Along the streets, brightly colored rainbow banners flutter from lamp posts and flagpoles, welcoming visitors to San Francisco’s Castro District. The historic center of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender)community reflects a vibrant neighborhood popular with young families, tech workers, an artist community and filled with popular boutiques, bars and restaurants attracting a wide circle of patrons.
In the Heart of the Castro
Many are familiar with the true story of political activist Harvey Milk and the strides made in the 60s and 70s when San Francisco was at the center of gay pride movement. Milk’s former headquarters is located at 575 Castro Street. His legacy is recalled by the new Rainbow Honor Walk, inlaid sidewalk plaques of LGBT heroines and heroes, seen on Castro Street between Market Street and 19th Street. The most recent street embellishment are the rainbow striped crosswalks at intersections.
Vintage trolleys ply the F-Line all the way from Fisherman’s Wharf. Passing by the intersection of Market Street and Castro Street, Twin Peaks Tavern is a historic landmark and a symbolic gateway to the Castro, the first known gay bar to have floor-to-ceiling windows, indicating that the gay scene proudly connected to mainstream lifestyles.
The Castro District, then known as Eureka Valley, was an immigrant working-class neighborhood heavily settled by Scandinavians through the 1920s, followed by the Irish. It gained popularity with San Francisco’s gay community at the time Haight Ashbury flourished around another element of America’s counterculture during the 1967 Summer of Love. The name Castro was adopted from the landmark art deco movie house of that name. More can be learned at the GLBT History Museum on 18th Street near Castro Street, first of its kind in the nation.
A Blast From the Past
Next door at 429 Castro Street, a distinctive neon blade above the entrance to the lavish, Castro Theatre illuminates a much-loved historic local landmark, where the mighty Wurlitzer organ fills the hall with show tunes before every night’s screening. Sing-alongs from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Frozen” are audience favorites, as well as the movie greats and celebrity lectures that fill the art deco 1922 chandeliered interiors.
Room for a View
Near the geographical center of San Francisco’s 49 square miles, two hills known as Twin Peaks rise 925 feet, offering one of the city’s best views. The windy summit is usually approached by car, and those with hiking shoes and plenty of energy may ride the Muni bus 37 to a path leading up the north peak’s slope. Visitors should note that the undeveloped peaks are about appreciating native vegetation, hardy florals, sparrow, brush rabbits and the rare Mission butterfly. There’s one basic restroom up there, but no warming hut or coffee canteen. However, it is a spectacular view on a clear day and a treasure trove of nature.
While Away the Hours
As the sun dips low, happy hour begins, and the Castro comes into its own. Choose a place to settle in or do the rounds. Among dozens of diverse spots are the city’s first and only gay sports bar (Hi Tops, 2247 Market St.); a famous karaoke piano lounge (The Mint, 1942 Market St.); a neighborhood bar with a view, DJs and a drag queen show (The Lookout, 3600 16th St.); a rocker bar with a jukebox, pinball machine and pool table (Lucky 13, 2140 Market St.); or a former speakeasy with nightly live music (Café du Nord, 2170 Market St.).
Did You Know?
- Smack in the middle of the city, the Castro District borders six residential neighborhoods: Mission District, Noe Valley, Eureka Valley, Twin Peaks, Cole Valley, Lower Haight.
- At 199 Museum Way, Randall Museum is a free children’s museum (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday), a 10-minute walk from Castro Street at Market Street.
- Some Castro stores have amusing names. Look for “Hot Cookie”, “Does Your Mother Know?” and their other location, “Does Your Father Know?”