Check out the top spots to tie the knot across the West
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Jamison Wieser via Flickr Creative Commons
What a difference a decade makes. In 2005, same-sex couples planning a destination wedding had one place and one place only to go: Massachusetts. Nothing against the land of lobster rolls and Marky Mark, but we're glad the country leveled up. Today, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, including all those really great states west of the Rockies. We're proud of that. So proud that we're rounding up the best spots in the West for exchanging "I dos," from island escapes and wine-country getaways to the urban cores that steal our hearts away. You may now, finally, kiss your spouse!
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Why here: Nowhere does the rainbow flag fly higher than in San Francisco, America's epicenter of gay culture going back to 1978, when Harvey Milk was elected to the city's Board of Supervisors, making him the first openly gay elected official in California. A pilgrimage to the Castro, the neighborhood where he lived and organized, is a must, as is a visit to the GLBT History Museum, home to the largest collection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender material in the world. There, hear the chilling audiotape Milk recoded in the event of his assassination, which occurred nine days later.
Don't miss: SF-born boutique hotel chain Kimpton has been offering packages and promotions for the LGBT community since before anyone knew what LGBT meant.
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Why here: Sonoma County is home to the second highest percentage of same-sex couples in the United States. It also happens to be a sweet place to throw your wedding bash. You've got redwoods, you've got coast, you've got family-run wineries free of tour bus-traveling day drinkers. The county's so psyched to host your big day that it will help plan your wedding for you. For free! To taste the best juice in the valley, hook up with Out in the Vineyard, a gay-owned tour company that sets up private tastings at some of the most exclusive wineries in Sonoma.
Don't miss: A side-trip to Russian River, otherwise known as Sonoma's gay playground. New this year: The Russian River Bank Club, a sleek flex space for art shows, historical exhibits, and Bulleit bourbon ice cream with chocolate pretzels.
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Salt Lake City, Utah
Why here: When gay and lesbian news magazine The Advocatenamed Salt Lake the gayest city in the U.S. a couple years ago, jaws dropped. But the Utah state capital and Mormon mecca is quickly becoming a top-tier destination for queer travelers, home to gay newspapers, gay-owned thrift stores, a thriving Pride center, and the summer LGBT film festival, Damn These Heels. Hotel Monaco has been supported the LGBT community for 30 years, and welcomes same-sex spouses-to-be with special packages and perks like free bubbly.
Don't miss: The approximately one million amazing mountain hikes just outside of town. Our fave: Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Take on the Steiner Centennial section for a brisk 3-mile out-and-back that puts you face to face with the Wasatch Mountains.
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Thomas J. Story
Las Vegas, NV
Why here: The Vegas skyline has been bathed in neon rainbows since the days of Frank and Dino. But it wasn't until October 2014 that the "Wedding Capital of the World" added same-sex unions to the staggering number of nuptials it performs each year—100,000! Luxury resorts like Wynn and Encore employ "pride concierges" to help point your wedding party in the right direction, and the Luxor's LGBT summer Sunday pool party is the kind of high-energy bacchanal they had in mind when they wrote the tagline "What happens here stays here."
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Photo courtesy of Facebook fan Mary Ann Kendall
Santa Barbara, CA
Why here: They don't call this the American Riviera for nothing. Consistently clement weather, easy access to top-notch resorts and hotels, and a double-punch of beaches-wineries make this Central Coast jewel the stuff of dream weddings. But what we love most is its secret wild side: El Capitan Canyon, 20 minutes north of town, is an LGBT-friendly luxury campground with all the fixings to host your big day: swank yurts, on-site massage treatments, complimentary bikes, and S'mores kits for those long nights with friends around the fire pits.
Don't miss: A pre-wedding bell stroll through the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, a 78-acre bouquet of natives, wildflowers, and other fabulous flora that you'll covet for your centerpieces.
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Why here: Our always-tolerant neighbors to the north have been marrying gay and lesbian couples for over a decade, and they're not about to stop now. A thriving LGBT community, amazing food and nightlife scene, and easy-peasy marriage licensing process make it a top spot to tie the knot. To keep your wedding party busy, time your bash to coincide with Pride Week (July 27-Aug 3), seven days of dance parties, fun runs, BBQs, and beach festivals. It all culminates in a roisterous downtown Pride Parade, where half a million jubilant marchers stop dead in their tracks and take a moment of silence to honor those who've lost their lives fighting for LGBT rights.
Don't miss: The gold-medal detour 80 miles north known as Whistler. Late summer means wildflower hikes, gondola rides above Harmony Lake, and rivers fat with cutthroat trout just looking to be your wedding present.
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Thomas J. Story
Why here: In 2013, same-sex marriage joined 80-degree weather, loose flowery clothing, and afternoon mai tais in the long list of reasons why Hawaii is the happiest place on earth. Each island is amazing in its own way, of course, but Maui is the true destination nuptial paradise. Gay-friendly B&Bs and resorts like Maui Sunseeker abound, vying for your party-planning attention, and on the southwest side of the island, secluded Little Beach is one of the most famous gay beaches in the world, known for its clothing-optional surfing and Sunday night beach parties.
Don't miss: The scenic road to Hana, with its 620 curves and 59 bridges, is the perfect metaphor for a good marriage. The trip is long—3 twisty-turny hours—but the payoff is huge, with access to lush rainforest, secret waterfalls, and plenty of plunge pools.