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11 under-the-radar LGBTQ beach destinations

June 2 2022
13 min read
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Beach culture has been an integral part of LGBTQ travel for decades, since the emergence of now world-famous gay resort meccas like Provincetown, Massachusetts; Mykonos, Greece; Key West, Florida; Sitges, Spain; and Brighton, England.

These days, queer travelers flock to dozens of enticing beaches, from secluded spots where you’re free to sunbathe au naturel to festive party playgrounds flanked by world-class resorts and gay nightlife districts.

Some of the world’s most amazing beaches are still relatively unknown — at least, internationally. Try one of these 11 LGBTQ-favored seaside getaways as you plan your next coastal adventure.

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Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii's Napali Coast. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Collins)

The least populated and most ruggedly spectacular of Hawaii’s four largest islands, Kauai is hard to beat if you’re looking to commune with nature or laze on a tranquil beach with nothing but the sound of the surf as your soundtrack. Two of Kauai's popular LGBTQ beaches — Lydgate Beach Park and Paliku Beach — can be found on the lush eastern (or windward) shore.

Centrally located Lydgate Beach Park draws more sizable and eclectic crowds and offers close proximity to plenty of fun options for post-beachcombing cocktails. There’s also a section enclosed by jetties that’s ideal for swimming.

If it’s complete serenity you’re after, head to Paliku (aka Donkey) Beach. The magic begins with a stroll from the parking area through the Tree Tunnel, a gently sloping pathway beneath a canopy of verdant vegetation. Once you reach the stunning golden sand you can bliss out for hours, often in near solitude — just keep in mind that the rough surf here makes swimming treacherous.

Paliku Beach is an especially enjoyable place to decompress after hiking the spectacular sea cliffs of Kauai’s Napali Coast or the otherworldly red-clay bluffs of Waimea Canyon.

Related: Book this, not that: Hawaii resorts edition

Zipolite, Mexico

Zipolite Beach. (Photo by Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images)

Set amid the towering sea stacks and rocky ramparts of Mexico’s dramatic Oaxacan coast, Zipolite sits along a string of minimally developed beach villages — there’s not a high-rise or internationally branded resort in sight.

Bohemians, yoga enthusiasts, surfers and free spirits have been vacationing here and in neighboring Mazunte for years, and although it’s far less touristy and pricey than Puerto Vallarta or Tulum, this former fishing village offers a growing number of stylish boutique hotels such as El Alquimista and Hotel Noga.

Many queer visitors come to experience the inclusive vibes and surreal beauty of Playa del Amor, a clothing-optional, horseshoe-shaped sandy cove nestled between cliffs and massive boulders. All day long, and especially at sunset, this compact beach on the eastern edge of town offers a delightful mix of socializing and seclusion, while an unpretentious beach bar dispenses micheladas and fresh coconuts.

Fringed with palapa-roofed ceviche restaurants, Zipolite’s main beach stretches along the crashing surf for another mile or so and is every bit as gorgeous. Several airlines make the 75-minute flight from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, which are each about a 90-minute drive from Zipolite.

Related: 14 of TPG's favorite points hotels on the beach in Mexico

Durban, South Africa

Durban, South Africa.(Photo by Filippo Romeo/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Cape Town may receive more international attention, but South Africa's third-largest city is arguably more appealing for a beach vacation. The consistently warm waters of the Indian Ocean make this LGBTQ-welcoming city ideal for swimming, surfing, bodyboarding and sunbathing, and the tropical climate is mild year-round, though it can get muggy during Durban's wet summers (from October to April).

This lively and diverse port city on South Africa's east coast has plenty of oceanfront hotels and is just an hour or two by plane from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Durban is fringed by a stretch of breathtaking beaches known as the Golden Mile, with lively North Beach just a few minutes' drive from the gay cafes and bars of the colorful Morningside neighborhood.

Just a short drive up the coast you can mingle with locals and laze in the sun at LGBTQ-popular Virginia Beach (next to a small, private airport) when you're not lounging on the section of sand adjacent to Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve in the affluent town of Umhlanga.

With several upscale hotels within walking distance of the beach and the town’s Instagram-worthy Whalebone Pier, Umhlanga is an appealing base for exploring the region. You'll find everything from five-star beach hotels to budget-friendly outposts from brands like Hilton and IHG.

