LGBTQIA tourism is growing in Marin and Napa counties, building on events for locals and spotlighting the unique offerings of each county. Marin places an emphasis on the arts and outdoor recreation. Napa highlights the wine industry and fine dining.
Both counties, as Sonoma County, do not collect statistics specifically on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer visitors. Yet Marin visitor board website and Napa’s tourism website include images of same-sex couples and notices of LBGTQIA-related events.
“We welcome LGBT visitors from the Bay Area and beyond coming north and enjoying our ‘backyard’ after spending a few days in San Francisco (for pride month events). We want to send them a very welcoming, open, comfortable message,” said Mark Essman, president of the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Angela Jackson, director of media relations for Visit Napa Valley, said, “Throughout the month of June, a rainbow flag will fly prominently in front of Napa’s City Hall to symbolize gay rights and celebrate gay pride. Napa Valley welcomes all visitors. We will showcase LGBTQIA events on our website and through partnerships with local businesses.”
HOW EVENTS SHAPE MARIN’S APPROACH
Essman said Marin County has a smaller population and tourism budget than Napa and Sonoma counties.
“Outdoor recreation is our bread and butter. Ninety percent of our visitors are outdoor-related. We don’t try to showcase the wineries, although we have a variety of attractions. If we try to sell our visitors something we’re not, they won’t come back,” said Essman.
Essman said Marin County markets itself as an affordable alternative to San Francisco and wine country. The Marin tourism bureau also works closely with San Francisco Travel, the city’s travel association.
“When there’s some overlap with their events, we’ll co-promote or push what they’re doing. We don’t try to compete. We just enhance what they do,” said Essman.
Dana Van Gorder, interim executive director of The Spahr Center, a nonprofit organization serving Marin’s LGBTQ community, said the center is not heavily involved in promoting tourism.
“We hold many social events, but their focus is primarily on local members of the LGBTQ community. People from Sonoma County and San Francisco often participate. We hold an annual Marin Pride Picnic at Piper Park in Larkspur. This year it’s on June 22, the weekend before San Francisco’s Pride Parade. The picnic has attracted about 300 people in past years. We are happy to see it continue to grow,” said Van Gorder.
Yet partly because Marin County is easily accessible from San Francisco and the East Bay, the county draws LGBTQIA visitors for arts events.
Louis Briones, executive director of the Sausalito Art Festival, said it has a long-standing relationship with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir.
“Some of our outreach to the LGBT community is centered through them. They include our events when they share with their members and fans,” Briones said.
The choir also sponsors the festival, which runs from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 this year.
Briones said the festival’s board is very open and diverse.
“Because of that, it’s almost a given that we are welcoming. You see that reflected in our 30,000-plus attendance and when same-sex couples come to our gala dances and musical performances,” said Briones.
Karen Davis, senior programmer for the Mill Valley Film Festival, said a number of the event’s films and related events, like director talks, attract LGBTQIA visitors from throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
North Bay summer of pride
Why Marin and Napa increasingly seek LGBT visitors