San Francisco is the world's gay Mecca, with the Castro district as the center of the gay world. But even outside the Castro, this is one of the world's most open-minded and friendliest cities, home to several gay bars and clubs. It's been so at least since the 1970s, when Castro Street became a lively gay and lesbian center, culminating in 2004, when the city's mayor married over 4000 gay couples at City Hall. The legality of those weddings was later challenged by California law, but once again San Francisco was placed at the forefront of gay history. The city's GLBT Historical Society is often called "the queer Smithsonian," holding the country's largest gay archives and rotating exhibits of queer art. Visitors interested in gay culture will want to see that, and be present at the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival every June, right before the Gay Pride celebrations. Another major event is the Castro Street Fair in October, although you'll find plenty of gay attractions throughout the year at the bars and clubs listed below:
A great meeting point during the day, this café is also a hangout before late-night clubbing. Some also pass by for an afternoon coffee and cruising, or to use the free wi-fi.
This place is like a gay museum. It's named after the slain gay leader Harvey Milk, and features gay memorabilia on the walls. It's the perfect destination to feel the spirit of the Castro district, in an easy-going ambience where drinks are served by a friendly staff. It's also a great place for brunch, and it serves light meals (burgers, wraps, salads, and sandwiches) throughout the day.
A younger crowd fills this bar, especially during happy hour. It's located in the heart of the Castro, and for over two decades has remained one of the most popular gay hangouts in the city.
Twin Peaks Tavern
Four decades old, this is still one of the Castro's most famous bars, catering to an older crowd. It claims to be the first gay bar in America, and can get quite crowded due to its relatively small size. It serves good cocktails and has a nice classic interior.
Lone Star Saloon
This is one of the most famous bear bars in the world. It sells its official bear merchandise upstairs.
The Midnight Sun
Popular during the after-work hours, this video bar stands out for the attractive professional 20- and 30-something guys. You'll see music videos and sitcoms as you drink.
Here you can expect good entertainment, including live DJs on any night of the week. It attracts a mixed crowd that enjoys a drink at the pleasant plant-filled backyard.
There are various theme nights at this club, including a popular drag party. It's been a popular place since 1966, with upbeat dance sounds.
Live performances, multimedia art events, and guest DJs attract a mixed crowd to this club.
The Wild Side West
Since opening in 1962, this bar has witnessed LGBT history and contributed to the gay rights movement. It’s always been especially popular with lesbians, but attracts all genders and sexual orientations to friendly games of pool, sports games playing on two screens, and drinks in outdoor areas.
With a balcony overlooking Market St. and the Castro, this is an attractive dance bar for the younger crowd. The music ranges from hip hop to Latin beats, depending on the night, often featuring gogo dancers.
OMG is the reaction you’ll have to the many themed nights and parties at this club, which often feature gogo dancers, drag performances, comedy shows, karaoke, and underwear-only dress codes.
Housed in a building that has served as a meeting point for gay men since the 1970s, this club has been under the same management since 1997 and continues to please those into leather, jeans and other common fetishes. The fun has the soundtrack of house music selected by live DJs, and the dress codes vary, depending on the day of the week.
In business since 1992, this is where gay and bisexual men meet and relax, with massages and in the European-style steam room that can accommodate up to 20 men. Upstairs are the “play areas” and video room.
Beck’s Motor Lodge
The budget option in San Francisco, this great-value motel is located in the gay Castro district. It can be cruisy, but has clean, comfortable and modern rooms, plus a large sundeck.
Just a short walk from Union Square, this gay-friendly 4-star hotel is close to a variety of shops, galleries and restaurants. It features contemporary design and a modern fitness center.
This highly-rated guesthouse looks like a 5-star hotel despite being in the 3-star category. That’s because some of the rooms have to share a bathroom, but they’re all tastefully decorated in a luxurious classic style. It’s located in the Castro, and you’ll find that most of the guests are gay. The garden and terrace are perfect for a few hours in the sun, before a night out in the neighborhood.
The Willows Inn
This is a 2-star property in the Castro, with a dozen comfortable rooms with shared bathrooms. The lounge area is used for reading, relaxing, and meeting other guests.
San Francisco Proper Hotel
Design-conscious travelers stay at this hotel not far from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Although contemporary, it incorporates vintage furniture which goes well with local artworks. All of the rooms are noise-proof and feature a marble bathroom.
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Walking Tour of San Francisco's Gay & Lesbian District
Follow a local guide through the historical sites that played crucial roles in Queer culture in San Francisco and America: