Different for Girls: Top 5 Lesbian Meccas

By Aefa Mulholland

Originally published on Advocate.com July 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

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Gay travel is often "different for girls." Does a listing that states "gay-friendly" also mean "lesbian-friendly" or "lesbian-popular"? If accommodations are advertised as "gay/lesbian," will visiting women find themselves lone ladies in a gay male-dominated, clothing-optional compound? Will female travelers make the unfortunate discovery that accommodations are "lesbian-overly friendly" and find themselves the objects of unwanted interest? Call ahead to potential accommodations and ask about their percentage of lesbian guests. But don't allow such concerns to limit vacations to the same spots that have lured ladies for decades: a slew of off-radar sapphic spots await.

If you're looking for new places to vacation in the company of women, click here for a tour of our top-five offbeat lesbian destinations, starting with number 5 and counting down to our number 1 absolute favorite getaway for girls.

5. Asheville, N.C.

Fall colors are at their finest in Asheville, a remarkable artsy Appalachian town of 70,000 where women walk hand-in-hand and art deco, beaux-arts, and neoclassical architecture create an elegant backdrop. The best places to leaf peep in and around "Sheville" are along 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains or in downtown's Asheville Botanical Gardens.

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Best spot to meet the girls

Lively Malaprops (55 Haywood St; 828-254-6734; Malaprops.com ), a friendly, lesbian-owned bookstore and hub of the women's community, has a sidewalk café. It's the perfect perch to browse local ladies. Once it's too dark to admire foliage, a packed evening events schedule is stacked with bookings from Women on Words Poetry Circle to Bridging Difference book club nights -- where locals and visitors discuss works such as lesbian writer Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider .

4. Key West, Fla.

If you're in the mood for a wild week, schedule sojourns south for WomenFest ( WomenFest.com , September 8-13, 2009), when 3,000 women stream over 126 miles and 42 bridges down the Florida Keys to the southernmost point in the continental United States. The raucous WomenFest schedule brims with hot events from clothing-optional pool parties to competitive bull riding.

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Best spot to meet the girls

During Womenfest you'll find women everywhere, but make it even easier by booking one of 38 rooms at luxurious Pearl's Rainbow, a women-only inn converted from a 19th-century cigar factory.

3. Eugene, Ore.

Boasting a lesbian chorus, lesbian Realtors, a lesbian ballroom dance group, women's coffee, writing, and hiking groups, and a famed liberal arts university, this college town of 150,000, 100 miles south of Portland, is your destination if you like your women capable of invigorating debate. 2009 saw the University of Oregon's Women's and Gender Studies department host the first Lecture in Lesbian Studies (this year's topic was "The Incredibly Shrinking Lesbian World and Other Queer Conundra.")

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Best spot to meet the girls

To meet locals, contact Lavender Womyn. They organize kayaking, book club nights, and potlucks. Alternatively, grab a compelling tome, sidle into lesbian-owned Eugene Coffee Company and tuck into a vegan doughnut while conversing with the local lesbian literati.

2. Madison, Wis.

Another academic hot spot, but also a city with serious political clout, Wisconsin's capital is the seat of out lesbian representative Tammy Baldwin. The isthmus city (Madison is perched between lakes Mendota and Monona) is a dynamic, welcoming, and active college town of 230,000.

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Best spot to meet the girls

You'll find the U.W. girls -- and the women who teach them -- at the lesbian lounge the Foxhole, a women's space within LGBT venue Club 5, or cruising shelves at A Room of One's Own feminist bookstore.

1. Northampton, Mass.

Home to the women's liberal arts college Smith (founded 1871) -- and to a population of academic dykes -- Northampton is a charming college town of 30,000, perfect for those looking for a romantic getaway, wedding, or honeymoon destination. Downtown is a pleasant stroll from Smith's elegant campus. Cute cafés and intimate restaurants abound. Lesbianville, USA, as the National Enquirer once proclaimed it, is one of the most lesbian-popular towns in the country and boasts a lesbian mayor (Clare Higgins), a lesbian-run LGBT paper, and an array of women-owned businesses. It also has the impressive claim of being where out lesbian TV icon Rachel Maddow got her media start. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel, Gloria Steinem, Sylvia Plath, and Betty Friedan are former residents.

LESBIAN MECCAS SMITH COLLEGE CLASS OF 1902 X555 (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS) | ADVOCATE.COM Smith College class of 1902

Best spot to meet the girls

You'll meet girls at any café or bar. Or just walking downtown. It's Northampton: Women are everywhere. But the top place to meet and mingle is Divas, NoHo's lesbian-owned LGBT club. A youthful clientele from the five area schools (Smith, U. Mass, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, and Hampshire) hit the dance floor and patio Tuesday through Saturday.