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When you think of LGBTQ+ destinations, it’s unlikely that Phoenix, Arizona, comes immediately to mind. Though the US is filled with bustling metropolises and queer cultural capitals, it’s the destinations tucked away in the US’s corners, hiding in the desert or on the fringe, that contain the richest communities and undiscovered histories. Despite the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation currently tracking across the United States, every single city is home to queer people who thrive, and Phoenix, Arizona, is one of them. That’s why we’re taking a queer-led road trip, to show you first hand how you can experience LGBTQ+ culture, and all the hidden gems of LGBTQ+ American travel.
We landed late in Phoenix thinking first and foremost about tacos.

Neal and I have been friends for seven years, and through the many eras, exes, trips, and life changes we’ve gone through, food is at least one thing that’s always guided our way. We’d heard about a place called Barrio, “comida chingona since 2002.” Chef Esparza, a longtime champion for LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights, pulls the many comfort foods of Mexico into a gorgeous Mexican American menu. As is the case with any great restaurant, there are no reservations, so plan ahead!

Neal always orders for us: street-style esquites, calabacitas just like my mom’s, and a decadent cochinita. But the star of the evening was the posole verde, which was so big we couldn’t finish it between the two of us despite how starved we were from the flight.

At our hotel breakfast the next morning, I mapped out our days while Neal explored some hiking options — nature was a must in Arizona. They are known for their 34 state parks with luxurious desert terrains and beautiful views from any spot you visit. We were also reading about how the trans flag was actually invented in Phoenix by a woman named Monica Helms who debuted it at Phoenix Pride in 2000. Herstory! We found a local shop called All The King’s Flags that’s been supplying banners of all kinds for 37 years and they had what we were looking for, so we nabbed it in Monica’s honor as a souvenir.

By lunchtime, we made our way to Coqui, named after the Puerto Rican tree frog as an homage to the cuisine. The counter-service spot started out as a food truck before growing into this Phoenix staple thanks to co-owners and partners Alexis Carbajal and his partner Juan Ayala — a love story that added to the mofongo offering of this Southwestern capital, greeting every guest with an “Hola!”

Over tostones that reminded me of my grandma, and a sampling of empanadillas, we chatted with Alexis and some patrons at the table over to us. Phoenix has a high concentration of LGBTQ-owned businesses, especially in Melrose, so they recommended a few. With a list of gay bars at our disposal, we made our way over to check out a few.

The afternoon crash was already hitting us; time for cold brew. The spot to go, according to Alexis, was Window. The store owner Marcus Sanchez had just expanded his business with co-owner Homero Medrano to a second location with a dreamy courtyard we could chill in to catch our breath.

Strolling around the neighborhood, one of our favorite stops was Boycott, one of the last 31 surviving lesbian bars in the US. Although Neal and I are not lesbians technically, we are lesbians spiritually, so Boycott made us feel right at home with its dedication to a clientele Neal and I call family.


A local barback told us that if there’s anything we should do in Phoenix, catch the sunset. Windy days pull the particles of Arizona’s signature sedimentary red rocks into the sky to scatter light, creating a beautiful sorbet colorscape. We ran over to a spot near our hotel with a good view — but Phoenix is flat enough you can catch the sunset anywhere. After a rare moment of resonance, it was party time.

We managed to catch the beginning of a gig at Kobalt called “Cirque du so Trey,” by a local non-binary queen of the same name. The venue was surprisingly packed in the early evening, every table occupied with a dedicated patronage seated for the cabaret-style sets — most notably a queen named Black Dahlia who gave us shows, honey.

Phoenix is home to many gay and queer-friendly bars. Along with Boycott, Stacy’s and Cruisin’ on 7th were other local faves that hosted a much more mixed crowd than your average gay watering hole. But our favorite was Charlie’s, the most popular in the city, a bar that truly felt like it was for everyone. A queen by the name of Amy greeted us at the door, and the vibes were immaculate, with a crowd that felt like they were all there to just dance with friends despite the welcome distraction of gorgeous bartenders in tight jeans and cowboy hats. Charlie’s brags a sprawling size, with unvarnished wood interiors and an aesthetic that felt something like a line-dancing barn.

Founded in ‘84, Charlie’s has a deep connection to the International Gay Rodeo scene, and it showed. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when the Rodeo comes, you must try to see it at all costs. As someone who descends from vaqueros in the Southwest, I’m still trying to make my pilgrimage. But for now, Charlie’s was more than satisfactory. We grabbed tacos there before dragging our feet home at 1 in the morning. Why on earth had we scheduled a 2,704 foot hike, first thing?

Thankfully, we were not hungover the next morning. But travel and long days caught up to our thirty-something bodies, so instead of waking before dusk to catch our planned sunrise hike at Camelback Mountain, we opted for a less intense, more family-friendly jaunt through Papago Park.

Though it’s hard to look anywhere in Phoenix and see a bad view, Papago brags a phenomenal outlook for Arizona’s famous red rocks and clear sky views. If we had more time, we would’ve explored as many nature spots that Phoenix had to offer. Neal is more the hiking enthusiast, while I’m perhaps a hiking acquiescer. Papago was a perfect compromise, but now, of course, we were hungry.

Having over-indulged on Phoenix’s offering of Latin food (meat and cheese) our bodies were craving more vegetables. We found a queer-friendly, plant-based, from-scratch kitchen called The Coronado and our waitress tipped us off to her undisputed fave on the menu: cauliflower tacos.

Along with chili, cornbread, and a refreshing horchata, we replenished and thought hard about what to do with our last hours in Arizona. With a little research, and some light stalking, Neal came up with the best, and perhaps most chaotic, idea ever: friendship tattoos.

No matter where you travel, you can find a queer tattoo artist anywhere, and we lucked out with Sad Boy Studio, an AZ born-and-raised artist whose ethos and sense of humor was so immediately present, Neal and I wished we coulda hit the bars with him that night.

During tattoo appointments, we talked a lot about Phoenix queer culture, and the ways we tend to find each other. If you’ve never got a tattoo before, or got one on a whim during a wild girls night, your impression of tattoo shops might be jaded. Tattoo shops in general don’t always feel like welcoming places for LGBTQ+ patrons, or at the very least can feel intimidating to those who aren’t covered in tatts like Neal and myself. Sad Boy Studio, like most LGBTQ+ owned shops, was the opposite of that. Sad Boy’s own purple-haired daughter worked in the chair next to him and everyone in the studio was cracking jokes like it was their living room. We didn’t want to leave Phoenix.

With two fresh tatts on our arms, we covered ourselves in Aquaphor and plastic wrap before jetting over to the airport for our next adventure. Phoenix provides so many places where queer locals can thrive and, even if just on a flyby trip, this vibrant community made us feel like one of their own.

Plan your next USA holiday today.