We rounded up five excellent gay beaches that are enticing and beautiful, from California to South Africa, these distinctive beaches are the perfect destinations for the LGBT traveler.
In Our Young Man, a 2016 novel about a Frenchman’s experience on Fire Island, best-selling author and gay icon Edmund White writes: “On Fire Island everyone was in a Speedo pulling a wagon of groceries across the bumpy boardwalk; you couldn’t tell the houseboys from the bankers.”
Fire Island, a sunny retreat two hours east of New York City, is world renowned as a predominantly gay beach destination, but the allure lies in the harmonious merging of LGBT subcultures. Here, you can find various ethnicities; young and old; starving artists and successful businessmen; hipsters and bears; cubs and queens; twinks and daddies; liberals and conservatives; jocks and queers influencers; gay families and married couples; and even a handful of heteros to make it the most welcoming, effortlessly diverse and stereotype-defying gay beach destination in the world. Fire Island is iconic with a history that runs decades deep. It takes “gay beach” to a whole new level, and many would say it defines the gay beach, setting the standard for other gay beaches around the world. Everyone from Liza Minelli to Alan Cumming, Calvin Klein to David Geffen has visited, and, over the summer, Fire Island is an unrivaled gay paradise that truly embraces gay life and culture. You can be as isolated as you want, or, like most visitors, you can party with strangers, friends, and lovers until the break of dawn. Ultimately, Fire Island is the most significant gay beach destination in the world, and most travelers who visit have stories to tell for decades to come. And while Fire Island’s notorious party reputation may precede it, the sprawling beaches are the main reason the gay community made it a homeaway-from-home in the first place.
While Fire Island is the world’s most famous gay beach, dozens of other gay beaches attract LGBT travelers across the planet, many that are year-round destinations. Some are under the radar, while many are over the top. From Mexico to Australia, gay beaches beckon beach lovers with miles of scenic, sandy shores, stunning natural beauty, and a genuine, safe space to be all the gay you can be. They sprawl as far as North Bondi Beach in Sydney, Playa de las Balmins in Sitges, Rio de Janeiro’s famed Ipanema, and in the US, Queen’s Surf Beach in Hawaii’s Oahu and Herring Cove in Provincetown.
Naturally, not all gay beaches are created equal. Some beach destinations have solid infrastructures with gay hotels, restaurants, and bars, while many are simply untainted, quiet stretches of sand. We rounded up five excellent gay beaches that are enticing and beautiful, and have become the preferred stomping ground for locals and travelers alike. From California to South Africa, these distinctive beaches are the perfect destinations for the LGBT traveler.
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia
With its bohemian sensibility, abundant nature, commitment for diversity, care-free attitude, yet strong environmentalist activism, Vancouver on the Pacific coast of Canada unarguably embraces a progressive side. With an appreciation for all things organic, the hippie culture here emerged in the late 1960s, and has always celebrated nudism as a way for people to gain respect and acceptance for one’s own body, no matter the age. All things considered, it’s no surprise Vancouver offers a beautiful, clothing-optional beach designated for visitors to bare all.
Secluded by dense forest in a breathtaking, seaside oasis, 400 steps down a cliff and peacefully removed from Vancouver’s bustling metropolis, Wreck Beach is a magnet for gay men who like to wear their birthday suits (Speedos and swimsuits are an option, too, however never enforced). Unlike other gay beaches around the world that may have originally served as under-the-radar cruising spots, Wreck Beach is rooted in political history. In the late 1970s, a group of local naturists fought against development that would erect modern buildings, destroy the pristine landscape, and ultimately wreck Wreck Beach.
Known as Wreck Beach Preservation Society (WBPS), the group continues to help protect the area from losing its natural magic, and they have remained largely successful, including a victory over new residence towers for nearby University of British Columbia. Everyone has always been welcome here; the gay community didn’t need a place to hide.
Now, Wreck Beach is an unspoiled, four-mile haven on the coastline, the largest naturist beach in North America and only 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. It’s as retro as one could imagine, stripped down to a sprawling, sandy shore, glimmering sea and all Vancouver sky, not to mention the throngs of nude beachgoers, particularly over the summer months. As it’s legal (and encouraged!) to be nude here, Wreck Beach has attracted community events like New Year–themed Polar Bear Swimmers (testing the icy waters as skinny dippers) and several attempts to break the Guinness Book of World Records’Simultaneous North American Skinny Dip. There is also a WBPS annual Body Acceptance Day, which helps inspire beachgoers to comfortably seize the day buck naked.