When it's time to satiate your appetite, be sure to sample a bunny chow, a local street food consisting of a loaf of crusty bread hollowed out and filled with spicy curry. Durban is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of Asian Indian immigrants, so it's packed with superb Indian restaurants.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Andrea Molnar/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Although Spain is where several of Europe’s most iconic gay beach destinations (we’re looking at you, Sitges and Ibiza) are located, neighboring Portugal is rapidly gaining ground in popularity, with the hilly and historic capital, Lisbon, leading the charge.

One of Europe’s top vacation values, Lisbon offers a heady mix of vaunted restaurants, well-preserved Roman ruins, buzzy art museums and inviting queer bars. The latter are set mostly along the quaint cobbled lanes of the Bairro Alto district.

This dynamic metropolis at the confluence of the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean is just a half-hour drive from Beach 19, the country’s most beloved LGBTQ sunbathing locale. This beautiful clothing-optional beach is set against gentle dunes and occupies an undeveloped span of the Costa da Caparica, which is blessed with sunny and generally dry (at least, from March through September) weather.

Looking for refreshments? From Beach 19, you can walk just 10 to 15 minutes south to the breezy beach bars of Fonte da Telha.

Related: Traveling to Portugal: 7 things to know before you go

Ogunquit, Maine

Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Collins)

While Provincetown may be New England's better-known LGBTQ beach destination, this charming, historic, seaside village on the coast of southern Maine has its draws. Set along a jagged, rocky swatch of shoreline that looks like it belongs in a Winslow Homer painting, this dapper village of clapboard bed-and-breakfast accommodations and eateries has been an artists’ colony since the late 19th century.

The exceptional Ogunquit Museum of American Art and the Ogunquit Playhouse, which presents acclaimed summer stock musicals, carry on the village's rich artistic tradition.

The queer beach scene here is relaxed and fun, and from the south end of the long and sandy beach it's just a 10-minute walk to the town’s gay bars and restaurants. You can also stroll along Marginal Way, a paved pathway along the granite ledges that fringe the ocean, to Perkins Cove, a quaint fishing village that abounds with lobster shacks.

Should you crave a bit more variety, you're in luck: A few more beaches and an acclaimed dining scene can be found just 45 minutes up the coast in Portland, Maine.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia. (Photo by Martin Puddy/Getty Images)

Thailand — and Taiwan, to a lesser degree — are undoubtedly better known and more established among Asia’s LGBTQ beach destinations, but blissful Bali’s gay cachet has risen rapidly in recent years. This mountainous, volcanic island slightly smaller than the state of Delaware is famed for its biodiversity and artistic traditions, not to mention its bounty of posh spa resorts.

The only Hindu-majority province in Indonesia, Bali has a relatively welcoming attitude toward the LGBTQ community. This is especially apparent near the southern tip of the island around the Seminyak resort area and just to the north at gay-friendly Batu Belig Beach.

You’ll typically encounter plenty of queer vacationers sunning and swimming in these parts, and there are several swanky gay-favored spa resorts nearby, including the W Bali and The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa. In the evening, the scene moves a couple of miles inland to Seminyak's Jalan Camplung Tanduk quarter, which is home to festive gay clubs like Mixwell Bar and BaliJoe Bar.

Related: Off the beaten path in Bali: 10 ways to see the island beyond the beach

Santa Catarina Island, Brazil

Santa Catarina Island in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Collins)

This sunny, verdant island in southeastern Brazil stretches 33 miles and offers some of the most alluring beaches in the country, along with an abundance of stylish resorts, from full-service Il Campanario Villaggio Resort in the tiny beach town of Jurere to the stylishly intimate Hotel Boutique Quinta das Videiras in Florianopolis. The latter is close to Praia Mole, a crescent-shaped beach backed by emerald hills that LGBTQ sunbathers flock to.

Although Santa Catarina Island has become a favored gay weekend getaway among those seeking a less party-driven alternative to pulsing Rio de Janeiro, which is less than 90 minutes away by plane, you can still find opportunities here for revelry. In Florianopolis, there's dancing until dawn on weekends at Jivago Social Club, Conca Club and other queer nightspots.

Another bonus: This lush island, which is roughly twice the size of Martha's Vineyard, offers gorgeous hikes through the rugged mountains of Sao Joaquim National Park and the otherworldly sands of the Joaquina dune field.

