• By Kim Grant

West Hollywood’s LGBTQ history is colorful and rich, and it makes a difference to millions affected by it. Marilyn Monroe, a fabulash gay icon, lived at seven different locations in West Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. It’s a short, direct line from there to today’s oh-so-gay WeHo, where about 40% of the residents are gay. West Hollywood has the third largest concentration of same-sex households in California (after Palm Springs and Guerneville). Let’s connect the rainbow-colored dots that created a Southern California oasis of safety and community – alongside the thriving nightlife and the hub of queer culture. Long live West Hollywood LGBTQ history.

There’s no more wondering about “somewhere over the rainbow” for Dorothy, Judy Garland, or their followers. Rainbow flags fly year-round on Santa Monica Boulevard and the L.A. County Sheriff’s vehicles sport a rainbow logo. (The city of West Hollywood contracts its policing from L.A. County.) 

Setting a Hollywood stage for excess in the 1920s and 1930s

West Hollywood LGBTQ history all began in Sherman, which sprang up as a settlement for railroad workers back in 1896 who declined to be swallowed into the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles. (Witness the early signs of a fierce independence streak that remains today.) Beyond the reach of the law, when Prohibition started in 1920, casinos grew and alcohol flowed freely here, wedged between a blossoming Hollywood movie industry and tony Beverly Hills, where the movie stars lived. Sumptuous nightclubs (like Trocadero and Ciro’s) popped up on Sunset Boulevard to satisfy decadent desires. In 1927 the unincorporated Sherman renamed itself West Hollywood to leverage the popularity of its neighbor’s name.

Gender-bending, documented since the dawn of time, publically flourished in this movie-star-studded nightclub scene. Wild parties in the 1930s were held at the Garden of Allah, the Sunset Boulevard villa of the lesbian actress, Alla Nazimova. (It’s rumored that Joni Mitchell’s “paved paradise put up a parking lot” lyrics referred to the razing of this enclave.) The sharp wit of satirist Dorothy Parker attracted a gay male posse to parties here too. Attendees often spoke in code about their sexuality, declaring, “I’m a friend of Dorothy.” (Over time, it was incorrectly but not surprisingly assumed that Dorothy referenced another gay icon, Judy Garland, and The Wizard of Oz. We are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy; this is WeHo.)

Foundations grow wider and then crack in the 1950s and ‘60s

The Sunset Strip remained the nucleus for adult entertainment until it decamped for Las Vegas in the 1950s. During the same decade, the gay icon Marilyn Monroe lived at seven different locations in West Hollywood. Ciro’s began holding the world’s first Sunday afternoon T-Dances, at which gay men could dance together (even though it was illegal.) The city of Los Angeles continued to try to annex the little pocket of West Hollywood. When hippies infiltrated and invaded in the 1960s, residents tried repeatedly to incorporate as an independent city so they could “pass stricter ordinances regulating the teenage and long-hair activity.” Still West Hollywood resisted. While the counter-culture revived the Sunset Strip (at venues like the Roxy and Whiskey a Go-Go), the gays began colonizing Santa Monica Boulevard. The west end became known as “Boys Town” although it was also home to The Palms, a lesbian bar. (Note: it closed in 2013.) Lest you think all was quiet in Boys Town, though, Barney’s Beanery, popular since the 1920s, was loud and proud about their very visible sign over the bar and their matchbook covers: “Fagots Stay Out.” Good luck with that; the train had left the station. (No matter that they could not spell “faggots” correctly.)

When non-mandatory five-digit zip codes were introduced on July 1, 1963, in West Hollywood, this oh-so-gay city received 90069 based on its earlier designation of LA-69, ascribed by postal workers. Was it a mere coincidence they would assign to a gay refuge a number filled with so much sexual innuendo? WeHo gays choose to believe.

