get a layout of the sunkissed land via a guided tour or self-guided bicycle jaunt with Bike Palm Springs. With a diverse rental fleet that includes both pedal and e-bikes, and a two-hour guided tour on offer (which spotlights architecture, celebrity homes and of course the beauteous scenery), Bike Palm Springs also offers several-day packages during Coachella complete with head and tail lights.

Palm Springs may be an outdoorsy destination—that includes Araby Cove's hiking trail, or simply soaking up the sun by a pool with friends or a loved one—but there are also a few indoor attractions to mix things up during a visit. First founded in 1938 as the Palm Springs Desert Museum, The Palm Springs Art Museum boasts a permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects—mostly consisting of modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design—and a live theater program. Its grounds include 28 galleries within multiple buildings, the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden, a 433-seat theater, a 1,000 square foot store, the Persimmon Bistro & Wine Bar, and in 2021, Swiss architect Albert Frey's reassembled modernist "Aluminaire House."

For retail therapy, Palm Springs is popping with LGBTQ-owned and focused shops, from upscale to kitsch to naughty in nature. Start at GayMart, just a 10-minute walk from the Palm Springs Art Museum, which stocks men's clothes including sexy swimwear and undies, and just about anything you'd need for a party, strut about town, or for a hot date. The nearby Bear Wear adds big man sizes, bear-themed graphic T-shirts and polos, and some fetish wear to the mix. Just Fabulous Palm Springs entails a fantastically curated selection of home goods, apparel, coffee table books, and gifts, from sophisticated to camp (e.g. Golden Girls Prayer Candles), plus uniquely Palm Springs items.

Even more local-centric, Destination PSP is dedicated to "products for the Palm Springs lifestyle," and was founded by former New Yorkers turned locals who wanted cool Palm Springs gifts for friends and the owners bring a chic retro aesthetic to their line of clothing and goods.

The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

Palm Springs' oldest LGBTQ bar with a can't-miss chandelier, Streetbar is a great first stop for drinks, a chat, and karaoke (and apparently they don't skimp on the booze, either, when making cocktails). By day, neighboring Chill Bar offers food from a rotating selection of pop-up vendors and chefs, plus a drag brunch on Sundays hosted by "RuPaul's Drag Race" star Mayhem Miller and sassy Bingo on Saturdays at noon. Come evening, the party begins with drinks and dancing as well as Sunday night drag shows with other "Drag Race" talents and themed outdoor parties on the smoking-free patio.

Palm Springs' longest-running drag show endures at the colorful, slick (and kitsch-chic) Toucans Tiki Lounge & Cabaret, with almost nightly performances including the weekly all-Latin drag review "Latin Fever Mondays," plus cabaret/comedy shows by gay faves including Leslie Jordan, Varla Jean Merman, and Melinda Doolittle of American Idol fame. And don't miss out on the signature margaritas, tiki drinks, and fun DJ tunes.

Those who know why the Palm Springs queen sings can let their own vocal cords shine (or just listen) at the piano at Stacy's, which features nightly entertainment, tasty cocktails, and even a weekly "Yappy Hour" for dog owners on Thursdays between 2 and 6 p.m. Video bar Quadz also features plenty of musical fun, with show tune sing-a-longs several days a week, plus an all-request video night on Saturdays (Quadz also boasts a sister venue in Las Vegas).

A one-stop-fits-all venue, the 20-plus-year-old Hunters Nightclub is open from 10 a.m. daily, and offers plenty of activities, entertainment, dining, an 8-hour long happy hour, weekend drag brunch, and the weekly Fur Fridays party for bears, otters, cubs, and friends. The leather, fetish, muscle bear, and cruising-inclined denim jeans crowd, meanwhile, convenes at Eagle 501 Bar.

The Best Places to Eat

Palm Springs' culinary scene has certainly evolved in recent decades, and there are some true gems for LGBTQ foodies to savor, including craft cocktail and brunch spots. A gay favorite honored with Desert Sun Times' "Best of the Valley" awards, Blackbook Bar features Palm Springs' largest collection of whiskeys (more than 250) and a delicious Americana menu that includes disco fries, a half-pound white meat Nashville hot chicken sandwich, and vegan burger.

A Palm Springs must with indoor and outdoor seating, plus plenty of rainbow flags, the multi-level LULU California Bistro celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021, and its spate of all-day menus thoughtfully include vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free. For completely meat-free eating, the cozy takeout-only Chef Tanya's Kitchen fits the bill.

Besides tasty traditional and original Mexican and Tex-Mex fare, Rio Azul Mexican Bar & Grill also hosts the long-running Desert Divas Drag Brunch on Sundays. Rooftop restaurant and lounge Moxie also hosts a drag brunch, which was founded by "Drag Race" judge and erstwhile Palm Springs homeowner Ross Matthews in 2019.

Two blue sofas in a hotel lobby with 9 photographs hanging on the wall above the sofas

Courtesy of The Rowan Palm Springs

Where to Stay

Palm Springs' LGBTQ-friendly lodging, which seems almost redundant to state, includes superb name-brand hotels, chic and unique boutique properties, a generous selection of clothing-optional gay resorts, and even sassy one-of-a-kind Airbnb rentals. Of the latter, "RuPaul's Drag Race" star Willam Belli offers up private stays at his fabulous home, the 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom Desert Disco Compound, a colorful "selfie paradise" just steps from the LGBTQ scene. Entailing a main house and a one-bedroom/one-bath casita with a separate entrance (altogether accommodating up to 8 people), highlights include a heated pool and hot tub, putt-putt and ping pong, a stripper pole (!), a mix of cool retro furnishings, contemporary pop art, and drag queen paraphernalia.

Hotels-wise, Kimpton's 153-room The Rowan Palm Springs is coolly contemporary design-wise with the area's only rooftop pool (cabanas are available to rent), bar with ceviche menu, and Mediterranean-global seasonal menu restaurant 4 Saints.

Clothing optional resorts include the Movie Colony district's 55-year-old gay mens' BearFoot Inn (which invites all gay male-identified legal age adult, not just bear, guests), which features a heated saltwater pool and spa, misting system, and free parking. The 23-room Santiago Resort's amenities include a heated saltwater pool and spa and a misting system, plus a communal fire pit, poolside lunches, and bicycles. For even more privacy, the Triangle Inn boasts only eight B&B-style suites and a separate 4-bedroom house as well as a pool, jacuzzi, misting system, and sundecks. Conversely, the All Worlds Resort is Palm Springs' largest and possibly naughtiest gay resort, with multiple pools, jacuzzis, an indoor and outdoor sex maze, and pool parties replete with go-go boys.

Other clothing optional, adults-only LGBTQ properties with all the trimmings include the lushly landscaped The Hacienda At Warm Sands, Downtown Palm Spring's 8-room Canyon Club Hotel, El Mirasol Villas Resort (originally built by Howard Hughes in the 1940s!), and INNdulge. For even more listings, check the Greater Palm Springs CVB's website.

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