Related: 5 expert tips when booking award travel to South America

Portland, Oregon

Rooster Rock State Park in Portland, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Collins)

A progressive hub of craft coffee and beer, indie arts, shopping, hiking and biking, Oregon’s largest city lies 80 miles inland but is nevertheless close to a pair of captivating queer sun spots: Collins Beach and Rooster Rock.

Collins Beach lies 25 miles north of downtown Portland on placid Sauvie Island. While it’s a pretty drive by car, fans of cycling might consider renting a bike and pedaling here, stopping to gather sweet marionberries and juicy peaches at one of the island’s colorful farm stands.

Rooster Rock State Park is 25 miles in the opposite direction from Portland and is set beneath the sheer and lushly forested cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge. From the parking area, follow the signs east to the officially sanctioned clothing-optional stretch of sand — the thicket of rainbow flags and beach blankets will clue you in that you’ve arrived. Rooster Rock's array of secluded nooks and crannies make it ideal for those seeking a quieter and more private day at the beach.

Marseille, France

(Marseille, France. (Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)

Much of France’s LGBTQ beach scene is centered around Nice and the adjacent French Riviera, but this colorful port city is where you'll find the country’s oldest gay beach, Mont Rose. Adjacent to the scenic fishing village of La Madrague and accessible via a 45-minute bus ride south from central Marseille, this picturesque expanse of craggy ledges draws a predominantly gay male crowd, and nude sunbathing is popular.

Marseille's gritty reputation, which was solidified by its starring role in the Oscar-winning 1971 crime thriller "The French Connection," has softened a bit over the years. In 2013, this diverse city featuring a lively queer scene hosted EuroPride.

You'll find a handful of appealing accommodations, including the luxe C2 Hotel and the old-world, yet chic, Hotel Maison Montgrand Vieux Port, in or near the charming Old Port district, which is also home to several gay bars and restaurants specializing in bouillabaisse, Marseille's most celebrated dish.

Related: 10 of the best points hotels in France

Port Douglas, Australia

Port Douglas, Australia. (Photo by John Crux Photography/Getty Images)

Home to Australia’s most famous LGBTQ hotel, the Turtle Cove Beach Resort, as well as the gay-owned Pink Flamingo Resort and a bevy of vacation rentals, the former gold-mining hub of Port Douglas is one of the Southern Hemisphere's premier gay beach retreats. It’s just a 45-minute drive from the small city of Cairns (which is a three-hour flight from Sydney) at the northern tip of Queensland.

Port Douglas' Four Mile Beach is the stretch of sand to prioritize, as it overlooks the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea and features stunning golden sand to walk at sunrise or sunset.

Those keen on scuba diving and/or snorkeling will love that the town offers direct access to the Great Barrier Reef, while hikers and wildlife enthusiasts flock here to explore the natural wonders of the Daintree Rainforest. For a sneak preview of this beautiful little slice of paradise, hop onto YouTube to seek out Kylie Minogue’s bubblegum-pop video “It’s No Secret,” which was filmed entirely on location in Port Douglas in the late ‘80s.

Related: Luxury on the Great Barrier Reef: A dreamy trip to the InterContinental Hayman Island

St. Petersburg, Florida

A gay cruise in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Collins)

No city in Florida has experienced a more dramatic renaissance during the past couple of decades than St. Petersburg, which now buzzes with superb art spaces (including the striking Salvador Dalí Museum), hip restaurants, a newly rebuilt pier extending into scenic Tampa Bay and the trendy and LGBTQ-popular Historic Kenwood retail and entertainment district.

With 35 miles of sugary white sand beaches fringing the Gulf of Mexico, surrounding Pinellas County is also a fantastic destination for a relaxing seaside vacation.

The area's calm waters are ideal for swimming, kayaking and fishing, and there are a couple of spots with a pronounced queer presence. You’ll find more of a party vibe at Sunset Beach, a haven for LGBTQ beachgoers on Treasure Island. The beach is a short drive from a number of stylish accommodations, such as The Saint Hotel and Hotel Zamora.

A bit more tranquil and beckoning to a slightly more mixed crowd, Pass-a-Grille Beach sits adjacent to the historic village of the same name. It offers several inviting seafood restaurants with waterfront terraces that are perfect for sunset cocktails.

Related: 13 of the best beaches in Florida

Featured photo by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3 / 5
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Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees