San Francisco grew large during the California Gold Rush. For some time a haven for prostitution and gambling, it was known by the dawn of the 20th Century for its flamboyant style, stately hotels, ostentatious Nob Hill mansions, and a thriving arts scene.
The turning point in the city's modern gay evolution took place during and shortly after World War II. As the port of embarkation for military men shipping out to, and returning from the Pacific Theater, San Francisco experienced a post-war confluence of young servicemen who found this to be a more tolerant hometown, joining the many new immigrants attracted by good economic prospects. North Beach Beat Generation writers and musicians, who fueled a San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s, embraced and celebrated alternative lifestyles and more fluid sexual identities. Summer of Love flower-power children of the late 1960s, disillusioned and disgusted with conventional American life, and angry about the Vietnam War, also came from all over the USA.
Psychedelic, transgressive and confrontational, colorful in art, fashion and music, the Counterculture, along with political activists of the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements, explored new possibilities for Americans dissatisfied with the status quo. Many came here, even if they had to hitch-hike, to converge on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood between Golden Gate Park and Downtown. Gay people, feeling the same rage and frustration that exploded in New York during the Stonewall Riots, were among them, coming to concentrate on several areas over the hill from the Haight, particularly in what was then called Eureka Valley, now known as the Castro, where a generation of LGBT social and political activists began the work that would transform the whole Bay Area.
For some old-timers, the 2008 movie based on the life and assassination of gay city supervisor Harvey Milk, brought back memories of how the Castro once looked. A neighborhood of low rents and shabby businesses to match, it had been filled with vacant storefronts, with handbills plastered everywhere. The district was so transformed by years of gay attention that the film's producers had to de-gentrify the Castro, then put it all back together. The restoration of the the landmark Castro Theater to its glory days was one benefit, replacing the burned-out neon tubes, and refurbishing the colorful facade.
San Francisco International Airport is not in San Francisco but in San Mateo County, about 20 minutes south of downtown. BART rapid transit connects the airport to destinations throughout the Bay Area.
Long-range bus service is based at the Transbay Terminal (200 Folsom), the terminus for Greyhound, as well as regional bus systems such as AC Transit (Alameda & Contra Costa counties), SamTrans (San Mateo County), and Golden Gate Transit (Marin and Sonoma Counties).
Amtrak operates a shuttle bus from Transbay Center, and three other downtown locations, to the rail station across the Bay in Emeryville. From there they offer rail service to 500 or so destinations in 46 states. Commuter and tourist ferries connect the Ferry Building and Pier 39 to points in Marin County, Oakland, and to the north, Vallejo in Solano County.
The new Transbay Transit Center, next to Millennium Tower, is scheduled to open for bus service in March 2018. The east end of the Lower Concourse will connect with the BART/Muni Embarcadero Station. The Intercity Bus Facility, between Beale and Main Streets, will be dedicated to intercity bus services such as Greyhound and Amtrak. Plans for the Caltrain rail line to be extended underground will bring California High Speed Rail to the Transit Center, at first from here to Los Angeles, and eventually all the way from Sacramento to the San Diego International Airport.
When you arrive at the airport, buy a one-, three- or seven-day transit passport for unlimited rides on San Francisco's Muni transit system, including the world-famous cable cars. Those passes cost $21, $32 and $42, respectively. Otherwise the fare is $2.50 for buses and trolleys and $7 for cable cars. Before you arrive, you can buy a CityPass, which includes a three-day transit Visitor Pass, plus admission to a number of attractions over a 9-day period, for $94 (all prices July 2017).
BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, connects San Francisco's Downtown and Mission Districts with East Bay towns, and beyond through northern San Mateo County. Going southbound it connects to San Francisco International Airport, and Millbrae.The Caltrain commuter rail system operates along the peninsula, from San Francisco/ 4th & King, to San Jose Diridon Station, and beyond.
Many local residents commute by bicycle, steep hillsides notwithstanding. For bike rentals see Blazing Saddles with 7 locations including Fisherman's Wharf; Bay City Bike and Ford GoBike, among others. The SF Bicycle Coalition provides maps and other cycling info. Cruising the Castro offers walking tours of gay San Francisco, starting from the Rainbow Flag at the corner of Castro and Market Street.
What to see
San Francisco's newest tourist attractions are the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences, in the middle of Golden Gate Park, the city's largest green space. You can spot the de Young by its 144-foot tower, which offers panoramic views of the park. The Academy of Sciences houses an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and a four-story rainforest.
While you're in Golden Gate Park, stay a while. Must-sees include the Japanese Tea Garden and the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, which features a full-size windmill surrounded by tulips.
SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, collects and exhibits the foremost artists and designers of our time. Their programs and exhibits also take place at other sites around the Bay Area.
The Castro. Three miles west of downtown at the end of Market Street, the district with the iconic street that's home to the Castro Theater, has gay-world stature riveled only by Christopher Street in New York City. A sidewall plaque honors Harvey Milk in front of his old camera store at 575 Castro, and a wall mural depicts him as if looking out from a window. A large part of the gay business community is concentrated in the Castro, but many gay people live in surrounding residential areas. The GLBT History Museum, and Pink Triangle Park, at 17th and Market, are among other local attractions. The Frameline LGBT Film Festival in June, and the October Castro Street Fair, are important annual events here. More gay businesses are to be found along Market Street, heading from Castro towards City Hall, through the Duboce Triangle and Hayes Valley neighborhoods.
Chinatown. San Francisco lays claim to having the world's largest Chinatown outside Asia and the oldest in North America. It starts at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, on the edge of the Union Square shopping area. You can't miss the elaborately decorated archway over Grant, the gateway to a cornucopia of small shops, markets and restaurants, plus the many fairs, festivals and expositions that take place year-round.
The Mission. Warmer and sunnier than the rest of the city, the district is protected from fog and wind from the west. The Valencia Street corridor nurtured punk styles, music and culture of the 1980s, side-by-side with Latino families and artists. With recent gentrification the area is more expensive now, but still hip, edgy and artsy, full of studios, galleries, bookstores, performance spaces, and public art projects. Ritzy cafes and lounges mix with down-home Mexican restaurants and taquerías, complete with roving Mariachi bands. The Roxie Theater, the city's oldest continuously-operating cinema, screens repertory indie films and film festivals.
North Beach. When in Chinatown, stroll over to North Beach, the city's Little Italy neighborhood full of inviting restaurants and bakeries, many with sidewalk tables. Once the center for local beatnik subcultures, the district today has a mix of red light businesses and nightclubs amidst yupster residential neighborhoods. The San Francisco Art Institute can be found here, along with the City Lights Bookstore, set among area bars and coffee shops. A large Columbus Day/Italian-American Heritage Day parade takes place each October along Columbus Avenue.
Polk Gulch. The busy business district of restaurants, cafes and shops around a section of Polk Street, runs through the Nob Hill and Russian Hill neighborhoods. An early center for the community (1972 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade location), it has lost much of its former vitality - some would say sleaze. The transformation of lower Polk, with upscale destinations for mostly straight suburbanites, has pushed out most of the drug dealers and hustlers, and threatens what remains of a subculture of cross-class, cross-gender and cross-sexuality marginalized queers who hung out here. The trend continues to be the subject of much local debate. Meanwhile, the Cinch Saloon, San Francisco's second oldest gay bar survives, for a trip back to the old gay glory days.
SOMA. South of Market, a huge district that sprawls from the Embarcadero to 11th Street, between Market and Townsend, is another place to find gay life - particularly if you're into dancing and/or leather/fetish. It's also home to SFMOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The annual Folsom Street Fair takes place between 7th and 12th Streets in September, following the smaller, less-commercialized leather-oriented Up Your Alley Fair (or Dore Alley Fair) in July, also held in the neighborhood. Many small theatre companies and performance venues add to the local cultural attractions. Also here, the Moscone Center hosts major conventions and expos, including Macworld, and LinuxWorld. The SF Pride parade typically heads down Market Street each June, from Beale at Embarcadero station down to 8th Street, Civic Center.
Where the (bare) boys are
Few tourists realize it's there, but San Francisco does have a gay nude beach. It's next to the city's most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, and is mostly unknown to pedestrians, who usually stroll along the wider sidewalk on the eastern side of the bridge. The beach is on the west side, reached via a sidewalk reserved for bicyclists.
The beach has many nicknames, but its official name is Marshall's Beach. Getting there used to be a difficult and sometimes treacherous hike, but five years ago the federal government refurbished the area and added walking paths down to the water. That has been a bit of a mixed blessing, because although the beach is still as gay and as nude as ever, more unsuspecting non-gays end up there.
The parking lot (also very gay) is at the end of Langdon Court, off Lincoln Boulevard. Langdon Court, more like a driveway than a street, dead-ends into the beach parking lot. Finding the path at the western end of the parking lot is tricky for first timers, but follow the gay men. You will have a lot of company on warm, sunny days.
You can also reach the beach from the Golden Gate Bridge. From the western side of the bridge, where the employee parking lot is located, follow Merchant Road. It curves to the left onto Lincoln Boulevard. Make a right on Lincoln Boulevard to Langdon Court. Make a right on Langdon Court to the beach parking lot.
You will see a number of rock shelters built to shield sunbathers from the wind and also to provide a bit of privacy. The beach tends to be more cruisy at its eastern tip. Keep in mind that this is federal land, so United States Park Police, not the San Francisco Police Department, have jurisdiction. Officers don't patrol routinely, but they do respond to complaints and will issue citations if they find anyone engaging in sexual activity.
Hardly anyone swims at the beach. The water is usually too cold. But you will see some people jump in the waves and quickly jump out. The waves can be dangerous, so stay away when the surf is rough.
A tip of the hat to the events listings editor at GayCities. Their hometown is well covered with an impressive list of everything going on all over The City, for months ahead this upcoming year. MissionMission covers the events, entertainment and restaurants beat in their neighborhood.
The SF LGBT Center has a little something for everyone. The James Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the San Francisco Public Library and the GLBT Historical Society & Museum house some of the world's largest collections of LGBT historical materials.
