When you think of Washington, DC, perhaps you flash to a photo of the capitol building and the White House. Maybe you picture a crowded senate floor or a news anchor standing in front of the Supreme Court. DC might not, however, be one of the first places you think of when you think of LGBTQ+ travel destinations. That’s not entirely DC’s fault since first and foremost it’s the capital of the United States and is typically associated with lawmaking and politics. But if you peel back a few of the city’s layers, you’ll find more than just busy bureaucrats. Firstly, Washington DC is filled with activists, protestors, and other LGBTQ advocates on the frontlines of change. (This was, of course, ground zero for the fight for marriage equality). But apart from the politics, you’ll find neighborhoods with unique personalities, a thriving queer nightlife scene, and a vibrant and diverse LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ travelers visiting DC can explore world-class museums, dine on locally sourced menus, and hit up several bars and clubs that specifically cater to the LGBTQ community. To help you make the most of your time in the capital of the United States, we’ve created this list of some of the best things to see and do and where to drink, eat and sleep in Washington, DC.
Outdoor spaces and neighborhoods
There are rainbow banners on the light poles in Logan Circle that state “LGBTQ pride is Evey Day.” Logan Circle’s outward show of love for the gay community goes beyond just signage, though. The Washington Blade, an LGBTQ newspaper, is based out of this neighborhood as are several trendy and hip bars and restaurants including Pappe and Trade.
You’ll find everything from coffee shops and bars to jumbo slice pizza, psychics who’ll give you a reading for $5, and tattoo parlors in Adams Morgan. The sidewalks and outdoor seating areas buzz with both locals and tourists throughout the day, and as the sun goes down, the music turns up, and the fun begins. Best bets for the LGBTQ community include Songbyrd, Tryst, Pitchers, and A League of Her Own where you can safely enjoy a drink in a queer-friendly space.
Just south of Adams Morgan you’ll find Dupont Circle, which, to the uninitiated, is more than just a traffic circle with a park in the middle. Dupont Circle is an entire neighborhood, and in addition to a number of embassies and historic homes within its boundaries, it’s also got a mixture of both retail chains and small, local businesses and bars. It’s long been known as one of DC’s “gayborhoods” and is the host of the Capital Pride Parade.
The National Mall in DC isn’t a shopping mall or even an open-air market. It’s a wide-open area that’s home to the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and many other monuments and memorials. It’s also a place where people come to hang out, walk, run, picnic, toss a football, and sometimes even gather to protest and march. No trip to DC is complete without at least stepping foot on what’s been nicknamed “America’s Front Yard.”
This neighborhood is close to the action, politically speaking. The US Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Senate and House are all located here. It’s more than just the heart of the United States government, though, Capitol Hill is also a place where people live and play. You’ll find neat rowhomes as well as the thriving and bustling Eastern Market where you can pick up all kinds of fresh food and locally-made arts and crafts.
Museums and other places of interest
The HRC is the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the country, and it’s been on Rhode Island Avenue since 2003. Though the public can’t just pop in for a tour of the place, you can rent out its event space, the Equality Center, or stand for a photo op under the blue and gold logo out front of the building.
Where: 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW
The highest and most powerful court in the country is open to the general public most Mondays and Fridays between 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM. If you’ve been even remotely interested in the law as it pertains to LGBTQ persons and allies, this is one place you won’t want to miss. Visiting has a way of bringing the abstract into reality for a lot of visitors and is a great place to awaken the activist in us all.
Where: 1 First Street NE
Part coffee shop, bookstore, and restaurant, Busboys and Poets is a place where DC residents gather for open mic nights, author readings, music, and a general love of reading. The original location is on 14th and V street but its success has led to six other locations sprinkled across the city, all of which continue to foster a deep sense of community. This is as safe a space for the LGBTQ community. They have hosted numerous LGBTQ events including Taking the Stage, Taking a Stand: LGBTQ Voices Against Violence.
Where: 2021 14th St NW
The DC Center for the LGBT Community hosts numerous events throughout the year in an effort to, as its mission states, educate, empower, celebrate and connect the community. It hosts monthly art markets, opens its doors for meals during the holidays, and occasionally offers guided LGBTQ history walks through the city.