While the entire beach is gay friendly, gay men have carved out a special spot for the LGBT community, an unmarked location near the breakwater on the left-hand side once you walk down the flight of 400 stairs. Beachgoers generally bring their own gear (like chairs and umbrellas) though beach stalls sell beach blankets, sarongs, and other useful merchandise, and naked beach vendors make their rounds selling beer, sangria, cocktails, and a selection of natural goodies, like (ahem) brownies. The origins of nomenclature aren’t crystal clear, but after a hot day in the sun with exhaustive hours of swimming, socializing, drinking, and climbing 800 steps total, one can feel like a wreck; visitors jokingly say they know why it’s called Wreck Beach after all.
One of the closest luxury hotels to Wreck Beach is Shangri-La Vancouver, and it is a 20-minute drive away. Right in the heart of downtown, the hotel features spacious rooms, most of which have balconies, and many with views of the North Shore Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It’s also close to Davie Village in the heart of Vancouver’s West End, the “gayborhood” that’s diverse and friendly. Score on Davie is a popular brunch spot with a casual social scene and comfort food, and most gay men end up at 1181, an ultramodern gay lounge hot spot with good vibes for good times. It’s the perfect place for a nightcap.
Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta
Coastal Mexico is an excellent destination for gay travelers. Lined with five-star resorts and authentic restaurants (with plenty of water activities to boot), tropical beach towns from Los Cabos to Tulum lure couples, honeymooners, and groups of friends who indulge in luxe getaways south of the border. Mexico is exceptionally gay-friendly, though no beach retreat truly attracts the gay community like Puerto Vallarta. The city’s balmy coastline and well preserved Old Town has seduced scores of travelers since Love Boat docked here in the 1970s, and even gay icon Elizabeth Taylor lived here for years after falling for Puerto Vallarta’s allure. The beach town is brimming with natural attractions, secret beaches and, to the joy of the LGBT community, almost a dozen gay bars and lounges. In fact, Puerto Vallarta has become a hotbed for many local gay expats who help foster a robust gay scene.
Puerto Vallarta is the only coastal town in Mexico with a designated gay beach, located at the south end of popular Playa Los Muertos. Most locals refer to the gay beach as “blue chairs” considering the first gay resort in town, Blue Chairs Hotel, provides blue chairs in the sprawling sand. The beach club is open as soon as the sun rises, serving up Mexican-inspired breakfast and lunch, as well as refreshing, fruity cocktails throughout the day. But there’s more to this gay paradise than chairs, food, and booze. The beach lounge offers daily events that typically include gogo boys, drag shows, and wild affairs on their rooftop bar. Next-door Almar Resort, a relatively high-end gay resort, features another popular gay beach club, Mantamar, making this small area the gayest sanctuary on the coast.
Playa Los Muertos is the perfect launching point for Yelapa, a silver of retro-beach paradise just a short boat ride away. It’s way off the beaten path, making it a big draw for lovers of seclusion and couples that truly want to get away from it all. At night, back in Puerto Vallarta, gay travelers flock to Old Town, chockfull of gay bars and clubs, as well as open-air markets for exciting night shopping.
Fans of Elizabeth Taylor can live vicariously through the actress at The Iguana, a breathtaking, upscale restaurant that’s housed inside her former residence on the hillside. The restaurant is elegant with sweeping views of the bay, and the modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine is the best, elevated dining experience in Puerto Vallarta, period. One of the coolest spots in town is El Patio de Mi Casa, a lively, alfresco jazz bar that pays tribute to the city’s long-forgotten jazz history. It’s casual and chic, and a magnet for local gays.
Most affluent gay travelers spend time in Punta Mita, the upscale resort community of Puerto Vallarta. Punta Mita is home to pampering five-star resorts, some of the coast’s better beaches, gourmet restaurants, and excellent service. Shack up at Casa De Mita, an eight-suite, self-contained allinclusive resort with traditionally chic rooms, saltwater pool, premium liquor, gourmet meals, and the privilege of a secluded beach with some of the best sunsets in the area.