As we clutch our imaginary pearls every time we hear of a favorite gay bar closing in New York and Los Angeles, we also have reasons to throw our handbags in the air: New gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses are opening up in Fort Lauderdale every day, and with good reason.

Fort Lauderdale, a popular destination with LGBTI visitors since the 1970s for the region’s tropical climate and laid-back locals, is a city where the demand for LGBTI business is booming.

It helps that the city’s tourism board is not only embracing but also celebrating the local LGBTI community.

Fort Lauderdale’s tourism board is one of the only cities in the entire USA that has openly and proudly integrated an LGBTI page into their tourism strategy.

While this might seem boring to some travelers, this is huge news for LGBTI Americans and foreigners.

Consider how many of your home cities are willing or able to promote gay weddings or lesbian bars on the official city government’s website, and you’ll quickly see why it’s such a big deal that Fort Lauderdale is doing things for the LGBTI community that no other city even dares to approach.

The city recently launched a national transgender travel survey, and will shortly be hosting the country’s largest transgender conference.

Year-round Fort Lauderdale is packed with more and more events, from an LGBTI film festival and Gay Days in November, a candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day, a massive gay pride celebration in March, a bear beach weekend in May, and even an annual gay family weekend is in the works for November 2015.

Last year Fort Lauderdale was ranked as the US city with the highest concentration of same-sex couples.

Broward County, in which Fort Lauderdale resides, is considered the most progressive in Florida, a state known for a heavy Republican constituency and as such anti-gay sentiments.

To see for yourself why millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans travelers are flocking to Fort Lauderdale every year, check out our recommendations below and stay tuned to Gay Star Travel Facebook and Twitter for more on sunny Fort Lauderdale.

Where the good times are

Sebastian Beach
Probably the best thing about Sebastian Beach is that there’s no way to distinguish it from the long stretch of the greater Fort Lauderdale beach, except for the Sebastian sign post and the concentration of men on the warm, almost fluffy sand..

Just a stone’s throw away from most of the area’s gay seaside resorts and hotels, and perpendicular to Las Olas shopping district, Sebastian Beach is definitely a great starting point to mix with friendly locals or get a base tan for the rest of your holiday.

Wilton Manors
More a gay mini-city than a gayborhood, Wilton Manors impresses as a sprawling LGBTI business and residential district (Think West Hollywood layout with wider streets and mostly one-story buildings).

Driving through streets you see rainbow flags outside homes and restaurants, and it’s not just the smaller restaurants: Wilton Manors is home to proper American-size family-style, Olive Garden or Claim Jumper-esque restaurants that are either gay-owned or gay-friendly.

From specialty shops to coffee shops, Wilton Manors is the actively beating heart of LGBTI life in Fort Lauderdale.

Whether you want to have an elegant evening or just let your hair down, the Wilton Manors nightlife scene has something for everyone, and most venues are located within walking distance of each other.

Check out Hello Sunny’s LGBTI page for a listing of bars, restaurants and clubs.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Florida’s tropical humid climate means you get an ecosystem quite unique for the US. The mix of beaches, swamps, marshes and man-made canals put you near water at almost every turn.

In 1893, Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch paid $1 (Euro) per acre of a 3.5-mile stretch of oceanfront property in Fort Lauderdale.

Considered to be the Central Park of Fort Lauderdale, a rich green oasis in the middle of the city, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is now a 180-acre estate protected by the state of Florida.

The landscape is so diverse you can rent a Segway for a perimeter tour or take jet skis out into the canals, depending on your thirst for adventure.

Pool party at the Royal Palms
The Royal Palms hosts a very fun and popular Sunday tea dance.

Music blasts from the DJ booth overlooking the pool, where locals sun and swim. Men huddle around the pool bar, ordering drinks from criminally good lucking (and charming!) bartenders.

The 50-room property, one of the largest gay resorts in the city and just a few blocks northwest of Sebastian Beach, includes two separate pool decks, a fully equipped fitness center and free Wi-Fi. The modern and minimalist rooms feature 42-inch TVs and rainforest showers with pebble floors (an amazing way to shower).

Enthusiastic reviews on Trip Advisor say the Royal Palms is ‘simply terrific,’ ‘just as good as our first visit’ and ‘gay heaven cake!’

Sleeping around in Fort Lauderdale

Pineapple Resorts
No two rooms in this lavish, all-male, clothing optional resort are the same.

After more than a decade in business and a million dollar re-vamp, the 28 suites, rooms and villas mix an old world Florida feel with a 24-hour service staff so, in the words of the founders, nobody waits for anything.

