Sophie Griffiths jets off to Florida to find the Sunshine State is earning its rainbow
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH VISIT FLORIDA
Back when I was eight years old, before I knew I was queer, I was lucky enough to experience the classic family holiday to Orlando, Florida. All I knew was I had butterflies meeting all of the Disney Princesses because I (probably) fancied them. I’m sure some can relate.
Now an out and proud 22-year-old, I was eager to get a new perspective of Florida, seeing what the east coast has to offer LGBTQI travellers in particular.
Now, Florida probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think LGBTQI travel, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of a rainbow peaking through in the Sunshine State. Although this trip wasn’t strictly LGBTQI focussed, we managed to find plenty of queer delights dotted around.
The small but active community wasn’t obvious – and some research was definitely needed beforehand – but I’ve done all the hard work, (and by that I mean I had fun in the sun) so you don’t have to.
Just a two-hour drive from Miami International Airport, we arrive at our first destination – Hawks Cay Resort. Located in the Florida Keys, it’s a one-of-a-kind hotel offering virtually every water-related activity imaginable – even swimming with dolphins (no, really). It’s small and secluded, but sits perfectly between Miami and Key West.
The lady at the check-in desk told me that I have the best room in the hotel and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit smug. Although I didn’t see the other rooms, I knew she was right. I was in prime position overlooking the pool with picturesque palm trees towering all around. It had an island vibe that instantly lulled me into a state of total relaxation.
A couple of cocktails later, I sank into my bed before an early start the next morning to get to Key West.
Old Town Key West
Getting up at 6am the next day was no problem at all; partly due to the five-hour time difference, and partly due to the beauty of the sunrise. Who knew I was a morning person?
Key West is over an hour away by car and our first port of call was the Conch Tour Train: a fun way to take in the fascinating history and the charming architecture the town has to offer from the comfort of a quirky vehicle. You can swing by Ernest Hemingway’s old digs and even get a pic at the Southernmost Point buoy, in which case, congrats! You’re just 90 miles from Cuba, which is pretty cool in my opinion.
On the way around I spotted some rainbow flags and decided to investigate after I got my coveted Instagram shot. My gaydar was right (as always). The majority of the flags are attached to gay bars, and mostly on Duval Street. I poked my head into one to say hello, and for a Thursday afternoon, it was packed. A very male-dominated crowd, but queer nonetheless.
I explained why I was there and was told all about WomenFest, which is held every September in Key West. Apparently it draws in lesbians of all ages for a week of beach parties, competitive bull riding(!) and snorkelling cruises.
It was then time for me to go for my own snorkelling adventure on a boat trip that would last for the rest of the day. The next few hours were spent snorkelling and kayaking in the clear blue water, which included a brief encounter with some dolphins. This was all leading up to our big date with the beautiful Florida Keys sunset.
According to the Conch Tour Train driver, lots of people gather at Mallory Square to watch the sunset every evening, but I’m a firm believer that the best way to see it is on a boat. It felt so intimate and the bright orange glow was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Did it beat the sunrise, I hear you ask? I’m going have to say yes, but I still maintain I would get up at 6am every morning at home if the sunrise looked the same way it does in Florida.
The Florida Keys & Key West – More top tips!
- Bahia Honda for Key west
- Island Adventure Tour with Fury Water Adventures
- Dinner at Turtle Kraals
- Lunch at Sundowners
We couldn’t leave the Keys without trying some famous Key Lime Pie and I can confirm it is my new favourite dessert. It might not be traditional, but you can even have it on a stick and dipped in chocolate, which is always a great idea in my eyes.
As a vegetarian, I was worried about the number of steak and seafood restaurants on our itinerary, but every place we dined at accommodated my needs perfectly with lots of fresh, delicious food. If you are a seafood or steak fan though, you’re going to be spoilt for choice. I’ve got be honest, even my mouth was watering when I saw how tasty it all looked.
Our next visit was to Circ Hotel in a city called Hollywood, just outside of Fort Lauderdale. (No, I didn’t know Hollywood was in Florida either…) It’s a modern boutique hotel and I instantly felt 100 times cooler than I actually am walking into the lobby full of hip, contemporary décor.
After nosying around and having a snug moment in my robe, I head to Muse – Circ’s rooftop pool and bar area – where I rinse away the day with a dip and a drink. Enriched by the views of the Hollywood skyline, it has a completely different vibe to the Keys, but is definitely an alternative way to experience Florida.
When I say Hollywood is arty, I really mean it, and a highlight is the FATVillage Art Walk. To be honest, I would advise planning your trip around it – it’s not to be missed. It has been culturally enriching the community since the early 2000s, attracting a truly diverse crowd of people to experience art, crafts, music, food and fun. This huge community of artists is queer-friendly and inclusive, meeting every last Saturday of the month.
Another highlight is the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project – a collection of curated outdoor murals that you can stroll around and see for yourself, or take a guided tour to learn about the unique project.
You’re guaranteed to leave with a greater appreciation for artists and 10/10 Instagram pictures. (Top Tip! Head into The Little Sugars coffee shop on your way around for their dreamy cakes and lemonade…)
Greater Fort Lauderdale – Links to check out…
- Sawgrass Mills Shopping
- Sawgrass Recreation Park Everglades Airboat Ride
- West Lake Park and Marina Kayaking
Stuart, Martin County
After a mammoth mural photoshoot, it was time to head to Martin County, where we would be staying at Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa. This coastal-inspired retreat overlooks the Atlantic and the soft ocean breeze makes it easy to unwind.
There are so many personal touches to the hotel, too. You can grab a cookie or some fruit from the pantry on each floor, and every night I came back to some chocolates left on my bed (if my housemate is reading this, please take note).
My favourite part was getting to sleep with my door open to hear the waves. The beachfront location really is something special and I would happily holiday here if it wasn’t for the unfortunate lack of LGBTQI life due to the unknown nature of Stuart. Nobody I spoke to really knew anything about LGBTQI events or bars in the area, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for an outdoorsy holiday where you can relax at the end of the day. For such a small area of the state, Stuart does have lots to offer – just not necessarily LGBTQI-related.
If you want to fit in with the laid-back vibe of Stuart, the coolest way of exploring the outdoors is The Ohana Bus. This eco tour drives you around in an eclectic fishbowl bus to the best spots to glide along the ocean on a paddle board or learn how to surf with experienced local instructors – apparently the guide brings his dog sometimes! You can even rent it out as a party bus in the evenings, but I was more than happy driving around, living out my surfer dream to the tune of Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.
I wouldn’t say I’m a pro paddle boarder, or that I’m going to be buying my own paddle board any time soon, but I know where to head when I’m ready to jump back on.
Discover Martin County – More top spots!
A Sunny Summary
In terms of LGBTQI rights, Florida is an increasingly progressive state and Miami has one of the most prominent LGBTQI communities in the world. The places I visited were all extremely welcoming and I felt safe, but I would love an even bigger community to be a part of.
However, if you’re looking for the quintessential Florida experience and aren’t too worried about flying your flag specifically, I would recommend these destinations as an alternative to the more touristy, well-known areas of the state. There’s an inclusive spot in the sun for LGBTQI travellers throughout Florida, but Hollywood and Key West seem to be rolling out the rainbow carpet more than most…
For more visit www.VisitFlorida.com, who provided Sophie’s trip.
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