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.

The Castro

If there is a gay neighbourhood in the city then this is it. As well as host of bars and clubs, you'll find gay dry cleaners and even a Starbucks which is one of the best cruising grounds for bears. Turn into Castro Street from Market Street and you'll find the art-deco Castro Theater which is home to the annual SF Gay Film Festival.

Photo: Mike McBey
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Further down the street is the Fabulosa Books bookstore with a fantastic range of gay and lesbian titles. The very well known Dog Eared Books which used to be on this site relocated some time ago to Valencia St. Also close by, in Market Street, you will find the Names Project, a memorial to celebrate the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world.
If you want to really get to know the history of gay SF, then you can take a guided walking tour of the area including bites to eat on the way from around $75. Sidewalk Walk Tours offer some good deals as do another local company Hobnob Tours. Alternatively, check out Viator who list many local tours operated by others and are part of the Trip Advisor Group.

Bars and Clubbing

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Buck Sledge writes "In San Francisco a thousand separate and unique species of queer animal have evolved, each inhabiting his or her own bar or club. Every variety of sexual taste and facial hair seems to have sewn its own flag and consolidated its own sexual identity - whatever your predilection, alliance, desire or bedtime, there is something for you." So your best bet is to pick up one of the free newspapers like the Bay Area Reporter or one of the free magazines in one of the bars to see what's happening when you're there.
We enjoyed SF Badlands in the Castro which is a hi-tech video bar with a dance area down a long narrow corridor at the back, and it really is a squeeze between the two, especially if you keep coming back for more. Moby Dick's is a friendly neighbourhood bar with a great aquarium above the bar and a pool table for just hanging out midweek.

The Edge has been a part of the Castro District community for over 25 years and is known for being a popular neighborhood bar where it's perfect to people-watch. 440 Castro is the name of another famous bar found further down the road at unsuprisingly 440 Castro Street! It's a great place to meet up with friends and make new ones. Mondays they hold their infamous Underwear Party with people dancing in the windows! There's a clothes check and drink specials and a chance to show off what you’ve got!

440 Castro Photo: Scarlet Sappho
CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
If you'd rather keep your clothes on try the Twin Peaks Tavern nearby. It's a gay bar serving classic cocktails and beers on tap, with some vintage furniture and prominent oversized glass windows. Alternatively, Lookout on 16th Street, is a Castro hangout for drinks with a variety of DJs and a wraparound balcony that overlooks Market Street. Midnight Sun the well known LGBTQIA+ video bar located in the heart of the Castro is closeby, as is Toad Hall with its live DJ's, music videos, dancing and outside patio.

The Mix is a small gay bar with patio and pool table, plus frequent happy-hour specials, and don't forget the Last Call Bar with its low-key atmosphere warming fireplace and '80s soundtrack claiming to have the Castro's longest happy hour. Chains & hardware decorate the Hole In the Wall Saloon, a biker-themed gay bar that hosts events like shirtless Thursdays on San Francisco's famous Folsom Street. Nearby there's Powerhouse a leather bar, and very much an anything-goes gay leather bar at that, who have set the style for no attitude dirty, South of Market (thats, South of Market Street) fun. It's THE good place to cruise.

On Market Street itself you find The Cafe where gays & straights dance the night away at this vibrant club with top DJs & popular theme nights. The Café has been a staple in the LGBTQIA+ Castro community for almost 30 years, located across the street from the Harvey Milk Plaza and Castro Muni Station. The gay-themed sports bar Hi Tops is close by supplying top-shelf fast food & drinks plus, most importantly, all the big games on big-ass screens in a setting with gym decor. In complete contrast Beaux, the French word for "boyfriend", is one of the Castro's premier LGBTQIA+ venues, with a buy one/get one cocktail Happy Hour every day and live entertainment & dance music showcased in a vibrant, edgy lounge.

Photo: Lovemedead
CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Cinch Saloon is an old-guard gay bar with potent drinks, smoking patio, pool, pinball, DJs & no pretensions. It's very much the only surviving gay bar from a bygone era where almost every bar on Polk Street was Gay. Our heritage lives on at the San Francisco Eagle Bar on 12th Street, which was established in 1981 as one of the first Leather bars in the LGBTQ+ community.

Oasis used to be a bathhouse but is now a sprawling gay nightspot that features cabaret & drag shows, DJs & dance parties. and RIZE San Francisco is the other well-known gay nightclub found on Fillmore Street.