Groundswell, "a sustaining space for queer people and their allies," helps LGBTQ people lead healthier, more fulfilled lives, giving them tools to create change. Based on 200 acres of pristine Northern California land, two hours north of SF Bay, their retreat center and residential ecovillage host events such as Xrysalis, an August gathering by and for queer people of color.
Out In The Bay, a weekly gay radio show on KALW, 91.7 FM, ended production December 2015, but its website still streams their favorite past programs with interviews of community leaders, authors, artists, and others of interest.
The Russian River Chamber of Commerce has the scoop on Sonoma County's gay playground.
Paradise Magazine is an arts, culture, music and style annual "art book disguised as a magazine," featuring artists of varying backgrounds, ages, and mediums. Buy in print, from stores, or online with digital downloads.
Party promoters and special events organizers abound. See the websites of some of the biggies: Bearracuda bear parties, Club Papi Latino nights, Gus Presents Underworld and Collosus nights, and Industry dances.
The Best Buck in the Bay Rodeo and Festival is a Bay Area Rodeo annual September event of GSGRA, the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association. They also sponsor weekly Country Western dance nights at area clubs.
BOSF, the Bears of San Francisco group, provides year-round social activities for bears and their friends.
The San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance promotes the formation, growth and cooperation of member organizations within the leather, fetish, kink, and motorcycle communities in the Bay Area. See links to associated groups at their website. The annual Leather Alliance Weekend takes place in March. Other big annual leather events include: Up Your Alley Fair (Dore Alley) in July; and the Folsom Street Fair on Labor Day Weekend.
For SFGMC, the San Franciso Gay Men's Chorus, now heading into their 40th season, “the singing will never be done!"
Those "shamanic, sacred fools," The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence emerged in San Francisco in 1979. Dedicated to "universal joy and the expiation of guilt," their events in the Bay Area raise funds for charitable organizations, bringing fun, laughter, and a better understanding of gay diversity to all. Easter Sunday celebrations include a Hunky Jesus Contest in Dolores Park.
The SFWeekly, a free alternative weekly newspaper, is a queer-friendly source for news and information about local music, film, culture, dining and lifestyle in The City.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the country's leading alternative papers, shut down their print edition in 2015 - but a good chunk of their archives remains online, along with an ongoing series of current articles and their Best of the Bay reviews, at the associated 48hills site.
The San Francisco Examiner, a mainstream daily tabloid, is distributed free in and around The Bay Area. The San Francisco Chronicle, the daily Hearst Corporation printed broadsheet, also publishes two websites: SFGate and sfchronicle.com.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below, plus some of the many museums, galleries and theater/performance venues, see our gay San Francisco map & listings pages.
Don't call The City "Frisco."
"San Francisco has only one drawback.'Tis hard to leave."
-- Rudyard Kipling
"San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home."
-- Benjamin F Taylor
Aunt Charlie's Lounge (133 Turk St, Tenderloin), long-time favorite area bar, drag shows every night, Tubesteak Connection retro-electro vinyl every Thursday with DJ Bus Station John; Friday/ Saturday The Hot Boxxx Girls.
The Chapel (777 Valencia St, The Mission), mixed-ages restaurant and bar, gay and straight mix, live music, Sunday late night gay parties.
Churchill (198 Church St, Castro), former Bar on Church, casual mixed gay/straight-who-knows-what crowd, rustic look, craft drinks.
Cinch (1723 Polk St, Nob Hill), old-style Polk neighborhood saloon with pinball, pool, 80's music, old-fashioned drag shows, beer busts and a busy patio.
Diva's (1081 Post St, Lower Polk/Tenderloin), tranny and drag bar, weekend dancing, shows, costume contests, and special nights for every theme they can dream up.
DNA Lounge (375 11th St, near Harrison St), late-night 18+ lounge, live music and all ages performance space; pizza cafe. Formerly The Crib.
El Rio (3158 Mission St, Bernal Heights), Latino/Latina mixed gay/straight Mission neighborhood bar, sunny patio, stiff Margaritas, live music, and salsa lessons. Known for big Sunday Bloody Marys and Salsa bash.
Gangway (841 Larkin St, Tenderloin), long-time no-frills friendly gay drinkers' bar, cheap drinks, jukebox.
Harvey's (500 Castro St, Castro), the "Hard Rock Cafe of Queerdom" for burgers, drag shows; great gay central location for people watching.
Hi Tops (2247 Market St, Castro), first local LGBT sports bar, recycled bleacher tables/ lockers, multiple TV-screen games, men/women mix, snacks/burgers/sandwiches. Gym Class Thursdays, underwear-clad go-go/ shot boys,
Last Call (3988 18th St, Castro), friendly and comfortable neighborhood bar in the Castro, open daily, formerly the Men's Room. No attitude and great juke box.
Lookout (3600 16th St, Castro), intimate video dance bar, munchies to full meal service, spectacular Castro views, patio, and special events range from drag shows and karaoke to porn stars and go-go shower shows. Sunday afternoons Jock LGBT team events, with hot, sweaty, athletic boys and girls.
Martuni (4 Valencia St, SOMA), the only gay piano bar in town; a quiet edge of Castro but camp-lively and friendly within.