Where: 2000 14th Street NW, Suite 105, Washington, DC 20009
One of the best things about visiting DC is the number of museums available for you to explore, many of which are free. The National Museum of American History has a fairly new exhibit to share. In June of 2019, it opened an exhibit titled Illegal To Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall that is a powerful reminder of the struggles the LGBTQ community has endured, as well the ones it still faces. The exhibit will be up through spring 2020.
Where: Constitution Ave, NW between 12th and 14th Streets
Browse and sip in this small-ish bookstore just off Dupont Circle. It’s a well-known safe space for the LGBTQ community with friendly staff who can point you towards their section on gender, which includes many different titles specifically related to LGBTQ studies. Bonus: Check out the Social Justice Book Club, which meets on the third Wednesday of every month.
Where: 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW
Bars and nightclubs
Seems like every city you visit these days has more breweries than it knows what to do with. There’s no shortage of breweries on DC’s map, but if you can only pick one we recommend Red Bear Brewing. This gay-owned local business is both a safe space for the LGBTQ community and a great place to drink some unique beers, like their porter dubbed DC Dirt.
Where: 209 M Street NE
Number Nine is a gay bar that’s part of the Logan Circle neighborhood. It sits across from a Whole Foods and is a very short walk from all the trendy bars and restaurants that line 14th Street. It manages to stand out from the crowd, though, with its happy hour on every day from opening until 9:00 PM. The downstairs has a plush L-shaped booth in the window and a herringbone pattern on the floor, which, combined with the decor, gives the space an upscale feel. In addition, it regularly hosts happy hours and fundraisers for the LGBTQ community.
Where: 1435 P Street NW
If you’re going to spend a weekend in DC, then prepare to brunch. Because DC does brunch, and it does it well. Nellie’s is a great pick. You’ll need tickets for the drag brunch, but it includes the show, an all you can eat buffet, a drink, and the tip. If you can’t make it to the brunch or tickets are sold out, no worries — they have something going on every single day of the week. Bingo, trivia, ping pong, etc. Their Instagram calls them “…a meeting place for all things sports and LGBTQ+!”
Where: 900 U Street NW
Just a short walk from the mentioned Number Nine, Trade is also located in Logan Circle and is known for its huge happy hour cocktails, which it calls its XL Happy Hour. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the big rainbow taped on the outside window. Grab a seat in the window and people watch or show up later for one of their events. They’ve usually got something special going on at least four nights a week. And if you’re lucky enough to be in town for New Year’s Eve, you can take part in their New Queers Eve celebration with a few shows, music, and booze.
Where: 1410 14th Street NW
At the bottom of 18th St NW, just before it intersects with Kalorama, you’ll find a grey building that houses both Pitchers and A League of Her Own. Pitchers caters to gay men, and the downstairs, A League of Her Own, is, as the name suggests, for the lesbian crowd. Both spaces have an easy-going sports bar vibe with TVs on the walls and a few areas where you can play video games. Though there are separate entrances to both places; once inside you can access either bar.
Where: 2319 18th Street, NW
Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is a two-for-one venue for the LGBTQ crowd that specifically caters to those who love drag. You can expect nude male dancers, VIP table service, and DJs. They also hold amateur contests for cash prizes, and for those of you who have always wanted to be in the spotlight, they have open dancer auditions that they call “New Meat” every Thursday.
Where: 1824 Half Street SW
If you’re going to visit DC, try to make it near the beginning of the month so you can hit up one of the coolest parties in the city, Sleaze at the Wonderland Ballroom. It takes place during the first Thursday of every month and includes drinks, drag, and dancing, as well as music by DJ Keenan Orr and DJ Lemz.
Where: 1101 Kenyon Street NW
Once a year a new Mr. and Ms. DC Eagle is crowned at this self-described leather/fetish bar. This contest dates back to 1982 for men. Ms. DC Eagle was established in 2019. The crowning of Mr. and Ms. DC Eagle is just one of many events held at this bar throughout the year. Karaoke and drag shows are weekly staples at the DC Eagle.
Where: 3701 Benning Road NE
Old boom boxes, a gay flag, and some cool vintage stadium seats greet you out front of this all-in-one cafe, roastery, music venue, restaurant, and bar. The vibe is laid-back and chill, and the weekday happy hour means $2 off draft beers. Stop in for a show or to record something — a song, a poem, a memory — on their Voice-O-Graph. You get a little over a few minutes to say or sing anything you like and have it pressed on vinyl, and the cost is only about $15. Oh, and if you need Halloween plans, checkout Songbyrd. In 2019, they teamed up with The Qrew, an inclusive queer community, and hosted HalloQween.
