The Best Cities To Live In California If You're LGBTQ+

Moving to a new city is an intimidating enterprise, especially if you identify as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community. Although the United States is progressing towards more equal rights for these individuals and families, not all states and cities are as welcoming to these groups. Fortunately, California has exceptionally high LGBTQ+ populations and progressive economic, educational, and social policies. According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), California is in the top 15 U.S. states with policies and resources geared towards LGBTQ+ support. Fifteen cities within The Golden State also earned a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)'s Municipal Equality Index, which assesses cities based on their non-discriminatory laws. It examines their employment policies, municipal services, hate crime rates, and political leadership. 

Further statistics from MAP ensure that 100% of California's population is protected from public intolerance based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Keep this in mind if you or someone in your family identifies as an LGBTQ+ individual, for any of these cities would be an excellent place to lay down roots and start a new chapter. There's no shortage of inclusive events, businesses, nightlife, and neighborhoods that are inviting to people from all walks of life, ensuring you can live happily and healthily without discrimination.

San Francisco has historically gay neighborhoods

According to state records from 2021, San Francisco, California, has the largest LGBTQ+ population of any other state. Around 6.7% of the population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, totaling almost a quarter of a million people. Naturally, cities with more non-cis and non-heterosexual individuals are more accepting and progressive regarding LGBTQ+ issues, making San Fransisco an ideal place for people who identify as such. This city has a perfect Municipal Equality Index score from the HRC, with exceptionally high marks in several categories. It's revered for its non-discriminatory public and workplace laws, all-gender facilities, LGBTQ+ city services, and many workplace benefits that accommodate same-sex domestic partners. The city also leans toward the LGBTQ+ community in state and nationwide legislature, encouraging other states and California municipalities to support these movements.

Aside from the political aspects, San Francisco has a prominent gay community within its Castro District, a historic neighborhood that began as a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people in the 1960s. The Castro District is full of top-rated local shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee stops, and is also home to one of the first gay bars in the city, Twin Peaks Tavern. Houses around this area are in high demand due to their close proximity to a bustling historic area and an overwhelmingly LGBTQ+-friendly atmosphere. Many of the neighborhoods feature Gothic Revival and Queen Anne architecture styles, which are inspired by medieval cathedrals and 19th-century designs, respectively. You can also find many Storybook and Tudor-style homes incorporating medieval elements and creating a charming aesthetic.

Irivne is a safe, gay-friendly city

Nestled between the famous cities of Los Angeles and San Diego is Irvine, California. This city would be a great location to move to even if you didn't identify as LGBTQ+. Irvine is one of the safest cities in the United States and has the lowest rate of violent crime per capita of any other city with a 250,000 or higher population (via City of Irvine). With its great weather, upper learning systems, and local festivities and events, Irvine prides itself in being a great LGBTQ+ community. 

This region is also home to "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Orange County," a national organization that advocates, supports, and provides resources for non-cis and non-heterosexual individuals. Official city services have designated liaisons to help serve their growing LGBTQ+ population, including one member in community services and two members in their citywide police department. This city also meets the HRC's qualifications for a perfect 100 score on their Municipal Equality Index report. 

Santa Monica is a safe haven near Los Angeles

Santa Monica is another southern California city that openly declares its support of the LGBTQ+ population, and they also have a 100 rating by the HRC. In 2022, June was pronounced the official Pride Month for the city, and many of their businesses and communities are adamant about welcoming people who identify as non-heterosexual and non-cis. It's a great location for people interested in local events and getting involved with organizations around their city. Santa Monica is only 20 minutes from Metropolitan Los Angeles, and many people choose to commute if they work in the big city. 

There's no shortage of things to do while residing in Santa Monica, such as the "Highways Performance Space" gallery, which regularly features dances, music, and performances by LGBTQ+ artists. Also worth noting is the famous Santa Monica Pier and a popular gay bar called Roosterfish, which is known as a safe haven for non-conforming individuals. Even the local beaches routinely shout out their progressive views on social media, showing their unwavering support for equality and inclusive policies.

Get a small-town feel with Cathedral City

With a modest population of about 55,000 people, Cathedral City has a more "middle-class suburban" vibe than other places on this list. Although it's a smaller California town, many residents still lean towards more progressive views. Locals applaud this area for being close to big cities, giving you access to exciting lifestyles but also providing a quieter place to come home to. Due to the smaller-town atmosphere, the crime rates fall beneath the country and state average, placing Cathedral City on the list of safest cities in California.

They also have a strong LGBTQ+ community, proven by their 100 HRC rating. This city has a substantial non-conforming population, and three out of five council members on the city board were openly gay in 2015 (via Palm Springs Life). This city also hosts California's first pride event of the year, which is known as the "LGBT Days." It's a three-day celebration with over 10,000 attendees, and as of 2023, they are on their seventh LGBT Days event. Locals and tourists are encouraged to come together for this celebration that features various performances, parties, drag shows, food trucks, and other festivities.

Find your happiness in San Jose

If you're hoping to move to a new city and turn a new leaf, San Jose is the place to go. This city was rated the second happiest city in the nation by WalletHub in 2023. They were voted second overall based on three main statistics: emotional and physical well-being of residents, income and employment rates, and overall community and environment. In addition to being one of the most satisfying places to reside, this city has a welcoming LGBTQ+ community. It's considered an "under-the-radar" gay city since its queer acceptance programs aren't as publicized as other California municipalities. However, this city scored 97 on the HRC's Municipal Equality Index, making it one of the highest-rated locations on its list.