Midnight Sun (4067 18th St, Castro), packed stand-and-model video bar for TV crowd-pleasers or special events to enjoy among friends. Tuesday open-mic talent nights, Saturday comedy clips.
The Mix (4086 18th St, Castro), sports on the tube, weekend barbeques and and outdoor patio for mostly local, no-attitude regular guys.
Moby Dick (4049 18th St, Castro), local men's hangout, packed most nights. "Drink, play pool and pinball, stare at the fish!" - with big salt-water tank, and unusual videos on the screens. Wednesday weekly Dick at Night with Grace Towers' alternaqueer, bearded drag shows.
Pilsner Inn (225 Church St, Castro), famous for wide range of beers and peaceful garden patio, ten minutes walk from the Castro. Mixed and relaxed crowd of gay men and women, pool games, special drinks.
Q Bar (456 Castro St, Castro), formerly Bar on Castro. Booty Call for aspiring models and onlookers, inspired by years of Juanita More's Tenderloin gay images, has moved aside for new nights such as Vice Tuesdays queer dances, Gigante Sunday Latin/Hip Hop nights, and other events with guest DJs playing ghetto disco house, 90s boom box jams, soul, electro-pop and vinyl 90s house music, among others.
Stud (399 9th St, SOMA), retro-style harks to 1966, dance floor, comedy nights, live music, theme parties and genial bar staff. Friday queer burlesque shows; first Saturday Go Bang queer/mixed, atomic dancefloor DISCO action; HUSH-HUSH experimental music and performance shows; Queer Cannabis Club drag & weed nights; VivvyAnne Hella Nasty Hella Queer events... and more.
Swirl on Castro (572 Castro St, Castro), general public wine bar at center of gay district, globe-spanning selections, and special tasting events.
Thee Parkside (1600 17th St, Potrero Hill), lesbian gay and alternative neighborhood bar, eclectic rotation of live bands.
Toad Hall (4146 18th St, Castro), swanky modern setting, nightly dancing, covered patio; young jeans and t-shirt crowd much like Badlands (sibling bar across the street).
Trax (1437 Haight St, Haight-Ashbury), laid-back neighborhood bar, cheap beer; the only gay bar in the Haight.
Twin Peaks (401 Castro St, Castro), classic decor, big glass windows overlook Castro at Market intersection. Older regulars crowd. Affectionately called "the glass coffin," they have all the comforts of home and a warm welcome for newcomers too.
Wild Side West (424 Cortland Ave, Bernal Hts), mostly lesbian neighborhood bar, open daily 7/365; back garden patio, pool table.
CLOSED - Lexington Club (3464 19th St, Mission), "friendly neighborhood dyke bar"; Marlena's (488 Hayes St, Hayes Valley), tranny/ drag talent HQ; Truck (1900 Folsom St, Mission), bartenders' labor-of-love neighborhood bar.
Bars: men, Levi-leather, bears, and bikers
440 Castro (440 Castro St, Castro), former Daddy's, Levi/leather institution opposite Castro Theater. Attracts all kinds of men to cruisy patio, underwear nights, cheap beer all-hours, and go-go boys nights.
Edge (4149 18th St, Castro), men's bar, weekly events and shows, "go-go studs" on the bar, DJs, TV sports, monthly shows and contests.
The Hole in the Wall Saloon (1369 Folsom St, SOMA), bigger and cleaner men's bar, gay bikers, dark corners, easy-going staff, cheap drinks and 4-7pm Saturday beer busts. The metal light installation spanning the ceiling has to be seen.
Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison St, SOMA), "the original bear bar USA" they say, popular patio, leather and shirt shop; Thursday beer busts, 8pm to midnight and booze, bears, broads, and blunts cannabis nights. Big Boy last Friday dances.
San Francisco Eagle (398 12th St, SOMA), all-men leather/fetish/bear local institution, Mr San Francisco Leather contests, beer busts, cigar socials, back patio, live music and movie nights. First Saturday Frolic electronic dance parties in animal costumes; second Saturday Pound Puppy puppy-masked go-gos, pups and SOMA daddies.
CLOSED - KOK Bar (1225 Folsom St, SOMA), leather/bear men's cruise bar, formerly Chaps II.
Dance/ Event clubs
1015 Folsom (1015 Folsom St, SOMA), concert venue, House and rave dance parties.
Badlands (4121 18th St, Castro), popular, modern pop music dance club, younger blue jeans and A&F-dressed set, open daily from 2pm. Comfortable chill-out video lounge, Sunday afternoon beer busts.
Beaux (2344 Market St, Castro), gay bar and dance club, old Trigger location, open nightly, theme event nights, live entertainment; Pan Dulce Latin nights, Sunday drag shows, guest performers, DJs, nearly naked Go-Go Beasts.
Daytime Realness at El Rio (3158 Mission St), March through October third Sundays/ monthly daytime patio parties - "Drag, Dancing & Disorder" with diva hostesses, electro, soul and pop tracks, performers + Sneaky's BBQ.
Endup (401 6th, at Harrison St, SOMA), laid-back urban dance scene, funky, freaky diversity. Seven nights of music and dancing, most popular weekends after other bars close. Sunday Sessions 8pm-4am. ShangriLa 4th Saturdays LGBT Asian club theme dance parties.
