San Francisco is without a doubt one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. Home of the LGBTQ+ rights struggle, this is where Harvey Milk became one of the most prominent activists and advocates for the homosexual cause. The whole city is very gay friendly. Many members of the community moved to the Castro neighborhood in the 1950s. The neighborhood was severely affected by the 1980s AIDS crisis, but eventually expanded to become one of the best known gay neighborhoods in the world.
The city of San Francisco has a population of just under 900,000, but this figure rises to nearly 7.8 million if the Bay Area is included. It is located in front of the North Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Francisco Bay on the other. As a historically gay-friendly city, it has one of the largest gay districts in the world. The Castro is the heart of the city’s LGBTQ+ community. Gay life overflows all around Castro, especially along Folsom Street in South of Market commonly known as SoMa. San Francisco is also known as the high-tech center of the United States (San Jose to the South) with Google, Apple, Facebook or Tesla headquarters.
San Francisco is one of the birthplaces of LGBTQ+ rights struggles in the United States and around the world. Harvey Milk, a famous businessman and politician, fought for gay rights. He was the first openly gay politician to run for San Francisco’s mayor’s office and was shot and killed along with the city’s mayor while campaigning in 1978. This forever marked the city of San Francisco as a leader in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and is now one of the most tolerant cities in the world.
Today, California is one of the most advanced states in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1976 and conversion therapies have been banned since 2012. Gender reassignment is permitted, as is adoption by same-sex couples.
California has allowed same-sex marriage since June 2013. Before that, the state had already authorized it judicially, but the decision was constitutionally prohibited in 2008. Proof of the great divide between San Francisco’s local elected officials, (historically ahead in the rights of LGBTQ+ people), and the State of California, many unions that were already validated by the city in 2004 ended up being nullified by a judicial decision. However, since June 2015, gay marriage is finally recognized in all states of the United States.
The currency is the US dollar. 10 Euros will give you approximately $12USD. For travelers from Canada, $10CAD will get you about $7.80USD.
To enter the United States, a biometric or electronic passport is required, regardless of your country of origin (even for Canadians or Mexicans). Check if the small chip symbol is present under the name “Passport”.
Citizens of the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom must then make sure to complete an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) application online. The cost is $14USD, which you can pay online. Be sure to apply on the official US government website here: ESTA. The electronic authorization will be linked to your passport number for 2 years.
Canadian citizens (not valid for permanent residents) do not need an ESTA to travel to the United States. Only Canadians with a NEXUS card can use it instead of a passport.
Castro gay district
Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro Street). Iconic retro gay bar (one of the oldest in the country) with affordable prices and a great location at the corner of Castro and Market Street.
440 Castro (440 Castro Street). Gay bar with a rather bearish clientele and a very nice atmosphere, a staff that takes care of you and very regular theme nights.
Blush! Wine Bar (476 Castro Street). Wine bar with an excellent reputation, various fine bites and microbrewery beers.
Toad Hall (4146 18th Street). Gay bar with a rather young clientele, pop music and a small dance floor. Reasonably priced drinks and indoor patio.
San Francisco Badlands (4121 18th Street). Popular Castro gay bar, great spaces and dance floor with music from gay pop icons.
The Edge (4149 18th Street). Gay bar with theater nights and a very interesting mix of customers (young, mature, bears, etc.), in a nice atmosphere.
The Mix(4086 18th Street). Established neighborhood gay bar for many years, nice patio and very friendly staff.
Midnight Sun (4067 18th Street, #2535). Gay video bar with a small club atmosphere, dancers on stage and karaoke nights.
Moby Dick (4049 18th Street). Gay bar with an excellent reputation, reasonably priced drinks and kitsch decoration in the spirit of Moby Dick.
Last Call Bar(3988 18th Street). Irish pub style gay bar, quiet atmosphere where you can chat easily, and excellent Guinness.
Lookout(3600 16th Street). Popular gay bar in San Francisco, nice outdoor balcony and great music and atmosphere. Very busy so be prepared.
Hi Tops (2247 Market Street). Gay bar in the spirit of sports bars, ideal if you want to eat and are hungry (the line-up is worth waiting for).
Nice(2344 Market Street). Gay bar with good club atmosphere, good music, dancing gogos and regular shows.
The Cafe (2369 Market Street). An institution. Gay bar that has nothing to do with a “café” but rather a big club bar with shows, good music and excellent djs.
Pilsner Inn (225 Church Street). Gay bar in sports bar mode, large terrace at the back and a never-ending drinks menu!
The Detour (2200A Market Street). Restaurant, bar, game room. A great place with a very gay atmosphere.
Martuni’s (4 Valencia Street). Located halfway between Castro and SoMa, piano bar for those looking for a more intimate yet queer atmosphere.
Folsom Street & SoMa
SF-Eagle (398 12th Street). Great gay bar with a great atmosphere, mixed clientele even if the place is mainly muscle & bear. A beautiful place with a lot of diversity.
The Stud (399 9th Street). A bit like the San Francisco-Eagle with a diverse clientele, a good atmosphere and great drag shows.
Hole In The Wall Saloon(1369 Folsom Street). Gay bar for bikers, leather and mature atmosphere. A very open and unpretentious place.
Driftwood (1225 Folsom Street). Gay lounge bar with a lounge atmosphere and sea and ocean themed decor.
Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison Street). Gay bar with a great selection of drinks and a great staff that makes you feel comfortable even if you’re traveling alone. Decorated with lots of metal plates.
Elsewhere in the city (towards the Bay and the piers)
The Cinch Saloon(1723 Polk Street). A very colourful gay bar outside Castro, a great place where you can chat quietly, come in a group or play pool.
Ginger’s (86 Hardie Place). Great neighbourhood bar with a great atmosphere and a stage with regular shows.
Oasis (298 11th Street). Gay club with a big stage where djs, theatre artists, international drag shows, in a cabaret clubbing atmosphere.
OMG (43 6th Street). Discotheque with bar area, dancefloor and many theme nights.
DNA Lounge (375 11th Street). Large club on 2 floors with 4 rooms, different atmospheres, several bars, a fast food restaurant and regular shows.
F8 Nightclub & Bar (1192 Folsom Street). Bar club with electro-house music and parties always with a musical theme.
The EndUp (401 6th Street). Late night club with good atmosphere, good music, ideal to end your night or start it if everything else is already closed.
Powerhouse (1347 Folsom Street). Popular gay bar, dark atmosphere, varied clientele, muscle, leather or fetish, with theme nights and cruising area.
Eros (2051 Market Street). Old and only gay sauna in San Francisco (for a question of legislation but also because of a sauna culture less present than in Europe).
Folsom Gulch (947 Folsom Street). Gay erotic shop.
Note that in the 1980s, San Francisco’s gay saunas were declared a “public health nuisance” by the city and were forced to close. It is only from January 28, 2021, almost 35 years after the official closing of the establishments that gay saunas have the possibility to open their doors (and their cabins!). The Gogenko team will keep an eye out for any new openings!
San Francisco Gay pride 2022 will take place on June 25 and 26. More informations: SF Pride.
Other important LGBTQ+ events in San Francisco are the Folsom Street Fair (the world’s largest leather festival), the Castro Street Fair (street festival founded by Harvey Milk) or the Up Your Alley Fair (leather festival, bikers and fetish lovers).
San Francisco is one of the most important gay destinations in the world. Here, most dating apps are used according to your preferences.
Video source: you tube – KTVU FOX 2 San Francisco – June 25, 2019.
Photo credit: licensed by Shutterstock.com / photographer: RozenskiP.