California is known for its thriving gay and lesbian communities. In fact, the Golden State is a golden place for gay travel—especially in the bigger cities, and even some of the smaller towns both in the north and the south parts of the state. As with much of the country, the further you venture into more rural and agricultural regions, the less likely you’re to experience the liberal acceptance the state is known for.
In Northern California, San Francisco  has the biggest and arguably best Gay Pride Festival  (www.sfpride.org ) in the nation, usually held down Market Street the last weekend in June. All year-round, the Castro District  offers fun of all kinds, from theater to clubs to shopping, mostly targeted for gay men but with a few places sprinkled in for lesbians. If the Castro is your primary destination, you can even find a place to stay right in the midst of the action (see Castro Accommodations  in the San Francisco Bay Area section).
Both gay men and women flock to Santa Cruz  on the coastline, though the quirky town is specially known for its lesbian-friendly culture. A relaxed vibe informs everything from underground clubs to unofficial nude beaches to live-action role playing games in the middle of downtown. Even the lingerie and adult toy shops tend to be female-owned and -operated.
So where do gay and lesbian San Francisco  residents go to get away for the weekend? Many flock to Guerneville—an outdoorsy town on the Russian River. Rustic lodges offer cabins down by the river, rafting and kayaking companies offer summertime adventures, and nearby wineries offer and relaxation. The short but colorful Main Street is home to queer-friendly bars and festivals.
Down south, the most gay-friendly town has to be Palm Springs. Gay bars and clubs proliferate here in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that welcomes men, women, and even straight senior citizens. The White Party and Gay Pride (www.pspride.org , first weekend in November) are huge events that draw tens of thousands of visitors to the desert city. Perhaps best of all, more than a dozen gay resorts cluster in the sun-drenched town, offering swimming pools, hot tubs, and clothing-optional common spaces.
West Hollywood  in the Los Angeles Basin has its own upscale gay culture. Just like the rest of L.A.’s clubs, the gay clubs are havens of the see-and-be-seen crowd. The famous Barney’s Beanery offers beans and boys, and now has a second location on the Promenade in Santa Monica .
The oh-so-fabulous California vibe has even made it to the interior of the state—Sacramento’s newly revitalized Midtown neighborhood offers a more low-key but visible gay evening scene.