Visit LGBT Sarasota in 2016

One part beach paradise, one part hub for arts and culture, Sarasota is a chic beachside haven for LGBT travel. Explore our guide to activities geared toward the LGBT community—and be our guest!

Fort Lauderdale may be Florida’s most well-known “gay-cation” destination, but on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota’s diversity of offerings in the performing arts and entertainment, dining and nightlife, and tropical getaways make it a prime destination for your next vacation escape.

From pride festivals to private hideaways, Sarasota has something to offer for every traveler, with a side of year-round sunshine to sweeten the deal. Take a peek at our guide to gay-friendly accommodations, local LGBT-themed events, nightlife and entertainment geared toward the gay community—and plan your getaway today... Pride Season 2016 is just around the corner!

Celebrate Pride in Southwest Florida

The weather is warming up, and while northern states are still shoveling away the winter snow, Floridians are shedding their lightest layers and donning their rainbow feather boas and suspenders: Spring has sprung, and that means Pride season is right around the corner.

Harvey Milk Festival
Harvey Milk Festival

Fueled by music, community and LGBT activism, Sarasota’s own Harvey Milk Festival lands right in the middle of Pride season on May 12-14, 2016. Founded by LGBT activist and Moxie Moxie musician, Shannon Fortner, the Harvey Milk Festival is a fusion of live music, film, art, and political activism that celebrates the life and legacy of its namesake, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. This year’s HMF kicks off with two nights of performance art and contemporary theatre, culminating in its main event, the 7th annual Harvey Milk music festival in at the heart of downtown Sarasota in Five Points Park. This year’s music festival features 10 bands from across Florida and the United States, as well as local vendors, LGBT organizations, food trucks and craft beer.

Later in the year, Sarasota celebrates its own Sarasota Pride in October. The annual festival takes place at J.D. Hamel Park, at the western tip of downtown Sarasota’s Main Street, and features live entertainment, local LGBT organizations, arts and crafts vendors, and food.  Keep an eye on www.sarasotapride.org for announcements on upcoming dates for Sarasota Pride 2016.

LGBT Entertainment Arts: SRQ

From the theatre stage to the three-ring circus tent, Sarasota is a widely-recognized hub for the performing arts of all styles and is celebrated as a leading-edge cultural tastemaker in the southeastern United States. Fans of the theatre, opera, ballet and orchestra will have no trouble filling an itinerary with shows in Sarasota—and we’re happy to help you with that in our 2016 Guide to the Performing Arts in Sarasota. We’re also happy to help you unbutton your collar at some of the hottest alternative entertainment in town—ranging from raunchy drag shows to saucy modern burlesque—in our guide to LGBT-themed entertainment.

Drag Queen Bingo
Drag Queen Bingo

Beneva Fruitville, Sarasota’s reigning Queen, has been hosting her raucous and wildly successful Drag Queen Bingo to packed theatres and venues across Sarasota for five years — and we assure you: This isn’t your grandma’s Bingo. Expect an evening of raunchy humor, booze, classic drag performances and—of course—several of the most blush-worthy rounds of Bingo you’ll ever play. Drag Queen Bingo can be found on the McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre stage in 2016, with performances beginning in February.

Beneva Fruitville can also be found in her latest venture at the Players Theatre in downtown Sarasota, where on select Friday nights she performs original numbers in the Friday Night Live! variety show with fellow Sarasota veteran comedians and actors, Christine Alexander and Joey Panek. The Friday Night Live! variety show features comedy sketches, musical numbers, and improv skits that delight in debauchery. The variety show gets a content-refresh monthly, with a new theme at every show. Keep an eye on the Friday Night Live! online box office for upcoming shows and tickets.

The title of sexiest show in town is tucked snugly under the garter belts of Sarasota’s Black Diamond Burlesque. Black Diamond’s sophisticated burlesque shows celebrate sexuality and sensuality with a vintage, vaudevillian twist. A rotating cast of performers trained in the art of tantalizing will twist conventions, toy with traditional gender roles, and push all the right buttons in the revue’s lauded and lurid cabaret-style performances.

