An LGBTQ Traveler's Guide to West Hollywood, California

L.A. Gay Pride In WeHo

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Affectionately known as WeHo, West Hollywood packs a whole lot of queerness into its mere 1.9 square mile chunk of the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area. Much like the Castro to San Francisco or Boystown to Chicago, this destination, declared an official city in 1984 with a population of just over 36,000 as of 2020, is historically known as one of the country's most prominent and still thriving "gayborhoods," with many iconic and enduring LGBTQ nightlife spots along with recent additions.

Yet there's also quite a lot of culture to be enjoyed during daylight hours, in addition to the endless people watching along the restaurant and bar-lined Santa Monica Boulevard strip known as Boys Town. WeHo's official tourism office, Visit West Hollywood, publishes a digital insiders' guide magazine with plenty of scoops on attractions, sub-districts, and a suggested LGBTQ itinerary.

Christopher Street West's annual LA Pride Parade & Festival made WeHo its home since 1979 but announced in 2020 that its 2021 edition, scheduled for June 11-13, will change locations although details are still to be announced. However, West Hollywood's outrageous and free Halloween Carnaval remains a must on the queer calendar, filling Santa Monica Boulevard from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with thousands of costumed (and risque at that!) revelers plus nightclub parties galore.

The Best Things to Do

Sure, a trip to West Hollywood entails a lot of seeing and being seen while shopping along Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, but there's plenty to appease culture vultures during the day. Interior design and decor fans will love the Pacific Design Center (PDC), a can't-miss campus entailing green, red, and blue buildings that house a wide array of showrooms. Instantly recognizable thanks to artist Chris Burden's Instagram-ready outdoor "Urban Light" streetlamp installation, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the west coast's largest art museum and besides its deep permanent collection features cutting edge, innovative, and multimedia touring exhibitions: openly gay Black artist Kehinde Wiley's iconic portrait of Barack Obama and Amy Sherald's Michelle Obama will be on display from November 5, 2021 until January 2, 2022.

A WeHo landmark, Circus of Books closed in 2019—a Netflix documentary chronicles its storied and very LGBTQ past—but drag queen and gay porn film director Chi Chi LaRue revived the space as Chi Chi LaRue's Circus in 2020 as a colorful, upmarket store that includes adult goods, accessories, and well-curated selections of coffee-table tomes and local art.

Hollywood skincare guru to the stars since the 1970s (clients have included Barbra Streisand, Ellen DeGeneres, Cher, Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Elton John, David Bowie, and Kylie Minogue), the Denmark-born, openly gay Ole Henriksen opened a namesake WeHo Spa off Sunset Boulevard in 1998, and it remains a favorite, discreet, cozy oasis for skin and body pampering treatments with his excellent line of products today.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in California

TripSavvy / Amanda Blackard

The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

WeHo's LGBTQ nightlife is largely concentrated along or around Santa Monica Boulevard, a stretch historically dubbed Boystown. A quintessential WeHo institution with mainstream recognition, The Abbey celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021. Winner of multiple awards and subject of a 2017 E! network reality show, "What Happens At The Abbey," this is a one-stop-shopping venue of sorts when it comes to a night out: encompassing a restaurant, bar, and as of 2016, another 5,500 square foot bar next door, The Chapel. This is also where the community (and some celebrities!) gather for meetings, activism, and mixers.

For dancing, visitors can look forward to a brand new Santa Monica Boulevard gay megaclub, reportedly, the USA's largest, to open in the space formerly occupied by 37-year-old dance club Rage, which closed permanently in September 2020. Owner Lance Bass, the former N'Sync member, is also behind the gay sports bar and restaurant Rocco's WeHo, which opened in 2019 and boasts an illustrated and artifact-filled wall depicting the timeline of LGBTQ history on the West Coast (a collaboration with USC Libraries' ONE Archives Foundation).

L.A.'s first gay sports bar, Gym, first opened in 2009. Spring 2021 saw Gym relocate to a new space on Santa Monica Blvd, about five blocks southwest (conveniently, on the same block as Bass' new megaclub). The new space boasts the addition of a full kitchen and food menu as well as drinks. Situated just kitty-corner is another expected addition to WeHo's bar scene in 2021, Stache (from owner Ryan Floyd of the Silverlake neighborhood's 33 Taps). Its 3,000-plus square foot interior will include a dance floor and stage, a full-service restaurant (with additional outdoor dining space) serving 100 percent plant-based food prepared from scratch, and a robust line-up of community events and entertainment including drag queen bingo, vogueing classes, political watch parties and more.

