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An Essential Guide To Philadelphia For LGBT Visitors
Must-Dos Include Historic Sites, Popular Neighborhoods, Top Restaurants & Buzzed-About Bars
Philadelphia, the United States’ birthplace, is proud of the roles it has played—and plays still—in the founding, furtherance and celebration of the LGBT civil rights movement. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection hosted the country’s first major demonstration for LGBT rights, the Annual Reminders, in 1965. Today, visitors to Philly can easily explore sites where LGBT history was made and where queer life continues to thrive.
To see and do it all, visitors need to spend at least a couple of nights, and that’s made easy with the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package®, offering free parking and more perks.
Here’s an essential itinerary for visitors interested in Philadelphia’s LGBT history and present:
Historic Philadelphia District:
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Historic Philadelphia district, the original city, played a vital role in the birth of the United States’ LGBT rights movement. Between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine & Lombard Streets are the colonial yet contemporary neighborhoods of Old City and Society Hill—and Independence National Historic Park, home of the Liberty Bell, symbol of the abolitionist movement and freedom in general. 6th & Chestnut Streets
- Reminder Day Marker at Independence Hall – Independence Hall was the site of the United States’ first major LGBT rights demonstration on July 4, 1965. A state historical marker commemorates this peaceful protest—and the four that followed each July 4 through 1969—known collectively as the Annual Reminders. 6th & Chestnut Streets, nps.gov/inde
- Old City – In 1973, Quaker landlords defied then-commonplace discrimination against LGBT tenants by renting the storefront at 60 N. 3rd Street to the gay owner-operators of the city’s first LGBT coffeehouse. The shop was the unofficial predecessor to the William Way Community Center (see below), a safe space for the community to socialize. Today, the surrounding neighborhood vibrates with art galleries, independent boutiques, historic sites, bistros, bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurants and bars—and Menagerie Coffee, a great lesbian-owned cafe. Old City, between the Delaware River & 6th Street and Walnut & Race Streets, oldcitydistrict.org; Menagerie, 18 S. 3rd Street, menageriecoffee.com
- Arch Street Meeting House – The historic home of a 300-year-old Quaker “Friends” congregation hosted 300 LGBT activists in February 1979 to plan the Philadelphia Conference, the first national demonstration of lesbian and gay rights in Washington, DC. That October, that march would attract 100,000 demonstrators and would define a national civil rights movement. Visitors can view the historic marker outside the meetinghouse and are welcome inside. Hours vary seasonally. 320 Arch Street, (215) 627-2667, archstreetmeetinghouse.org
The center of Philadelphia’s gay residential life and culture since World War II, the blocks between 11th Street and Broad Street, Pine Street and Chestnut Street earned their nickname—the “Gayborhood”—during an October Outfest event in 1995. Two years later, Philadelphia’s then-Mayor John Street dedicated the neighborhood’s first rainbow street signs. Since then, the rainbows have multiplied, adorning more street signs (72 in all), homes, businesses and even the crosswalks at 13th and Locust Streets.