Of course, not every alternative or LGBT-themed performance in Sarasota comes stamped with an R-rating. Sarasota’s gay and gay-friendly choral group, Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota, is one of the hidden gems in Sarasota's performing arts culture. The Diversity chorus and its “ENCORE” ensemble performs at various events throughout Sarasota and in choral galas across the United States. Keep an eye on www.diversitysarasota.org for info on their upcoming shows.

Sarasota’s own Asolo Rep Theatre is among the top theatres in the southeastern United States, and home to a unique series that partners the performing arts with social activism in its [email protected] Rep series. For each [email protected] event, the theatre partners with a local LGBT organization for a night of award-winning theatre, outreach and education. Tune in with the 2015-2016 season for American theatre classics, supporting organizations including Sarasota Pridefest, ALSO Youth, Embracing Our Differences, and the Gay Real Estate Executive Network.

LGBT Nightlife in Sarasota

Fun in the sun on Siesta Key, chic shopping and dining on St. Armand’s Key, and art gallery browsing at Ringling Museum are just a few ways to fill your vacation days in Sarasota—but be sure to save some energy for the evening, when the sun goes down and the nightlife heats up.

Kick off the evening with a cocktail. On the first Thursday of every month, gay professionals across Sarasota meet at swanky lounges and eclectic restaurants throughout Sarasota for G2H2: Gay Guy Happy Hour. (Lesbians, worry not: L2H2: Lesbian Lady Happy Hour takes place just for you, every third Thursday of the month.) From cosmopolitan rooftop settings to beachside bars, G2H2 and L2H2 provide an exciting environment to meet and mingle with fellow LGBT professionals and learn more about the Sarasota scene.

The latest weekly LGBT bash to hit the Sarasota scene is Elevate Friday Nights at the Starlite Lounge in downtown Sarasota. Elevate Friday Nights follows in the footsteps of its retired predecessor, CREAM Thursdays event at Ivory Lounge.

Sarasota’s reigning gay bar, Barrel 87 Saloon, is open 6 days a week. Featuring karaoke nights, male dancers on Wednesdays, drag shows on Fridays, and a variety of themed parties—Barrel 87 is the place to meet and mingle for gay men in the Gulf Gate district.

Where to Stay

It should be no challenge to find a gay-friendly hotel in Sarasota County, where diversity-inclusive attitudes and policies are the norm. The real challenge lies in choosing the best fit for your style of vacation. Here are some of our top picks:

If you’re looking to catch a little R&R in a cozy beachside hideaway, look no further than Siesta Key Bungalows. These private bungalows feature an intimate Old Florida environment under the shade of palm trees, with easy access to one of the United States’ top beaches, Siesta Key Beach. It’s up to you how you choose to de-stress—whether you recharge at a yoga class or indulge in a rejuvenating spa day at the nearby Mandala MedSpa and Yoga Shala, or cool down with  daiquiris in Siesta Key Village—an inviting pillow top mattress awaits at your Siesta Key Bungalow.

For those who seek relaxed luxury at the heart of the action in Sarasota, Hotel Indigo awaits. Located within walking distance of the Sarasota bayside, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, and Zagat-rated restaurants in downtown Sarasota, this stylish hotel provides convenient access to the arts, dining and nightlife of Sarasota in a boutique hotel setting.

Take a step back in time at the quirky Hotel Ranola at the heart of downtown Sarasota. This adult-only hotel was built in 1926, and features nine private units updated with modern amenities, including Wi-Fi and hip urban decor. Hotel Ranola is strolling-distance from the weekly Sarasota Farmer’s Market and the Burns Court Historic District, where visitors can indulge in streetside dining, antiques shopping, and catch independent flicks and foreign films at the Burns Court Cinema, home of the yearly LGBT Fabulous Independent Film Festival.

Fabulous Independent Film Festival
Fabulous Independent Film Festival

Sarasota Embraces Every Lifestyle

Sarasota is a friendly, inclusive city that embraces the arts and the diversity of its residents and guests — it’s no wonder that we’re often referred to as the gem of Florida’s Cultural Coast. Join us in celebrating our LGBT Pride in 2016, or catch some relaxation on the beach.

Whatever your vacation style of choice — the perfect getaway for every lifestyle awaits in Sarasota.