Hard French at Mezzanine (444 Jessie St, SOMA), Oasis (298 11th St, SOMA), and other locations; queer/straight mixed Saturday outdoor daytime dance events of 7 years running - playing vintage Motown/ soul music, girl groups, boogaloo, and garage stompers.
Honey Sound System DJ collective presenting various neo-disco, house, and EDM dance nights and international brands in and around the Bay Area and beyond.
Mystopia Burning Man Playa community artists, dreamers, organizers, builders, designers, doctors, entrepreneurs, students and everything in between" party fundraisers and gatherings at various locations in San Francisco - mostly party boys in their 20s-30s. Also see Queer Burners info on the annual Labor Day Nevada desert camp events.
Oasis Nightclub (298 11th St, SOMA), live music, cabaret shows, burlesque/striptease, comedy, drag divas, dance parties; Mother, the famed and renamed Trannyshack, with TV sitcom and pop culture drag re-interpretations by Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger; Shenanigans, Glamcocks offshoot, monthly theme-costume events.
Powerhouse (1357 Folsom St, SOMA), roving hands, leather, muscled, cruise bar, tattoo'd and pierced men; outdoor patio and back room; pecs-and-buns contests, nipple play nights, underwear nights, sweaty come-hither-eyed go-gos. Beatpig, third Saturdays with Juanita More, blur drag/fetish and alternaqueer boundaries.
Space 550 (550 Barneveld Ave), large 2 level, 3 dance floor dance club; Club Fuego Saturday Latin mainstream Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Reggaeton, Rock N Espanol, Top 40, Hip Hop & Bachata dancing; Sunday and Thursday Sundance Saloon LGBT country-western dancing and lessons. The October Sundance Stompede will be at the Regency Center.
Swagger Like Us queer hip hop party takes place on various Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throught the month at El Rio (3158 Mission St), Oasis (298 11th St, SoMa) and other venues, for a diverse, younger, mixed crowd.
UHaul, "San Francisco's Party for Girls Who Love Girls" happens second Fridays at Oasis (298 11th St, SOMA) and third Fridays at f8 Club (1192 Folsom St), with dancing dancing dancing and go-go gals all night.
Underground SF (424 Haight St, Lower Haight), eclectic-mix crowd, small dance area at end long bar, go-go boys atop the bar.
Other party brands include: Bearracuda bear parties; Club Papi Latin nights with their famous go-go dancers; and Gus Presents dance parties such as Colossus, Industry, Sanctuary and Underworld. For these and more events around San Francisco each month, see their websites, and our events listings page.
CLOSED: Beatbox (314 11th St, SOMA), circuit parties, T-dances, country music & bears - now Halcyon clubspace/ concert venue; Esta Noche (3079 16th St, Mission), Latino dance club, drag/go-gos; Factory (525 Harrison St, SOMA), Club Papi and Industry nights; Mighty (119 Utah St, Potrero Hill), dance club, gay events - became The Great Northern; Ruby Skye (430 Mason St, Tenderloin), mixed dance club; displaced, the Hero Tea Dance moved to Verso.
Adult theatre/saunas/sex clubs
Blow Buddies (933 Harrison St, SOMA), large warehouse sex club, backyard patio, glory holes, slings, cells, water sports facilities; attracts hundreds of men each night from among over 180,000 members worldwide. Open 24-hours, Thursdays through Sundays. Wednesday theme events include leather, bear, and naked nights.
Eros (2051 Market St, Duboce Triangle), 18+ sex club, sauna, steam, showers and professional massage, underwear nights, open Fridays and Saturdays 'til 3am. Indulge, day spa, open from noon on weekdays.
Nob Hill Theatre (729 Bush St, Tenderloin), nude male stripper performances, porn star sex shows, circle jerks, porn videos, cruisy video arcade, amateur strip shows/ cash prizes. Retail store sells adult DVDs, sex toys and accessories.
Steamworks (2107 4th St, Berkeley), full gym, sauna, eucalyptus steam room, whirlpool, lockers, fetish and sling private rooms, 16-channel DVD video system, public play-spaces with hexagonal booths, maze, snacks, live DJs, free WiFi.
SF Citadel (181 Eddy St, Tenderloin), duel level community dungeon playspace for weekend sex parties and relaxation; equipped with everything required for bondage, fetish, and play, home to the sexiest kinky BDSM men and women in the region.
The Watergarden (1010 The Alameda, San Jose), spotless "not-shame- based" destination bathhouse to the south of San Francisco -- more like a resort than a bathhouse; sex educators on hand.
CLOSED: Tearoom Theater (151 Eddy St, Tenderloin), first run gay porn movies; all-male live erotic shows. To become the SAFEhouse performing arts residency in 2018.
Theater & Performances
AIRspace queer performing arts residency supports the creation of new experimental theatre, contemporary dance, spoken word and multidisciplinary performance. They're sponsored by SAFEhouse Arts, with performances at 1 Grove St (moving in 2018 to Tearoom Theater, 151 Eddy St, Tenderloin), creating forums for new dance and performance art.
The American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary St, Lower Nob Hill/ Union Sq), non-profit theater, classics, contemporary Broadway and premier drama and musical stage productions.
