Visiting the South can be really intimidating if you’re queer. It’s a very conservative region of the country (the most conservative, actually), and it’s perceived as very cold at best to those in the LGBTQIA2+ community. This is so unfortunate for obvious reasons, but the South is honestly a beautiful place. It’s so close to the Caribbean, and on top of that the Spanish moss, willow trees, fireflies, and incredible beaches make it somewhere that everyone needs to visit at least once. While things are slowly getting better, a lot of the South is still stuck in this close-minded rut. That said, there are some really cool and accepting destinations to visit within the region, where queer people can travel feeling relaxed and safe.
Charleston is a artist-filled, quirky, exciting city! There is so much to do here, from riding scooters all over the city, to exploring the Artist District, but the best part of this liberal haven is the food! Be prepared for the best vegan food of your life, so make plenty of time for it! Grab breakfast at Oh My Soul for huge portions of strawberry waffles, the most flavorful avocado toast, cinnamon banana french toast, and South African specialties!
Eat outside and enjoy this African-founded eatery. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the performance of local musicians playing in their tropical outdoor space! For dinner, go to Fern, Flavors from the Garden! They have the freshest food, all in the most magical atmosphere with their twinkling lights and little brick eatery in the most beautiful neighborhoods on the hill. Enjoy dishes like their Thai chili cauliflower, vegan mac and cheese, cinnamon rolls, vegan chicken and waffles, red curry, buddha bowls, carrot cake, vegan egg sandwiches, and among other things, the best vegan chimichanga you’ll ever have!
This city is perfect for artists who want to walk around the hip districts and visit the museums, but it’s even better for foodies who want a great food vacation.
NOLA is an absolutely breathtaking city. The French Quarter looks like it’s straight out of Disneyland (and in a sense, it is since New Orleans Square was based on it), and it goes on forever until it meets the harbor with the idyllic floating river cruises. It also happens to be a very warm and accepting city thanks to its huge artist and musician population, and diverse local population. It’s the best of the south! Park near the big cemetery downtown, and walk to and through the French Quarter.
Stop when you see a cool gallery (and there are so many of those) or a good piano bar to get some refreshments. Be prepared to hear the best music of your life! Make sure to stop in the Napoleon House for some serious history and great drinks, and walk to the large church where local artists gather to sell their goods.
Grab some local art, and enjoy the street musicians and views of the harbor. When you’re hungry, grab a bite at Carmo. Their food is sustainably sourced, tropical, and colorful! It’s not all vegan, but they have so many options and it happens to be the first place my partner and I ever purposefully ordered vegan food before we went vegan! It showed us how flavorful vegan food could be, and it eliminated a lot of the fear later when we watched Earthlings and decided to make the change.
For breakfast, enjoy vegan Salvadoreno and vegan pork tacos. For lunch, feast on vegan ceviche, vegan rico (my favorite), or South American salad! For dinner, grab beachy drinks and tiradito avocado, and vegan acaraje! It’s such an adventure.
Atlanta is known for having a high population of gay people. Having lived there though, I know that it’s a pretty divided place, so while there are plenty of open-minded people, there are also those who are openly hostile. I think Savannah is a more relaxing choice, and is close enough to Atlanta for you to pop over there if you want to spend some time there. The majority of the time though is best spent in Savannah! Enjoy the beaches and look for dolphins, walk around the gorgeous historic district with the Spanish moss hanging everywhere, and listen to all of the talented street artists! Take the ferry to Tybee Island (where you’re bound to see dolphins for sure), enjoy the pier, and rent a kayak to see more sea life!
One of my favorite restaurants in the world is in Savannah—Fox and Fig Cafe. Enjoy deconstructed Potatoes Benedict, chia porridge, tostadas verde, chipotle mac, vegan buttery garlic bread, loose leaf teas, and vegan baked goods!
This city is so great for people who love the ocean, good food, and history!
For the most artsy, grounded, mountainous city in the south, you have to visit Asheville. This is an incredible place to camp, with it being surrounded on all sides by the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Explore waterfalls, great hikes, and even canyons!
This is also a prime place for wine drinking, so head over to Biltmore Estate if wine is your thing. Enjoy the historic vineyards (which includes the nation’s most popular winery) and walk around the stunning grounds of this American palace. This is inspired by the French Renaissance and it’s literally a castle! I went for the first time as a child (as pictured below) and it was like a fairytale come true! I was floored and so giddy the whole time with my sisters.
This old-world destination is not cheap, so if you want to enjoy a more affordable way to explore Asheville, walk around downtown. Explore the farmers market, co-op, art galleries, music venues, and boutiques filled with quirky art and locally made goods!
When you’re getting hungry, head to Plant—home of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Each dish is a masterpiece, and the atmosphere is so romantic.
Their vegan charcuterie board is delightful, their breaded lemon cauliflower with tahini is scrumptious, the squash ravioli and masala uttapam is spot on, and their hibiscus pear crème brûlée is unbelievable.
Honestly the entire menu is life-changing.
This is the perfect destination if you love hiking, blue grass music, and art. While in the past this place has had some tragic homophobic events take place, it’s now a haven for queer people. This city is smack dab in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s filled with so much culture! Soak up the local and international art at the Taubman Museum and take in the exhibits, from Ansel Adams to protests of capitalism to Southern feminist art.
If you’re a music buff, this place is prime thanks to its spot on The Crooked Road—a historic trail of bluegrass heritage. If you’re lucky, while you’re there attend one of the festivals happening, like the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival! Make sure to also visit the open air farmers market, which has been recognized by the Lyndhurst Foundation as a “Great American Public Place” for being the oldest continuously operating open air market in the state! It’s open year around, and is a great spot to grab some of the famous local salsa and enjoy the blooming hibiscus.
If you want to get in some hiking, there are so many options! The famous Jefferson Poplar Forest is nearby, where there are annual balls!
There are also so many quaint places to stay, since this area is cottage-core central! Llewellyn Lodge has been operating for 40 years, and is right downtown. If you want to have a more peaceful location, stay at the Applewood Cottages surrounded by pastures in a hollow! For a fancier option, Herring Hall is nearby. This brick mansion sits on lots of land, and is perfect for a more luxurious stay. While you’re in Roanoke be sure to explore the many vineyard and breweries, and of course, the amazing food! Cello Coffee is great for Middle Eastern food and iced drinks, and Local Roots in Grandin Village is the best for a taste of local flavors.
There are so many other places to visit in the south, but from my experience, these are the most open-minded and liberal of them! It is so unfair that there are places that aren’t safe for certain populations of people, but there are. Things are getting better, but while in the south or any very conservative area, it’s so important as queer people to be mindful and aware. These places allow you to not have to be so on-guard so that you can just vacation and enjoy yourself. Happy travels!
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Photo: Emily Degn