- Dining – In the past 15 years, 13th Street has become the neighborhood’s own restaurant row. It’s here that enterprising businesswomen Chef Marcie Turney and life and business partner Valerie Safran took a chance on their first venture, Lolita, an intimate and inventive Mexican bistro—and amazing fresh-fruit margaritas. Today, the duo owns and operates nearby Spanish destination Jamonera, all-American Bud & Marilyn’s, gourmet market Grocery, Italian/Mediterranean Barbuzzo, along with two gift shops—one with its own chocolate-making studio. But that’s not all: The street is also home to happening hidden Izakaya Double Knot, modern Asian Sampan, lounge-like upscale taqueria El Vez, fancy wine bar and ristorante Tredici Enoteca, stylish pizzeria Zavino and some of the world’s best gelato at Capogiro. 13th Street between Locust & Chestnut Streets
- Shopping – Independent shops have set up their own stakes in the neighborhood too. Don’t miss the clever handmade soaps and products at Duross & Langel (which doubles as a men’s grooming lounge and salon), hip and Philly-centric finds at gift shops Open House and Verde, going-out fashions for guys at Nutz & Boltz, global jewelry at Bella Turka, original and vintage jewelry at Halloween and throwback Philly (and some other) sports team and fan gear at Mitchell & Ness and Shibe Vintage. Between 11th & Broad Streets and Pine & Chestnut Streets
- Nightlife – The name of the after-dark game is: Don’t stay in one place too long. Bar hopping rules the night in these parts. Energetic partiers can be found at piano bar Tavern on Camac, dance clubs (Voyeur), beer spots (Boxers, Brü, Ubar) and the granddaddy of them all, mega club-, bar and lounge Woody’s, a Gayborhood staple for decades. Between 11th & 13th Streets and Pine & Chestnut Streets
- William Way Community Center – The city’s LGBT community center occupied several buildings from 1976 to 1994 before settling into its very own spot in 1995. William Way opens its doors 365 a year, offering a variety of life services, including community art shows and celebrations, for the LGBT community. On the block-long western exterior wall of the building, artist Ann Northrup’s mural Pride & Progress depicts portraits of LGBT Philadelphians through the years. 1315 Spruce Street, (215) 732-2220, waygay40.org
- Gloria Casarez Mural – Gloria Casarez—the City of Philadelphia’s first director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, a founding member of the Philly Dyke March and a longtime community activist—is memorialized in a mural by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz emblazoned on the front of the neighborhood’s de facto official athletic center, the 12th Street Gym. Soon the block where A Tribute to Gloria Casarez stands will be renamed Gloria Casarez Way. A Philadelphia native, the late Casarez helped ensure Philadelphia adopted the nation’s broadest possible LGBT-rights protection during her time in City Hall. 204 S. 12th Street, muralarts.org
- Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room – The country’s longest-running LGBT bookstore opened along South Street in 1973 and relocated in 1979 to its current Pine Street location. The unofficial community and cultural center is named after James Baldwin’s trailblazing novel and now operated by Philly AIDS Thrift, a nonprofit secondhand shop located at 710 S. 5th Street. Proceeds from both stores go to people living with HIV & AIDS. A historic marker resides outside the corner shop. 345 S. 12th Street, (215) 923-2960, phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com
Center City West:
Philadelphians refer to their city’s downtown, the area bound by the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and Vine and South Streets, as “Center City.” The Gayborhood and the Historic Philadelphia district are east of Broad Street. LGBT history and life thrives west of Broad, too. (Broad Street runs north and south between 13th and 15th Streets.)
- Philadelphia City Hall – More than merely an architectural marvel (it’s the world’s tallest masonry building, topped by city planner William Penn) and the seat of city government, Philadelphia’s City Hall is where, in 1982, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the country to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s also where countless gay couples have come to marry and get their marriage licenses since May 20, 2014, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted marriage equality. Broad & Market Streets, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov
- South Street – Center City’s colorful boulevard owes its vibrancy to the artists, hippies and gays who turned it into a welcoming enclave in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s where radical gay collective Gazoo founded Philadelphia’s Gay Liberation Front, the city’s first gay community center and the Royal Theatre, an early 20th-century African-American-owned cultural center where bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith performed—and near where she lived. Today, the street’s known for its Philadelphia Magic Gardens, cheesesteak shops and hangouts, including dive bar extraordinaire Bob & Barbara’s, home of Philly’s best-loved drag show. Between Front & 16th Streets, southstreet.com
- Rittenhouse Square – The toniest of the five public squares laid out in city planner William Penn’s original plan, tree-lined Rittenhouse Square has been an alfresco sanctuary for LGBT Philadelphians dating back to the 1930s. Today, the park’s benches and grass are filled with all manner of Philadelphians, and the neighborhood around the park has grown into the city’s busiest center of business, shopping and dining. 18th & Walnut Streets
- Little Pete’s – Before it becomes a place of the past (it’s slated for eventual redevelopment), Rittenhouse Square’s 24-hour diner will host countless customers at its counters and booths for burgers, shakes, omelets and other meals that taste best at 3 a.m. Older clients might even recall when the business was named Dewey’s and was the site of America’s first successful gay rights sit-in in 1963. Local youth, including transgender, African-American and gay people challenged the management’s refusal of services—a policy that was changed thanks to their activism. 219 S. 17th Street, (215) 545-5508
- The Barbara Gittings Home – Considered the mother of the LGBT rights movement, Barbara Gittings, a Philadelphia resident from age 18, edited the nation’s first lesbian magazine, co-organized the historic Annual Reminders at Independence Hall and led charges both to promote positive LGBT literature in public libraries and to change the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission marker honors the home she shared with photojournalist partner Kay Lahusen. A sign at 13th and Locust Street declares the thoroughfare Barbara Gittings Way. Home, 21st & Locust Streets
Beyond Center City:
From deep in South Philly, home of the cheesesteak and Philly’s sports pro arenas, to the Philadelphia Countryside’s most iconic Revolutionary War-era site, all the way to a bucolic Bucks County village, the region offers LGBT attractions to appreciate and fun to have.
- Keith Haring Mural – South of Center City, circa 1987 We the Youth is an original work by out Pennsylvania native and artist Keith Haring, one of many murals created by LGBT artists or about the LGBT movement as part of Mural Arts Philadelphia. 22nd & Ellsworth Streets, muralarts.org
- Valley Forge National Historical Park – More than 200 years before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was signed, challenged and repealed, Prussian military genius Friedrich von Steuben transformed General Washington’s ragtag army at Valley Forge into a professional force. Benjamin Franklin, who knew of what he referred to as von Steuben’s “affections for the same sex” recruited the Prussian as the Continental Army’s inspector general and major general. A bronze monument at Valley Forge honors his contributions. Approximately a 30-minute drive from Center City. 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1099, nps.gov/vafo
- New Hope – In the 1940s, the Bucks County riverside hamlet of New Hope became a popular destination for Broadway-bound performers and musicians. Since then, the artsy village has developed into a beloved refuge for the LGBT community, offering both a respite from city life and more than a dash of stellar restaurants, bars and shops, especially antique and vintage stores. Each May, New Hope Pride Week & Parade starts with “Rainbow Flagdrop”—a mile-long banner on loan from Key West—along with a massive parade and fireworks over the Delaware River. Approximately a 45-minute drive from Center City. visitnewhope.com, visitbuckscounty.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.
Backgrounder: Gay-friendly Philly
Philadelphia, which recently marked the 40th anniversary of its vibrant Gayborhood, continues to come out as one of the nation’s top travel destinations for gay and lesbian visitors. As reflected in its award-winning Philadelphia – Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay® campaign, the region has become the place to learn about America’s past by day and to experience a little of the party life by night. Philadelphia is now tied for the #9 spot on the list of most-visited gay and lesbian destinations on Community Marketing, Inc.’s annual LGBT Tourism Study, and it’s tied for #2 among...
Alexander Hamilton's Legacy Remains Strong In Philadelphia's Historic District
Freedom fighter, statesman, financial genius, adulterer. Fans of the blockbuster hit Hamilton know some of the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, but there is plenty more to discover in Philadelphia’s Historic District. The new Museum of the American Revolution, opening on April 19, 2017, will offer a glimpse into the Hamilton-Washington bro-mance. A tale debuting this summer from the Once Upon A Nation storytellers will get to the root of the fatal Hamilton-Burr duel. And in Independence Hall, National Park Service rangers often regale visitors with accounts of heated debates Hamilton engaged in about the U.S. Constitution. Just beyond the...
What's in the Washington Square West Neighborhood?
Washington Square West is a historic Center City neighborhood comprising a 17th-century park, the vibrant enclaves of Midtown Village, the Gayborhood and lots more.