Balboa Theater (3630 Balboa St, Richmond), art-house, cult, foreign and classic American cinema, lobby art gallery.
Beach Blanket Babylon (678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd, North Beach/Telegraph Hil), zany show, longest-running musical revue in history; cultural spoofs, big hats, star-studded, ever-changing line-up of pop-culture characters.
Castro Theatre (429 Castro St, Castro District), first-run and classic movies and film festivals, repertory stage productions, comedy, LGBT and other special events.
CounterPulse (80 Turk St, Union Sq), provocative performing arts, dance, theater, art, activism; plus ''Queer Choreographies: Whatever the Fuck That Means."
The Exit Theatre (156 Eddy St, Tenderloin/ Union Sq), developing & producing new plays and indie/experimental theater since 1983, five storefront theaters with a total of 300 seats in the Tenderloin district; SF Fringe Festival.
Frameline annual June LGBT international film festival and ongoing series of new films and encores. Screens include: Castro Theatre (429 Castro); Roxie Theater (3117 16th), Victoria Theatre (2961 16th); and across the bridge, the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood (2966 College Ave, Berkeley), and the Piedmont Theatre (4186 Piedmont Ave, Oakland).
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (2868 Mission St, Mission District), art exhibitions, film and video screenings, music, spoken word, dance, stage performances, comedy, Carnaval dance, music and other festivities for the Latino community and friends.
Moscone Center (747 Howard St, SOMA), large convention and exhibition complex for trade shows, conferences and expos.
New Conservatory Theatre (25 Van Ness Ave, Tenderloin), innovative, high quality productions, educational theatre, Emerging Artists Program, Pride on Tour events.
New People Cinema (1746 Post St, Japantown), latest and best examples of Japanese popular culture; art, fashion and films from classics to contemporarty, documentaries, and anime.
Nourse Theater (275 Hayes St), Downtown 1927 landmark, 1600-seat hall; City Arts & Lectures programs and performances.
ODC Theatre (3153 17th St, Mission District), modern/contemporary dance performances.
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyon St, Marina District), 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition theater; stage plays, concerts, film festivals, comedy, and dance performances.
Regency Ballroom (1290 Sutter St, Downtown), concert hall, live performances by top-rank international contemporary artists.
Roxie Theater (3117 16th St, Mission District), antique buildingg, indie/foreign/cult/classic films and festivals.
San Francisco Film Society Cinema (FilmHouse, 644 Broadway, Financial District), celebrating the transformative power of moving images; April-May San Francisco International Film Festival and a world of film year-round -- screens at cinemas throughout the Bay Area.
Second Act Marketplace & Events (1727 Haight St, Haight-Ashbury), fresh food and beverages, movies, live music, comedy shows, classes and community meetings.
The Marsh (1062 Valencia St, Mission District), breeding ground for new performance art.
The New Parkway Theater (474 24th St, Uptown/KoNo, Oakland), eclectic film screenings, queer cinema, comfortable couches, American diner cafe food and drinks.
Theatre Rhinoceros Live Queer Theater at The Eureka Theatre (215 Jackson, Embarcadero), the longest-running US queer theater company, with productions throughout the season. Note: The Eureka folded July 2017, to be renamed Gateway Theatre, recalling its 1967-98 cinema days. The 42nd Street Moon production company, with musicals at the venue, is taking over the lease. See The Rhino website for their 2017-18 season program.
Victoria Theater (2961 16th St, Mission), oldest operating SF theatre; events, films, drama.
Vogue Theater (3290 Sacramento St), historic building, popular contemporary films, live performances and special events.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission St, SOMA), breaking boundaries in film, visual & performance arts.
Z Space (450 Florida St, Franklin Square), regional theater and performing arts company.
CLOSED: Inner Mission SF (2050 Bryant St, Mission), multi-use/events; live music/DJ sets, dance, theater, non-traditional castings; Sub/Mission (2183 Mission St, Mission), Latin owned/ operated gallery for artists and musicians.
Asia SF (201 9th St, SOMA), Asian-influenced tapas- style dishes with service and performances by pretty-as-women transgender Asians.
Cafe Flore (2298 Market St, Castro), aka Cafe Hairdo, great views, colorful San Francisco patrons, full bar and tasty Californian food every day of the year, 7am to 10pm. They also have free Wi-Fi.
Castro Country Club (4058 18th St), no-alcohol social club, mocktails, food, entertainment, special events; nightly 'til 11 or midnight, Sunday 10pm.
Catch SF (2362 Market St, Castro), fresh, affordable, scrumptious seafoood, subtle preparation preserves natural flavor; casual and cozy location in the Castro. Lunch, brunch and dinner served on heated patio or inside, with nightly live piano jazz.
Chow (215 Church St, Castro), one of four locations, breakfast, lunch and dinner every day in bright and airy surroundings; hearty American fare and old-fashioned deserts like ginger cake and pumpkin ice cream.
Chutney (511 Jones St, Tenderloin), casual and authentic Pakistani and Indian food, combining traditional recipes with unique combinations of spices.