Step under the rainbow flag and inside Pappe for brunch, lunch, or dinner and treat yourself to some of the most delicious Indian food you can find in DC. The menu has several entrees including Palak with chicken, as well as lots of dishes to share. There are several naan options, but you can’t go wrong with the garlic naan. If you’re looking for a place to eat during Pride, head to Pappe as it features True Colors Cava, which donates a portion of their sales to the LGBTQ community.
Where: 1317 14th Street NW
Annie’s has long been regarded as a safe haven for the LGBTQ community. In 2019 it was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The restaurant has been an anchor in the community since it opened its doors in 1948. There’s a famous story that’s told over and over at Annie’s about two men who were holding hands under the table but when spotted by Annie, she told them, “You don’t have to hide that here,” and encouraged them to hold hands on top of the table. That same sentiment still greets customers today.
Where: 1609 27th Street NW
Down to earth, unpretentious, and reasonably priced are three of the things that come to mind when you mention the Duplex Diner. In addition to its $10 hamburger, the Duplex Diner has a great specials, including the All Day Rosé and Tuesday night burger night, which is half-price burgers. But one thing that might really catch your eye is their LGB-Tea. Word to the wise … it’s made with Bulleit Bourbon.
One quick scroll through Hank’s Oyster Bar’s Instagram feed will most likely get your mouth watering, but if for some reason the visuals of the freshly shucked oysters, lobster bisque, and peel-and-eat shrimp aren’t enough, know that they’re LGBTQ owned and proud of it. There are four locations, but we recommend the one in Dupont Circle.
Where: 1624 Q Street NW
There are two Right Proper locations: One is the brewpub with a restaurant that’s located in Shaw, and the other, on Girard Street, is where they make the beers. If you want to take a tour, head to the Girard Street location. If you want to settle in for some good conversation and some food, head to the one in Shaw. Both locations offer up not only delicious, hand-crafted beers that are brewed on-premises but also a safe space. Be on the lookout for some of their Pride gear. They sell cool tanks and t-shirts and even brew a specialty beer or two for the occasion. In 2019, they brewed a wheat ale called “Brewed This Way.”
Where: 624 T Street NW
Located right in the heart of Adams Morgan, the HighRoad Hostel gives you great access to both Pitchers and A League of Her Own, both mentioned above. They’re literally a two-minute walk from the hostel. In addition to a great location, the HighRoad Hostel also has a nice common area with a couple of charging stations and computers that makes it a great place for meeting people. And in case you have any doubt about whether or not the gay community is here, there’s always friendly staff to greet you and gay flags over the WiFi password poster. Pro tip: The hostel looks like a brick row home, and there aren’t any big signs, so put the address into your GPS.
Where: 1804 Belmont Road NW
There’s a gay flag flying above the entrance to the Darcy, a boutique hotel, in between Dupont Circle and Shaw, and they even go so far as to state on their website that they’re LGBTQ-friendly. If you’re traveling to DC for pride, this hotel is centrally located and ready to welcome you with open arms.
Where: 1515 Rhode Island Ave NW
June 1975 marks the first annual Pride event in DC. Each year since then, the Capital Pride Alliance organizes one of the largest pride events in the country. The Incrediball: The Capital Pride Honors and Kick-Off Party is held at the start of the event. The night includes dancing, drag performances, and an open bar. There are numerous events throughout the Capital with the Pride Parade and Festival closing out the week.
Team DC organizes Washington’s “Pride Night OUT Sports Series,” which means themed events for the LGBTQ community at home games for the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, DC United, Mystics, Prodigy, and more. There are typically rainbow-adorned memorabilia/souvenirs at these events in the form of t-shirts and flags. Last year, some of the members of the Capitals, DC’s professional ice hockey team, even warmed up with rainbow-adorned hockey sticks.
Red Bear Brewing Company, a gay-owned business, has teamed up with PFLAG to put on a pride party. The event consists of music, a silent auction, and, of course, craft beer. All proceeds go to supporting the Metro DC chapter of PFLAG and its programs.
Once a year the LGBTQ community comes together to put on the annual Youth Pride Day. The event is put on by the non-profit Youth Pride Alliance and is held in Dupont Circle. Performers, speakers, and service providers are all on-hand for this event to help bolster visibility, equality and social justice for younger members of the LGBTQ community.