Named “Southeast Square” in 1682, Washington Square once served as a grazing pasture and potter’s field on the edge of the original city of Philadelphia. Today, modern residences surround the park, home to the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, a sycamore moon tree and a steady stream of visitors. To Washington Square’s north are the nearly 300 jewelry merchants of Jewelers’ Row. And to its south is Antique Row, tree-lined blocks of...
Go Beyond The Gayborhood To Explore Philadelphia's Other Options For Nightlife, The Arts & Drag Shows
It’s no secret that Philadelphia is one of the LGBT-friendliest cities in the country, but Philly pride extends past the rainbow flag-adorned Gayborhood. Neighborhoods throughout the city offer endless options for queer folks looking for a gay old time. Groups QOTA (Queers on the Avenue) and OUT in Fishtown welcome partygoers south and north of Center City, respectively, for monthly happy hours, food and fun. LGBT-owned hangouts Menagerie Coffee and The Victoria Freehouse satisfy cravings for caffeine, cocktails and culture in Historic Philadelphia. South Street’s iconic dive bar Bob and Barbara’s Lounge hosts the city’s longest-running drag show.
Fact Sheet: 31 Top Philadelphia Region Attractions
* Note: Most attractions were listed in the Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists 2015. Those that were not are marked with an asterisk.
Historical Sites & Attractions:
- The African American Museum in Philadelphia*, founded in 1976, is the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African-Americans. The museum takes a fresh and bold look at the stories of African-Americans and their role in the founding of the nation through the core exhibit Audacious Freedom. Other exhibits and programs explore the history, stories and cultures of those of African
British Philly Takes The Biscuit
Anglophiles rejoice: Brilliant!: The 2013 PHS Flower Show will be on view at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from March 2-10, 2013, and the best of Britain doesn’t end with the show’s exquisite themed garden displays, on view for two full weekends for the first time ever. English culture remains alive and well across the Philadelphia region, with historic sites, top-notch museum collections, pubs, tearooms, theaters and sporting events. This season makes the perfect time to explore Philly’s British treasures, and the following are just a few places to start:
Ace Sights: History & Art:
- Independence National Historical Park –
Philly Tourism Office Staff Picks
Donna Schorr, a young-at-heart Baby Boomer
Director of Communications
Yes, I take a train ride to the city every day, and at this age, I’m no expert on late night clubbing. But I’ve lived in or near Philly for decades (never mind how many), and I can tell you a lot about great things to see and do that don’t cost a fortune. Here are some of my sentimental favorites:
- Rittenhouse Square: When I miss my dad, I visit his memorial bench in one of the most loved green spots in the city. Rittenhouse Square is the heart and soul
A Philadelphia Girlfriend Getaway With Rhythm And Soul
Girlfriends visiting Philadelphia can pack a lot into a few days. They can visit classic landmarks such as the Liberty Bell Center and also take in the region’s best restaurants, shops, nightclubs, museums and African-American heritage sites, including the Marian Anderson House. To download the itinerary, gal pals can log onto visitphilly.com.
LOCATION: Center City Philadelphia and its surrounding neighborhoods
TRANSPORTATION: Feet, public transportation, taxi
TIME: A long weekend
SUMMARY: A jam-packed tour of Philadelphia’s attractions, restaurants, shops, spas, nightspots and African-American heritage sites
HIGHLIGHTS: Old City and Rittenhouse Row shopping, The African American Museum in Philadelphia, The President’s...
Philly's Countryside Offers Rainbow Of GLBT-friendly Day Trips
Philadelphia’s countryside boasts a welcoming array of fun and easy side trips, all within an hour’s drive or train ride from the city’s Gayborhood. Spend the day enjoying lunch and a stroll along the Delaware River in New Hope, perusing the iconic landscapes of Andrew Wyeth at the Brandywine River Museum, hiking the miles of trails at Valley Forge National Historical Park or shopping for high-end goods at the King of Prussia Mall. (Don’t forget: There’s no sales tax on clothing or shoes in Pennsylvania.)
Here’s a look at eight close-by excursions to consider:
Destination: New Hope
Directions: One-hour drive