Harvey's (500 Castro St, Castro), bar and restaurant, tasty daily brunch items until 3pm, then snacks, salads and sandwiches. Dinner service until 11pm (2am weekends). Known as Elephant Walk when Harvey Milk did community work over meals here, the restaurant was renamed in 1996 to honor him.
Kasa Indian Eatery (4001 18th St, Castro), delightfully simple, inexpensive homestyle Indian food, natural and local ingredients. Local delivery after 6pm.
La Mediterranee (288 Noe St, Castro), delicious Greek, Armenian and Middle-Eastern meat or vegetarian fare --dine in, or take-out.
Millennium (5912 College Ave, Oakland), gourmet vegan heaven, fresh daily produce only, organic when possible; recipes to seduce most anyone.
Mourad (140 New Montgomery St, Union Sq), highly rated modern Moroccan family-style lunch/ dinner/ tasting menu; BYOB wine.
Nopalito (306 Broderick St), casual and popular, traditional Mexican lunch, dinner and cocktails restaurant near the Panhandle. Also on 9th Street in the Inner Sunset neighborhood.
Orphan Andy's (3991 17th St, Castro), classic American diner, big portions, "fishbowl" windows, good/ fresh food, and playful waitstaff; open 24-hours a day. Playboy once named it among America's top ten of it's kind.
Safeway (2020 Market St, Castro), often referred to as the Gayway, the queerest supermarket around; good selection of cheap wines.
Sparky's 24 Hour Diner (242 Church St, Castro), breakfast any time, very crowded after the bars close. Lunch and dinner include not only usual diner fare, but also pizzas, NY Steak, or Chicken Scallopine.
Squat and Gobble (3600 16th St, Castro), cafe/ creperie, one of five area locations; casual spot with crepes, omelets, burgers, soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta; plus chicken, beef, pork or curry entrees.
State Bird Provisions (1529 Fillmore St, Western Addition), fine quality modern California cuisine, dim sum-style service; very popular, reservations recommended.
For another 35 San Francisco restaurant suggestions see our map & listings/restaurants tab.
Shopping & Services
Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St), music heaven, all genres, vinyl, CDs, DVD videos; live performances - see videos online.
Auto Erotica (4077-A 18th St, Castro), lubes and sex toys, vintage porn and physique magazines, dvd videos, 8mm films, books, photos, and more.
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace (2020 Oregon St, Berkeley), produce/meat/cheese, cafes, gourmet kitchen, bakery, groceries, Asian foods, dairy products, flowers, beer/wine, health and beauty products.
BiRite Market (3639 18th + 550 Divisidero), full service one-stop produce market, grocery, bakery, prepared foods and deli sandwiches, beer/wine, meat, poultry, seafood and cheeses department.
Books, Inc. (601 Van Ness, Opera Plaza; 3515 California St, Laurel Village; 2251 Chestnut St, The Marina), 11-store local independent bookstore chain that dates back to the Gold Rush Days of 1851. The SF Gay Men's Book Club meets at 5pm on second Sundays each month at the Opera Plaza store. The Intimates: East Bay Queer Book Club periodically meets to discuss a selected book at the Books Inc, Alameda store (1344 Park St).
City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Ave, North Beach), independent bookstore, publisher; specializing in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. Founded 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, put on trial for obscenity after publishing Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems in 1956.
Does Your Mother Know? (4141 18th St, Castro), began as a stationary store, now with adult toys, lube and erotic party favors too.
Dog Eared Books (900 Valencia St, Mission + 489 Castro St), good books cheap, magazines, eclectic/varied selections; new, used and remaindered. The San Francisco LGBT Book Club meets at their Castro store, second Wednesdays at 7pm.
Kenneth Wingard (2319 Market St, Castro), wall art, vases, lamps, candle holders, frames, clocks, mirrors and other household wares.
Lost Weekend Video & Cinecave (2550 Mission St, Mission), wide-catalog of rare, cult films and new video releases to rent and buy. New location at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Modern Times Bookstore (2919 24th St, Mission) - CLOSED Dec 2016 - politics, media, graphic novels, fiction, informed sexuality and gender sections; writings on Bay Area Latina/o history and culture.
Mr S Leather & Fetish (385 8th St, SOMA), "world's largest" collection of quality leather and latex clothing, plus all kinds of bondage and fetish gear and sex toys.
Outfit Castro (463 Castro St), men's underwear, swimwear, meggings, shorts, shirts, tanks, singlets.
Out of the Closet (1295 Folsom St + 1498 Polk St), HIV/AIDS healthcare thriftstore, pharmacy, free HIV and STD testing, cutting-edge medicine and advocacy, regardless of ability to pay. Also stores in Berkeley and Oakland.
Phantom Adult Store (516 Castro St), long-time local store for sex essentials and novelties.
Rakestraw Books (3 Railroad Ave, Danville), indie bookstore, deep catalogue, frequent guest authors.
Rare Device (600 Divisadero St, Alamo Sq), lifestyle boutique, independent art gallery, body and bath, innovative designs.
Rock Hard (518 Castro St, Castro), adult retail and DVD movies; small space, large stock selections, friendly and helpful staff.