There are several neighborhoods with gorgeous homes and inviting LGBTQ+ communities, such as Willow Glen, Downtown San Jose, and Naglee Park. A road called Post Street was recently named San Jose's first LGBTQ+-designated area, dubbed the "QMunity District." Two gay-friendly businesses are already established on this street, and future renovations are already funded and in progress. This city is also a part of Santa Clara County, giving its residents access to its many support programs, including the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, the Billy DeFrank Center, the PFLAG San Jose/Peninsula Chapter, and LGBTQ Youth Space.

Long Beach focuses on progressive laws

Long Beach has spent over 10 consecutive years on the list of best LGBTQ+ cities, reaching a flawless 100 score with 11 bonus points on the HRC's Municipal Equality Index. Activists and politicians excel at passing non-discriminatory laws and providing resources in the workplace and throughout the city's jurisdiction. Many influential people are also politically progressive, making them advocates for continued LGBTQ+ support.

Out of the 230 most populated cities in the United States, Long Beach is the second most diverse, making it a welcoming place for people who don't live traditional lifestyles. Several gay-centered establishments seek to improve inclusivity in this city, including the LGBTQ Center and The Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. These two groups have done extensive work to make the city's social, health, legal, educational, and other public programs available to its diverse population. There are many top-rated LGBTQ+ agents in Long Beach who promise to find hopeful individuals homes in this vibrant community.

West Hollywood has a thriving LGBTQ+ community

Located in Los Angeles County is the city of West Hollywood, where over 40% of the population identifies as non-heterosexual or non-cis (via Travel Gay). The 1.9 square mile community is lined with 25 gay bars and clubs, making every corner a welcoming place for non-conforming individuals. In addition to the thrilling nightlife, the streets are full of boutiques, cafes, museums, art galleries, and other small shops that will ensure every day holds a unique experience. You'll find pride flags on every block; even the official city flag was updated in 2014 to feature a rainbow of colors.

Within this sanctuary city is a Transgender Advisory Board (TAB), which provides trans people access to educational, employment, and community resources. They also welcome people trying to escape oppression worldwide and promise asylum to those who claim this status within one year of immigrating to the United States. Once granted asylum, refugees can live and work within this country for one year before applying for permanent residency. With its majority-LGBTQ+ population, policies regarding refugees, and pride symbols scattered throughout the municipality, it is unsurprising that West Hollywood is also one of the top-rated cities on the HRC's equality index.

Los Angeles has plenty of neighborhoods to choose from

Los Angeles is known for its diverse and multicultural population, and LGBTQ+ culture is prominent throughout the many districts and neighborhoods. Within the "city of angels" are three main neighborhoods with strong communities for closeted and openly-gay individuals: Silver Lake, Venice Beach, and Downtown L.A. Silver Lake has a historical charm with its many queer landmarks, while Venice Beach holds a more "bohemian" vibe. Downtown L.A. is still growing but is most comparable to West Hollywood living with its openly gay community and myriad displays of pride-related flags and street art.

No matter your neighborhood, Los Angeles promises to be welcoming with its 100 HRC score and LGBTQ+ resources. Their LGBT Center was established in 1969, helping individuals and families be healthy and equal members of society. You can find support facilities throughout the city using an online map that provides locations throughout L.A. and L.A. County.

Palm Springs is great for retirees

Palm Springs is unique from other cities on this list, as it is a common destination for older LGBTQ+-identifying people. Around 50% of residents over the age of 55 identify as non-hetero or non-cis, making their retirement community scattered across the spectrum. The lifestyle in Palm Springs is casual and laid-back, making it the perfect location for retirees or people seeking a peaceful and leisurely existence.

Despite being a calm community, there is no shortage of things to do while residing in this city. There are golf courses, hiking trails, museums, restaurants, and shops scattered throughout the 94-square-mile municipality limits. Aside from the restaurants and businesses that are open year-round, Palm Springs also hosts the Dinah Shore Weekend, which is a giant pool party and music festival celebrating people who identify as lesbians. The openly gay community became even more prominent in 2018 when every elected city council member identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Unsurprisingly, this city has a perfect HRC score due to its political, economic, and educational policies.

San Diego is diverse and friendly

Few locations in the United States can boast about having idealistic weather and a gorgeous landscape year-round. San Diego is the ideal stop for any outdoor enthusiast with its forested hills, rocky mesas, picturesque mountains, and beautiful Pacific shoreline. Aside from its natural beauty, this city is also home to a rich cultural scene, including art galleries, museums, botanical gardens, breweries, local shops and cafes, and a world-famous zoo. The population matches the diverse mix of businesses and restaurants, and 8.8% of individuals identify as LGBTQ+ in San Diego County (via County of San Diego).

Most of this population is condensed to central San Diego, but the city is overall supportive of LGBTQ+ inclusivity and equality movements, as is proven by its 100 HRC Municipal Equality Index score. You can find various support resources, like the LGBT community center, throughout this town. They also host annual pride events, such as Pridefest and Shefest, for locals and tourists alike.