For something different in the local neighborhood of Tenderloin you will find some famously gritty underground art spaces, classic concert venues such as the Great American Music Hall and historic theaters staging Broadway and indie shows. Its funky, colorful streets are home to Aunt Charlie's Lounge a gay bar known for really cheap drinks & drag shows on select evenings.

Accross town in Haight St, there's Trax a small, melting-pot bar where gay, straight & bisexual crowds gather over drinks and rounds of pool. There's also pool, darts and TVs tuned to sports at gay bar, the Pilsner Inn, which also boasts a garden patio. And there's an expansive patio which draws a diverse crowd at El Rio which began life in the 70's as a Brazilian Leather Gay Bar aiming to serve the surrounding Mission District neighborhood but nowadays attracts a more diverse gay crowd.


In a city the size of SF there's a massive choice of the standard American hotel brands but gay-only hotels are more limited. Being such a gay city you and your husband or boyfriend should have no trouble getting a double bed at any mainstream establishment and what gay accomodation there is tends to be small privately run guesthouses with shared bathrooms.

One honourable exception is The Parker Guest House a few minutes away from the Castro. We stayed there and found its reputation as an award-winner is well deserved. Originally opened in 1997 in one building as a 10-room inn, owners Bill Boeddiker and Bob O'Halloran purchased an adjacent house in 2001, tore it down to the studs and then completely renovated it while still preserving most of its original Victorian and Edwardian detail.

The Parker is now two wonderfully restored homes with a beautiful garden with fountain and shaded areas in between. Each of the 21 guest bedrooms is luxuriously decorated and most have private bathrooms. The atmosphere is one of pure quality as every bedroom is equipped with designer furnishings. Originally catering for an entirely gay upmarket clientele, it nowadays is classed as gay friendly and attracts a broad range of visitors. There's a complementary Wine Social every evening at 5.30 so you can get to know the other guests.

"Our visitors are mostly 30 plus, many of them are gay or lesbian business travellers and they need a calm and sane environment," Bill says. Although Bob and Bill no longer run the business hands-on every day the guest house remains highly recommended, particularly as you're within walking distance of the heart of the Castro and just minutes from a direct tram route to Union Square and downtown.

San Francisco Sights & Essentials


440 Castro (440 Castro St; T; +1 415-621-8732; Website)
Aunt Charlie's Lounge (133 Turk St; T: +1 415-441-2922; Website)
Beaux (2344 Market St; Website)
Blue & Gold Fleet (Pier 41 Marine Terminal; T: +1 415-773-1188; Website)
Cruisin' The Castro Walking Tour (T: +1 415-550-8110; Website)
Dog Eared Books (900 Valencia St; T: +1 415-282-1901; Website)
El Rio (3158 Mission St; T: +1 415-282-3325; Website)
Fabulosa Books (489 Castro St; T: +1 415-658-7015; Website)
Hi Tops (2247 Market St; T: +1 415-551-2500; Website)
Hobnob Tours (T: +1 650 814-6303; Website)
Hole In the Wall Saloon (1369 Folsom St; T: +1 415-431-4695; Website)
Last Call Bar (3988 18th St; T: +1 415-861-1310; Website)
Lookout (3600 16th St; T: +1 415-431-0306; Website)
Midnight Sun (4067 18th St #2535; T: +1 415-861-4186; Website)
Moby Dick (4049 18th St; T: +1 415-294-0731; X Twitter)
Names Project (AIDS Memorial Quilt, 2362 Market Street; T: +1 415 431-5000; Website)
Oasis (298 11th St; T: +1 415-795-3180; Website)
Pilsner Inn (225 Church St; T: +1 415-621-7058; Website)
Powerhouse (1347 Folsom St; T: +1 415-552-8689; Website)
RIZE San Francisco (1538 Fillmore St; Website)
San Francisco Eagle Bar (398 12th St; T: +1 415-200-2002; Website)
SF Badlands (4131 18th St; T: +1 415-626-9320; Instagram)
Sidewalk Walk Tours (186 Gough Street; T: +1 877 568-6877; Website)
The Cafe (2369 Market St; T: +1 415-779-3171; Website)
The Cinch Saloon (1723 Polk St; T: +1 415-776-4162; facebook)
The Edge (4149 18th St; T: +1 415-863-4027; Website)
The Mix (4086 18th St; T: +1 415-431-8616; Website)
The Parker Guest House (520 Church St; T: +1 415-621-3222; Website)
Toad Hall (4146 18th St; T: +1 415-626-9320; Website)
Trax (1437 Haight St; T: +1 415-864-4213; Website)
Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro St; T: +1 415-864-9470; Instagram)
Viator (Part of the Trip Advisor Group; Website)

Revised November 2023.


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