Queer all year: 10 experiences for the ultimate Philadelphia getaway

Three people celebrate Pride in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Pride March & Festival. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Sure, there are essential things to do in Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell, the “LOVE” sculpture among them), but it’s also a city rich in LGBTQ+ history and culture.

In 1965, Philadelphia hosted the Annual Reminders, a precursor to Stonewall. Members from the Janus Society of Philadelphia, the Mattachine Society, and other activist groups gathered to advocate for equality, laying the groundwork for Philadelphia as a beacon for LGBTQ+ visibility. The protests reinforced Philadelphia’s status as an open and welcoming destination for all, which dates back to 1701 when the city’s founder William Penn signed the Fourth Frame, or Charter of Privileges, which granted local citizens freedom of speech and other natural rights.

Today, LGBTQ+-owned and -operated restaurants, entertainment venues, and retailers, along with public art, historical markers, and hidden gems, exist as a symbol of Philadelphia’s legacy of inclusivity. 

GayCities makes it easy to plan a weekend getaway with a short list of places and activities that honor pride all year long. 

1. Walking tours

Philadelphia's Giovanni's Room
Giovanni’s Room is the oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in the United States. Photo by C. Benner for Visit Philadelphia

Beyond the Bell Tours offers five different Philadelphia walking tours that bring to life the impact that LGBTQ+ identity has had on the city and the Gayborhood’s historical context.

In December 1962, Greater Philadelphia Magazine published journalist Gaeton Fonzi’s The Furtive Fraternity —  the country’s first essay about a city’s LGBTQ+ population to appear in a mainstream publication. The Gayborhood (officially named in 1995) flourishes to this day. Anchored by Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in the United States, it is now signified by over 40 rainbow-hued street signs and a newly restored rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of 13th and Locust.

Tour highlights may include the legacy of inventor and HIV activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a tribute to Gloria Casarez (executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative, 1999-2008), and an entire tour dedicated to the trans folks who helped shape Philadelphia’s history.

2. Coffee culture

Menagerie Coffee
Menagerie Coffee. Photo by Ryan Strand Greenberg

Menagerie Coffee’s two locations in Old City are nestled among the neighborhood’s historic cobblestone streets and represent the city’s Third Wave coffee culture with a minimalist design that’s welcoming to travelers and locals alike. 

“Our identity is something that we’re always aware of, and while it’s not the first thing we lead with, it’s very important to us,” co-founder and owner April Nett told PA Eats. “We’ve met an incredible community of women, men, and non-binary folks along our way, and you begin to see people as more than gendered folks.”

“Philly is a great town for eating and drinking, and people will show up and support anyone willing to take the risk to open a shop in their neighborhood,” Nett continued. “It feels really cool to be in a town that feels very receptive to a whole host of creative expressions.”

3. Reimagining the gastropub

Darling Jack’s Tavern.
Darling Jack’s Tavern. Photo by Jason Varney

Over the past 20 years, Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have helped transform Philadelphia’s dining notoriety from cheesesteak capital of the world (although that sandwich is very much worth the trip) to a multicultural culinary destination with plenty of accolades, including three wins at the 2023 James Beard Awards, including Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of Kalaya), Outstanding Restaurateur (Ellen Yin of High Street Hospitality), and Outstanding Restaurant (Friday Saturday Sunday).

The couple has opened over a dozen restaurants over the years and currently operates three of them — ​​Barbuzzo, Little Nonna’s, and Bud & Marilyn’s — in Midtown Village in the heart of the Gayborhood. Their newest venture, Darling Jack’s Tavern, explores the couple’s definition of comfort food at a time when travelers are craving it.

“It’s been a rough few years for our industry, and we’re excited to get back to basics and cook everything and anything we love to eat,” says Turney.

The menu includes contemporary riffs on classics like roasted chicken with Castelvetrano olives and preserved lemon.

4. A new era of nightlife

Tavern on Camac
Tavern on Camac. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Philadelphia nightlife venues weathered the last few tumultuous years and have returned stronger than ever, including the historic Tavern on Camac. Equal parts restaurant, piano bar, and nightclub, the venue originated as a 1920s Prohibition-era speakeasy. The bar finally came out in 1973 (then known as the Venture Inn) and remains a favorite LGBTQ+ gathering spot.

A new generation of entrepreneurs is also making its mark. Level Up Bar & Lounge presents a packed schedule of weekly events, including happy hour drag bingo and late-night karaoke. A few blocks away, Ram Krishnan and Akshay Kamath’s Miami-style cocktail bar Cockatoo serves Latin-inspired street food.

“When I came out 15 years back, I may have been the only out, Brown man in the bars,” Krishnan told local news site Billy Penn and WHYY. “There’s a subconscious frustration that builds over time until you say, ‘Hey, you know what, I think I’ll create the space.’”

5. Discovering art inside and out

Philadelphia rainbow crosswalk
Philadelphia’s rainbow crosswalks were recently refreshed with thermoplastic for durability. Photo by Rob Rabena for Visit Philadelphia

Rocky Balboa scaling the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has become part of the city’s cultural zeitgeist, but plenty of artists and makers have found inspiration among the distinctive neighborhoods.