Consistently ranked number one on TripAdvisor’s specialty lodging list, Pineapple Resort’s modern and lush interiors featuring all the amenities and king-sized beds matches the beautifully landscaped exterior where pet iguanas sun in the palm trees and guests can sun themselves in the ubiquitous hammocks or their private pools, depending on the room booked.

Pineapple in particular is making waves in the LGBTI community: Founders have just announced plans to launch a nationwide system of residences for elderly LGBTI people. A combination assisted living and memory care, these independent condo living spaces are set to revolutionize care for elderly LGBTI people around the country. Visit the Pineapple Resorts website for more photos and booking information.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale
Standing tall amidst oceanfront gay resorts and mainstream hotels is the cool and collected W Hotel.

From the glass-walled pool overlooking the dining area, to the bonfire equipped patio, the W does not let you forget you’re meant to relax and enjoy being next to the beach.

With helpful staff at every turn, the W takes care of everything guests could want, from room service to spa treatments in the Bliss spa (rooms come with delicious-smelling complimentary Bliss spa products).

The design is so classically W and picturesque, it’s not uncommon to see surfers and bridal parties coming out of the same elevator.

If possible, book an oceanfront room, the higher the better to wake up in time for the glorious sunrise.

For more information or to book visit the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale website.

The Royal Palms
See mention above.

Learn your 'herstory'

World AIDS Museum
On the corner of a main intersection in Fort Lauderdale, The World AIDS Museum sits quietly carrying a big stick.

One of the only spaces in the world dedicated solely to AIDS education, history and awareness, the museum is a walk-through interactive history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, from the earliest identifiable cases to the latest PrEP medications.

The exhibits combine an artistic aspect along with the historical, incorporating pop culture items like a signed jersey by basketball legend Magic Johnson, and powerful artwork by local residents.

Viewers get extra context through seeing what else was going on in the same year they are looking at.

The accessibility of the museum to the general public and its ability to inform even the most knowledgeable makes it a venue to watch.

Stonewall National Museum and Archives
This impressive library-turned archive is soon to receive an official endorsement from the Smithsonian.

Since opening in 1974, the museum and archives now contain over 27,000 fiction, historical and academic titles, anything and everything to do with the world of LGBTI, no matter how obscure or tangential.

Overseers call the space the largest LGBT lending library in the world, expanding into the community with book clubs, writing courses and social events.

In an effort to educate America from a young age, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives has launched a national education project, inviting national school districts to discuss LGBTI issues in the heart of where history continues to happen.

Where to chow down

Steak 945 at W Hotel
On the ground floor of Lauderdale’s chic W Hotel, boutique steakhouse Steak 945 is a meat and seafood heaven surrounded by tanks of iridescent floating jellyfish.

The waiters, knowledgeable about the difference between West Coast and East Coast oysters as if they harvested themselves, guide guests through the greed-inducing menu.

After selecting food, prepare yourself for an equally tantalizing drinks menu and prepare to be transported on a flavorful culinary journey.

S3 (Sun, Surf and Sand) at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
The three ‘s’ for me meant steak, seafood and sushi, of which the menu features in a variety of style, from tropical, Asian and American.

If possible find a table outside looking onto the beach. Following the waiter’s recommendations, we were hooked on the chef’s preparation of pork belly. Apparently he does different things with the dish, all of which are sure to be amazing.

Dapur Asian Tapas and Lounge in Wilton Manors
A space so cosmopolitan you’ll see a group of lesbians drinking next to a straight couple celebrating their anniversary, Dapur is like being on vacation at home.

The menu serves up all variation of Asian cuisine, from Thai-inspired shrimp poppers to Filipino classic pan-sit. The fully-stocked bar can produce any cocktail imaginable, but I can’t imagine going to Dapur and ordering anything other than the immaculate lychee martini.

Lobster Bar Sea Grille on Las Olas
It would be a shame not to take advantage of Fort Lauderdale’s position on the coast and miss out on the locally cherished seafood.

The Lobster Bar Sea Grille’s interior sets the stage for the menu: sophisticated without being stuffy, exciting and comfortable.

From succulent lobsters drenched in drawn butter to shrimp in all style of preparation, the chic interior does not stop guests from dipping into dishes with bare hands and smiles.

Rosie’s Bar & Grill
Whether you’re hung-over from the night before or woke up fresh as a daisy with the kids, Rosie’s is the place to go for Sunday Brunch.

An open-air restaurant with a beach umbrella-covered patio, Rosie’s combines good ole’ American breakfast classics in an equally relaxed and upbeat atmosphere.

Fun messages like ‘we don’t have Wi-Fi, talk to each other’ are printed on the waiters’ t-shirts, reflecting the great sense of humor and lively mood of every member of staff. I think they put something in their pickle-back shots (served in real pickles!)

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