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Liberation Coffee House
Photograph: Courtesy Liberation Coffee House/Eric Staudenmaier

10 LGBTQ+ landmarks and new-school favorites to visit in L.A.

A historical protest site, a legendary disco club, a notoriously naughty bookstore: Here’s where to take in some local LGBTQ+ history.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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We’re proud that, in assembling this list of LGBTQ+ landmarks, Los Angeles can boast so many meaningful historical sites, supportive organizations and impactful archives. Of course, we’ve also made room for some straight-up fun on our list—though still with a side of history—including a world-famous gay bar, a legendary Black disco club and a notoriously naughty bookstore. Whether you’re celebrating Pride or paying respect to the city’s queer legends, fill your itinerary with these 10 LGBTQ+ landmarks.

  • Restaurants
  • Eclectic
  • Silver Lake
  • price 2 of 4

It may seem like a typical, polished Silver Lake gastropub but take a close look at the historical marker near the entrance when you walk in: This was the site of the very first LGBTQ+ civil rights demonstration in the country.

After undercover officers began to beat and handcuff the gay clientele at the bar on New Year’s Eve 1966, what was then called the Black Cat Tavern became the meeting ground for more than 200 people who came to take a peaceful stand for their rights on February 11, 1967.

Back in the present day, look for photos and newspaper clippings of the spot’s indispensable history as you settle into a plush booth over some bar bites and a punch bowl.

  • LGBTQ+
  • Hollywood

The Los Angeles LGBT Center has been providing housing, healthcare, legal assistance and job training to the city’s queer community for over a half-century. But don’t let its age fool you: This is easily one of the liveliest support organizations in the city thanks to its picnic-style parties, outdoor movie screenings and one of the largest transgender Pride celebrations in the country.

The LGBT Center has nine buildings across the city, including its flagship Anita May Rosenstein Campus, a two-acre complex in Hollywood with facilities for seniors and homeless youth as well as affordable housing. It’s also where you’ll find Liberation Coffee House, an adorable, colorful cafe that’s staffed by the center’s culinary training program, outfitted for gallery shows and adorned with photos and ephemera of local LGBTQ+ history.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • West Hollywood

Since its founding in 1952, ONE Archives has built up the biggest collection of LGBTQ+ books, magazines, movies, photos and prints on the planet. You’ll find the organization split into two in-person experiences: The actual library at USC (available online, as well), where you can peruse the impressive archive, and then a WeHo gallery that’s mounted exhibitions on queer nightlife, AIDS activism, women in the leather community and Chicano networks.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • West Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

When you find yourself attracting titles like “best gay bar in the world,” you’re going to inevitably start attracting a bit of a touristy crowd. So sure, newer spots may attract a more hip clientele, but no gay bar in L.A. has had staying power quite like the Abbey. What was initially a small dry cleaners-turned-coffee shop has expanded both its building and its cultural reach numerous times since its founding in 1991. The Abbey’s many bars make room for kink nights and proudly-sinful dance parties alongside family-friendly Sunday brunch on the patio.

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  • Sex and dating
  • West Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Maybe you know Circus of Books from its lauded Netflix documentary of the same name. Or maybe you know it as your former go-to spot for gay porn and sex toys. Regardless, this WeHo bookstore was simply an erotica institution and a well-known cruising spot until its closure in 2019 (it was able to weather the Reagan years, but not the proliferation of free internet porn). Since then, it’s been reborn and given a fresh coat of paint by drag-diva Chi Chi Larue. It’s a comparatively higher-end space now that boasts art books and a gallery, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of poppers and naughty bits to be found here.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Silver Lake

Silver Lake’s “secret” staircases aren’t really much of a secret anymore thanks to the heart-painted Micheltorena Steps. But if there’s an incline in the area that we wish got more attention, it’s this one, which marks the site of the founding of one of the country’s earliest gay rights groups. Activist Harry Hay formed the Mattachine Society in 1950 and for the next half-century continued to work toward unifying gay communities and assisting in victimization.

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Echo Park

Like so many of us, Touko Laaksonen simply fell in love with L.A. when he first visited in the late ’70s. And as the Finnish homoerotic artist began to stick around more often, he increasingly called this Echo Park Craftsman home. It also became a gathering place for fellow influential figures in the gay visual arts, including Robert Mapplethorpe and John Waters. A few years before his death, “Tom of Finland” (as he would sign his striking black-and-white pieces) and house owner Durk Dehner hatched the Tom of Finland Foundation, with the house as the headquarters for his archives as well as a safe space for artists who’ve been discriminated against for pursuing erotica. Ever since, the historic monument has hosted tours, exhibitions, art classes and an annual cultural fest.

  • Attractions
  • West Hollywood

West Hollywood might not be the very first city to add a touch of rainbow to the street, but this photogenic crosswalk is certainly the most notable permanent fixture like it in a major city. The city painted two rainbow crosswalks on San Vicente Boulevard in late 2012, and ever since it seems nearly impossible to imagine the area without them. The intersection with Santa Monica Boulevard marks the longtime (and now likely former) home of LA Pride, as well as a spot along the Pride Parade route and at the gateway to one of the most vibrant gay villages in the world. It’s not just a colorful photo op, though, rather a statement of identity for easily SoCal’s most progressive city, which recently decided to add brown and black stripes to the crosswalks for inclusvity, as well as to create another crosswalk that corresponds to the blue, pink and white transgender flag.

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  • Nightlife
  • Clubs
  • Mid City

Known for four decades as Jewel’s Catch One, original owner Jewel Thais-Williams’s nightclub was simply legendary. It was easily one of the first Black gay dance bars when it opened in 1973, and certainly became the longest running; over the years it boasted performances from the likes of Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Donna Summer and Madonna. Thais-Williams built a more inclusive, judgment-free analog to Studio 54 where you were just as likely to find disco enthusiasts as you were vegan soul food or alternative health services. Eventually the club changed owners in 2015, briefly under the name Union, and broadened its scope of performances (while also losing a bit or the original glamour), but it’s since adopted to the Catch One moniker again.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Chinatown

There’s a good chance you’ve driven by this brick Beaux Arts office building at the end of L.A. State Historic Park without ever realizing that you’ve just passed a temple to protest art. In the early 1970s, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and art historian Arlene Raven all dropped out of CalArts and together hatched the Feminist Studio Workshop, an independent art school for women that sought to challenge the patriarchal school, museum and gallery systems. Initially located in MacArthur Park, the school settled in this spot on the edge of Chinatown in 1975 where—under the name the Woman’s Building—it remained open until 1991 (and during that time launched a lesbian art movement, including the Great American Lesbian Art Show in 1980).

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