Famous for its fog, iconic skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, you can really see why everyone flocks to San Francisco. If you just ignore the earthquakes and startup bros you’ll find independent boutiques and cool dive bars in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood—the epicenter of hippie-culture during the Summer of Love, Painted Ladies on Alamo Square, gay hedonism in The Castro district, burritos in the Mission and so much more!
What to do
There are a ton of fun things to do in San Francisco. For starters, take a ride on a cable car, hit a few shops in Union Square, head to Pier 39 to watch some sunbathing seals, have a wander through Golden Gate Park, go skinny dipping at Baker beach, climb a few of the city’s 43 hills or peruse a few vintage stores in North Beach. If you’re an art lover, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Moma (SFMOMA) has an exciting collection devoted solely to 20th-century modern art and is well worth a visit. Located 1.25 miles offshore in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. The prison was home to famous criminals such as Al Capone, Mickey Cohen, James “Whitey” Bulger and Robert Stroud (the famous „Birdman of Alcatraz“). Tours sell out quickly so book in advance to avoid disappointment!
The Castro neighborhood is located somewhere over the rainbow, but more specifically between Cole Valley, Twin Peaks and the Mission District. Named for the Castro Theatre (one of San Francisco’s best movie houses which hosts The San Francisco LGBTQ Film Festival each year) the district made history as the ground zero of the gay liberation movement. Not only is the area full of historical landmarks which pay homage to prominent figures in gay history, the streets are lined with rainbow flags and gay-owned business from bookstores to cafés.
The internationally renowned gay neighborhood was once home to Harvey Milk, a civil rights leader and the first openly gay elected official of the Castro neighborhood who was assassinated in 1978. His camera shop (575 Castro Street) was featured in the Oscar–winning film Milk and has been turned into the Human Rights Campaign Action Center & Store, where you can pick up HRC apparel and gifts knowing that proceeds support LGBT civil-rights initiatives. Exhibits covering over 100 years of San Francisco’s queer history, including photographs of early gay activists and Harvey Milk’s campaign literature, can be found at America’s first gay-history museum, the LGBT History Museum, located at 4127 18th Street.
Where to Eat, Drink and Party
San Francisco’s multiculturalism is reflected in its diverse restaurant scene. Whether it’s great Italian fare, Asian-fusion or seafood you’re craving you’ll find it here but, specifically, the city is famous for its incredible Mexican food. In particular: its burritos. Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) made burritos famous in San Francisco. Like many burrito joints in San Francisco their huge burritos come with a side of tortilla chips, yay! Papalote (3409 24th Street at Valencia) serves equally delicious burritos with a salsa that I still crave to this day. If it’s authentic Asian cuisine you’re after you can’t go wrong in San Francisco’s Chinatown – the largest Chinatown in North America. It offers Sichuan and Cantonese restaurants so head to Chong Qing Xiao Mian (915 Kearny St) for Sichuan-style noodles, Far East Cafe (631 Grant St) for fresh seafood dishes, and Great Eastern (649 Jackson St) for the quintessential dim sum experience.
The Castro has no shortage of options for a gay night out but Last Call Bar (3988 18th St) claims to have the Castro’s longest happy hour. It’s a friendly, low-key neighborhood bar with an eclectic, mixed clientele and a damn good ‘80s playlist. Powerhouse (1347 Folsom St) in the SoMa area is a no-frills, anything-goes gay cruise bar with stiff drinks and gogo dancers. Lesbian-owned watering hole, Wild Side West (424 Cortland Ave) in Bernal Heights opened in 1962. Janis Joplin is said to have made out on the pool table in the beer garden. Since 1978, El Rio (3158 Mission St) in the Mission district has been a fun and funky, gay-friendly bar. Not only does it have a dance floor, it has free oysters on Fridays, backyard bands, drag-star DJs and according to the owners, it’s “the kind of spot you bring your Mama to”!
If you’re in San Francisco at the end of June, the city hosts the world’s biggest pride parade with over a million people taking part. Check out The Bay Area Reporter, the San Francisco Bay Times and Gloss Magazine for the low-down on news, events, and nightlife listings in the Bay Area.
Where to Stay
Beck’s Motor Lodge, while not technically a gay hotel is located in the heart of The Castro, making it a favourite amongst the LGBTQ community. The eco-friendly, three-story motor-lodge opened in 1958 and had a makeover in 2016 so all 58 rooms have a modern, minimalist aesthetic, as well as refrigerators, coffee makers, free WiFi and flat-screen TVs with cable channels.
Enjoy breathtaking views across the city at the four-star Parc 55 San Francisco hotel, part of the Hilton group. It has a state-of-the-art fitness center with the latest cardio and strength-training equipment, as well as the latest technology including HD screens and tablet consoles. As well as a coffee shop and the Cable 55 restaurant which serves classic American dishes, the hotel offers a Thai restaurant called KIN KHAO that was featured in the New York Times and named in GQ’s “best new restaurants in the US”.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind sharing a room you can’t go wrong with the Green Tortoise hostel located in the Financial District on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy. There’s a free continental breakfast every day, free dinner three times a week, free WiFi, as well as a fully equipped kitchen, laundry facilities, a huge ballroom with instruments, a pool table and a sauna!!