The South Street Art Mart began as a pop-up and planted permanent roots in the South Street Headhouse District in 2018, where more than 400 small businesses and independent stores call home. The LGBTQ+-owned and -operated shop features curated books, zines, housewares, quirky gifts, and jewelry.

No matter which neighborhood one visits, Philadelphia also brims with public art. For nearly 40 years, Mural Arts Philadelphia has produced more than 4,000 works and offers guided walking and trolley tours. For a one-of-a-kind find, head to 22nd and Ellsworth Street to discover Keith Haring’s “We the Youth” — the artist’s only remaining collaborative public mural still intact in its original location.

6. A legacy of drag

Philadelphia Pride March & Festival
Philadelphia Pride March & Festival. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Drag culture in Philadelphia can be traced back as far as the late 19th century and the city’s annual Mummers New Year’s Day Parade (imagine Carnival or Mardis Gras), when awards were given for best “female impersonator.” 

Today, the city boasts a rich drag community, from pop-up performances throughout the Gayborhood to sunset drag at Bok Bar, helmed by Brittany Lynn, don of the Drag Mafia (voted Best Drag Show in 2022 by Philadelphia magazine) and starring in Visit Philadelphia’s newest TV spot out just in time for Pride Month. Lynn also founded Drag Queen Story Time, a literacy program in collaboration with child educators from the city’s top museums and schools.

Other drag happenings include themed events like murder mystery parties and cooking show tributes at Tattooed Mom and the city’s longest-running drag show at Bob & Barbara’s, hosted by Miss Lisa Lisa.

7. Keep the drama onstage

Fabrika. Photo by Daniel D’Ottavio

The Walnut Street Theatre, which opened in 1809, is America’s oldest theater and anchors Philadelphia’s expansive performing arts scene with classic and contemporary plays and musicals. 

Other noteworthy companies include the newly established Strides Collective. A member company of the Queer Theater Alliances, the collective was founded by artistic director Jonathan Edmondson in January 2020 to produce works by queer artists.

The annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival also offers a platform for emerging theater makers.

For a multi-sensory experience, head to Fishtown, near the Delaware River, to discover Fabrika, a cabaret-style venue that presents burlesque, drag, and cirque elements with a 1920s vibe.

8. Play ball

Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Photo by M. Kennedy for GPTMC

Sports fans have plenty to pick from, with The Wall Street Journal naming Philadelphia “the sports capital of the universe.” The Philadelphia Phillies made it all the way to the World Series in 2022 and hosts an annual Pride night to celebrate its diverse fan base. The 76ers, the city’s basketball team, also welcomes LGBTQ+ fans and allies each season.

Regardless of the sport, there’s always a game to catch, but for those looking for more hands-on experiences, Philadelphia offers plenty of spots to break a sweat, from biking and jogging along the Schuylkill River Trail to Spruce Street Harbor Park, where hammocks, arcade games, and a waterfront boardwalk make for an idyllic lazy afternoon.

9. The ultimate 3-day stay

Guild House
Guild House Hotel. Photo by Jason Varney for Guild House

According to a recent study by booking.com, 60 percent of LGBTQ+ travelers are more likely to travel to a destination that celebrates its local LGBTQ+ community and history. Philadelphia checks that box, and a travel deal makes a weekend getaway that much more enticing.

With the Visit Philly 3-Day Stay, book two nights and get the third night free (through December 31, 2023) at participating hotels. 

Eleven participating hotels throughout the city offer plenty of options for exploring different neighborhoods, including the newly opened Guild House Hotel (named one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best New Hotels in the World”), a restored 1855 rowhome once occupied by the New Century Guild, a group of female suffragists, artists, and abolitionists.

Motto by Hilton Rittenhouse Square offers a minimalist design in the original Gayborhood and near the site of the city’s first Pride march in 1972.

10. Pride 365

Philadelphia Pride & Festival
Philadelphia Pride March & Festival. Stephanie Ramones for Visit Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s Pride Weekend each June is just part of GALAEI’s (the Gay and Lesbian AIDS Education Initiative) commitment to LGBTQ+ visibility all year long. Founded in 1989 by David Acosta, the organization has evolved to become one of the city’s preeminent social justice organizations. Community outreach programs include HIV/AIDS awareness and education, trans and gender-inclusive support, and student mentorship. 

The William Way LGBT Community Center welcomes more than 15,000 visitors per year. Its lobby art gallery features group shows, while special exhibitions in the Archives Gallery reflect moments throughout LGBTQ+ history and preserve the city’s LGBTQ+ identity with an eye on the future. The city’s leadership has been part of that journey, including allyship from Mayor Jim Kenney and his administration’s establishment of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. 

“Over the last seven years and now going into my final year as mayor, I have worked hard to build a city that embraces all people and communities — one that knows and values inclusion and acceptance,” Kenney said in a statement to Philadelphia Gay News.

Over 24 million people agree, which was the number of domestic travelers who visited Philadelphia in 2022, with the figure projected to rise as the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Affection continues to prosper.

For more on all there is to see and do in Greater Philadelphia, go to visitphilly.com.

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