Then, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, on the other side of the country in New York City, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was raided by police. Although few places welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s, bars continued to do so, and Stonewall was a popular refuge. Owned by the mafia, it welcomed marginalized drag queens, butch lesbians, and the transgendered. Spontaneous riots and demonstrations erupted; the rebellion was the spark that ignited the gay liberation movement in the U.S. One year later, on June 28, 1970, Christopher Street Liberation Day, the first Gay Pride marches were held simultaneously in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Let us now, dear readers, put to bed one piece of fake news: Accounts by unreliable sources tried to link the accidental barbiturate overdose of gay icon Judy Garland on June 22 to the Stonewall riots, as in, the gay were drowning their sorrows at the Inn because their beloved Judy had just died and was so distraught that the police had to raid the place. Puh-leeze. Long live the truth about West Hollywood’s LGBTQ history.

West Hollywood LGBTQ history in the 1970s and 1980s

When Ciro’s closed and its (illegal) T-dances ceased, gays began opening their own bars and dance clubs since unincorporated West Hollywood was still out of reach from the L.A. police department. Lesbian sports teams formed. Anti-gay laws against gays dancing together were repealed in 1975; glittery disco balls rotated like there was no tomorrow. Cheap rents attracted older teens who gravitated to L.A. for television careers and because they could not be “out” in their hometowns. Clubs grew less back alley and more mainstream. West Hollywood started becoming a spiritual home for gay cops, gay teachers, and gay politicians as the gay rights movement started growing. Still, in April 1976 a Time article described the eastern end of Santa Monica Boulevard (known for its male hustlers and transvestites) as a “flexible ribbon of smut that expands or contracts according to the apathy or indignation of the surrounding stucco-house neighborhoods.”

In 1984 West Hollywood consisted mostly of gays, Jews, and seniors. Eighty-five percent of the population rented their housing, and when spurred to enact rent-control laws when L.A. County moved to scrap then, finally decided to incorporate in 1984. At the same time, with a voting block of approximately 50% gay residents, they voted in a majority gay city council and the first openly lesbian mayor. (Mayor Terrigno herself removed Barney’s Beanery “Fagot” sign.)

As a bonafide city, West Hollywood could also then start receiving funds to combat the bourgeoning HIV/AIDS pandemic that was starting to ravage its community. The epidemic officially began in the U.S. on June 5, 1981, when the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control) reported clusters of PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia) in five gay men in L.A.

In 1985 West Hollywood was the first place in the U.S. to allow domestic partnership benefits and legally recognize same-sex relationships. (Per usual, WeHo is at the forefront of trends, setting the table for an ensuing tide of gay marriage to sweep the nation state-by-state, culminating in the Supreme Court codifying marriage equality in 2015.)

West Hollywood’s LGBT history in the 1990s and 2000s

In 1993, Elton John (and husband David Furnish) begin holding their Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party at the Pacific Design Center. The same year Sheryl Crow crows that all she wants to do “is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.” Do you really think she would have penned that ode had the gays not laid the foundation for serious fun prior to that? Yeah, that’s rhetorical. In 1999, a three-year $34 million beautification project along Santa Monica Boulevard is undertaken – moving power lines underground, removing railroad tracks, widening sidewalks, and greening up those sidewalks with trees. Gay bars, stores, and restaurants flourish faster. In 2007 The National Trust for Historic Preservation designates West Hollywood as one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” because of its vibrant, creative, and diverse population and businesses (read: LGBTQ). In 2008 Lady Gaga, just beginning to launch a career, cements her adoration by – and for – the gays with performances around West Hollywood (first at Here Lounge, then at Tom Whitman’s Wonderland, Ultra Suede (now PH Hollywood), Club Tiger Heat, and The Apple (now The Robertson). “Born This Way,” an anthem empowering the gay community, debuts three years later.

West Hollywood LGBTQ history in the 2010s and 2022s

West Hollywood’s LGBTQ history didn’t stop in the last two decades; history is made daily. But I suspect you were born by then and might be living some of it.