Streetlight Records (Castro store closed - now at 980 South Bascom Ave, San Jose + 939 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz), all kinds of music, new and used, buy or trade CDs, LPs, 45s, cassettes, DVDs, video games.
Wild Card (3989 17th St, Castro), cards, cards, cards of all kinds and for every occasion; sexy, gay and lesbian selections.
See more local stores at the shopping section, in our maps and listings pages.
24 Hour Fitness (2145 Market St, Castro), cardio equipment, free weights, personal training.
Alex Fitness (2275 Market St, Castro), former Gym SF, new equipment, down to business excercise, uncrowded.
Accommodations/ Gay Friendly Hotels
Beck's Motor Lodge (2222 Market St, Castro; 415-621- 8212), rooms with wraparound balcony, convenient location.
Best Western Americania (121 7th St, SOMA; 415-626- 0200), nice amenities, free WiFi, heated pool, central South of Market location.
Good Hotel (112 Seventh S, SOMA; 415-621-7001), 117 eco-friendly rooms, fun themes, free bikes, pet-friendly.
Hotel Diva (440 Geary St, Union Sq; 415-885-0200), cutting- edge boutique hotel in Union Square.
Hotel Metropolis (25 Mason St, Tenderloin; 800-553-1900), vividly colorful decor, surrounded by fine dining and theaters of Union Square.
Park Central Hotel San Francisco (50 Third St, SOMA; 415-974-6400), swanky four- star digs in 36-floor tower by Union Square, city skyline views, floor-to-ceiling windows. Formerly The Westin.
San Francisco Proper (45 McAllister St, Civic Center), 1926 flatiron landmark buiding boutique hotel to open summer 2017; 131 rooms and suites, Charmaine's rooftop bar/ lounge, three restaurants, including the ground-floor Villon, and La Bande Cafe with house-made pastries, tartines, sandwiches, salads, and casual bites. The former Renoir Hotel.
The Marker San Francisco (501 Geary St, Tenderloin; 415-292-0100), Beaux Arts-style building, modern 4-star comforts, fitness center, bikes, fine dining at the Tratto Italian Restaurant & Bar.
Travelodge Central (1707 Market St, Hayes Valley; 415-621-6775), between downtown and the Castro, free WiFi, Continental breakfast.
W San Francisco (181 Third St, SOMA; 415-777-5300), great location, heated pool, terrace cabanas, restaurant and bar.
CLOSED - Renoir Hotel (45 McAllister St), historic Civic Center boutique hotel, trendy bar and lounge.
Accommodations/ Bed & Breakfasts & apartments
Brick Path Bed & Breakfast (1805 Marin Ave, Thousand Oaks/ Berkeley; 510-524-4277), cottages, suites, rooms; private entrances, patio, WiFi.
Chateau Tivoli (1057 Steiner St, NOPA; 415- 776-5462), gay-friendly Victorian mansion, lavish rooms and suites.
Inn On Castro (321 Castro St, Castro; 415-861- 0321), upscale gay B&B, the closest to Castro action.
Parker Guest House (520 Church St, Castro; 415-621- 3222), primarily gay/ straight-friendly guesthouse, conveniently located, with Edwardian style.
Willows Inn (710 14th St, Castro; 415-431-4770), 12 rooms, shared bathrooms, gay/ gay-friendly clientele, convenient Castro District location.
MisterB&B lists rooms and apartments for rent, for and by the gay community, in the Bay Area and beyond.
CLOSED: 24 Henry (24 Henry St), elegant gay/ hetero-friendly Castro B&B; Belvedere House (598 Belvedere St), Cole Valley gay B&B; Castro Suites (927 14th St), Victorian house rental suites.
See our map & listings hotels & guesthouses section for another 40 suggestions on where to stay in the Bay Area.
Greater Bay Area
The City anchors the San Francisco Bay Area region, home to 7.6 million people, that includes the cities of San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland. Gay clubs in these towns include the area's only two gay bathhouses.
Oakland/ Berkeley Clubs & Bars
Brix 581 (581 5th St, Oakland), Hella Gay 4th Saturdays monthly dance party "for boys, girls, everything in between, queer, straight"; bars, dance floors, outdoor patio; restaurant chicken, steaks, burgers, Sunday brunch benedicts, waffles, etc.
Club 21 (2111 Franklin St, Oakland), gay Latinos, go-go boys, kinky karaoke, drag burlesque.
Club BNB (2120 Broadway, Oakland), alternative and gay parties, go-gos, Latin, House, Urban, Banda; Saturday Club Rimshot LGBT hip-hop/RnB nights. Former Bench & Bar, moved to Club 21 Broadway entrance.
Steamworks (2107 4th St, Berkeley), full gym, eucalyptus steam room, whirlpool, lockers, fetish and sling private room options, 16-channel DVD video system, public play-spaces with hexagonal booths, maze, snacks, live DJs, and free Wi-Fi. Monthly CumUnion sex parties each 2nd and 4th Friday
White Horse (6551 Telegraph Ave, Oakland), gay weekend dancing, bears, drag, karaoke, men & women.
Click to San Jose for listings and map of the South Bay Area towns including Santa Clara, and Silicon Valley -- about an hour south of San Francisco.