Though Amsterdam and Manchester may come close in many people's view, and are great places to visit, there's no question that San Francisco still keeps the crown as gayest city in the world, writes OutUK's Stevie Gardiner.

I can't think of anywhere else but San Francisco where a leatherman in tight white t-shirt, chaps and posing pouch, arse cheeks hanging out for all to see, could get on a bus in the middle of the afternoon in the centre of town and no-one bat an eyelid. Or even a peace protestor on a demo wander down the city's main street completely naked and completely ignored by both police and pedestrians alike.

So how did the city end up like this, with an unrivalled reputation for tolerance and perhaps eccentricity. It's a long story but probably a lot to do with geography.

The city's on a 50 square mile peninsula bordered on three sides by the sea, and built on a series of hills. This is as far west as you can go in the continental US, and you get the feeling that everybody who's escaped from somewhere else, could end up here. The hills create a small-town feel, and the city really is a collection of neighbourhoods. Maybe it's also because you know the city is on a fault which it any time could result in a serious earthquake, so why not live now as who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Of course in the 80's tomorrow also brought AIDS, which decimated the SF gay community of the time. Now SF has a population of 800,000, around a quarter of them are gay or lesbian, so you'll find that a gay sensibility is common across the whole city. It's possibly the one place in the world where your sexuality is rarely an issue.

The Sights

For lovers of the arts, the American Conservatory Theater is a theater (American spelling!) like no other. Itís mission is to engage the spirit of the San Francisco Bay Area, activate stories that resonate, promote a diversity of voices and points of view, and empower theater makers and audiences to celebrate liveness. A.C.T. values inclusion, transformational learning, participation and rigorous fun. A.C.T. is a Tony Award-winning nonprofit theater serving almost 200,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area annually through theater, training, education and community programs.

Tourist central is Fisherman's Wharf which is the nearest thing to Southend that I've ever seen in the states. Avoid at all costs except that it's the place where you need to catch the ferry to Alcatraz, once the site of the U.S.' toughest maximum security prison, now a National Park. For just over $50 you get a return ticket to the prison and an audio guide which really does brings to life for prisoners like Al Capone. You should book in advance and you can do it online.

Outside the Ferry Terminal you can also rent mountain bikes and a map from Blazing Saddles for an 8 mile ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The views are stunning and you can catch a ferry back from Sausalito across the bay from SF. There are some excellent restaurants such as Scoma's which offer more incredible views across the bay. Your best to do the ride on a Sunday when the cycles are segregated from all the pedestrians walking over the bridge.
Shopaholics should head to Union Square and could spend a day maxing out their credit card in upmarket stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Armani or branches of gay staples like Abercrombie & Fitch.

The Essentials

Though San Francisco is a real melting pot of races and creeds, it retains a very European feel. Much of the architecture is Victorian or Edwardian, and the climate is unlike much of California. It can be foggy in the mornings and even in summer, cool at night. The best way to get around the city is either by public transport or taxi, which by London standards are both very cheap.

Unless you're planning trips out of the city, don't bother with a hire car as you'll find nowhere to park. The Streetcars and Metro can be confusing at first but you'll soon get the hang of it, and tickets are valid for 90 minutes and can be used across the whole system. The famous cable cars are really only tourist attractions and don't go anywhere useful.

Gay San Francisco


Alcatraz (Alcatraz Island, T: +1 415-561-4900; Website)
American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary St; T: +1 415-749-2228; Website)
Blazing Saddles (T: +1 415-202-8888; Website)
Fisherman's Wharf (HQ: 2801 Leavenworth Street; T; +1 415 673-3530; Website)
Golden Gate Bridge (Golden Gate Bridge; T: +1 415-921-5858; Website)
Scoma's (588 Bridgeway Sausalito; T: +1 415-332-9551; Website)

Revised November 2023.


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