The AIDS Monument, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Zarape’, Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Dialog Cafe, Holloway Drive, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Santa Monica Boulevard & North San Vicente Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

West Hollywood Library, North San Vicente Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

June Mazer Lesbian Collection, North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Gracias Madre, Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Wells Fargo Bank, Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

The Los Angeles LGBT Center WeHo, Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, USA

ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, USA

ONE Gallery, West Hollywood, North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Catch LA, Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Marco's Trattoria, Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Andaz West Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

The Abbey Food & Bar, North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

The Tower Bar, Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Sunset Marquis, Alta Loma Road, West Hollywood, CA, USA

Before Breakfast in West Hollywood

AIDS Monument

The AIDS Monument honors the 650K+ lives lost to this scourge, which devastated a generation and created a movement. For perspective, that’s more people than were lost in WWI and WWII combined. The monument memorializes those who died, honors caregivers and activists, and informs through education and consciousness-raising. Created by artist Daniel Tobin of Urban Art Projects, the monument chronicles the AIDS pandemic comprehensively, through the lens of eyewitnesses still with us.

The city of West Hollywood donated the land to the monument, heralded as the centerpiece of the $86 million revitalization of West Hollywood Park, across from the Pacific Design Center. It is the only such monument in the U.S., fitting because West Hollywood was ground zero for the AIDS pandemic. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the memorial’s largest donor to date, reflects the area’s premier position as a leader in treatment, services, and research.

Best Places for Breakfast in West Hollywood


Start with a breakfast fiesta at Zarape, which turns morning grub into a colorful Mexican carnival of flavors. Kick off with their chilaquiles verdes or huevos rancheros. If you’re feeling cheeky, skip the coffee for a breakfast margarita. Zarape’s morning spread has you sorted.

Dialog Cafe

Pop into Dialog Cafe, a gem that’s got the neighborhood buzzing. This chill hangout is more than just a cafe; they’ve nailed the mix of space for solo screen time and bigger tables for your brunch squad. The varied menu’s packed with dishes like turkey BLTs, Acai bowls, farmhouse scrambled eggs, banh mi, and burrata caprese. The one thing they have in common: super fresh and delish.

Best Things To Do in the Morning in West Hollywood


The rainbow-colored crosswalk (at Santa Monica and N San Vincente), originally created as a temporary installation in June 2012 for Pride month, is now a permanent part of West Hollywood, an integral and tangible symbol to brand WeHo as a gay city. On Instagram use #rainbowcrosswalk to shout, “We’re here, we’re queer.” The crosswalk tells visitors that West Hollywood “is a sanctuary; it tells them that there is a safe place in America where the LGBT community is celebrated,” City Councilman John Duran said when voting to allocate additional funds.

West Hollywood Library

The West Hollywood Library houses an extensive collection of LGBTQ literature and history along with the Ron Shipton HIV Information Center, a free STD Clinic for testing, vaccines, treatments, and preventative services.

June Mazer Lesbian Archives

The June Mazer Lesbian Archives (at UCLA), founded in 1981 in Oakland, California, is the largest collection on the West Coast “dedicated to preserving and promoting lesbian and feminist history and culture.” Definitely check it out.

Best Places for Lunch in West Hollywood

Gracias Madre

Say what? Vegan Mexican and cannabis cocktails? Yup. Sometimes the best answer to late-night Saturday partying is early Sunday morning partying – especially when the choice is a dreamy to-die-for patio or an airy and gorgeous indoor space. For crisp tequila and mezcal drinks, a cool and chic vibe, and organic vegan Mexican dishes, we give thanks to Gracias Madre. Since this relaxed but loud place is all about plant-based cuisine, their cannabis cocktail is a natural extension of everything else they do; it’ll get you buzzed without getting you stoned.

Best Things To Do in the Afternoon in West Hollywood

Community Mural

The community mural at Wells Fargo, a 102-foot-long indoor mural above the bank tellers, highlights 32 key people, places, and events in West Hollywood’s LGBT history. Panels depict early pride marches, gay bars, the Chateau Marmont hotel, and early pioneers like lesbian activist Ivy Bottini and the Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church.

Los Angeles LGBT Center

The Los Angeles LGBT Center, which hosts the annual Trans Pride L.A., is the “largest organization in the world offering programs, services, and global advocacy that span four broad categories: health, social services and housing, cultural and education, and leadership and advocacy.” Visit, support, subscribe.

ONE Archives

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries is the first museum in Southern California exclusively dedicated to gay history and the largest repository of LGBTQ materials in the world. (ONE Archives is currently closed for building renovations; check back here for deets.) The ONE Gallery is nearby at 626 North Robertson.

