Gay Travel Guide: San Francisco

California is known as one of America’s most liberal and laid-back states and the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of San Francisco has long been a home for counter-culture and alternative lifestyles.

Lesbian and gay travellers are well catered for in this former hippie haven, with a strong gay heritage, shown by the countless rainbow flags fluttering in gay communities SOMA, Castro, and Polk Street.
If you’re traveling in June, San Francisco Gay Pride is a legendary affair, but there’s plenty more to discover once the party’s over.
With excellent galleries and museums, world-class theatre and some of the most innovative restaurants in America, San Fran is equal parts city slicker and boho cool. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the bustle of Chinatown and the eerie island of Alcatraz.

San Francisco Gay Neighborhoods

LBGT culture is a distinct part of the city as a whole and widespread across each neighborhood, but some areas will have a particular appeal for gay and lesbian visitors.
The Castro, and nearby Market Street with its huge LGBT community center is the epicenter of gay male culture, with countless gay-owned bars, clubs, shops, gyms and saunas.
Polk Gulch is a slightly ritzier gay neighborhood home to drag queens, club kids and edgy hipsters.
South of Market (SOMA) is SF’s hippest district, with former industrial warehouses transformed into super-clubs and offbeat galleries. Risqué gay bars such as the ‘Stud’ draw a leather-wearing crowd.

San Francisco Gay Hotspots

 The Castro Theatre is a pleasingly camp old movie palace, complete with organ-player, showing artsy films, documentaries and gay classics.
Sunny Dolores Park is known as a lesbian hangout, and the high ledge overlooking the city is popular for sunbathing gay men at the weekend.
Baker Beach has panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bride, and the relaxed attitude to clothing makes it popular with gay and lesbian beach bums.
The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a serene section of Golden Gate Park, built by volunteers affected by AIDS. San Francisco Gay locals visit this park to reflect amidst beautiful surroundings.

Where to Stay

 If you’re planning on visiting for the San Francisco Gay Pride, there are plenty of gay-friendly hostels in the city center – just remember to book early before the beds fill up!
There are several San Francisco gay hostels and gay-friendly places close to Castro. The Castillo Inn is a quaint guesthouse only five minutes away from the main bars of Castro and Market Street, with a free continental breakfast. The Hotel Tropicana, meanwhile, is situated on trendy Valencia Street, dubbed ‘Restaurant Row’ for it’s top-class eateries and chic bars.
If you’re looking to party, Elements Hostel is a short stroll from Dolores Park and Castro, and this brand new hostel has rooms that would rival a boutique hotel. The main draw is the cool bar and nightclub on site, with free entry for guests.

San Francisco Gay Nightlife

It’s easy to find a gay bar in San Francisco, but Castro has the pick of the San Francisco gay clubs, with the Bar on Castro, thePilsner Inn and The Café always packed. The drinks in all three are strong and the music is a mix of dance and camp Top 40 hits.
In SOMA the whilst N’ Touch Dance Club in Polk Gulch caters to the city’s Asian gay community with a mix of Euro-pop and Dance. Endup’sweekend-long raves and Sunday afternoon gay parties are legendary,
The Lexington Club on 19th Street is the only lesbian only bar, but makes up for this by being open 7 nights a week. There are also plenty of Drag shows on in Polk Gulch – try Kino’s and The Stud.

Eating Out

 There are hundreds of great gay-friendly restaurants in San Francisco, and with such a cosmopolitan population, you can take your pick of world cuisine.
There are several places people eat to see and be seen, such as Mecca on Market Street, an achingly hip industrial chic restaurant serving modern American cuisine, or Home, serving modern versions of hearty American fare.
You can’t go wrong with Chinatown for a cheap and delicious meal, but for something a little more fun try Asia SF on Ninth Street, where drag queens serve Pan-Asian cuisine and perform a live show.

Gay Events

San Francisco Gay Pride
The largest Gay Pride in America, this massive party is a rite of passage for the gay community, and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world every year.
The whole city is transformed for two days at the end of June, with over 200 participants in the parade, 300 exhibitors and 12 different stages and venues hosting events. The San Francisco gay pride parade kicks off on Saturday morning on Market Street and snakes around to City Hall, ending in a festival of music, dance, politics, and wild parties that carry on to the early hours.

San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival

Frameline 333, the San Francisco Gay Film Festival, takes place in the final few weeks of June for 11 days (2009 dates were Jun 18th-28th). This showcase of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema from over 20 countries is not to be missed. The historic Castro Theatre, Roxie and Victoria Theatre, and the Rialto Cinemas in Elmwood and Berkeley screen hundreds of exciting new films not available in mainstream cinemas.

Listings is a great listings site of gay clubs and gay bars in San Francisco, which donates any revenue to charities and non-profit organizations in the LBGT community. For more information on San Francisco Gay pride, check out the official website and for the San Francisco Gay Film Festival.

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