The Bayou, easy to spot thanks to a fleur-de-lis flag out front, adopts a New Orleans theme and offers a nightly happy hour plus shirtless bartenders and, if they're feeling generous, free shots. The two-story bar and restaurant lounge Beaches takes its cues and glowing hot pink and purple lighting from 1980s Miami disco culture, and offers a menu of "Californian Cuban Cuisine." With a sister venue in San Francisco, the open-front Hi Tops offers a menu of upscale pub fare including "huge killer nachos" and impossible burgers to complement the drinking, events, and people watching from its sizeable streetside patio.

Open since the 1980s, enduring favorite Revolver Video Bar fills out its week with karaoke, drag shows, go-go boys, and dancing. Also around since the 1980s, the two-floor Micky's is WeHo's sole nightclub to be open past 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights (until 4 a.m., specifically), and features drag shows and go-go boys as well as plenty of dance action. Across the street, the comparatively dive-y Mother Lode is another WeHo institution beloved for its drinks and weekly "The Hole" Tuesdays, which see a line-up of naughty go-go boys. Open for over 25 years, unpretentious gay sports bar Trunks also boasts an outdoor patio.

Just outside the Boys Town zone to the east of Santa Monica Blvd., Fubar has a slightly edgier vibe, brick walls, and in their own words, "cheap strong drinks, draggy, hot men, assless chaps, amazing bartenders, and in your face DJ's."

The Best Places to Eat

WeHo has become a haven for foodies in recent years, with plenty of healthy options along with decadent California fare and international flavors. A few highlights include openly gay executive chef Scot Jones' Mediterranean-influenced vegan restaurant Crossroads Kitchen, the stunning rooftop seafood venue Catch L.A., the both vegan-friendly and international flavors-centric Norah, and acclaimed Thai street food specialists Night+Market.

If your focus is eye candy, Boys Town's Fiesta Cantina is where you can sip a large variety of flavored margaritas and enjoy the sights along with Cal Mex staples like burritos and fajitas, Reality star Lisa Vanderpump is behind two Boys Town hotspots and celebrity magnets, PUMP and Tom Tom Bar. The former opened in 2014, serving upscale yet casual international fare with California accents (e.g. ahi tuna tartare, rigatoni with filet mignon bolognese) and is also a brunch fave, while the sleekly designed (with steampunk flair) Tom Tom debuted in 2018 and spotlights craft cocktail creations like the Matcha Butcha (gin, matcha, ginger liqueur, Cointreau, kombucha).

Kimpton La Peer

Cris Molina / Kimpton La Peer

Where to Stay

Although early 2021 saw the closure of WeHo's iconic Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard—a glam celebrity magnet that featured prominently in movies and series including "Sex And The City," and whose investors included Leo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz—there are plenty of gorgeous, unique, and you-may-spot-celebrities-here WeHo properties to recommend, all of which boast pools.

  • Indeed, the hip, sustainability-forward luxury brand 1 Hotel opened its 286-room 1 Hotel West Hollywood in 2019 on Sunset Boulevard, making it the brand's first West Coast its first West Coast hotel (other locations include South Beach Miami and the Brooklyn Bridge New York). Embracing nature and cool, earthy tones for its design, rooms feature floor to ceiling windows, reclaimed wood, organic cotton, and bare concrete, while a rooftop pool and foliage-nestled cocktail lounge, indoor cocktail bar Juniper (which uses herbs and ingredients from an on-site organic garden in its craft libations menu), and Chef Chris Crary's SoCal fare 1 Kitchen restaurant rank among the properties' highlights.
  • The 105-room Kimpton La Peer opened in WeHo's Design District in 2018. Iceland-born designer Gulla Jonsdottir spotlights custom decor and grey and brown tones and sophisticated textures throughout the utterly contemporary property. The backyard features an installation collaboration by L.A. street artist RETNA and creative director Guerin Swing, while fitness fans will enjoy the rooftop outdoor heated pool and cocktail bar, daily fitness classes, yoga mats (provided in every room), and fresh Italy-via-SoCal and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine at restaurants Viale Dei Romani and poolside Olivetta, respectively. Bonus: want a bath? Try an in-room bath ritual from Ole Henriksen Spa.
  • An all-suite boutique property with six categories and sizes to choose from, the 79-suite Petit Ermitage is located in a slightly more discreet, even leafier part of WeHo (read: off Santa Monica and Sunset Blvds) and embraces an artsy, bohemian vibe with Paris-meets-Morocco design influence. Perks include a heated saltwater rooftop pool and private dining area surrounded by nature, which also serves as a hummingbird and butterfly sanctuary.