Best Places for Dinner in West Hollywood

Catch LA

Catch traffics in cool cocktails, tequila and mezcal concoctions, scotch, bourbon, and cognac. Take a deep dive into a few of their lushly crafted beverages: Detox Retox (with tequila, macha, cucumber, mint, and lime), Disco Nap (with gin, sake, Midori, kiwi, and lime), Dirty Bastard, and Secret Escort. Or keep it simple with Veuve Clicquot Yellow, Casamigos Anejo, or Louis XIII (at $400 a pop). The huge seafood restaurant has a hip rooftop, complete with a retractable roof and greenery galore. The indoor-outdoor vibe makes for a relaxing place to chill for brunch, where the truffle sashimi and a rich lobster-mac-and-cheese vie for top choices.


Marco’s has friendly and unpretentious service and a friendly neighborhood vibe – and that’s before the bottomless mimosas kick in over Sunday brunch. Omelets, steak and eggs, eggs benny, sweet and savory crepes, and breakfast quesadillas are all great choices from 8 am (for those just going home) to 2 pm (for those just getting up). It’s been dishing up impressive Italian dishes and pizza at reasonable prices since 1993, and that’s saying something in WeHo.


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Best Places to Stay in West Hollywood

Andaz West Hollywood

The suite life just got sweeter. Andaz West Hollywood rolled out a red-carpet welcome in its unique partnership with Hyatt and (RED), Bono, and Bobby Shriver’s organization to combat AIDS. The Andaz offered a 12th-floor corner suite for designer Jonathan Adler to create a space for you to be an “eccentric, glamorous version of yourself.” Since Andaz West Hollywood once hosted rockers like the Stones and The Who, Adler used plenty of gold and metallic accents, dipped into a chic and classic vibe with some sassy twists, and hired street artist Kelsey Montague to visually riff on the hotel’s musical heritage. We’ve got news for Mick: you’ll get plenty of satisfaction in the (RED) suite.

Sunset Marquis

The legendary Sunset MarquisWest Hollywood is the soul of the Strip, oozing Old Hollywood charm and home to many 1960s legends. They claim their guests have more tattoos than any other leading hotel. And that if their vibe was any more Hollywood, their two heated pools would be shallow at both ends. But it’s a gem, a 3.5-acre oasis of luxury and tranquility (including the spa). The lavish rooms are accented with contemporary design. And many suites have private balconies and patios overlooking lush, tropical gardens. Their iconic bar is a popular rendezvous for musicians and artists, giving the place an edgy, creative vibe. The Sunset Marquis is an exquisite retreat in the heart of the bustling city.

After Dark in West Hollywood

The Abbey

The Abbey is the crown jewel of WeHo’s gay club scene — with dancers outfitted in tight shorts and not much else, busting out like classical Greek gods on pedestals. The music is loud and proud, and the crowd is amped up by the go-go dancers and a mean selection of shots. Hey, what do you expect from a venue that holds the largest Bacardi account in the U.S.? For big tunes with a slightly more low-key vibe, join the locals next door at The Chapel. You can even enjoy a spot of tea and cake between dance classics. The mix of ages is wide, the clientele diverse, and the service friendly at both venues.

Tower Bar

At the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel, start your evening ensconced in Bugsy Siegel’s former apartment, nursing a cocktail at the elegant bar, reminiscent of glamorous old Hollywood while a jazz pianist tinkles the ivories. Or head to the bar’s more casual poolside terrace, with sweeping views of L.A. for a glass of bubbly or a Sunset Bellini – with a side of oysters, sliders, or soft lobster tacos.

Bonus Pro Tips

Wanna be more amazed at West Hollywood’s LGBTQ history? Visit the city of West Hollywood’s website and WEHOville.

West Hollywood’s LGBTQ history includes two present-day, not-to-miss annual events. L.A. Pride (June) is one of the world’s largest pride parades. Book hotels early (many have good deals) and come early or stay late. Halloween Carnaval (October 31) is an extravaganza of killer drag queens and oh-so-gay-dress-up.

One City One Pride is an amazing 40-day festival of LGBTQ Arts held from May 22 (Harvey Milk Day) through June (Pride month).

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