America’s only LGBTQ syndicated value travel columnist
San Francisco’s queer Castro district is still going strong in the city by the bay
You cannot beat a visit to the city and county of San Francisco. The Castro neighborhood and San Francisco itself was once a mecca for many in the LGBTQ+ community and there’s still a draw today. The City by the Bay is steeped in LGBTQ+ history, known as the city with the first lesbian organization in the U.S. (The Daughters of Bilitis), the first gay community center in the U.S. by the Society for Individual Rights, the first rainbow flag, the first Gay Games, the influential landmarks depicted in Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, the tragedies of the twin assassinations of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, or AIDS crisis. In a word, the City continues to be a magnet.
WHAT TO DO
Enjoy a hike on the new Presidio Tunnel Tops and visit the new visitor center that features stunning views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio is located in the northwest corner of the city, and is now an official National Park. A free shuttle provides service from the Embarcadero BART station downtown.
Take a hike with the San Francisco Hiking Club (which I founded). The LGBTQ hiking club features mainly weekend hikes as does the Gay Lesbian Sierrans (GLS) now known as the Rainbow Sierrans. Both hike the many parks throughout the region. From February through April, the Bay Area hills are ablaze with native wildflowers including California poppies. Work out at SF Fitness at Market and Noe Streets (2301 Market). Day passes available. Catch a film or show at the historic Castro Theater (just south of Market and Castro). Enjoy Golden Gate Park which includes the DeYoung Museum. Don’t miss Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs. Visit the LGBTQ History Museum on 18th Street near Divisadero.
WHERE TO EAT
The Santeria has great food and Margaritas. Alice’s in the Noe Valley has great Chinese food. Starbelly at 3582 16th Street has great comfort food, cocktails and brunch. La Mediterrannee at 288 Noe is very good. Orphan Andy’s at 3991 17th Street in the Castro has great breakfasts and dinner. It is a mainstay.
WHERE TO STAY
I always stay in the Castro at the Beck’s Motor Lodge (2222 Market Street), owned and managed by Brittany Beck. The family run motel has been around for 50 years and includes free parking (although you will not need a car.) Peets Coffee is across the Street as is the gay sports bar, High Tops. Nearby Rosenburg Deli (276 Noe) has everything you need including an It’s It. a San Francisco treat which is ice cream covered by two graham crackers and smothered in chocolate).
The Castro features many bars. My favorites including the Midnight Sun which has great (strong) drink specials and more. They feature Boogie Wonderland, a disco dance club party and beer bust every Sunday. The 4440 Castro had $3 beer the night I was there and was packed. Toad Hall nearby has Karaoke while Harvey’s (on the corner of Castro and 18th Street) had drag queens the night I was there. It also features great food. Beaux had Latin Night on Wednesday including “go gos”. Friday features a DJ and the Beaux-torious GoGo Beasts. See their calendar at BeauxSF.com. You will find the popular club at 2344 Market.
High Tops is the sports bar which also has food. It’s a fun crowd. The Lookout at Market and Noe features a large balcony where you can peruse the crowds. The Twin Peaks tavern (Market and Castro) is where you can also scope out the Castro scene. It was the first openly gay bar in San Francisco. The famous bar was a hit because it was one of the few that had big windows when those on the street could see who was in a gay bar. Scandalous at the time! Now recognized as official San Francisco Landmark #264, it attracts an older demographic (I wouldn’t go there once upon a time). Moby Dick with its huge aquarium is also very popular. You will find them on 18th Street.
Grab a Clipper Card to enjoy easy one tap admission to all the transit in the Bay Area, including the historic streetcars, the Muni Metro, BART, the cable cars, Caltrain, and other agencies. Muni is your intown subway while BART goes all over the Bay Area.
Read the Thursday weekly BAR (The Bay Area Reporter) for local events and more. The SF Bay Times is the monthly LGBTQ periodical and also features a calendar. Gloss Magazine also is a good source of nightlife information.
*Bill Malcolm lived in the Castro in San Francisco for 12 years and graduated from UC Santa Cruz. He founded the San Francisco Hiking Club which is still offering weekend hikes today.
About the Author
Bill Malcolm is the nation’s only LGBTQ+ syndicated value travel columnist. Residing in Indianapolis, he travels with a focus on the local and value orientation.