Whether you are gay or straight, the Castro is a great neighborhood to visit in San Francisco. Take either the old restored antique trolleys to the end of the line along Market, or if in a hurry, take the underground Muni train (you can also get a Muni transfer and take each in either direction from downtown if your trip to the Castro is only two hours). The Castro district is named for the developer in the 19th century who built many of the fine Victorian homes that cling to the hillsides above the central business district. In any case, the Castro is filled with disco bars with high self-expressive people, and there are a number of excellent restaurants here. The Castro Theater stocks amusing cross-dress productions of interest to the gay and lesbian audience, but will entertain straights as well. The Castro is active all year, but obviously a good time to go is during Gay Pride Day, at the end of the parade. The Castro has evolved quite a bit from the late 70's when I first visited it regularly. During the 80's the neighborhood was quite depressed over the AIDS epidemic, but those days are gone. Now, boutique stores, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and discoes keep the action going long into the night. The micro-climate of the Castro District is sunny and warm, relative to Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square, and so this is a good place to find a well-kept B&B. For those with healthy legs, a stroll through the Castro District can be followed by a hike downhill to the venerable Mission Dolores and the Latino Neighborhood of the MIssion District. Head to 16th and Mission to catch BART back to downtown. It's also possible to grab a bus between the two neighborhoods, of course.
The Castro is home to a large gay population. Castro Street has many creative shops, restaurants, cafes, and the wonderful Castro Theater. Built in 1922 the Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, survives as one of the last grand movie palaces, featuring revivals and pre-film concerts on the mighty Wurlitzer. One Christmas, friends and I attended the Gay Men's Chorus performance at the theater. It was excellent. At Halloween the streets are blocked off and a huge costume party takes place at Castro and Market. Thousands of people from all over the city attend, as well as tourists. You can see some amazing and fun costumes.
SF has a large gay community and its center is still the Castro District, known worldwide as the "gay Mecca." A neighborhood of gift stores, boutiques, restaurants, bars, clubs, queer churches and community centers, services, street fairs and colorful characters.
After WWII, many gay men moved to the area. In the midst of the social activism of the 1960s and '70s, and the opening of Twin Peaks bar (the first openly gay bar) a community started and the Castro as we know it was born. The Castro Theater is the main landmark for the Castro area. Built in 1922 the huge art deco style theater and its grand old Wurlitzer organ offer a rare experience for movie goers. People come to the Castro Theater from all over, it's a special place for all movie fans, but it's particularly important to the gay community.
There are three big events in the Castro every year. In June, the night before Sunday's Pride Parade the Castro celebrates “Pink Saturday”. The boys strut their stuff while girls who've just completed the Dyke March holler and hoot. Then in October, the district goes wild, first at the Castro Street Fair and then the world's biggest Halloween party, which brings thousands to watch outrageously costumed men and women in leather.
The neighborhood is friendly to all and you have as much chance of finding Yuppies, Locals or Tourist as you do gay men, or lesbians pushing baby strollers. A half block down Castro Street from the theatre is Cliff's Variety, more than just a hardware store, its’ nickname is the Gay Home Depot. On 18th Street at Noe Street is Moby Dick's (no comment) one of the most popular gay bars, if you continue on down 18th to Dolores Street the female lesbian area begins. On the other side of 18th and back toward Castro Street is a restaurant called Harvey's. Inside you will see a heart, this means you are in the heart of the Castro, the food is pretty good and their specialty is breakfast.
If you're in town at the end of June you need to go to Pride. It's the staple event of this city. People of all walks of life will come out and support or celebrate gay pride. It just feels good to have this kind of unity in our city. On the Sat. night before the Gay Parade there is another big event called, 'The Dyke March' which is followed by a huge street party called'Pink Saturday" . Everyone is so friendly and it's lots of fun with lots of random open house parties you can pop into during the march on your way to the big party at the end
It is said that this is where San Francisco began. Mission Doloroes was established by Father Junipero Serra in 1776 and the building was completed in 1791.
In this picture, the original mission is the smaller mission-style building on the left. To the right is the Basilica, which replaced a parish church destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The Basilica was completed in 1918.
The inside of the chapel is beautiful and ornate. The ceilings replicate the original Ohlone Indian designs.
This is a peaceful place to reflect, regardless of your religious persuasion.
The SF Gay Pride is definitively the largest in the world. No comparison with the Paris one.
The parade on Market Street begins at 10AM and lasts between 3 and 4 hours.
Bring your sit or rent one. Mind the sun : I got a sunburn there
All the societies and groups are represented. The politicians are also present.
The main topics of 2004 are :
- the homosexual weddings
- the presidential election
- the imprisonment of Gwen (but who is Gwen ?)
More pictures on the Travelogue : Gay Pride 2004
The Castro district is the center of the San Francisco's gay community. I live nearby and often come here to eat, there are many good restaurants in this area. The neighborhood centers around the intersections of Castro and 18th streets. It's a lovely neighborhood, alive at all times of day. Castro started emerging as a gay district in the early 1970, when gay San Franciscans began buying properties in this area and gay bars started opening here. The side streets are also worth exploring, lined as they are with rows of beautiful Victorian houses. You'll notice many of the windows displaying the rainbow flag. One of the area's highlights is the Castro Theater, a beautiful building where you can catch some interesting films (let's just say that you won't find the latest Hollywood blockbuster here). On Halloween the streets are closed to car traffic and a big costumes party takes place here.
So after my walk in the Mission, it was time to trot over to the Castro; only a few blocks away but a 180-degree shift in local culture. As the Haight was the infamous center of '60's Flower Power, so Castro is the capitol of the GLBT movement. They fly the rainbow flag proudly here and everything from shops to billboards to social services openly support and celebrate the freedom and acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
It hasn't been easy. The 1978 assassination of San Francisco Supervisor and beloved community member, Harvey Milk, social intolerance and the ongoing battle against the AIDS virus have created challenging times for this neighborhood but they continue to gain admirable ground through creative, charitable, educational, spiritual and cultural contributions to greater San Francisco.
This is a particularly lovely district of beautifully restored Victorians constructed in the 1800's by immigrant families when the area was known as Eureka Valley. Front porches and stairways overflow with potted and trellised flora during the warmer months, and many of the streets were lined with trees in full spring bloom on my April walk. There are also great restaurants and lively bars for refueling and rehydrating.
Some come as curiosity seekers; to gawk at the locals and to point their cameras at those who look/behave a little differently than what's normal in Smalltown, USA. Please, these are nice people and this is their turf so be good guests, mind your manners and check any personal biases at the door.
San Francisco is well known for having the largest gay comunity in the USA and their neighborhood is the Castro District. It's fun to go there and get to know the ambiance. It's a lively zone, with gay flags in most of the houses
There are also many shops, restaurants and bars in this area and a theater, the Castro Theater, an old movie palace that plays classic films.
It's really hard for me to believe that recently, city officials were going to close down The Castro Theatre to make way for a Cineplex, and was only saved by extensive lobbying and petitions.
You will understand why when you see this stunning theatre, originally built for silent pictures in the 1920's. The interior is complete with grecian columns, twin opera boxes, and painted frescoes on the walls. I'll let you in a little secret -- the gorgeous bronze ceiling is actually made out of cardboard. The original box office remains intact outside the theatre, when many other vintage box offices at other theatres have been dismantled due to theft and vandalism.
Though the theatre is located in the Castro District, and is home to gay and lesbian cinema, they also show classic movies and foreign films.
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